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The mythical kingdom of Tartessus; a long period of splendour dominated by the civilisation of Al-andalus before its slow destruction by the Reconquest; and the golden age brought about by the discoveries of the New World. These are the key points in the history of a region which subsequently experienced a long and painful decline marked by poverty, occasionally violent conflict over land and nostalgia for its glorious past. That decline has now been checked by the advent of the post-industrial society and the region’s evolution into an autonomous community which is quite distinct from the rest of Spain.

The Phoenicians

Towards the end of the second millennium BC, at the same time as the first Indo-European tribes were crossing the Pyrenees, navigators from the far east of the Mediterranean were landing on the southern coast of Spain.

The discovery of riches in the south of the peninsula (silver, gold, copper and tin) led the Phoenicians to found their first colonies here.

1100 BC — Foundation of Gadir (Cádiz), the largest Phoenician colony in the Western Mediterranean. Minerals extracted and exported from the Riotinto and Aznalcóllar mines.

8C–7C BC ­— The apogee of the kingdom of Tartessus, which traded with Phoenician and Greek colonies in the southern part of the peninsula.

The Carthaginians


6C–4C — Various Iberian tribes continue to inhabit the peninsula. Andalucía remains the most homogenous region.

The Carthaginians gradually settle in southern Spain, replacing the Phoenicians. Cádiz develops into a major port and a prosperous city, while the Mediterranean coast of Andalucía experiences increasing growth.

264–241First Punic War . Rome defeats Carthage and reduces its freedom of movement and its income in the Mediterranean significantly.

237 — The Carthaginian general, Hamilcar Barca, lands in Cádiz, makes a pact with the Iberians and establishes an operational base against the Romans in southern Spain. He is followed by Hasdrubal, who commandeers richer lands in the region and founds his capital at Nova Carthago (Cartagena, Murcia). The Carthaginians improve agricultural techniques in the Guadalquivir Valley, which they transform into an important grain-producing area. Carthaginian fishing boats ply the Andalusian coast and set up a flourishing salting industry.

218–201Second Punic War . Rome is victorious once more and the Carthaginians are forced to relinquish their Spanish territory.

Roman domination

197 — The Romans conquer Cádiz, the last Carthaginian stronghold in Spain.

83–45 — Hispania is the stage for the civil war between Sertorius and Sulla and for the Pompeyan wars, which are brought to an end by Caesar’s victory in Munda (Montilla) in 45 BC.

40 — Caius Octavius Augustus is declared Roman Emperor. This heralds the integration of Hispania into the Roman sphere.


With the rise of Julius Caesar to power, Rome begins to establish a policy of determined colonisation, which involves the founding and regeneration of cities. Augustus divides the peninsula into three large provinces: Tarraconensis, Lusitania and Baetica (Andalucía). As a result of its greater degree of Romanisation, the latter comes to depend on the Senate even though the other provinces remain under the control of the Emperor. Perhaps in order to compensate for the bloodshed suffered in prior years, as well as to house veterans of the civil wars, many cities in Baetica receive special treatment, including Corduba (the capital), Gadir, Hispalis (Sevilla), and Itálica.

The region quickly adopts Roman habits and customs: Roman soldiers are granted land, become farmers and marry Iberian women. In order to facilitate the movement of troops and trade to the cities (metals, wine, oil and salted products) a number of roads are built; one of these is the Via Augusta, which runs parallel to the Mediterranean coast and crosses Baetica from east to west. Andalucía enjoys a period of peace spanning several centuries.


14–37 — During the rule of Tiberius a number of Hispanic patricians obtain Roman citizenship and move to Rome. Inhabitants of Baetica who later became famous were among them, such as the philosopher Seneca, born in Córdoba in 4 BC, and his nephew Lucan (b. 39). On the orders of Nero, both men committed suicide in the imperial city in 65.

74Vespasian grants the right of citizenship to Hispanics in recognition of the part played by the peninsula during the crisis which followed Nero’s assassination.

98–117 — Rule of Marcus Ulpius Trajan , born in Itálica in 53, the first Emperor to be neither Roman nor Italian.

117–38 — Rule of Hadrian , also originally from Itálica. Baetica and the rest of Hispania reach their zenith.

3C — The arrival of Christianity, probably from North Africa.

Rome moves its commercial axis to the East and the slow decline of Hispania begins.

300–14 — Council of the Hispanic bishops in Elvira (Granada).

395 — Death of Theodosius , the last great Roman Emperor, probably born in Itálica.

Visigothic domination

411–25 — The Vandals and Alans occupy Andalucía for a short period until the Visigoths, allied with Rome, and led by Athaulf, succeed in expelling them to North Africa.

441 — The Swabian king Rekhila conquers Sevilla.

484–507 — The Visigothic occupation of Andalucía is consolidated during the reign of Alaric II .

522 — The Byzantine Emperor Justinian establishes a Byzantine province in the southeast of the peninsula, which is later reconquered by the Visi­goths.

568–86 — During the reign of Leovigild, Andalucía supports the revolt of Hermenigild against his father.

589 — Third Council of Toledo and the conversion of the Goths to Catholicism.

615Sisebut implements the first official attempt at eradicating Judaism from the Iberian Peninsula.

7C — During this period, under the influence of St Leander (d. 600) and St Isidore (d. 636), who dedicates his Etymologies to King Sisebut, Baetica is the only sizeable cultural region in Latin Christendom. Syrian and Greek merchants trade with the south of the peninsula.

Jews begin to settle in Córdoba, Sevilla and Málaga. Roman Law is abandoned and the patricians are replaced by bishops and judges.

710 — Death of King Witiza . Faced with the claims to the throne of Roderick , Duke of Baetica, Witiza’s followers turn abroad for assistance.

Muslim Andalucía or al-Andalus (8C–15C)

At the beginning of the 8C the Umayyad Caliphate from Damascus conquers the Berber lands of North Africa. This Caliphate had outgrown the lands of the Arabian Peninsula and the concept of ‘holy war’ enabled it to divert its aggression from Berber chiefs and towards an external enemy. The dominant tribes adhere to the Islamic faith and join together with the powerful Muslim forces.

711 — An army of 7 000 men under the command of the Berber Tarik-ibn-Zeyad , the governor of Tangiers, crosses the Straits and defeats King Roderick near the River Guadalete, or the La Janda lagoons.

They march north to conquer Toledo, the capital of the Visigothic kingdom, marking the beginning of Muslim domination in Spain.

712 — 18 000 soldiers land in Andalucía led by the governor Musa, Tariq’s superior.

Damascus increases in size as a result of the Arab conquests. The Caliphs respect the local governments set up in the conquered territories. In 719 troops of the Caliphate attempt to conquer the south of France but are repulsed in Poitiers by Charles Martel. The Arabs settle in the Guadalquivir Valley and leave the Berbers the less productive lands of Castilla, León and Galicia.

740–50 — Confrontations between the various ethnic groups of Islamic faith occupying the peninsula.

In Arabia the Abbasid dynasty murders the Umayyads and seizes power from them.

The Emirate of Córdoba (756–929)

The al-Andalus kingdom is created, eventually embracing almost the entire Iberian Peninsula. Although theoretically subject to the authority of the new Abbasid capital of Baghdad, the Andalusian Emirs are practically independent.

755 — Abd ar-Rahman, the only remaining member of the Umayyad family, lands in southern Spain and in a short period succeeds in uniting all Muslims. A year later he settles in Córdoba and proclaims himself emir (‘prince’). Abd ar-Rahman I lays the foundation of the kingdom of al-Andalus.

784 — Construction of the Mezquita in Córdoba begins.

788–929 — On the death of Abd ar-Rahman I, the seemingly resolved tensions explode and conflict breaks out between ethnic groups (Arabs, Berbers, Jews and Christians converted to Islam. The Emirate is weakened and the Christian kingdoms of the north strike a number of major blows against the army of al-Andalus.

The Caliphate of Córdoba (929–1031)

The new Caliphate, which had finally broken all ties with Baghdad, becomes the most powerful kingdom in the West and its court the most cultured and refined. Spain regains its commercial impetus in the Mediterranean, which had practically been paralysed during Visigothic domination.

Muslims and Christians mount raids on each other’s territory throughout the peninsula and a network of castles and watchtowers is built to keep an eye on the enemy.

929 — Beginning of the rule of Abd ar-Rahman III (912–61) who declares himself Caliph and Commander of the Believers, brings peace to his kingdom and reinforces the frontier provinces of Toledo, Badajoz and Zaragoza.

936 — Construction of the city of Medina Azahara begins.

978 — General Almanzor seizes power and establishes himself as Prime Minister. The Caliph becomes a figurehead.

1002 — The death of Almanzor in Calatañazor. The first skirmishes in a civil war destabilise the Caliphate.

1031 — End of the Umayyad dynasty. Rebellion of the Córdoban nobility and the destruction of Medina Azahara. The provinces and cities exert their independence and a number of autonomous kingdoms are created.

First Taifa kingdoms and Almoravid supremacy (1009–1110)

The taifa (group or faction in Arabic) kingdoms which appeared at the beginning of the 11C organise according to ethnic criteria. Berbers control the coast from the River Guadalquivir to Granada and the Arabs hold power in Córdoba and Sevilla.

At first the taifa kingdoms make alliances with their neighbours, although some also enter into pacts with the Christians where necessary, even to the extent of paying tribute in order to remain on their own land.

The Christian monarchs exploit their enemies’ weaknesses and succeed in conquering a number of large towns.

1042 — Construction of the Alcázar begins in Sevilla.

1064 — Work begins on the Alcazaba in Málaga.

1085Alfonso VI of Castilla and León conquers Toledo. Lengthy Christian campaigns are waged against Sevilla and Badajoz.

Al-Mutamid , king of Sevilla, feels threatened and calls upon the Almoravids of North Africa for assistance.

Yusuf Ibn Tashunin responds to the plea, crosses the Straits of Gibraltar and in a short time manages to assume control of all the taifa kingdoms.

1118 — The expeditions of Alfonso I (El Batallador) in Andalucía expose the weakness of the Almoravids at a time when the Almohad movement is beginning to gain ground in Morocco.

Second Taifa kingdoms (1144–70) and Almohad supremacy

For a short period of time the taifa kingdoms reappear, taking advantage of the decline of the Almoravids, but they fall once again, this time as a result of the Almohad invasion led by Abd al-Mumin (the Miramamolin of Christian chronicles).

1147 — Almohad troops occupy Marrakech, Tarifa and Algeciras.

Overcoming resistance by Christians and some Moorish kings in the eastern provinces, the Almohads manage to take control of southern Spain.

1163 — Sevilla becomes the capital of al-Andalus.

1184 — Work starts on the Great Mosque (Mezquita Mayor) in Sevilla, whose minaret is later known as the Giralda.

1195 — The Battle of Alarcos (Ciudad Real), in which Al-Mansur is victorious over the Castilian king Alfonso VIII, is the last great triumph of the Almohad army. The decline of the Muslim invaders is to follow.

1212Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa . The armies of Castilla, Aragón and Navarra inflict a decisive defeat on the Almohads.

The Nasrid kingdom (1232–1492)

During the last phase of declining Almohad power, Mohammed I, of the Banu Nasr or Nasrid dynasty, succeeds in uniting the territories of Granada, Málaga and Almería to create a kingdom that is to last for two and a half centuries, protected by sea and mountains.

In order to secure power, he willingly acts as vassal of the Castilian kings and even joins them in the conquest of Sevilla. However, he subsequently takes advantage of the expulsion of the Moors from Christian lands to build up a highly populated and productive kingdom.

The reigns of the 23 Nasrid kings were often beset with interminable internal strife, and the kingdom fell amid violent disputes between the Cegri and Abencerraje families.

1237 — Work starts on the Alcazaba, the oldest part of the Alhambra palace.

1248 — The conquest of Sevilla by Christian troops establishes a frontier which remains unchanged until the 15C.

1313 — Construction of the Generalife begins.

1410 — Don Fernando, the ruling Castilian prince, takes Antequera.

1462Enrique IV conquers Gibraltar and Archidona. The Nasrids appeal in vain for assistance from Muslim lands.

1464–82 — Reign of Muley Hacén (Abu I-Hasan in Arabic), who provokes the animosity of his people by introducing high taxes.

1482–92Boabdil , son of Muley Hacén, deposes his father and accedes to the throne. He decides to attack Lucena but is taken prisoner by the Catholic Monarchs, who release him in exchange for his continuing opposition to his father.

Muley Hacén dies and is succeeded by his brother, El Zagal.

The Nasrids suffer a series of defeats.

1492 — Boabdil surrenders and retires to the Alpujarras estate placed at his disposal by the victors. Shortly afterwards he moves to the Maghreb and settles in Fez.

The Reconquest (12C–15C)

The break-up of the Caliphate and the proclamation of the Kingdom of Taifas weakens Moorish power.

Muslim troops from the various kingdoms concentrate their efforts on fighting over territory rather than holding back the Christian advance.

1158–1214 — Reign of Alfonso VIII . Beginning of the Christian campaigns in Andalucía. Castilla seizes the Sierra Morena. The Almohads are defeated at Las Navas de Tolosa.

1217–52Fernando III the Saint , King of Castilla, takes a decisive step towards the reconquest of Andalucía by first seizing eastern Andalucía, culminating in his entry into Córdoba in 1236, and then western Andalucía (including Sevilla in 1248).

1252–84 — Fernando III’s son, Alfonso X the Wise, conquers the kingdom of Niebla (Huelva), consolidates the Castilian dominions in Lower Andalucía, suppresses revolts in Cádiz and Jerez and expels large numbers of Muslims.

1284–1469 — The Reconquest advances slowly and is halted from the middle of the 14C to the beginning of the 15C. The 15C sees Christian victories during the reigns of Juan II and Enrique IV.

1469 — The marriage of Isabel of Castilla to Fernando of Aragón , to whom the Valencian pope Alexander VI grants the title of the Catholic Monarchs in 1496. Beginning of the unification of the Christian kingdoms.

1481 — The Inquisition holds the first auto-da-fé in Sevilla.

1482–92 — The Catholic Monarchs begin their major offensive against the Nasrid kingdom of Granada. Muslim cities fall to the Christians one after the other, Ronda in 1485, followed by Málaga (1487), Baza (1489), Almería and Guadix (1489).

2 January 1492Boabdil hands over the keys of the city of Granada to the Catholic Monarchs . The victorious Christian monarchs agree to respect the religion, laws and customs of those Muslims who wish to remain.

Consequences of the Reconquest

In the 13C the repopulation of Andalucía took place in two stages: the first during the reign of Fernando III and the second during that of Alfonso X; those Moors who resisted were forced to emigrate. It is thought that between 1240 and 1270 more than 300 000 Muslims fled their homes in order to settle, almost exclusively, in Granada. Immediately after the revolt of 1262 and the resulting expulsion of Muslims, the workforce was substantially reduced and the region saw an increase in the development of huge estates (latifundios) .

The reconquest of the kingdom of Granada had very similar consequences. However, on this occasion the majority of inhabitants remained in their towns and villages as a result of the agreement signed by the Catholic Monarchs promising to respect their religion, laws and customs. The breaking of this promise by the Christians provoked two rebellions in the Alpujarras mountains, which were violently put down.

In 1570 the Moors were forced to disperse throughout Castilla. The final expulsion was ordered in 1609.

The Golden Age of Andalucía

Trade with America brought wealth to Sevilla and the surrounding region, including Córdoba and Málaga. Sevilla, which benefited from the monopoly, was transformed into a major Spanish city and a paradise for powerful merchants, adventurers and those on the margins of society. The situation in the rest of Andalucía was different. The arrival of new products from the Indies (cochineal, indigo) had an effect on the region’s traditional textile industry, while Granada’s silk industry, which produced satin, velvet and damask, suffered immeasurably from the austere clothing policy imposed on the Spanish Empire by the Habsburgs. However, Córdoba began to specialise in the production of harnesses and cordovans made from American leather, while mercury from the mines of Almadén, used in the production of silver amalgams, became indispensable for exploiting the silver of Mexico and Peru. On the other hand, continuous increases in taxes and the relentless demand for agricultural produce helped to concentrate land in the hands of the most powerful.

1492Christopher Columbus sets sail from the port of Palos de la Frontera (Huelva) on 3 August. On 12 October he arrives at Guanahani Island (Bahamas).

Expulsion of the Jews who have not converted to Christianity. More than 150 000 people are forced to leave Sefarad (Spain). The majority settle in Mediterranean countries, where they form Sephardic communities in which some of the inhabitants continue to speak the Spanish of that period (ladino) .

1499–1501First Alpujarras rebellion . The intransigence of Cardinal Cisneros provokes an uprising by Muslims from the Albaicín in Granada.

It soon spreads to the Alpujarras region, the Sierra de los Filabres and the Serranía de Ronda.

1502 — Publication of a decree forcing the Muslim rebels to convert to Christianity or leave the country. The majority opt for baptism. Moors who convert become known as Moriscos .

1503 — The Casa de Contratación, which monopolises the colonial market, is founded in Sevilla.

1516Carlos I , later to become Emperor under the name Carlos V, inherits the Spanish throne on the death of his grandfather Fernando the Catholic.

1530 — Construction of Carlos V’s palace begins in the Alhambra.

1556 — Carlos V abdicates in favour of his son Felipe II .

1568–71Second Alpujarras rebellion . Afraid that the Moors would ally themselves with the Turks and Berbers, Felipe II outlaws the use of Arabic and the observance of the Islamic religion. Revolts erupt throughout the region. The Moors from Granada disperse throughout Spain.

1599 — The painter Diego Velázquez is born in Sevilla, where he will work until 1622.

The crises of the 17C–18C

The first half of the 17C witnessed the beginning of Andalucía’s decline. One of the causes was the drop in population, decimated by four major plagues (in 1649 the population of Sevilla was reduced by half) and by the final expulsion of the moriscos , whose labour was of fundamental importance to agriculture. In the next few years the situation in the Andalusian countryside continued to decline, with most of the land falling into the hands of large landowners.

More than 80 per cent of agricultural workers were day labourers and only seven per cent of land belonged to those who worked it. Gradually the wealthy created a powerful rural oligarchy closely connected to the municipal administration which completely controlled the life of the people. Industry in Sevilla, closely bound to maritime trade, collapsed after the silting up of the Guadalquivir at Sanlúcar, preventing large ships from navigating upstream.

1610Decree of expulsion of the morisco population.

1621Felipe IV ascends to the throne.

1641 — Riots in the region’s main towns and cities are the result of the economic crisis.

1680 — Cádiz becomes an Atlantic trading port, taking over the role previously held by Sevilla.

1700Carlos II , the last monarch of the House of Austria, dies in Madrid.

1702 — Beginning of the War of the Spanish Succession between Felipe V and Carlos of Habsburg. In the course of the struggle, the British, who supported the Archduke Carlos, take Gibraltar . The Treaty of Utrecht (1713) ratifies English control of the Rock of Gibraltar.

1767Carlos III begins the repopulation of the Sierra Morena.

1788 — The colonial monopoly of Cádiz is abolished.

The social conflicts of the 19C

At the beginning of the century there was little industrial development in Andalucía. The mining of natural resources began towards the middle of the century, although in 1868 the mining industry was taken over by foreign monopolies, in particular the British.

At the same time, the shipbuilding industry experienced significant growth in Cádiz, agricultural produce began to be sold commercially and large sections of the railway network were built.

Continued trade with the colonies, which was to last until 1898, also enabled exchanges with a number of European countries. As a result of these contacts, groups of middle-class liberals began to develop in major towns and cities.

1808 — The French army enters Spain. Beginning of the War of Independence (PeninsularWar). On 19 July General Dupont is defeated at Bailén , in the province of Jaén, by Spanish troops under the command of General Castaños.

1812 — During the French invasion the Cortes de Cádiz (Cádiz Parliament) is convened and the liberal Constitution of Cádiz is drawn up.

1814 — End of the War of Independence.

1820Rafael del Riego leads a liberal revolt in Andalucía and forces King Fernando VII to reinstate the 1812 constitution.

1835–37 — Minister Mendizábal orders the disentailment ( desamortización ) of the property of the Church and town councils.

1840 — Andalusian peasants, the victims of liberalism and disentailment, organise themselves in order to improve their living conditions.

1863 — Pérez del Álamo, a veterinary surgeon, starts a major Republican uprising which spreads to Málaga, Granada, Jaén and Almería.

1873 — Proclamation of the First Republic . Tentative efforts at land redistribution.

1875Restoration of the monarchy (Alfonso XII).

Andalusian anarchism develops into terrorism. Labour strife and strikes increase.

The 20C

1900–31 — Strikes and social struggles continue unabated, led by the trade unions, particularly the CNT and FAI.

1931 — Proclamation of the Second Republic and minor attempts at agrarian reform, which do not satisfy Andalusian farm workers who are beset by hunger and unemployment.

January 1933 — The Casas Viejas incident in Cádiz. The revolutionary general strike, which started in Cádiz, comes to a tragic end when the Civil Guard and riot police set fire to the house in which the anarchist leaders had taken refuge.

This brings about the Socialists’ defeat in the elections of the same year.

1936–39 — In the early days of the Civil War , most of Andalucía falls into the hands of military garrisons based in the region’s cities (Cádiz, Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla), while the east of the region remains loyal to the Republic.

1960 — This decade sees an increase in emigration to the more industrialised regions of Spain (Basque Country and Catalunya) and to a number of European countries (West Germany, France and Switz-erland).

1975 — Death of Francisco Franco. Juan Carlos I is declared king.

1977 — The Spanish Socialist Workers Party (PSOE) wins the elections in Andalucía.

1978 — The government of Adolfo Suárez approves the pre-autonomous status of the region and the Junta de Andalucía is established.

1980 — Andalusian autonomy is approved by referendum.

1982 — The Statute of Autonomy of Andalucía comes into force.

First elections for the Andalusian Parliament. Rafael Escuredo becomes the first President of the Junta de Andalucía.

1984 — Presidency of Juan Rodríguez de la Borbolla.

1986 — Spain joins the European Union. Andalucía enjoys great benefits in infrastructure improvements and EU subsidies for agriculture.

1990 — Presidency of Manuel Chaves.

1992 — Universal Exposition (Expo) at Sevilla. Inauguration of the Madrid-Sevilla high-speed train (AVE).

1999 — World Track and Field Championships are held in Sevilla.

2002 — World Equestrian Championships are held in Jérez de la Frontera.

2004 The PSOE (Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party) led by José Luís Rodríguez Zapatero sweep into national office.

2005 — Mediterranean Games are held in Almería.

2006 — Andalucía experiences record high temperatures and tourist arrivals.

2008 — An end to E.U. subsidies for tobacco farmers means that 1 000 families on the Granada Vega can no longer make a living from the crop.


For almost eight centuries, from 711 to 1492, Muslim Andalucía or al-Andalus was the backdrop for the cohabitation of two completely contrasting religious, architectural and cultural worlds: Islam and Christianity. The imprint left by those Muslims who inhabited this southern tip of Spain is immense.

The population

The inhabitants of al-Andalus were of different origins and therefore had different physical characteristics. As the years passed the distinction between natives and foreigners lessened as the newcomers imposed their structures on the conquered territories. The natives were Hispano-Roman Visigoths, both Christian and Jewish, of Latin culture and organised according to a feudal system. The foreigners were Arabs and Berbers, of Muslim faith and Arab culture.

The process of “Islamisation” and “Arabisation” imposed by those in authority gave rise to a relatively uniform Moorish society, which was both Arabic and Muslim. Initially this society comprised two main social groups: the upper (jassa) and lower (amma) classes. These groups differed greatly, even in legal matters; a member of the nobility was not punished in the same way as a member of the lower class. A middle class, which continued to increase in size, came into existence around the 11C.

The poor (miskin ) survived by taking on occasional work as labourers on farms and during harvests.

The clients or maulas were free servants who were bound to a master, from whom they could take their name. The largest number of slaves belonged to the siqlabi group (esclavos) , who were purchased on the international market or taken prisoner in times of war; these people usually worked for the most important nobles. Negro slaves (abid) , who worked mainly in the army, originated from the African slave market.



The Arabs arrived on the peninsula in two main waves – the first in the 8C and the second during the Almohad period in the 12C – and always occupied the most powerful positions. Their aim from the beginning was to Islamise the native population. In the later period, in order to be recognised as an Arab, it was enough to bear a suitable name, which could be acquired relatively easily by those with the right contacts.


The first large contingent of this North-African ethnic group crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in the 8C, led by the generals Tarik and Musa.

In the second half of the 10C and beginning of the 11C, many of the same faith followed and eventually found themselves in control of some of the taifa kingdoms, including Granada.

Although many obtained positions of responsibility, the vast majority worked as agricultural labourers, cattle breeders and craftsmen.


The Christians used this term to describe the arabised Christians who stayed on their land and remained true to their religion after the arrival of the Muslims. The Arabs referred to them as nazarenos (naara) .


These were Christians who converted to Islam and, in a number of cases, managed to obtain prominent positions. During the 11C they altered their family tree in order to create an ostensible Arab line that would allow them to retain their privileged position in society.


Badly treated by the Visigoths, they greeted the arrival of the Muslims with delight. They integrated into Islamic culture perfectly and experienced no major problems until the Almohad invasion.

Daily life


The Moors made profound changes to Hispano-Visigothic society which, having experienced a long period of decline, was extremely rural in character. This eminently urban Islamic civilisation founded a number of towns, some of which were quite sizeable; Córdoba, for example, became the largest and one of the most important cities in Europe at the time, both in terms of population and cultural activity. It should be noted that Andalusian cities of the period were equipped with sewerage systems, public lighting and various communal services. In fact, they were blessed with far more amenities than their contemporary Christian counterparts.

The Moorish medina (al-Madinat) , the old walled centre of the city, followed an organised pattern within the chaos of its narrow streets and alleyways which developed as a result of a lack of building regulations. The districts (harat) were inhabited by craftsmen of the same guild or by families of the same religion (Jews and Mozarabs). The interior of the medina housed markets now known in Spanish as zocos (from the Arabic suq), public baths (hamam) , mosques and restaurants, and even included a university or madrassa in larger towns and cities.

More modern districts or arrabales (al-Rabad) were situated around the medina and were soon walled. The cemetery (maqbara) was located outside the city walls, not far from the roads leading into the city, as was the sa’ría , a large esplanade that was occasionally used as a military training area (musalla) , and sometimes as a meeting place for the faithful (musara) to celebrate the end of Ramadan; this often replaced the main mosque in smaller settlements. During the Christian period these espl- anades were subsequently used to thresh grain and were known as eras (threshing floors).

The civil and military authorities, as well as the army and their families, lived in the alcazaba (al-Qasaba), an independent walled fortress equipped with its own services which was never a part of the main city.

Living quarters

In general only one Moorish family lived in each house. The wealthy could afford to have many wives, but for the rest of the population monogamous marriage was the norm. The surface area of those Moorish houses which have been excavated by archaeologists varies from 50 to 300sq m/538 to 3 229sq ft.

The most obvious feature of Moorish houses is the desire for privacy. Each individual built his house to meet his own needs, but nearly all houses were away from the road in order to avoid noise. Only the Jews built houses grouped together around a yard, with a joint entrance situated at the end of a cul-de-sac. Protected by a very plain façade, with few openings covered with shutters, Moorish houses were organised around a patio which was reached across a hallway. All houses had a privy, a kitchen and one or more rooms, as well as a barn. Water was stored in a cistern or drawn from a well in the patio. Fireplaces were not common as the houses were heated with braziers and the women cooked over fires contained in earthenware pots.

Household furnishings were simple: ceramic and earthenware utensils, chests and carpets, as well as tapestries and cushions which could be made from cotton, wool or silk depending on the financial standing of the family.

The market or souk

Although it also existed in rural areas, the souk or zoco was mainly an urban feature. Cities had specialised markets which sold and even manufactured products which came from the countryside. Articles of high quality and value were sold in special markets known as alcaicerías . These were also centres of export to much larger areas, such as the Mediterranean, Islamic countries, the Maghreb and other African markets. The market overseer, known as the almotacén , controlled commercial activity, which was regulated down to the smallest detail, in order to limit illegal practices and abuse.

Alhóndigas were used to store products and to house merchants. The Spanish word fonda, meaning inn, has evolved from the Arabic word for this particular building (funduq). The Corral del Carbón in Granada is a reconstructed old alhóndiga.


Every district in the towns and cities of al-Andalus would have had its own hamam (it is said that Córdoba had over 600), to meet the demands of a population with a great penchant for water and a desire to fulfil the Islamic obligations of spiritual and bodily cleanliness. As well as centres of hygiene with specialised staff, baths also acted as a place in which to meet and relax – in the mornings for men, and the afternoons for women and children.

The exteriors of the baths were topped with vaults with small skylights to enable the diffusion of a narrow, but pleasant, light. The interior, covered with azulejos, was divided into four main areas whose temperature progressively increased. In the first, visitors would undress once they had obtained towels and the obligatory wooden shoes. They would then enter a second section, a cold room, housing the latrines, where the bathing process would begin, before continuing to the remaining two rooms, one hot, the other warm. The purpose of the hot room was to open up the pores, while the warm room would have been used for massages. Men would take advantage of their visit to the baths to have their hair cut and beard trimmed, while women would apply a range of beauty products, such as depilatory creams, jasmine-scented perfume, henna to colour the hair and kohl to darken the area around the eyes.

The mosque

The mosque (mezquita) is a house of prayer to which Muslims over the age of 16 were called to midday prayer on Fridays. Towns would have small, local mosques, as well as larger ones, known as aljamas, as in Córdoba. In line with other parts of the Islamic world, mezquitas in al-Andalus were also used as large civic centres, similar to the Roman forum and the public squares of the Middle Ages. Here, documents of interest to the community could be read and flags would be blessed prior to the departure of a new military expedition. Initially, the mezquita would have also have been used as a teaching centre and the office of the town’s treasury.

The layout of the mezquita was inspired by the house in Medina where the prophet Muhammad lived and imparted his teaching. As a result, in keeping with the design of a traditional house, it consisted of two clearly defined areas: the covered area or prayer room (haram) , with its floor covered in matting, and the patio (shan) , with a fountain or pool (sabil) for ritual ablutions. Other basic features included:

The kiblah , or main wall of the room, facing Mecca. Strangely, mezquitas in al-Andalus faced southwards rather than southeast, which would have been the direction towards Mecca from Andalucía. Some experts believe that this was due to Syrian influence, while others consider that the route to Mecca would first have involved a journey south.

The mihrab , an empty niche in the centre of the kiblah to remind the faithful of the place where Mohammed prayed.

The maqsura , an area surrounded by latticework screens located in front of the mihrab. It would appear that this area was reserved for the Caliph.

The mimbar , a type of wooden pulpit used by the imam to conduct Friday prayers (jutba) .

The alminar or minaret, the most symbolic feature of Islamic architecture, is a tower attached to one of the walls of the patio, the upper part of which is used by the muezzin to call the faithful to prayer. A typical Andalusian alminar would be crowned with three gilded spheres (yamur) of decreasing sizes and a fleur-de-lys.

The countryside

The outskirts of large cities were dotted with farms known as almunias . The beauty of these luxurious mansions with their own gardens, orchards, pools and fountains was said to rival that of some of the most sumptuous royal palaces. A fine example of this was the almunia of al-Rusafa, to the northeast of Córdoba.

Although sovereigns and leading figures in Islamic life owned extensive land farmed by labourers, independent farmers and cattle breeders were also commonplace in al-Andalus. They lived within small communities known as alquerías which were generally protected by a castle. These hamlets included houses, outbuildings, farmland and barns. Larger ones were often surrounded by fortifications and had their own common amenities similar to those found in urban areas.


The introduction of sophisticated hydraulic techniques had a significant effect on the Mediterranean ecosystem of Andalucía. Although some of these techniques originated from the Roman period, such as the river water-wheel, it is undeniable that the Moors were superbly skilled at extracting water from below ground and channelling it to extensive areas of farmland. In fact, modern-day Spanish contains a number of agricultural terms which descend directly from Arabic.

In addition to terrace farming, the Moors introduced animal-powered wheels and an irrigation system of Oriental origin consisting of boring holes in the ground until a spring was discovered; the wells were used to control the pressure of the water, which was then channelled to those areas requiring irrigation.

Islamic law controlled the provision of water, which was considered an asset in common. The zabacequia would settle disputes and would establish an irrigation timetable which was scrupulously respected. If a farmer failed to make use of his slot, it would be channelled to other land; nobody, however, had the right to pass on water as a gift, sell it or exchange it.

Alongside the region’s traditional crops (olives, cereals and vines), the Moors also grew other products imported from the East including rice, pomegranates, cotton and saffron, as well as what were considered to be luxury items, such as spices or mulberry trees to feed silkworms. The fertile, irrigated land (huertas) overflowed with high-quality products, many of which had been introduced by the Moors, such as the aubergine, artichoke, chicory and asparagus. Meanwhile, the magnificent gardens traditionally associated with Moorish culture were a feast of colour with violets, roses, honeysuckle and jasmine.

Animal breeding

The Moors were great breeders of animals, which were used for riding, as draft animals, and for the table. As an illustration of their importance, the Andalusian horse , whose origins can be traced back to the Moors, is now famous the world over. The leather industry was one of the most flourishing sectors of the region’s economy. Documentary evidence has also shown that flocks of sheep were of enormous size during the period of Arab domination. It is also strange to note that although Muslims were prohibited from eating pork, old texts refer to the breeding of pigs and of payment to farmers for them. The main breeding areas were the marshlands of the lower Guadalquivir and the area to the east of Córdoba.

Defensive architecture

The Moors built numerous military installations both for defence and as bases from which to attack their Christian and fellow Muslim rivals. Many of these constructions were reused after the Reconquest and some are still standing today.

Besides the alcazaba, the most typical defensive buildings were the castles erected along the border with Christian-held territory. As a general rule, they were built with an east-west orientation and comprised two clearly defined sections: the alcázar or fortress , organised around a central patio, and a large esplanade in which the barracks for troops would have been located. On the outer limits of the central castle, and separate from it, there would have been a series of smaller fortresses in constant communication with a number of watchtowers .

The walls were strengthened by the construction of towers, used as garrisons and strategic points from which to harass the enemy, as well as pyramid-shaped merlons. Communication around the walls was via an inner circular path.

The 11C saw the construction of the first barbicans – defensive walls positioned in front of the main walls – and the first moats. Later on, during the period of Almohad domination, turrets , such as the Torre del Oro in Sevilla, began to appear. These defensive constructions were independent of the main fortified area, but connected to it via a wall with a narrow path (coracha) .

In the early days of Moorish rule, the gateways along the walls were strengthened using metal plates and leather. In the 11C, however, these gateways began to be built in the towers themselves, while later refinements saw the introduction of machicolations and platforms consisting of small raised structures erected on the external façade of the defensive wall.

Obviously, construction techniques evolved over the centuries. During the Caliphate of Córdoba, for example, ashlar stone was predominantly used, to be subsequently replaced by the more resistant clay mortar, a mixture of sand, lime and gravel made into moulds and then covered with brightly coloured plaster to physically dazzle the enemy.

A land of scholars, poets and philosophers

For eight centuries al-Andalus was an important centre of artistic and scientific culture. While sovereigns elsewhere on the Iberian Peninsula were living in sombre castles, in which they were surrounded by men interested in nothing but warfare, Moorish emirs, caliphs and monarchs were inhabiting luxurious palaces and encouraging cultural development. Scientists, philosophers, poets and artists acted as the best possible ambassadors for the power and refinement of their Moorish rulers. Nor should it be forgotten that those at the vanguard of Andalusian culture were not isolated figures, for they carried out their work alongside a team of assistants within the Court itself. This research would have taken place either in large libraries, such as the one created by Al-Hakam II, with over 300 000 volumes, or in the madrassas (religious academies) created for this very purpose.

From the 11C onwards, Arabic was the most widely used language across the entire peninsula, and although Christians and Jews preserved their own languages, they used Arabic in daily life and in their artistic and scientific work. Another feature of Moorish culture was the constant interchange with other areas, from the eastern boundaries of Islamic influence – on journeys to and from Mecca – to North Africa, particularly during the Almoravid and Almohad periods.

Much of the credit for the preservation of Muslim knowledge, which was highly valued by the Western world throughout the Renaissance and even beyond, is due to the efforts of Alfonso X. With the cooperation of Mozarabs and Jews alike, this Christian monarch had Arabic manuscripts copied and corrected following his conquests and those of his father, Fernando III.

The sciences

Moorish scientists took an interest in every conceivable aspect of science. Alchemists studied the behaviour of metallic substances and slowly discovered their basic processes; agronomists wrote agricultural papers including detailed information on the rearing of carrier pigeons, which at the time were the fastest and most efficient form of communication; naturalists created zoos housing unusual species; while mathematicians , such as Avempace, who was also a great astronomer, were noted for their work on trigonometry.

The field of medicine reached new heights through the work of specialists who published their scientific findings in encyclopaedia. Through these publications, it is known that they were able to perform somewhat complex surgery and were aware of illnesses such as haemophilia.

As well as the most famous physician of them all, Averroës , who was also a great philosopher, mention should also be made of the five generations of the Avenzoar family. Medical science was strictly linked with botany – another field in which spectacular advances were made. An example of this can be seen in the work of Ibn al-Baytar, from Málaga, the author of a compendium in which he lists 1 400 plant- and mineral-based medicines which were of great importance during the Renaissance.

The extensive knowledge of Moorish scientists resulted in the development of inventions revolutionary in their time. These ranged from the construction of astrolabes and quadrants – fundamental to navigation – to refrigeration systems, lighting effects created via bowls of mercury, anaphoric clocks (moved by water) – very useful for fixing the hours of prayer – and even mechanical toys. The Moors also adopted Chinese paper- manufacturing techniques, resulting in the production of paper in Córdoba from the 10C onwards, and were responsible for introducing so-called Arabic numerals . It should also be noted that the Spanish words guarismo (a number or figure) and algoritmo (algorithm) derive from the name of the mathematician al-Khuwarizmi.


In Arabic literature, poetry was of greater importance than prose. Arab writers improvised; composing their poetry out loud, and on many occasions forced their slaves to learn poems by heart in order to sell them at a higher price.

Early divans (collections of poems) solely consisted of qasidas , classical, mono-rhymed love poems made up of three parts: the evocation of the beloved, the description of a journey, and an elegy of the poem’s subject. At the end of the 9C, a poet from Cabra invented the moaxaja, with one part written in classical Arabic, the other in Romance vernacular (jarcha). The romantic couplets which appeared as jarchas in Arabic moaxajas are the oldest European lyrical poetry. The zejel , apparently invented by Avempace , was the other type of poem frequently used in al-Andalus; these were written in the vernacular and were generally narrative.

Al-Mutamid – King of Sevilla during the taifa period, this man was one of the finest Moorish writers, although the poet cited most by critics was the Córdoban Ibn Zaydun , lover of Wallada, an Umayyad princess, who herself was also a brilliant poet.

Abd al-Rabbini – In literary prose, during the Caliphal period the most significant written work was El collar único (The Single Necklace) by Abd al-Rabbini; he also wrote many epistles.

Ibn Hazm –The best-known writer of the period was the jurist and theologian, to whom we owe The Dove’s Necklace on poetic diction and psychological truth. This book has been widely translated and in it he narrates amorous adventures set in the court of Córdoba, but always with exemplary, moral zeal.

Ibn Zamrak – The 14C saw the rise to prominence of this poet from al-Andalus; his verses are engraved on the walls of the Alhambra.

Averroës – It is highly probable that Greek philosophy, particularly that inspired by Aristotle, would not have reached us without Averroës (Ibn Rusd), the intellectual heir to Avicenna. This great Córdoban (1126–98), who was a magistrate in Sevilla and Córdoba and who even became physician to the court, relied on the texts of Greek thinkers to develop his own philosophy out of the pre-ordained ideas of Islamic religion. This physician, musician, astronomer, mathematician and poet was indisputably the most outstanding figure in Moorish culture.

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