11/11/10 - andalusia, the caliphate, and tolerance

In today's encore excerpt - in the middle ages, a vast portion of what is now Spain was ruled by Muslims, who were a model of religious tolerance, and who provided Europe with the knowledge and technology that was one of the keys to its resurgence in the Renaissance until they were finally driven from Spain in 1492 by Ferdinand and Isabella. Their territory is in part remembered today as Andalusia—"Al Andalus":

"After the Moorish conquest of Spain in the eighth century, the emir of Al-Andalus had been a vassal of the caliphs of Damascus and Baghdad. But this western outpost of Islam was the first of the Muslim provinces to break free of its Oriental masters. When the Mongols destroyed the caliphate in Baghdad in 1258, the independence of Al-Andalus was solidified, and the Spanish Moors began to relate more to Europe than the Middle East.

"In arts and agriculture, learning and tolerance, Al-Andulus was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe. In the fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana rivers as well as the terraced slopes of the Alpujarras, agriculture surpassed anything elsewhere on the continent. Moorish filigree silver- and leatherwork became famous throughout the Mediterranean. In engineering the skill of the Spanish Moors had no parallel, and the splendor of their architecture was manifest in the glorious mosque of Cordoba, the Giralda and Alcazar of Seville, and the Alhambra of Granada. Its excellence in art and literature, mathematics and science, history and philosophy defined this brilliant civilization.

"Among its finest achievements was its tolerance. Jews and Christians were welcomed, if not as equals, then as full-fledged citizens. They were permitted to practice their faith and their rituals without interference. This tolerance was in keeping with the principles of the Koran, which taught that Jews and Christians were to be respected as 'peoples of the Book' or believers in the word of God. Jews and Christians were assimilated into Islamic culture, and occasionally, Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship.

"In 1248, work began on the colossal Alhambra in Granada. With its thirteen towers and fortified walls above the ravine of the Darro River, the river of gold, the red palace took shape over the next hundred years. The extraordinary rooms of its interior—the Courtyard of the Lions, the Hall of the Two Sisters, the Court of the Myrtles—were finished at the end of the long process under the reign of Yusef I in the mid-fourteenth century. With their arabesque moldings and gold ornament and vegetal carvings, these rooms became the wonder of the world. Most stunning of all was the Courtyard of the Lions, whose Oriental feel was more reminiscent of Japan than the Middle East and whose vision was to replicate the Garden of Paradise."


James Reston, Jr.


The Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, And the Defeat of the Moors


First Anchor Books Edition


Copyright 2005 by James Reston


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