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Background of the Moors and Christians celebrations.

Last week I said I’d go into the origins of the Moors and Christians festivities that are taking place in Moraira this week.   What they commemorate is the conquest of the Iberian peninsula by the moors, the “reconquista” and the almost 800 years of muslim history between them.


It started in 711. Most of the peninsula was part of the Visigoth kingdom.  Although the kingdom was almost 400 years old the Germanic leaders had never really bothered with mixing with the inhabitants, which is why there was barely any influence of the them in Spanish culture and language.  They also didn’t form a united country but rather many separate feuds belonging to different families. Most of the inhabitants were farmers and there was little to no commerce.  The leading Visigoth families had been involved for years in power struggles.   And finally, during the last 25 years, the plague had killed roughly one third of the original population.

Because of this it was fairly easy for the Umayyadan soldiers who landed on Gibraltar to take over the land, and in just 10 years they had reached beyond the Pyrenees.  Both the Jewish as the Christian population was better treated by the Muslims then they had been by the Visigoths making the conquest only easier.

The north of Spain, however wouldn’t be ruled by them for long. In 722 a revolt started in the North-Western corner of Spain and in 790 the entire Northern stroke of Spain, from the Atlantic ocean to the Mediterranean belongd to either the Kingdom of Asturias or of Pamplona.

But they do manage to control the rest of Spain and in 765 the independent emirate of Cordoba is formed.  The emirs don’t loose any time modernising their new territory.  Philosophy, medicine and the science of the ancient Greeks and Romans had all but disappeared do to Christian prosecution and now it returns to Europe after a huge detour along the Mediterranean coast.  With it came the Muslims own advances in algebra, arithmetic, astronomy and, most of agriculture. Huge irrigation systems emerged and old Roman aqueducts were restored and put to work.   The productivity of the farms multiplied allowing the growth and emergence of new cities.  Roads were rebuild, reactivating the internal market and commercial bonds formed with Constantinople and other important cities.

The Emirate kept growing in power and relevance and in 929 Abd-al-Rahman declares himself Caliph, with Cordoba at the same level of Baghdad.  The city grows to become the most important one of Europe.  With over a million inhabitants, a university, more than 70 libraries, a medicine school and  a ancient Greek and Hebrew translation schools, thousands of public baths and mosques, including the impressive Mosque of Cordoba.  Thinkers of all the continent flow to the city of Averroes and Maimonides.

But nothing lasts forever. In 1031 the Caliphate disintegrates in a large number of “taifas”, independent Muslim kingdoms. But Christian Spain was going through the same problems and consisted of many small countries.  There was no longer a conflict between a Muslim country and Christian one, instead, each little kingdom only looked out for itself. It was very common for a Muslim and a Christian kingdom to temporarily ally against another Christian or Muslim kingdom and people travelled with realitive freedom from one to the other.  the most important hero of the Spanish Reconquista, “El Cid” worked many years for the king of the Taifa of Zaragosa after being expulsed by his own king.
Slowly The Christina kingdoms started to outnumber the Muslim ones and unite to form larger and more powerful kingdoms.  In 1300 only the kingdom of Granada was still Muslim and this two was conquered in 1492, officially ending the “Reconquista”.

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