Al-Andalus - DOC

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					Suggested images for the hell of it. -> From the ceiling of the Hall of
Kings in the Alhambra – supposed to be 10 of the Nasrid kings.
1283.jpg -> Generic interesting picture.

The rise of learning and the arts in al-Andalus
by Garsiyya ibn Ibrahim ibn Sulaiman al-Qurtubi.

The period of Islamic Spain, or al-Andalus as the Moors named it, spreads from
the arrival of the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad in 711 to the surrender of
Granada and the great fortress of the Alhambra in 1492. In between, al-Andalus
was the shining gem of the European world. Through peace and war al-Andalus
was a centre of learning for mathematics, astronomy, botany, history,
philosophy, law and the arts. Poetry was paramount with most Caliphs and
Princes highly prizing poetry and many being poets themselves. The rise of al-
Andalus shows many of the advances that the Arab world had over Europe of the
day. 1492 saw the final fall of al-Andalus, though in truth most of Spain had
been already been reconquered by the Christians long prior to 1492. Some may
view what followed as a dark time for Spain.

In 711 Tariq ibn Ziyad landed at what became known as Jabal Tariq (Tariq’s
mountain and later renamed to Gibraltar) with a predominantly Berber force.
Very little resistance was found as they penetrated significantly further into Spain
than was anticipated. In 712 the Ummayyid governor of Ifiqiya, the Arab
province of North Africa, followed with a large force of Syrian and Arabian
soldiers. Gothic Spain was conquered all the way to Aragon, León, and Asturia in
the north and became a province of the Ummayyid caliphate. The armies
continued their conquests over the Pyrenees until Charles Martel finally stopped
them in Frankish Gaul in 732. Spain however remained strongly, and sometimes
weakly, in Islamic grasp for another 700 years.

Al-Andalus in the early 700s was made up of many factions. Multiple Berber
tribes (who are the true Moors as the term is strictly intended though it is often
used to mean any Islamic person in Spain), Egyptian, Palestinian, Jordanian,
Damascene and several Christian factions existed. These factions argued and
assassinated one another and loosely obeyed the Abbasid governor of the time
until Abd al-Rahman I, a prince of the recently overthrown Ummayyid dynasty in
Baghdad, arrived in al-Andalus. Abd al-Rahman was strongly supported by many
local Arab royalists and defeated the current Abbasid governor with their aid. He
became the Sultan of Cordoba and started the second Ummayyid Dynasty which
was to last longer than the first.

Abd al-Rahman I reigned from 756 until 788. During his reign, music became
commonplace in the courts and was highly honoured all over in al-Andalus. He
made Cordoba the capital of his realm and built the palace of Munyat al-Rusafa
on the outskirts of it. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was built with the intention
of rivalling the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Great Mosque of
Damascus. Abd al-Rahman I was a strong and hard leader, but at the same time
encouraged the intellectual movement that was to help al-Andalus become a
centre of learning and culture equal to Baghdad from the 9th to 11th Centuries.
Music and poetry were strongly encouraged during the time of Abd al-Rahman II
who reigned between 822 and 852. The then famous musician Ziryab moved
from the Baghdad court to al-Andalus and became one of the four most favoured
(and hence powerful) people in Abd al Rahman II’s court.

Ziryab brought the musical traditions of the eastern Islamic empire to al-Andalus.
He taught at the first music school in al-Andalus and made several contributions
to advancing the art of music, including adding a 5th string to his lute. Ziryab
became a trendsetter in Andalusian culture, being well versed in several scientific
disciplines as well as being an accomplished poet and musician. He encouraged
the use of toothpaste and set the fashions of the time - from clothing worn to
what meals were served in.

All levels of society enjoyed access to music and poetry in al-Andalus, unlike in
the east where it was accessible only to the privileged class. Two major types of
song grew out of al-Andalus – both of which contributed to the birth of the
troubadours in Spain and Provence. These were the muwashshah and zajal

Muwashshah was invented at the beginning of the 10th C by Muqaddam ibn Muafa
al-Qibri - a blind poet from Cabra. The muwashshah form is a classical lyrical
poem sung to the accompaniment of a chorus. It gained fame and spread
throughout al-Andalus moving to the east where it is still practiced and
considered an important type of classical Arabic music.

Zajal, the second major song type, uses a colloquial Arabic style to put folk tales
to music in a simple and rhythmic language. Generally the content is emotional.
The Zajal is still popular in many parts of the Arabic world.

The dazzling level of Arabic culture led many Christians to aspire to and imitate it.
They chose Arabic names and spoke Arabic. The bible was translated into Arabic.
These arabised Christians formed a large cultural movement of their own that
lead them to being referred to as Mozarabs or al-mustaribun – ‘the arabised

Al-Andalus was a home to many European firsts. The earliest Andalusian pottery
centre has been dated to 850 in Pechine (Bajana) where the first glazed pottery
has been found. By 900 AD glazed pottery was being made in Cordoba, Seville,
Toledo, Valencia and other cities – one and a half centuries before it was made in

Silk production was learnt by the Arabs from the Chinese and was introduced into
al-Andalus during the middle of the 9th Century. Abd al-Rahman II set up royal
workshops for the weaving of silk, wool and cotton garments that were inscribed
with his name and were gifted to dignitaries and officials as robes of honour. By
the 10th century, distinctly Andalusian designs were being produced which
included human and animals figures, floral and vegetal patterns and were often
bordered by a band of kufik calligraphy. Cordoban artists visited the east to learn
new techniques which they applied in the royal workshops of Madinat al-Zarha
and in the Cordoba where 5000 embroiderers, both men and women, made up an
entire district of the city.

During the reign of Abd al-Rahman II, cloths made of brocade became
fashionable, some even being enriched with precious stones. The brocades of al-
Andalus won fame and were exported to the east and sold in Damascus, Baghdad
and other further flung cities. In Egypt, Fatimid rulers sent out gifts of silk cloth
and carpets made in al-Andalus. Almeria became renowned throughout the
Islamic world for its brocaded textiles, which it exported to Christian Europe and

Following the time of Abd al-Rahman II, there was a slow decline of the power of
the Ummayidd Caliphate in al-Andalus until Abd al-Rahman III came to power in
912 and reigned for 49 years. He was a brilliant leader who took the reigns of
power at a time when the power of the Ummayyid dynasty was essentially limited
to Cordoba. He spent the next 18 years reconquering all of al-Andalus and
restoring the power of the Ummayyid dynasty. Islamic power in al-Andalus
reached its peak during these years as Abd al-Rahman III broke away from the
Abbasids in Baghdad and built the strongest navy along North Africa. He
entertained ambassadors from places such as Byzantium, Germany, France and

Commerce and agriculture flourished. Andalusian music reached its peak with
important manuscripts describing musical theory and biographies of musicians
and singers being produced.

After Abd al-Rahman III, the Ummayyid dynasty slowly decayed again until in
1031, a republic was declared in Cordoba as no one was prepared to accept the
position of Caliph. Civil war and unrest followed, with 28 princedoms being
formed. These multiple princedoms were known as the Taifa kings.

During the time of the Taifa kings, poetry and music continued to be highly
popular and to flourish. Some princes became accomplished singers and
musicians. One such prince was al-Mutamid who ruled in Seville from 1069-91.
Seville became known as the capital for literature and the arts as well as a centre
for the manufacture of musical instruments. Toledo and Sargasso were
particularly known for philosophy and science.

With the fall of the Ummayyid dynasty, the Christians renewed their assault on
al-Andalus and in 1085 Toledo was recaptured and was never held by the Moors
again. What followed was a give and take of the Iberian Peninsula with Islamic
power being returned to most of al-Andalus during the time of the Almorovids.

The Almorovids were puritanically religious and initially were formed on an island
near Senegal but their power rose out of the Berbers in the Moroccan desert. The
Almorovids conquered much of North Africa and in 1088 were asked by the king
of Seville to help overcome Alfonso IV’s strong drive into al-Andalus. They did
this with great success, but decided to add al-Andalus as a province of their
empire at the same time. This led many intellectuals to leave al-Andalus and a
climate of repression prevailed.

With the eclipse of poetry under the Almorovids (1088-1145), music declined in
popularity and quality. Princes and governors still had their own musicians and
singers, yet could not boast of them for fear of the puritanical climate that had
swept the country, but under the Almohads (1145-1232), poetry and music once
more thrived.

The Almohads rose in a response to a return to civil unrest in al-Andalus. Their
initial purpose was to maintain the Taifa kings who returned after the Almorovids’
power declined. The Almohads were a religious and political group that spread
from al-Andalus into Northern Africa and united the entire coast of the Maghrib
from the Atlantic Ocean to the frontier of Egypt.
During this the time of the Almohads, Islamic philosophy and science matured
and began to make its way into Europe. Poetry however never reached the same
level of quality as in the earlier Ummayyid period.

In 1212, 600000 Almohad troops were defeated in a battle 70 miles east of
Cordoba by the combined forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile, the kings of
Aragon and Navarre, a contingent of Templars and other knights from Portugal as
well as French Crusaders. With this defeat, al-Andalus was mostly parcelled out
among the various sovereigns, however Granada remained under Islamic control
and here the Nasrid kings reigned until 1492 in the great fortress of the

The Nasrid kings paid tribute to the kings of Castille, but Granada still managed
to become the wealthiest city in Spain. It became a sanctuary for Muslims fleeing
Christian attacks and maintained a careful balance of diplomacy and military
defence and strength. Granada was surrendered to the Castillians in 1492 due to
much unfortunate internal politics of the Nasrid dynasty. In 1492 the Christian
kings began a program of forced conversions, all mosques were closed and all
Arabic books were removed from circulation. Even public baths were destroyed.
By the first decade of the 17th century all Andalusians – Jew and Muslim alike –
were forced to convert to Christianity or be forcibly deported. In this short time,
3 million Muslims and Jews were executed or banished.

       “For a brief while, indeed, the reflection of the Moorish splendour cast a
       borrowed light upon the history of the land which it had once warmed with
       its sunny radiance … Then followed the abomination of desolation, the rule
       of the Inquisition, and the blackness of darkness in which Spain has been
       plunged ever since.” – Stanley Lane-Poole

The Arab Contribution to Islamic Art: From the Seventh to the Fifteenth Centuries
       Wijdan, Ali. Cairo: The American University in Cairo Press, 1999.
The Story of the Moors in Spain
       Lane-Pool, Stanley. Published 1886, republished 1990 by Black Classic
       Press, Baltimore.

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