The Impact of the Moors in Spain

It remains evident today that the period of Moorish rule, particularly in the region of Andalucía, has profoundly impacted Spain as a nation. The Moors, who derived largely from Arabia and Northern Africa, ruled huge swathes of Southern Spain for seven centuries, and had a widening impact on Spanish culture. The Muslim rule of Medieval Iberia (modern-day Spain) has heavily influenced Spain’s language, intellectual culture, and architecture. Although, the peace which existed at the beginning of the reign became increasingly challenged by the crusading Christian invaders. This blog will go on to demonstrate the lasting elements of the Islamic culture on Medieval Spain.

Religious tolerance
During their long reign over a large part of medieval Iberia, the Muslims were known to be a rather accepting group, tolerating and welcoming Jews who had been made outcasts by the ‘…northern invaders…’ of Spain. Indeed, one source suggests that the Jews were so highly valued by the Moors that they became ‘…merchants and ambassadors and were often taken into the leaders’ confidence.’ Islamic rule in Spain from the early eighth to the late fifteenth century featured ‘…a multi-cultural mix of the people of three great monotheistic religions: Muslims, Christians, and Jews.’ Furthermore, it is implied, that despite the restrictions imposed on Jews and Christians, such as higher taxes, this overall unity of the three faiths became an immensely successful settlement, ‘…that matched the heights of the Roman Empire and the Italian Renaissance.’ What is more, Blockmans argues that ‘…of course, there was a shrinking Christian majority who, like the Jews, were also treated with reasonable tolerance by the new rulers.’ It is not clear why the Christians were treated so well by the Muslim settlers, but Blockmans suggests that the Jews welcomed Islamic rule after being oppressed by the Christian Visigoth settlers. However, the centuries leading up to the taking over of Spain by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, were not free from wars, even, it seems, amongst the Moors themselves. Although, the events of post 1492, when the last of the Muslim kingdoms in Spain was claimed by the Christian crusaders, certainly highlight the acceptance of the Muslim leaders, as opposed to the persecution of the Christian Inquisition.

Although it is often assumed that the language of Spain derives from Latin alone, closer inspection of many words also reveals Arabic roots. Indeed, it has been argued that; ‘More than 4,000 words of Arabic origin are used in modern Spanish.’ Examples include words beginning with al, such as álgebra (algebra) or Allá (Allah) and other words relating to scientific or mathematical knowledge, as well as exotic words like azúcar (sugar). MacKay also points out that: ‘In the late 1940s …poetic fragments were discovered which, dating back to the tenth century, were composed in Mozarabic – that is, the dialect of Spanish which was spoken in al-Andalus.’ and goes on to emphasise the significance of Arabic poetry in al-Andalus during the Middle Ages. The effect on modern-day Spain is that even some existing place names also derive from Arabic.

The architectural influence of the Moors remains perhaps the most recognisable in modern-day Spain, since it has remained largely untouched for several hundred years. MacKay argues that; ‘…the fact that the Mudejars virtually monopolised the crafts associated with building and ornamentation meant that they left their imprint on buildings all over Christian Spain.’ Indeed: ‘Moorish architecture can be found throughout Spain, with its slender columns, horseshoe arches, cupolas, and airy, colorful buildings.’ An example of a Moorish building (later altered after the Reconquista) is the Alcázar (palace) of Seville, which is believed to date back to the tenth century.

The following book review by Titus Burckhardt entitled ‘Moorish Culture in Spain’ is a great demonstration of just how brilliantly influential the Moorish reign of medieval Iberia was upon the nation:
‘The Arab contribution to human progress—astronomy, mathematics, cosmology, the variety and magnificent wealth of architectural form—is a remarkable legacy of a people who entered the land as conquerors and became peaceful masters. From the establishment of the first mosque in Cordova in 785 until the time of their expulsion by the Catholic kings in 1492, the Moors dominated the intellectual life of the area and had a profound impact on European civilization, which assimilated many of their ideas.’ Indeed, it seems that MacKay is more than justified in saying that ‘…the Islamic world improved a scientific tradition of which Latin Europe was largely ignorant.’ Therefore, it can be argued that without the Islamic conquest of Spain, Europe may have remained ignorant of a great many things.
Overall, it is clear that ‘Islam was a bridging civilisation.’ and became ‘…a transmitter of culture to Europe. Islam also provided a cultural bridge linking Latin Europe with certain aspects of its Greco-Roman past…’ and can even be linked to the argument about the impact of the Islamic language. As MacKay explains how the majority of the scholarship supplied by the Moorish leaders, such as the learning of Greek science and philosophy, was ‘…within an Islamic and Arabic-language setting.’

In conclusion, for the majority of their period of rule, the Moors profoundly impacted the culture of Medieval Spain much of which remains recognisable today. However, this is, to some extent, overshadowed by the gradual process of the Christian Reconquista. Although, it can be argued that Muslim influence was good for Spain as it modernised knowledge/learning in Europe and encouraged a wider cultural awareness through its introduction of different architectural designs, style of religion and language structure. Finally, although the Moorish leaders no longer rule over Spain, the fact that they did so for seven hundred years is, alone, sufficient grounds for their success. Indeed the end was only an inevitable part of their rule, as it is for the existence of any Empire or regime.


Angus MacKay, Spain in the Middle Ages: From Frontier to Empire, 1000-1500 (Hampshire, 1977), pp 82, 83, 91 & 201

W.I. M. Blockmans and Peter Hoppenbrouwers, Introduction to Medieval Europe 300-

1550 (Abingdon, Oxon, 2010), p 102


9 responses to “The Impact of the Moors in Spain”

  1. J. D. Smith says :

    If Muslims had such enduring, positive influence on Europe, through Spain, why do we not see the same (or better) influence in Arabia? It seems to me the people of Southwest Asia live less enlightened lives than many in Europe.
    J. D. Smith

    • Diane Moghari says :

      It is amazing how much one person (such as leaders of a countries) either over time or currently can impose attitudes or fear over a population. Probably, if you haven’t already, you should research more of the history of Arabia’s people back to the Middle Ages and piece together what has happened.

  2. tim says :

    Wow, this is nonsense. Why did jews become valued merchants? Because they became instrumental in the slave trade for the muslims. Nobody won under islam, it made all men vile. jews and christians were forced to pay a higher tax, and accept embarassing working positions that brought shame on them. The Moors took by miltary force the scientific advances of the European and North African Christian peoples. When Islamic military expansion stopped, so did islamic scientific discovery, because they had no more new material coming into the empire. Yet the reverse is true in the scientific advancements of the jewish peoples, and historical pagan and christian nations.

    • Lillian C.G says :

      Dear “Tim”.
      I am afraid that the comment you have made is a bit more than general and not quite the truth. Of course military advance was an asset for the Muslims, but it wasn’t the main reason for the peak of their scientific advances. Many of this had taken place before/during the consolidation of power in the area of Damasco, and a lot of it came due to the hardship of living in the middle of a very arid zone. In addition, they had previous interaction with northern Africa and the Far East where a lot of these advances had been prototyped and many ideas had been theorised, they just adapted or traded for them. Needless to say that the court of the Caliphates was full of intellectuals from all over the place, a lot of them with a Greek background or classical of some sort.

      Now with this I am not saying I agree with all the things said in this post (I come from Spain I have studying Muslim Spain and the Muslim world since I was 7…), but I don’t agree with your comment either. Particularly with that statement of “Nobody won under Islam, it made all men vile”. I would like to know your sources about this as that is quite an accusation and as far as I know, with no foundation what so ever.


  3. zory says :

    This article is sick. It basically paints invaders as saviors, Imagine if this article was about the English invading and conquering the Native American nations. Then talking about all the good things the English did for America. The Moors were an invading army. They invaded a land that did not belong to them and conquered its people. Robbing them of everything. You should be ashamed.

    • Lillian C.G says :

      That is so narrow minded, and so wrong. Even Monthy Python have the common sense to make a joke about this in the Live of Brian about how the Romans actually brought many good things to many of the places they conquered and they had previously invaded. It’s what happens with invasions. The Moors actually put Spain back in the map. A lot of good science, theologians, philosophers and art came from the Muslim invasion. If you honestly believe the Muslims robbed everything from the Spanish populace, I suggest you revisit your Spanish history between 711 and 1495. And if after that you still think the same, then you will need to apply the same logic to the Romans, the Normans, the Mongols, the Americans, the Portuguese in the Age of Discovery, China since before people in Europe could read or write, those evil Homo Sapiens who potentially eradicated the Neanderthals…etc.

      So thanks for such an insightful comment and for passing by. Perhaps next time the comment would be of more use for the discussion. Cheers.
      The article is assessing the impact they had in Spain, in the same fashion any other people would have had in any other circumstance, if you cant see that then I suggest you stop reading this blog as it may give you a shock.

  4. jd says :

    Once again we get a politically correct version of history designed not to offend rather than tell the truth.

    • Lillian C.G says :

      I will refer to my previous comment. And I would love to hear what Is the version of this story who will not be so politically correct. I will conceed that obviously not Everything is covered in here – certainly we could look into this much more. But perhaps a bit more of insight would be useful to produce such piece…

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