Moorish Spain

One of the interesting things Richard Fletcher does in MOORISH SPAIN is to bring the kind of clear-headedness one expects from the best historians to the task of revealing some of the distortions which characterize much of what has been written about Spain under Moorish rule. He points out that early authors such as Stanley Lane-Poole (THE MOORS OF SPAIN, 1897) went too far in romanticizing that period of Spanish history. Subsequent authors and academics portrayed the culture of al-Andaluz as one of great tolerance and enlightenment. Fletcher argues that such was not always the case. While there were periods of order and tranquillity, there were also times when injustices and even atrocities were committed by both Muslims and Christians against each other and the Jews.

Fletcher points out that the Moorish invasion in A.D. 711 resulted in the sharing of many Islamic scientific and philosophical works with Western Christendom. One of the greatest centers of learning and intellectual interaction between cultures was at Toledo, site of a great translation school where works were translated from Arabic to Spanish and then into Latin. These translated works then made their way to Christian civilizations where they influenced the development of Europe.

Fletcher’s study is most entertaining when it offers concrete examples, whether they are fragments of poetry or intimate firsthand accounts of daily life in al-Andaluz. While the magnificent grand mosque of Cordoba and the lovely palace of Granada still stand in mute testimony to the Moorish sense of grace and style in architecture, it is glimpses of the lives of the common people — Muslim, Christian, and Jew — which capture the richness and diversity of life in Moorish Spain. Al-Andaluz was characterized not so much by the assimilation of one culture or religion by another but by a sense of coexistence which resonates throughout Spain to this day.