History and Archaeology of al-Andalus



By the Editors of the Madain Project

al-Andalus (الأندلس) was the Muslim-ruled area of the Iberian Peninsula. The term is used by modern historians for the former Islamic states in modern Portugal and Spain. For nearly a hundred years from the ninth century to the tenth, al-Andalus extended its control from Fraxinetum over the Alpine passes which connect Italy to Western Europe.

al-Andalus was a centre of learning, and the city of Córdoba, the largest in Europe, became one of the leading cultural and economic centres throughout the Mediterranean Basin, Europe, and the Islamic world. Achievements that advanced Islamic and Western science came from al-Andalus, including major advances in trigonometry (Geber), astronomy (Arzachel), surgery (Abulcasis al Zahrawi), pharmacology (Avenzoar), and agronomy (Ibn Bassal and Abū l-Khayr al-Ishbīlī). al-Andalus became a major educational center for Europe and the lands around the Mediterranean Sea as well as a conduit for cultural and scientific exchange between the Islamic and Christian worlds.

Brief History of al-Andalus

Islamic Conquest (711-718)
The Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus sent an army led by Tariq ibn Ziyad to the Iberian Peninsula in 711. The Muslims, along with their Berber allies, defeated the Visigothic forces at the Battle of Guadalete and quickly conquered much of the Iberian Peninsula.

Umayyad Rule (711-750)
al-Andalus became part of the Umayyad Caliphate, and its first governor, Abd al-Rahman I, established the independent Emirate of Cordoba in 756. The Umayyad dynasty ruled al-Andalus for several centuries.

Cultural Flourishing (8th-10th centuries)
al-Andalus witnessed a cultural renaissance known as the Golden Age. Cities like Cordoba became centers of learning, with advancements in science, philosophy, medicine, literature, and architecture. Notable scholars like Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Ibn Sina (Avicenna) emerged during this period.

Fragmentation and Taifas (11th century)
Political disunity and internal strife led to the fragmentation of al-Andalus into small, independent taifas (city-states) in the 11th century. This weakened the Muslim presence and made the region vulnerable to external threats.

Almoravid and Almohad Periods (11th-13th centuries)
Berber dynasties like the Almoravids and Almohads intervened to reunify al-Andalus and defend against Christian Reconquista advances. However, their efforts were temporary, and internal conflicts persisted.

Christian Reconquista (711-1492)
Christian kingdoms in the northern part of the peninsula gradually reclaimed territories from Muslim rule through the Reconquista. Major milestones include the capture of Toledo in 1085 and the fall of Seville in 1248. The Nasrid Emirate of Granada persisted until 1492.

Fall of Granada (1492)
The Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, completed the Reconquista by capturing Granada in 1492. The event marked the end of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula.

al-Andalus left a lasting legacy in terms of architecture, science, literature, and cultural exchange. The blending of Islamic, Christian, and Jewish influences contributed to a diverse and rich cultural heritage.

Archaeology of al-Andalus

Featured Article Gibraltar (Jabal Ṭāriq)

Although the current name is derived from Arabic, Jabal Ṭāriq (جبل طارق), lit. 'Mount of Tariq', or 'The rock of Tariq', (named after the eighth-century CE Moorish-Muslim military leader Tariq ibn Ziyad) the history of Gibraltar predates the Islamic period, and it has been inhabited since ancient times. The Phoenicians and later the Romans recognized its strategic significance. That continues to be its name in Arabic. The modern name "Gibraltar", applies to the small peninsula on the southern Iberian coast near the entrance of the Mediterranean Sea. The peninsula has evolved from a place of reverence in ancient times into "one of the most densely fortified and fought-over places in Europe".



The name 'Alhambra' appears towards the end of the 9th century CE in a variety of different forms, the most common being al-Qalat al-Hamra, 'the red castle' due to the colour of the clay used in the walls. The palace complex of the Alhambra, Qasr Alhamrā; literaly meaning the red one, originates from the period of Islamic-Moorish period (Nasrid sultans). This 'city within a city' was built in the 13th century by the Moors on Sabika hill in Granada. After the city of Granada fell to the Catholics in 1492 CE, this palace was also taken in possession. The Alhambra as we know it today dates mainly to the second half of the 8th year of Hijrah / 14th century CE with significant later modifications. It is the only Andalusian palace with a set of inscriptions that explain the architecture and gardens.

Explore Alhambra
Islamic Architecture / Islamic Archaeology

Notable Archaeological Sites from al-Andalus

Recommended Readings

Andalus and Sefarad On Philosophy and its History in Islamic Spain

Sarah Stroumsa

Al-Andalus, the Iberian territory ruled by Islam from the eighth to the fifteenth centuries, was home to a flourishing philosophical culture among Muslims and the Jews who lived in their midst. Andalusians spoke proudly of the region's excellence, and indeed it engendered celebrated thinkers such as Maimonides and Averroes.
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Muslim Spain and Portugal A Political History of al-Andalus

Hugh Kennedy

This is the first study in English of the political history of Muslim Spain and Portugal, based on Arab sources. It provides comprehensive coverage of events across the whole of the region from 711 to the fall of Granada in 1492. Up till now the history of this region has been badly neglected in comparison with studies of other states in medieval Europe.
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Homage to al-Andalus The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Michael B. Barry

The Iberian Peninsula was conquered by Islamic forces in 711 AD and this presence continued in this part of Europe for 900 years.This new book tells the intriguing story of al-Andalus: its splendour, tolerance and conflicts. Centuries of Islamic presence in Spain and Portugal left an indelible stamp, like the wonders of the Alhambra and the Great Mosque of Cordoba.
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Historia general de Al Ándalus

Emilio González Ferrín

A work, in Spanish language, that will become the reference classic for those who wish to know the history of Al Andalus. We are facing one of the most important works that have been written about Al Andalus. For various reasons, its historical reality was never adequately addressed by the official doctrine, which limited itself to repeating what was so improbable about the supposed Arab invasion of 711.
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