Who Are the Moors?
This term typically refers to this historic group of people and their culture lives on in North African countries like Morocco. However, Europeans tended to use the word Moor in a broader sense to denote simply anyone who was Muslim.
In 7th century when new religion of Islam was born in the Arabian Peninsula. Followers established a religious government and began to expand the empire into old weakened empires such as the Byzantines. Within 100 years this Islamic empire stretched from modern-day Morocco in North Africa to eastern Iran.
This united empire had the resources and funds to mount an invasion of Iberia. Iberia was controlled by the Visigoths who were a Germanic tribe that helped dismantle the Roman Empire centuries earlier. This country was not equipped for the invasion of Arabians and North African Moors. The Moor’s origins in Spain begin here when North African Moors were conquered by the Islamic empire and agreed to help begin an invasion of Europe.
By 718 Islamic rule in Iberia had been established and many Moors from North Africa began to migrate into the new Muslim territory. Within decades Muslim Iberia would break away from the rest of the Islamic Empire and it inhabitants would begin to develop a unique culture that was unique from the Middle East and influenced by Europe. This was the beginning of almost 800 years of Islamic control in the peninsula which also had an incredible impact on Spanish and Portuguese culture. This presence even impacted broader European culture, traditions, and literature.
Moors in Spain
Between 711 C.E. and 718 C.E. the Arabian and Moorish forces went from landing in Spain to controlling a majority of the Iberian Peninsula.
The government and rulers of this area changes several times over the centuries that is existed. However, regardless of which Islamic dynasty ruled this region, it was generally referred to as Al-Andalus. Al-Andalus was at its height in 719 just after the invasion, however, Al Andalus would slowly begin to shrink as European empires united to push the Muslim government out of the continent.
Despite many wars, the Muslims of Al-Andalus were able to maintain control of a majority of the peninsula for centuries. This was enabled largely due to the policies of Islamic governments. As the original Islamic empire expanded across Africa and Asia they began to rule over a majority of non-Muslims. In order to maintain control in the regions that did not convert to Islam, a simple tax was created that all Christians and Jews had to pay in order to practice their religion. While a tax limits the ability to people to worship freely, in most European countries at the time people were not allowed to be Muslim at all and Jewish people were subject to constant persecution. In Al-Andalus, the Christians, Muslims, and Jews lived together fairly peacefully which enabled a large amount of cultural influence between the Spanish and the Moors.
The wealthy Christian class began to dress in Muslim clothing and Moorish culture began to be coveted as an exotic culture. This was the result of many factors, one major one being how advanced the Muslim world was compared to Europe in the Middle Ages. The disunity that occurred in Europe during the Middle Ages meant countries were more focused on fighting than funding scientific progress. The relative unity in the Muslim world meant that scientific advances such as the development of chemistry, physics, and Algebra occurred. Algebra and the Algebraic number system that is used in Europan languages today originated in the Muslim world. Additionally, a significant amount of words from Arabic continue to be used in Spanish and other European languages such as Algebra. Most words that start with ‘al’ come from Arabic. Another example of this in Spanish is algodon which means cotton. The Moors introduced cotton as well as many other crops to the region. The Spanish words for lemons, limes, oranges, watermelons, carrots, sugar, and saffron come from Arabic as well because since they introduced the crop to the region the Arabic words were the only word future Spanish speakers ever learned to call it.
Another major impact the Moors had was their architecture which stayed behind even after they were gone. Castles like Alhambra have a unique style which is not traditionally Muslim at all. As Iberian kingdoms like Castile began to grow in the Late Middle Ages, they began to call for a Reconquista, meaning reconquest. They wanted to get rid of all Muslims in Iberia and were eventually successful in 1492. In the northern regions of Spain the influence was easily minimized, however, in southern Spain Muslim presence existed there so long that people hear use more words of Arabic origin.
Another group that suffered due to the Reconquista was the Jews who lived in Muslim Spain. This was the only region in Western Europe that permitted Jews to live peacefully without fear of persecution. For this reason, Al-Andalus became a beacon for European Jews and Muslim rule began a golden age of Jewish scholarship and thought in Europe because of this freedom. However, by 1492 all jews and Muslims were told to either convert or leave the country.
Moors in World Culture
Once the Moors were defeated by Spain in 1492, Muslim presence ended in Iberia after 700 years. This same year, the Spanish monarchs decided to fund Christopher Colombus which began the Age of Exploration and resulted in Spanish control of a majority of the New World from California to Chile and Argentina. Once these Spanish colonies were able to eventually declare independence in the 1800s, architects looked for sources of inspiration that did not come directly from their former ruler Spain. Architects in Latin America began to revive the Moorish architectural style because the Moors represented a non-Spanish/Portuguese heritage and were an example of a group of people who fought Spanish rule successfully for centuries.
Moorish architecture continues to live on through the Mosques that are being built all around the world. The Moorish style is popular in many countries like the United States and European countries that don’t traditionally have a large Muslim population.