Al-ʾAndalūs (Arabic الإندلوس) is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim conquerors; it refers to both the Emirate (ca 750–929) and Caliphate of Cordoba (929–1031 ) and its taifa successor kingdoms specifically, and in general to territories under Muslim rule (711–1492). As Iberia was slowly regained by Christians fighting from northern enclaves, in the long process known as the Reconquista, the name "al-Andalus" came to refer only to the Muslim-dominated lands of the South, the former Roman Hispania Baetica, within an ever-southward-moving frontier.
In 711 CE, a "Moorish" Islamic army from North Africa invaded Visigoth Christian Spain. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad they brought most of Spain under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They moved northeast across the Pyrenees but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. The Iberian peninsula, except for small areas in the northwest and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of Al-Andalus. In the Archaeological Museum in Madrid, a dinar dating from five years after the conquest (716), has the Arabic "Al-Andalus" on one side and the Iberian Latin "Span(ica)" on the other — apparently the first mention known.
The interior of the Great Mosque in Cordoba, now a Christian cathedral. The mosque, known as the Mezquita
in Spanish, is one of the finest examples of Arab-Islamic architechture pioneered by the Umayyad
dynasty of Spain.
When the Umayyad dynasty gave way to the Abbasid in 750, an Umayyad exile united Muslim fiefdoms, establishing himself as the Emir of Cordoba and effectively ruling Al-Andalus (and a region of western North Africa) independently from the Caliph at Baghdad. In 929 his direct descendant, the Umayyad Emir Abd-ar-Rahman III proclaimed himself Caliph (a claim against the sitting Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad), elevating the emirate to the more prestigious status of a caliphate.
Muslims claim that the period of the Emirate and the Caliphate was tolerant to the surviving Christian and Jewish dhimmis living on the conquered land provided that they followed stringent dhimmi rules imposed by the Islamic occupiers. The Caliphate during the tenth century has been called an Islamic Golden Age by Muslims though critics challenge this as a myth pointing out that this supposed golden age was preceded by the brutal slaughter of tens of thousands of native spaniards by the invading Muslim armies. In Muslim culture, Andalus today is a nostalgic symbol of an earlier "Golden period" of Islam.
After the caliphate's collapse in 1031, Al-Andalus broke up into a number of mostly independent Islamic fiefdoms called taifas. Christian states based in the north and west slowly extended their power over Spain: Galicia, Asturias and the León, and the Basque country, Navarre and Catalonia in the Marca Hispanica were the Christian strongholds. Aragon and eventually Castile became Christian in the next several centuries. In response, the taifa kings requested help from the Almoravids, the puritanical rulers of the Maghrib. However, the Almoravids conquered the taifa kingdoms.
The Almoravids were substantially less tolerant of Christians and Jews than the earlier Umayyads, and were succeeded in the 12th century by the even more fanatical Almohads, another Berber dynasty. In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile defeated the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The Muslims were driven from Central Spain in the next few decades until only the kingdom of Granada remained.
Granada survived for three more centuries as a vassal state of Castile, and is is known in modern time for architectural gems such as the Alhambra. On January 2, 1492, Boabdil of Granada, the leader of the Amirate of Gharnatah (Granada), the last Muslim stronghold in Iberia surrendered, in the "Capitulation of Granada," to armies of Christian Spain, recently united under the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile (Isabel La Católica) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (Fernando el Católico or Ferran el Catòlic). Al-Andalus ceased to exist.
The famous Court of the Lions inside the Umayyad
palace of Alhambra
, in Granada
, one of the finest examples of the high art and culture achieved by the Islamic civilization in Spain.
In 1502, the Capitulation's extension of tolerance was rescinded, and the remaining Muslims were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity, as moriscos. They were an important portion of the peasants in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henri Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants at the time.
The Moorish domination of the peninsula had a profound effect on language, art and culture, especially in the south Examples include the many Arabic or Arabic-influenced words in Spanish, and architecture such as Granada's Alhambra.
The name of today's Andalusia (Spanish: Andalucía) comes from "Al-Andalus", as this southern province was among the last territories to pass from Moorish to Spanish Christian hands.
Etymology of "al-Andalus"
The etymology of the word "al-Andalus" are uncertain. The word is popularly thought to be derived from the Vandals, the Germanic tribe who settled in southern Iberia and Northern Africa. However, scholars are by no means in agreement. The notion of it originating with the Vandals, who supposedly devastated southern Spain so severely in a mere twenty-two years of tenure (407-429) as to leave their name forever imprinted on it, gained in popularity over time and survives — but it is a theory put forth without much basis, bolstered perhaps by homophony. Three possible etymologies have been advanced in recent times. The first, the Vandal link, is largely disregarded now, and the question of the origin of the Arabic name, given to the entire peninsula, is still open to debate.
Reinhardt Dozy (1820-1883), Dutch author of the famous History of the Muslims of Spain (4 vols., Turner, Madrid, 1984), advanced the theory according to which the name of Al-Andalus is an Arabic rendition of Vandalicia or Vandalucía, on the assumption that the Roman province of Hispania Baetica (southern Spain) could have acquired and retained this name-association, not in Iberia itself, but among the Arabs of the maghreb.
The Spanish philologist Joaquín Vallvé Bermejo, in his The Territorial Divisions of Muslim Spain (CSIC, Madrid, 1986), is of the opinion that Al-Andalus, as in Jazirat al-Andalus, translates pure and simply as "Atlantis" or "island of the Atlantic":
- Arabic texts offering the first mentions of the island of al-Andalus and the sea of al-Andalus become extraordinarily clear if we substitute this expressions with "Atlántida" or "Atlantic". The same can be said with reference to Hercules and the Amazons whose island, according to Arabic commentaries of these Greek and Latin legends, was located in jauf al-Andalus — that is, to the north or interior of the Atlantic Ocean.
An etymology was advanced recently by H. Halm in "Al-Andalus und Gothica Sors", in Welt des Oriens, vol. 66, 1989, pp 252-263, and drawn upon by Marianne Barrucand/Achim Bednorz in Arquitectura Islámica en Andalucía, Köln, Taschen, 1992, pp 12-13. Halm dismisses any links with the Vandals, an association he finds without foundation, and offers instead an interesting explanation. According to him the name "Al-Andalus" is simply an Arabic rendition of the Visigothic name given to the Roman province of Baetica. The Visigoths, following the custom of their Germanic predecessors, parcelled out the conquered territories by drawing lots, and the allotments to anyone, with their corresponding land, was called "Sortes Gothica". Contemporary texts, still written in Latin, refer to the Gothic kingdom as a whole as "Gothica sors" (singular). It is reasonable to suppose then that the corresponding Gothic designation "Landahlauts" (allotted, inherited, drawn land), in its phonetic form — "landalos" — became easily and spontaneously, to Arabic ears, "Al-Andalus".
- Lôt (Gothic hlauts: allotment, inheritance. Old High German hlôz, modern German los, which passed to French as lot (cf. Lot (departement)) and Castilian as lote; whence "lottery," "loterie," "lotería," etc.