WHEN is a hotel not a hotel? When it's a bubble, a cave or a castle, naturally. Or perhaps a prison. Even though our priorities when picking a place to stay are usually along the themes of free wi-fi, central...
Muslims in Spain: the fascinating true story behind the Moors and Christians parades
Astronomers, artists, alchemists, doctors and farmers…the Muslims were a force to be reckoned with for centuries in Spain. Their only visible traces these days are intricate architecture, crumbling castles and a loud, drunken fiesta to ‘celebrate’ their bloodthirsty farewell, but in their heyday Al-Ándalus had a substantial impact on Spanish society.
Entering Spain via Ceuta, which had been handed over to the Iberian peninsula a year before in 710 AD, the Islamic invasion began in the south and south-east of the country and met with relatively little resistance, given that many aristocrats were able to keep their properties and income and even some of their power, particularly as the new settlers lived off taxes imposed on the population as a whole. The original Christian inhabitants of what used to be Hispania had more or less resigned themselves to their land now being in the hands of this alien race, who in fact were far from a peaceful bunch – over the next 40 or 50 years, they brought in numerous Arab, Syrian and Berber immigrants and there were a good deal of punch-ups between them.
Generally, the Arabs, although fewer in number than the Berbers - natives of North Africa - were the upper-class citizens, owning the most fertile land, occupying senior positions in the government and living in the biggest houses. They looked down their noses at the Berbers, considering them a common, uneducated race whose only useful purpose was to fight in wars. In practice, though, the Berbers, fed up with the Arabs’ snobbish attitude towards them, gave vent to their combative streak against their stuck-up fellow invaders.
Despite their superiority complex, the Arabs were not averse to marrying and having children with local girls. Back then, a typical Spaniard was blonde with blue eyes and, over the generations, as the Arab bloodlines became heavily diluted with European genes, few of the aristocratic heirs of Al-Ándalus had the trademark dark hair and eyes and olive complexion associated with the Middle East.
Al-Ándalus, as the Islamic invaders were known, quickly got their feet under the table and established political independence, a monarchy and armed forces with fixed salaries for the inmates.
King Alfonso II was less pleased about these strangers entering his country and throwing their weight about, and launched a strong attack from Asturias in the north, but eventually was forced to admit defeat.
However, even the disgruntled Alfonso II had to recognise that Al-Ándalus improved social and economic conditions for the 9th-century population of Spain, and although these were turbulent times as the people became hot under the collar about the push for conversion to Islam and the ‘arabisation’ of their culture, the invaders brought a great deal of useful knowledge with them, including medical science, art, architecture and farming methods, such as irrigation systems.
Plus, as time went on, the natives of Hispania began to realise that if they continued to follow their Christian faith, their duties were higher, so converting to Islam became attractive as a form of tax evasion and, naturally, spread rapidly.
Despite everything, the Christians and Muslims generally got along very well. The former could practise their religion freely, as long as they paid their taxes and did not insult the Prophet Mohammed, and led a more or less similar lifestyle with no particular oppression or restriction.
The Christian kings in the north continued to simmer inside about the Muslims having made themselves at home without invitation, and often attempted to beat them down, particularly in the early part of the 10th century, an era that saw a surfeit of battles and bloodshed. Yet the native Spaniards further south actually joined their new neighbours in fighting against the northern monarchs. Whilst the Muslims were unable to gain more territory up there, they at least
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