History - Spain's Moorish History - Umayyads

Umayyads: 8th to 11th Centuries

In 712 the Moors first arrived in Spain. Abr-ar-Rahman I and his sons established a centre of learning and culture in the Roman city of Cordoba, at the heart of which they built the world’s largest mosque: La Mezquita, now within a cathedral, and a UNESCO World Heritage site.

By the 8th century the Umayyad caliphate, centred in what is now the Middle East, had expanded into Central Asia as well as to northern India and westwards to Spain. Leaving Damascus when the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads and took control of the great Arab empire, Abd-ar-Rahman I travelled to Al-Andalús where he formed a new emirate, or state, based in Córdoba. His descendants continued to rule as emirs there for the next 150 years, with his grandson Abd-ar-Rahman III restoring Umayyad power throughout Al-Andalús and also in parts of North Africa. In 929 he proclaimed himself caliph, elevating the emirate to a position of prestige on a par with that of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad.

During this golden age of Al-Andalús the population of Córdoba increased to around half a million inhabitants, overtaking Constantinople to become the largest and most prosperous city in Europe. The surrounding land, laid out with its efficient irrigation system, produced a wide variety of crops and this, together with the produce imported from the Middle East, gave the region its reputation for being the most advanced agricultural-economic sector in Europe.

Between 1009 and 1013, however, there raged a devastating civil war and by 1031 the caliphate eventually collapsed. Al-Andalús was divided up into independent states called taifas, but without a united front they could not defend themselves against incursions by Christian forces. These raids finally became conquests and in the end the taifas had to request help from the Almoravids in northern Africa.

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