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The Arabs in Spain

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The Arab conquest of the Middle East, the eastern and southern shores of the Mediterrenean Sea was a religion-driven conquest. After Muhammad had received the world of God beginning in about 612, in the Arabic Peninsula, that he had flown to Medina from Mecca in 622 with his followers due to persecution ("Hejira", the beginnings of the muslim era), and that he had been back there in 630, the Arab troups swiftly swept all the region, bringing to an end the rule of the local dynasties, and of the Byzantines. The whole Middle East, Palestine, and Egypt quickly passed under the muslim rule, as the Arab armies eventually conquered whole of Northern Africa by the middle of the 7th century! Further, it was a mix of Arab -of them Yemenite- and Berberic warriors who eventually landed in southern Spain about 710. Tariq Ibn Ziyed, the governor of Tangiers had been name at that post by the new governor of Kairouan, Moussa Ibn Nossayr. Tariq, one of both chieftains of invaders, was to give his name to current Gibraltar, or the 'djebel of Tariq,' the 'mountain of Tariq.' Tariq was a Berber from the montaneous area of the Aures, East of nowadays Algeria. Spain, at that time, was the domain of the Visigothic kings, as the kingdom (see more about the Visigothic kingdom) had fallen in a deep decay. The arrival and the victory of the Arabs were likely facilitated by various betrayals which themselves were due to internal struggles in the kingdom. The Visigothic army was terribly defeated at Jerez de la Frontera in July 711, as the Arabs quickly invaded Spain thereafter. Helped by Musa, governor of Barbary, the invaders eventually reached North, capturing Saragossa as soon as 714 and reaching as far northwest as Leon and Astorga

The center of the Arab empire at that time was Damascus, with the dynasty of the Umayyads. They delegated their power in Spain to emirs who soon proclaimed their independence. The advance of the Arabs was continuing as they were now targeting Gaul. Their move was soon halted however, and the Francks, with Charles Martel leading them, won over one of the emirs, Abderraman el Gafequi, in a resounding victory in Poitiers, in 732. Due to the numerous ethnies which composed the Arab conquerors, antagonisms quickly brought to divisions. The Umayyads, on the other hand, had been replaced, by 754, in the Middle East by the Abassids who had founded the Caliphate of Bagdad. It was Abd al-Rahman al-Daklil (or Abderraman I), an Umayyad heir, who founded another independent state in Spain, the Emirate of Cordova, managing to impose an unified Islam to the Berbers and the Arabs as his dynasty was to last during the next three centuries. Such states were populated by the various muslim ethnies, by the Spanish population which had not been able, nor wanted to flee in the North (they called themselves the "Mozarabs" as they were more advanced in science and arts than their conquerors -to the buildings of which they largely contributed. The Arabs called them the 'musta'rib' ('Arabized')), and by important Jewish urban communities (which had taken an active role in letting the Arabs conquer the peninsula). The tolerance of the Moorish kings was their only way to keep Cordoba prosperous and stable. Emirs of Cordoba however kept fight against the Visigotic noblemen who had seemingly rallied Islam as they had remained Arians. It's such a cultural mix which allowed the Spanish Arab culture to reach its greatest splendour as soon as that period, as it's in 786 that the construction of the famed mosque of Cordova began, one of the largest and most magnificent such building of the Arab world. That mosque was likely also deviced to be reminiscent of the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, the late capital of the new Arab dynasty in Spain. It featured further, for example, mosaics made by Byzantine craftmen which were hired. Cordova was featuring a half million inhabitants as it was a rectangular city. A side of the walls, with totalled 2.5 miles, was siding the Guadalquivir river. The city was also featuring faubourgs as it harboured a university, 417 mosques, 60,000 courtisans and civil servants' residences, along with 80,455 shops. Cordoba featured street lamps as its library, by the time of Al-Hakam II by 961 A.D., was holding 400,000 books. By the beginnings of the conquest, the enforcement of the Arabo-Muslim civilization was strong. Some families were moved from Arabia to settle or the Islamic law was applied. A first wave of utilitarist science also came in as maths, for example, allowed to have the law of successions to work. Women played a important role among scholars in Cordova, like a one named Mariana, for example, who wrote a allegoric tale of the Umeyad exile in Spain to fix a caliph's melancholy. As the Arabs were a minority, they took refuge into a rigorous Islam as they could not do else than to te tolerant towards the Christians. There were quasi-perpetual troubles in the Arabic Spain between the Christians and the Arabs, between the Arabs petty rulers between them, and between them and the emir, or even the lasting opposition between the Berbers and the Arabs. The leniency of the first Arab rulers towards the Christian Mozarabs soon turned to persecution and rows of martyrs occurred in the 850s, as far as the Emirate of Cordova is concerned. Mozarabs, those Christians who had remained among the territories occupied by Arabes, first maintained their identity and their religion. But, by 850, Islam had progressed through its brilliant civilization as young Christians 'turned infatuated of the Arab language and they flick with passion through the books of Chaldeans.' That brought some Christians to provoke Islam and thus endure martyrdom, like Perfecto, a priest, or Euloge, the archbishop of Toledo. Muhammad I, the emir of Cordoba (852-886) let them no choice but exile in Asturias, or conversion. St. Euloge, Alvar Cordobés, the Abbott Speraindeo, their master, and the Abbot Samson, were famed Mozarab writers. The West, like the Franks, generally, had a bad knowledge of what the religion of Sarracenes really was and they called them Hagarians or Hagarenes, by reference to Hagar, the maid of Abraham from who Arabic are descending according to the Old Testament

At the time of the conquest, some of the Wisigothic elites, with their people and the clerics, had fled in northern Spain to evade the Arab invaders. Those kingdoms mostly kept too small to be really influential and they were obliged to admit laws flexible enough in terms of the Arab and Jewish communities which were found there, a equivalent of what they wished to find for the Christians living in the Arab states of Spain. When considering art, one sees how the Visigotic refugees of the North had remained under the normative influence of Islam. Visigothic refugees mostly settled around Pelagius, or Don Pelayo, one of them, in the Cantabric mounts of the Picos of Europa. The North of Cantabria had remained independent even under the Visigoths. As soon as by 718 A.D., one said they would have vainquished the Arabs at the battle of Covadonga and they were reticent to the paiement of the tribut to the emir of Cordova. Asturias eventually were freed by Pelagius' successor, Alfonso I the Catholic (739-757) who gained a stature of a king. As a revolt of Berbers in North Africa had brought those in Spain to make defection, Asturias could reconquest regions from Galicia to the upper valley of the Ebro river as the whole right bank of the Duero river was tuned into a no-man's-land and used like the frontier. The long reign of Alonso I the Chaste (791-842; he owed his surname to that he never married) allow to the organization of the kingdom of Asturias. The new city of Oviedo turned the capital by the end of the 8th century A.D. (the successive capital-cities had been Gangas de Onis and then Pravia). Alonso I might have invited Charlemagne to journey down in Spain about 778, for the first time, and leading to the disaster of Roncesvalles. Visigoths then created bishoprics, they enforced again the Visigothic code as the quarrel of Adoptianism allowed Oviedo to get loose from the clerics in Toledo, where bishop Elipand was under the control of Arabs). Monk Beatus of Liébana, the one who fought against the heresy was also famed for his commentary about Apocalypsis. Alfonso III the Great (866-910) followed on with such progresses as it was then a time of 'mystical patriotism.' Visigoths could re-populate the area between Cantabric Mounts and the Duero river as the frontier was reinforced with a series of fortresses. The settlement there was performed through people who camed from the North, and Mozarabs who fled the Arab dominions for cause of persecutions. Such a mutation was to have Oviedo let room to Leóon, like a capital, by 914 A.D. and the kingdom of Asturias the kingdom of Leóon. Kings of León further raided down until Lisboa, Portugal and the fortified frontier of the Duero was to later turn like the Spanish 'Castilla.' Navarre began around the city of Pampelona, when taken by the Franks by 809 A.D. and became a kingdom by 830. Sanche I Garcès was the first historical king of it as Sanche III the Great (1000-1035) became the ruler of the whole Christian Spain. His estates however were divided when he died. Aragon, East of Navarre and Catalonia too became places of refuge. Those Wisigothic, northern kingdoms and locations mostly were friendly to the Carolingians as Catalonia eventually turned, with some territories West the march of Spain by 810. Beginning about 788, one may consider that the worry of the Caroligians that the Arabs don't threaten their Septimania, along the Mediterranean, North of the Pyreneans, is triggering what was to become the 'Reconquista', building upon that friendship with the northern Wisigoths. The Basques were another people present in Spain, as far as they are concerned. The Basqueswere the result of the mixing, by the 6th century between the Vascons, a Romanized and Christian people pushed away by the Wisigoths from north center Spain and who settled in French Gasgogne, with an aborigene people called the 'Basques' and dwelling on the southern counterpart of that region South of the Pyreneans. They kept being independent, with a duke of their own, and defending themselves against all the surrounding people -the Aquitanians, the Franks, the Wisigoths and the Arabs- as they had the control of the western Pyrenean passes which were allowing for trade routes towards the Arabic Spain. The northern part of the Basques submitted to Charlemagne by 769. The development until by 812 of the Frankish march in Spain eroded their power eventually and the Franks eventually ruled from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea. After the deceipt of Roncesvalles, the Carolingians constituted that 'marche d'Espagne,' which was their protection South, against Arab invasions

The resistance and the push against the Arabs were a restoration of the Church at the same time. It's in the course of this period, for example, that the legend of St. James (San Iago) of Compostela took hold. The saint was seen riding a white charger and fighting at a battle in Asturias. Dioceses were matching the four kingdoms, as the Adoptionist heresy developed in the diocese of Urgel (Catalonia), led by Felix. A chronicler, Isidore (el Pacense), Bishop of Beja, retraces the story of Spain for the years 610 to 754. Spain also knew a strong apocalyptical thought. Since the Wisigothic kingdom, rulers were envisioning the End of Times and they had all the population baptized in a worry of purification. The arrival of Arabs, by 711 A.D. was thus interpreted like a heralding sign of the end of the world. In the exiled northern kingdoms, they copied the most valuable commentaries of the Apocalypse, and, above all the one which had been written by 776 A.D. by Beatus of Liebana. That text was the most reproduced in the Spanish monasteries between the 8th and 12th centuries A.D. Such a success may be explained, on a one hand, because the Apocalypse is stressing the divinity of Christ compared to a more humanized image found in the Gospels but, too, because the text of John was announcing the hope of a ultimate victory for the persecuted. That further, of course, also matched the fact that the Christian kingdoms in the North were facing the Muslim threat

A heir to Abd el-Rahman, Abd al-Rahman III, by 929, proclaimed himself a calife and turned the Emirate of Cordova into the 'Caliphate of Cordova' in 929, as its armies at that time nearly destroyed the four northern Christian kingdoms. A brillant Arab civilization developed under the rule of Hixem II building on that his ancestor, al-Hakim had made his peace with the Abassides, about 820, as he did not fear anymore that those mingle into the affairs of Spain. That lead the Arabic Spain to benefit from the vast, philosophic and science creation either from the Greek, ancient works' translation, or from a genuine Abassid endeavour, which had developed in Baghdad. Medina Azahara -- literally 'the bright city' in Arabic -- was a vast, fortified palace-city located on the western outskirts of Córdoba, Spain as the heart of the administration and government was within its walls. The construction was triggered by 936-940 A.D. by that Abd-ar-Rahman III acquired the dignity of Caliph and that he needed the establishment of a new city, a symbol of his power, imitating other Eastern Caliphates or demonstrating his superiority over the Fatimids of Ifriqiya in Northern Africa, and the Abbasids in Baghdad. A other reason might also have been a tribute for the Caliph's favorite wife, Azahara hence the name. Artistically, the Medina Azahara played a great role in formulating a distinct Andalusian, Hispano-mauresque, Islamic architecture -- which was to be found back until the Alhambra in Granada. On the other hand, Almanzor, the Caliph's chamberlain and emir, had also his own palace built, from 978 to 981 A.D., or the Medina Azahira ('the shining city') at the opposite of Cordoba -- in the East -- relative to the previous. The battle of Calatanazor in 1002 marked the defeat of the Caliphate, as it fell into a rapid decay, giving the signal of the beginnings of the plain Reconquista, leading in 1340 to the complete reconquest of Spain, the kingdom of Granada excepted. About the year 900 A.D., the three main, large cities of this Mediterranean part of the world were Constantinople, Bagdad, and Cordova, with Cordova populated with 500,000 inhabitants

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