That’s unfortunate, because there are some juicy stories out there. The one I’ll relate here looks at just why we call Spain, Spain. The “Iberian Peninsula” is more generic, although even that name has Greek roots.
The Iberian Peninsula was inhabited before Rome or Greece but was eventually part of that empire. It was influenced by the Celts, the Phoenicains and the Tartessians. It also came under Germanic control for a while, which included Christians. In 711 CE, some Muslims started moving in. 781 years later it would be “re-conquered”. This has come to be known as The Reconquista, mainly because they were the last ones to win and the culture that won has more or less survived.
One area that held off the influence of the Muslims for a long time was Murcia. The region had been built in the early part of the 9th century. At that time, it was inhabited by two rival tribes at the time, the Yemenies and the Midaries. One day, a Yemeni decided to help himself to the some grapes growing along the water’s edge. The grapes were owned by a Midare who saw him and was insulted by his transgression. They fought and the Yemeni was killed and a war followed.
War is bad for commerce, so troops were sent from Cordoba to keep the peace. While the rest of the continent wallowed in tribal wars between feudal kingdoms, Cordoba was a clean city with beautiful mosques and a well fed populous, surrounded by well managed agriculture. One of its strengths was tolerance of religious practices. While the crusades were creating rivers of blood in Jerusalem, Jews, Christians and Muslims worked together in Spain.
But Spain was not yet “Spain”. Under Islamic rule it was called Al-Andalus and it continued to be a collection of kingdoms. Under the rule of Islam, these were called Taifa Kingdoms. Muhammad Ibn Mardaniś rose to be its King in 1147. He came from a Hispanic family but converted to Islam. His troops were also of mixed heritage and with them he expanded his Kingdom into Valencia. He successfully defended Murcia from the advances of the new family of Muslim conquerors, the Almoravids, until his death in 1172. His was the last Kingdom to hold off their advances. His sons gave in and became a vassal kingdom of these Moorish conquerors.
The Almoravids did not care for the lack of piety shown by these multi-cultural kingdoms and attempted to regulate art and architecture. However looking at mosques in Algiers and Fez today, it seems that some of that art did eventually influence them. When the Almohads took over, mosques, mansions and palaces were built throughout the empire. The 100 meter minaret in Giralda still stands in Seville. The Alhambra in Cordoba also survived the destructive forces of the Reconquista. It remains as an iconic image of Moorish influence on the area.
But their rule became unpopular. Perhaps it was their intolerance for the Jewish and Christian communities that weakened them. Either way, they never could expand into the Christian nations to the North. The Kingdoms of Aragon, Castile, Leon and Portugal expanded and became Christian Kingdoms. To understand the battle to come, I’ll take a look at those kingdoms in more detail next week.