Today, Andalusia is only a small part of the former Al-Andalus, where different cultures lived together, respected and inspired each other. Around the year 1000, the area was seen as the wealthiest and most civilized region of Europe. Because of this mutual inspiration, there was huge prosperity on a social, philosophical, economic, scientific and cultural level. This formed the basis for the Renaissance and the Enlightenment, which liberated Europe from the Middle Ages.
In Al-Andalus, which experienced the largest period of prosperity around the year 1000, Islamic scholars tried to understand the Koran. They were inspired by the Greek philosophers and writers of antiquity, such as Plato and Aristotle. This led to a deepening of the philosophy in Al-Andalus. The work of the ancient Greek and Roman sages was copied by the Arabic scribes on new parchments (and soon on the still unknown paper) and then translated. Without this laborious effort many works of the ancient times would have been lost forever. The library in Córdoba alone was filled with more books than could be found in the whole Christian world.
Córdoba had many universities and baths, the streets were paved and lit, and agriculture had a superior irrigation system for those days. In the field of mathematics, the scientists soon surpassed their Greek and Roman teachers by mutual cooperation.
In our current language the traces of this scientific collaboration and development are still noticeable. Terms such as 'algebra' and 'bazar' are of Arabic origin. Words like zero, number, almanac, algorithm, azimuth, zenith and many other terms from mathematics and astronomy come from that time.
"Granada is the Damascus of Al-Andalus, feast for the eyes, elevation for the soul. It has an impregnable alcazaba (fortress), with high walls and splendid buildings. It is known for its most unusual river that is shared by homes, bathhouses, souks, outdoor and indoor mills and gardens. God has graced it by placing it above a broad fertile plain, where streams of silver ingots spread among the emerald of the trees."
(Al-Shaqundi, 13th century)
Much of the poetry that was written in those days still inspires:
"Andalusia is soft as silk, sweet as honey, filled with sugar, lit by the wax of the candles, it runs over from the oil, it is cheerful as saffron." (Al-Razi - poet)
The poet Al-Zubaydi, who was also the governor and tutor of the caliph Al-Hakam II, summarized the Al-Andalus period as follows:
"All countries in their diversity are one and the people are neighbors and brothers."
The philosopher, poet and Sufi Mysticus Rumi, now widely quoted and read, also drew inspiration from the heyday of Al- Andalus:
"Hold to the reins of Love and do not be afraid.
Hold on the real behind the false and do not be afraid.
You must know that you seek is none other than you.
Hold on to this truth and do not be afraid."
Male and Female roles
The social position of women in Al-Andalus society was - especially for that time - extraordinary. A distinctive position was taken by Aisha Fatima Al-Hurra, the last queen of Granada. She fought until the last sob to save her city. Unfortunately, this was in vain: in 1492 her son Boabdil (Abu Abdillah) had to hand over the keys of the city to the Christian occupier.
A distinctive freethinker in the 11th century was Wallada. She organised, among other things, literary salons for the most famous poets and writers of her time. Wallada's father reigned as Caliph of Córdoba from 1024 to 1026. Her liberalism was unique in her time. Women who wrote poetry were rare in Wallada's time. Because her murdered father had no male descendants, she inherited all his wealth, after which she devoted one of his palaces to the education for girls of wealthy families.
Wallada was remarkably dressed. She was unveiled, for example, and she wore transparent garments on which her own poems were embroidered. She traveled a lot to declaim her poems and regularly participated in high-level poetry competitions, which were mainly male events at that time. Her relationship with the vizier Abdus provided her with all the space and security she needed to carry out her liberal views and inspire others until her death!
In the breathtaking architecture, as seen in buildings such as the Alhambra (more than 2,000,000 visitors annually) and the Mesquita of Córdoba, the beauty and richness of this period is still clearly visible today.
The church Santa María de las Nieves (Seville) has, like many houses of worship in Andalusia, alternately had an Islamic, Jewish or Christian signature.
Until the end of the 12th century the church was a mosque and from 1391 a synagogue. Then it became a Gothic Christian church with the name: Nuestra Señora de las Nieves. Interesting to know is that this church is the only house of prayer in Seville that has served three cultures.
A Christian chapel was also built later inside the beautiful Mezquita in Córdoba.
Several historians assume that the famous lion fountain in the Moorish Alhambra was once offered by the Jewish community of Granada. The fountain dates from the 11th century and consists of a flat dish carried by twelve lions. Two lions that are exactly opposite each other carry a triangle on their heads. If you put them over each other, the seal of Salomon is created.
In the abbey of the Gitano's on top of Sacromonte (Granada) you will find the Salomon's seal everywhere. In the museum of the abbey Arab, Hebrew, Aramean and Christian writings lie side by side.
Jewish and Christian influences
Córdoba grew into a cosmopolitan city around 929 -1031, where there was a period of prosperity for the arts and sciences. Under the Moorish rule, the Christians and Jews had the status of 'dhimmi'. A dhimmi is a Jew or Christian who lives under Islamic rule and acknowledges it. This status guaranteed religious freedom, the internal autonomy of their community and the liberty of professional practice. The freedom within this status was motivated by verse 2.257 in the Quran which states: "There is no coercion in religion". This made it possible for Jewish and Christian scholars to hold numerous high positions at the court, at the universities and in the judiciary. The status of dhimmi also had some restrictions; it was forbidden to sound church bells or to actively convert others.
Although no new prayer facilities were allowed to be built, a synagogue was built in Córdoba in 1315 and one in Seville around 1250, which says a great deal about the mutual tolerance that existed at that time.
There were hardly any restrictions in daily life. Various Jews rose to high positions.
The prosperity during this period was stimulated by the important Muslim introduction of paper in Al- Andalus.
Paper offered cheaper production methods and was more durable than papyrus and parchment. Ink was more easily absorbed by paper, allowing documents to be available to this day.
The introduction of paper generated the profession of translation. The Caliphs who funded this work sent scholars to the, then known, world to obtain writings. The center of that movement was the "House of Wisdom" in Baghdad. This was the Islamic counterpart of the library in Alexandria. From the House of Wisdom hundreds of thousands of texts from Roman, Greek, Chinese, Persian and Indian literature were translated into Arabic and Latin and discussed. The translation work was mostly done by Syrian Christians and Jews, who were experts in Greek, Latin and Arabic. Thanks to this development, much knowledge and ancient texts have been preserved. In Christian Europe such documents had been lost: the use of paper had not yet been invented.
After paper was invented, large libraries grew in Córdoba, Sevilla and Toledo with collections of more than 400,000 books.
As in Baghdad, many translators were Jewish students and scholars. The importance of study in Jewish communities logically produced many scholars and translators. The possibility of an autonomous existence under Islamic rule, allowed the Jewish scholars to devote themselves to philosophy, medicine, astronomy, mathematics, medicine and poetry. The works of the 'House of Wisdom' in Baghdad were an important influence on their work.
Within the various branches of Jewish culture there have been various methods of interpreting the Talmud inspired by classical, Arab and Christian philosophy. The contribution of the philosopher Maimonides served to elevate the Sephardic (Iberian Jews) tradition. He enriched the Torah with the science and philosophy of Aristotle. He is honored by a statue in Córdoba.
After Córdoba, Toledo became the intellectual center of Europe for the same reasons.
Toledo was at that time a Christian city - in the hands of Alfons VI - where Arabic remained the language of knowledge transfer and culture. Toledo was declared the seat of the archbishop. The people from the north, who migrated south, came into contact with the Arabic language and culture.
The Castilian Christian monarchs and prelates, in turn, contributed to the now extensive library collections. Archbishop Raimundo - between 1125 and 1151 Archbishop of Toledo - declared the institutions associated with the large libraries in Toledo as the 'Translation School'. It was thanks to this that the rest of Europe and Latin Christianity gained access to the translations of the House of Wisdom from Baghdad.
The Islamic lawyer, physicist, physician and philosopher Averroës is a key figure in this inspiring work. He is also honored by a statue in Córdoba. Besides being a renown expert on the works of Aristotle and Plato, he also proved to be a true 'Uomo Universale'. He was a master of Islamic philosophy, theology, Maliki law, Islamic jurisprudence, logic, psychology and politics. In addition, he was educated in Arabic music theory, medicine, astronomy, geography, mathematics, physics and astronomy.
Agriculture and Water management
From the seventh century, different methods were refined to collect, store and transport water. During the time the Moors ruled in Spain, they changed the Spanish landscape through their ingenious irrigation systems. They brought with them techniques, known for centuries in their cork-dry mother countries. Later, the rest of Europe benefited from these techniques.
In Andalusia there are still traces of the complex Moorish irrigation systems.
Underground canals and aqueducts have been constructed, watermills, fountains and large water basins have been used. In rural areas, farmers individually contributed to the extensive water networks, and still do! The mountainous land was cultivated by the construction of terraces in combination with irrigation channels. The rain and snowmelt water runs from the peaks through the acequias (water channels) to the agricultural terraces on the slopes and the farms in the valleys.
Where no use of snowmelt water could be made, wells were drilled to obtain water from deeper sources and brought to the surface to be stored in large reservoirs.
Thanks to innovative water techniques, new crops such as artichokes, avocados, saffron, nuts, sesame seeds, rice, sugar, mangoes, pomegranates and citrus fruits could finally take root in Andalusia.
The Moors were masters in developing new varieties of existing crops, such as different types of olive trees, date palms, fig trees and mulberry trees, which were important for the flowering silk industry. This way, a completely new ecosystem gradually emerged.
Granada and water
The fast-growing cities of Al-Andalus were ingeniously supplied with water. This is still clearly visible in the Alhambra in Granada. In the leafy gardens and patios full of flowers, the sound of running water can be heard, gently coming down the green slopes through the small canals. Impressive fountains and water basins can still be admired in their original glory, such as in the Patio the Acequia in Generalife. In the Moorish Albaicin quarter, at the foot of the Alhambra, 30,000 Spanish Muslims shared running water thanks to the efficient water system, with 28 large reservoirs, fed by a network of shallow channels. This was unprecedented in Europe. The water came from a source located 12 kilometers down the hill to the city. The Fuente Grande in the Sierra de Huetor still functions as an emergency source, alongside the modern water supply system.
Córdoba and water
On the roof of the mezquita of Córdoba is a complex grid of gutters, pipes and mini-aqueducts. As a result, the scarce rainwater is still collected and led to the large water reservoir under the patio. In the nearby Guadalquivir there are still remains of Moorish waterworks. A Noria (water mill) is still almost intact and is close to the remains of a 3 meter thick dam built of stones from North Africa. In the tenth century, this noria, powered by running water, produced paper pulp, husked rice and crushed sugar cane. Between the Mezquita and the Alcazar in Córdoba are remains of an aqueduct from the 9th century, which brought water from the Sierra Morena - 80 km away - to the city.
Seven kilometers west of Córdoba, archaeologists found - between the ruins of the Moorish palace city, Medina Azahara - evidence for the existence of the astonishing number of over 300 baths, artificial ponds, swimming pools and basins. All were continually filled at the time thanks to the extensive network of aqueducts and underground channels.
Gitanos and their legacy: Flamenco and Tarot
The Gitanos, the Spanish gypsies, are responsible for an important part of the legacy of Spanish music, the Flamenco, full of passion, mystery and total life encompassing. Duende!
Both the Gitanos and their art form, the Flamenco, are surrounded with mystery. Where do the Gitano's come from? Why does their art affect us like that? What exactly is duende? The Flamenco, but also the Tarot are good examples of what creates a mix of cultural influences and oral traditions.
Connecting around the table
Around the kitchen of the Middle East there is a mysterious and exotic atmosphere. The Tales of Thousand and One Nights testify to this mystery and are full of colors, smells, tastes, abundance and sensual explosions.
Due to the arrival of the Moors to Al-Andalus - nowadays known as Andalusia, but in the past including Spain and Portugal - the Spanish kitchen is also blessed with a wealth of cultural influences. The Moors have made it their own on their travels through countless cultures and then passed it on to the Iberian Peninsula.