Pottery with animal likeness from Madinat Al Zahra
The Golden Age of Arab Spain:
I love reading the opinions of others. It is through this that I get motivated to think and write about ideas that are new to me.
I read a piece recently claiming that Spain’s Catholics somehow lied about, or wildly exaggerated, the “Moslem Invasion” of 711. The author called it a “myth.” The purpose of the myth, according to the writer, was for the Church to blame an embarrassingly dark period in its history on something foreign that “She” could not have stopped. An interesting point of view that I cannot, at this point, share.
In my opinion there is overwhelming evidence (linguistic, artistic and architectural) that much of Spain south of Toledo and possibly north as far as Zaragoza was occupied by a liberal Arabic dynasty centred in Cordoba for close to three centuries.
Yes, Liberal Arabs:
I used the adjective, liberal, because openness to new ideas and tolerance of Christians and Jews was emblematic of the threatened Umayyad dynasty that entered Spain in 711 after fleeing Damascus, the Umayyad capital based in Syria. Umayyads had put together the fifth largest empire in history. Continue reading “We Need to Nurture Hope”
This late 15the Century Flemish tapestry once adorned Toledo’s Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo. Now it hangs in Toledo’s fascinating Museo Santa Cruz, along with some cool stuff by El Greco, Giordano and Ribero. This was taken in 2011 with Anita’s great little Canon SD 1400 IS point and shoot as my gorilla tripod couldn’t be set up far enough away and high enough to use my old, light insensitive DSLR.
Our Spain holiday in 2011 focused on Madrid and Andalusía, the area of Southern Spain in which Islam existed for over 700 years. Córdova was the capital of Islamic Spain. Its Islamic scholars were receptive to new ideas, and Catholics and Jews, the People of the Book, were able to reach high levels of influence in the various seats of power. This was truly a golden age, until fundamentalist soldiers from North Africa were brought in by warring city states to assist with battles between them. The fundamentalists stayed and, in the 11th century, gained enough power to cause problems for the enlightened liberals.
It was due to the enthusiasm of the Arabs for Greek philosophy that the writings of Aristotle and Plato spread to France and the rest of Europe. In 961 Córdova, full of translators, was the most enlightened city in Western Europe. Its library possessed 400 000 volumes. Córdova was the home of four great thinkers of different religions:
Seneca the Younger, the Roman Stoic (d. 65 C.E.), teacher of Nero,
Hosius (d. 359 C.E.), a bishop who advised Constantine
Averroés, (d. 1198 C.E.), an Islamic scholar who considered Greek philospohy to be compatible with Islam
Maimonides (d. 1204 C.E.), a Jewish codifier of Talmudic law
I found statues of Seneca, Avveroès and Maimonides but Hosius’ is in Alexandria.
A huge and beautiful mosque still stands there today. It is called the Mezquita, the Great Mosque. Córdova was reconquered by the Catholics in 1236. A cathedral was built inside it by Charles V in the 16th C. Many Catholic dignitaries and royalty chose to be buried in the Mezquita. It is now a truly unique World Heritage site.
Another World Heritage site only a short bus ride from Córdova is Madinat al-Zahara, the royal city built outside Córdova by Abd ar-Rahman III in the 10th C. to increase his prestige against rival caliphates. It was a place of great beauty. Art was fully appreciated; even art that contained representations of the animal form, anathema to the stricter sects of Islam. It was sacked ca. 1010 by North African soldiers during a civil war. The site is being busily excavated and rebuilt, largely through funding from the Aga Khan. A large, modern museum has been built to house treasures from the excavations and there is a wonderful computer-generated film that describes what courtly life was like there in the 10th C..