Updated: January 23, 2023Published: January 13, 2023
What happened to the Moors, and what influence did they have in Spain?
The Moors, Arabs from North Africa, lived in Spain (mainly in the south) for about eight centuries from 711 to 1492. Their presence caused a lot of changes and an enormous influence in many of the cultural areas of our country.
In this post, we will detail how the Moors arrived in Spain, their influence, and what customs and traditions we have adopted and incorporated to make them part of our culture. Many are related to architecture, music, education, and even gastronomy.
It’s a fascinating subject that everyone should know more about, so you are in the perfect place to take a little history lesson and discover all about the Moors and their presence in Spain!
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When and how did the Moors arrive in Spain?
In 711, the Muslims from North Africa invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The Muslims were able to turn Roman Hispania into one of the most intellectual centers of Islamic culture for many years. From the beginning, Christians wanted to maintain their power in the peninsula and try to resist Muslim domination. This period is known as the Reconquest.
In the year 718, the Christians started to fight against the Muslims. How did everything start? At the end of April 711, there was an expedition of 7,000 and 12,000 men from the African army.
The journey was led by the Berber general Táriq ibn Ziyad. They moved from north Africa to the Strait of Gibraltar, where they started their invasion. At that time, the Christian governor of Ceuta decided to help them by providing raw materials, such as ships to cross the strait.
How many years were the Moors in the Iberian Peninsula?
The Moors ruled Spain for a long time. They were in Spain for around 800 years, from 711 to 1492. They focused part of their invasion in Andalusia from the early 8th to the late 15th century. They were in Spain for a long time, and we can still see their influence in Spain today.
Two of the most important visited monuments were constructed during these years, the Alhambra and the Mezquita.
Who expelled the Moors from Spain?
The person who expelled the Moors from Spain was King Philip III. He did it in different stages between 1609 and 1613. He started expelling the Moors from Valencia, then those in Andalusia, following those in the Crown of Castile and those of the Crown of Aragon.
Around 350,000 persons were expelled, but most were from Valencia and Aragon. This affected these regions greatly as they lost a third and a sixth of their population.
Influence of the Moors in Spain
Due to the long period the Moors stayed in Spain, they influenced our architecture greatly.
For example, Horshoe arches are a unique structural component of Moorish Arches. While they were still living in the dark ages in Europe, Spain was much more advanced due to the Moorish influence.
They started using complicated geometry with cut wooden pieces creating a geometric pattern. In the exterior of the Mezquita in Córdoba, we can see intricate decorations, which are common in Moorish and Islamic architecture.
All the architectural works the Moors did in Spain have a spiritual meaning. For example, in the Mezquita of Cordoba, the repetitive columns represent extending the expansive world around us.
The Moorish architecture was high-styled in historical theaters, museums, commercial buildings, and some residential buildings.
Between the 8th and 15th centuries, the rule of the Moorish in Spain had significant changes in art. It originated in North Africa and Spain during this time.
The golden period of Moorish art came in the 13th and 14th centuries. The Moors produced some of the most significant art pieces during this time.
Moorish art was recognized due to the particular way they created architecture. The most notable aspects of Moorish visual art were plant and flower patterns. They used colorful textiles and rugs.
Metalwork was also a big way to represent art forms in Moorish society. Many boxes were made from metal boxes. Nowadays, we can still see this.
A great example of Moorish art is the Alhambra Palace due to the numerous uses of interior decorative elements. It was created in the 13th century, and you can also see Moorish architecture. You can see this type of art not only in Spain but also in North African countries and Portugal.
It’s said that three languages are the leading cause of the creation of the Spanish language; Latin, Greek, and Arabic.
The rulers of Spain spoke Arabic, and the Moors ruled Spain for many years. Consequently, they had a lot of influence in many matters, including their language.
They introduced a lot of vocabulary all around Spain, especially in Andalusia. It is said that Arabic was mainly used among the local elites, the Muslims, and the Christians.
A huge part of the Arabic influence in Spain came through the various Arabized (now known as Mozarabic) Romance dialects that were spoken in areas under Moorish rule. As a result, they were Arabian and Latin-derived words in Spain that had the same meaning. For example, Aceituna-Oliva (olive) or jaqueca-migraña (migraine).
As I said before, the influence in the south of Spain, in Andalusia, was more noticeable than in the rest of Spain. This happened because Spanish dialects from regions with a long history of Moorish domination had more influence on Arabic. Over 4,000 Arabic words and Arabic-derived phrases are part of the Spanish language.
Several customs influenced Spanish society.
For example, the custom of sitting women on the floor clearly comes from the Moorish influence. Nowadays, usually, Spanish women don’t do this, but in the past, they did. Proof of this can be seen in one of the passages of Cervantes in Don Quixote. In the passage, Sancho Panza invites his wife to “sit on the floor between rugs and pillows.”
Another custom adopted by the Spaniards in the past was kissing the feet and hands. The Middle Easterners first used this to express submission to someone they owed respect or surrender to. For example, in the biography of Alfonso XI, it is said that he didn’t allow the counts to kiss his feet but did kiss his hands. These days, usually, Spanish people don’t do this anymore.
Religion was a controversial topic when the Moors were invading Spain. Spain was a Catholic country, while the Moors were Muslims. These issues brought a lot of problems between the Moors and the Spaniards, not only in religious matters but also in traditions, cooking methods, and spices (which we will talk about later).
Christian practice was considered more peaceful, whereas Muslims were strict about their beliefs. The main problems were that the Moors wanted to turn Spain into a Muslim country, just like them. This never happened, and Spain mainly remained Christian, but the Moorish influence was also present.
Based on a Statista study, there were around 2.2 million Muslims in Spain at the end of 2020.
Something that caught my attention is the big influence the moors had in the Spanish music.
New melodies and instruments arise in the territory, making Spanish music a splendid fusion between Arab and European cultures.
Our splendorous music is one of the best things we have now in Spain. For example, the famous Spanish guitar comes from when the Moors invaded Spain.
The structural elements of Spanish music are very similar to those of northern African music. When they came to Spain, they brought their music, which became the basis for enchanting Spanish music.
Another example would be the influence they had on flamenco music. Flamenco is basically Arabic music made in Spain by the Hispanic Muslims (Spain used to be called Hispania). Without going any further, the “olé” sung in flamenco comes from the Arabic word “W’Allah,” which means “by Allah.”
The Muslims brought Spain many cultural innovations, like alchemy, algebra, and chemistry, among other things.
For example, the concept of using numerals, the zero, or the chess game came from the Moorish influence in Spain.
Did you know that the Aristotelian philosophy was lost until the Muslims reintroduced it in Spain? These cultural innovations have increased in the past years’ thanks to the Moors.
You might not know this, but the Moors also influenced Spanish cuisine. They not only brought unique dishes but also created methods for food preservatives that completely changed how Spaniards ate.
The Moors highly influenced the south of Spain, Andalusia, as they were there for more time; consequently, they also significantly influenced gastronomy.
Moorish cuisine includes aromatic herbs and cooking methods that are used in Spain. Dishes in Spain, like salt-crusted baked fish, originate from the Moorish influence in Spain. As well as the famous Paella has a yellowish color that comes from a unique Moorish spice called saffron.
Europe only had 2 universities, while the Moors had 17 great universities.
The Moorish also influenced and significantly impacted education development in Spain, creating universities all over the country, such as in Córdoba, Almeria, Toledo, and Seville.
The interest in education started spreading throughout Europe and hugely impacted the European Renaissance that began in the 1300s.
This movement inspired some of the greatest thinkers of the time. For example, Miguel Cervantes, in his book Don Quijote de la Mancha, told the story from the point of view of a Moorish author.
New scientific techniques
They created the astrolabe, a device used to measure the position of the planets and the stars. There was scientific progress in chemistry, mathematics, philosophy, astronomy, physics, and more.
7 Interesting Facts about the Moors in Spain
Córdoba was the heart of Moorish territory in Spain.
Córdoba was the most modern city in Europe due to the well-paved sidewalks for pedestrians, and even streets were illuminated with lamps. Many other cities in Europe didn’t have anything like this.
The Moors introduced earliest versions of several instruments.
The Moors introduced the Lute or el oud, the guitar or kithara, and the Lyre. The most important Moorish musician was Ziryab, known as the Blackbird. He arrived in Spain in 822 and introduced a new eating style by having separate courses, starting with soup and finishing with desserts.
The Moors replaced the Roman system.
The Moors introduced the Arabic numerals plus they also introduced paper in Europe.
Some of the leading food products in Spain were introduced by the Moors.
The Moors introduced loads of different products like oranges, lemons, peaches, apricots, figs, sugar, cane, silk, cotton, and rice. All of them are products used today in the daily diet of Spanish people and appeared in so many different recipes.
Spain was the only country in Europe that had public libraries, thanks to the Moors.
In the 10th and 11th centuries, libraries didn’t exist in Europe, but Moorish Spain had more than 17 libraries. There was one library in Córdoba that had 600,000 manuscripts.
The Moorish also influenced and significantly impacted education development in Spain.
In Spain, the Moorish created a universal education available to everyone. In the rest of Europe, 99% of the population was illiterate, including kings that didn’t know how to read or write.
Spanish language was inspired by the Moorish language.
More than 4,000 words and phrases are part of the Spanish language like Algebra, alcohol, influenza, typhoon, or orange.
If you want to know more about the Moors, I recommend you take a look at the following post:
In Spain, we have a festival known as Moors and Christians, which is well worth attending to see the different performances that are directly related to the historical events that took place in the time when the Moors occupied Spain.
In addition to this festival, Spain has many other celebrations you should attend at least once in your life! Find out everything about it by clicking on the following article!
Deriving from the Latin word “Maurus,” the term was first used to describe Berbers and other persons from an ancient Roman province called Mauretania; now, this province is North Africa. This term was used primarily for the Muslims that were living in Europe.
Inigo Navarro is a seasoned travel writer with a deep understanding of Spain's cities, culture, people and language. Born and raised in Spain, he has spent years exploring the country and is currently one of the most-read Travel Bloggers about Spain. Inigo is also an experienced digital marketer, a father to 4 beautiful children and a huge Real Madrid Fan. ¡Hala Madrid!
Honestly you praised too much the moors but you forgot to mention that christians were under their occupation and they had to pay taxes ( jizya) for this in their own country. So does not matter how they developed Spain, they did it for themselves, they thought they will remain there and muslims from today still dream to reconquer Spain . With them or without them , Spain would have take the same direction of development as the whole Europe.
Darren J Nast
August 7, 2023
Thanks for your interesting article about the Moorish influences on Spanish and greater European cultures which I read just after reading the 1829 Washington Irving book, Chronicle of the Conquest of Granada. Lots of sad history there but all we can do now is learn from it. Thanks again for highlighting some of the good that came from the centuries of Moors in the Iberian Peninsula!
Thank you for taking the time to read the article and for sharing your thoughts, along with a book reference (noted!) If you're interested in the topic, I highly recommend visiting places like the Alhambra in Granada, the Mezquita-Cathedral in Córdoba, or the Alcázar in Seville. These iconic landmarks really show the architectural and cultural legacies left behind by the Moors in Spain.
Thank you once again for your comment, and have a nice day!
Darren J Nast
September 4, 2023
Very welcome, thanks again too. I hope I get the chance to visit those places your recommended!!! Will probably blow my mind! Do check out that book too, heckuva read and I learned a lot of history. Cheers
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