Cordoba - the Mezquita

Spain's Moorish heritage

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The origins of the Moorish heritage in Spain

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The Patio de los Leones, in the Alhambra, Granada.
    As the Roman Empire declined, Spain was taken over by the Visigoths - originally from Eastern Europe - who ruled from the sixth to the eighth centuries.  But in the year 711, Roderick, the Visigoth king of southern Spain, was defeated by advancing armies of Moors, from North Africa. The Moors had recently converted to a new religion, called Islam, and established Islamic caliphates through most of Spain. Consequently Islamic Moorish culture blossomed through a large part of the Spanish peninsula for almost the next 800 years. During these centuries Christians from the north slowly pushed back the Moors in a long historic process known as the "Reconquest". It was not until 1492 that the Moors were finally driven out of Granada, their last Spanish bastion.
    Mediaeval Spain was thus very different from the rest of western Europe,  having a cultural heritage that was strongly rooted in both Islamic and Christian culture.
   Spain's Moorish heritage takes three forms: classic "Almohad" Moorish buildings and craft, dating from the time of Moorish rule; Mozarab architecture, created by Christians living in Moorish Spain, and producing "Christian" art and architecture in a Moorish style; and Mudéjar architecture and decoration, a style derived from the Moorish tradition but used after the Christian Reconquest.

The most impressive and significant sites of Spain's Moorish heritage.

  • Granada (Andalucia) : (UNESCO world heritage site) -  The Alhambra palace, the finest surviving Almohad Moorish palace, the Generalife palace and gardens, next to the Alhambra; the Corral del Carbon, a Moorish caravanserai or inn, in the city centre. The Alcaiceria - small Moorish market streets, next to the Cathedral, and once home to silk traders.
  • Mosque Cordoba
    East portal of the Mezquita at Cordoba.
    Cordoba (Andalucia) : (UNESCO world heritage site) La Mezquita, or the old Mosque, is an 8th to 10th  century building that was once the second largest mosque in the Islamic world. Today it is part of the Cathedral. A uniquely beautiful building, over 1000 years old. A few miles southwest is the Castle of Almodovar del Río, or Moorish origin, and one of the finest castles in Andalucia.
  • Sevilla / Seville (Andalucia): (UNESCO world heritage site) The Moorish Alcazar, a fortress later transformed into a Royal Palace. Even after the Reconquest, the kings of Spain continued to develop the building in the Moorish style. Nearby, the Giralda, a large former minaret, is now part of the cathedral.
  • Malaga (Andalucia) : The Alcazaba. Surrounded by a double row of fortifications, the alcazaba at Malaga is the best preserved among a considerable number of Moorish castles and strongholds in Spain.
  • San Roman - Toledo
    The melting-pot of Moorish Spain. San Roman church, Toledo, where medieval Mozarabic  frescoes depict Christian iconography beneath Arabic calligraphy..
    Toledo (Castilla la Mancha) :  (UNESCO world heritage site) . The former mosque of Cristo de la Luz, built in the year 999.  A large ensemble of Mudejar and Mozarabic monuments, including the city gate Puerta del Sol, the synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, and the churches of San Roman, Santa Leocadia and Santo Tomé.
  • Zaragoza / Saragossa (Aragon) (UNESCO world heritage site): The Moorish Castillo de la Aljaferia; Mudejar architecture in parts of the Cathedral la Seo, the churches of San Gil Abad and La Magdalena, and in the tower and church of San Pablo.
  • Teruel (Aragon)  (UNESCO world heritage site) : A collection of Mudejar churches and buildings including the Catedral de Santa María de Mediavilla, the towers of San Martin and El Salvador, and the church of San Pedro.
  • Province of Léon :  Mozarab churches of Leon Province, remarkable for their use of horseshoe arches. San Miguel de Escalada, Santiago de Peñalba, and the hermitage of San Tomas de la Ollas
  • Gormaz (Aragon) : Castillo. the Moorish castle of Gormaz, built in 756 AD, is the largest early mediaeval fortress in Europe, built to protect northern Spain from Christian incursions. It is 390 metres from end to end, and has 28 towers.
  • Caceres (Extremadura) El Aljibe - Underground Moorish water cistern, now located within the museum of Extremadura, in the old city of Caceres. Moorish city walls (in part).
Apart from these ten important sites, Spain is full of old churches, castles and other buildings of Moorish or Mudejar inspiration - particularly in the communities of Andalucia, Extremadura and Aragon. The Moorish heritage is one of the multiple threads of Spanish culture even to this day.

More information:
Illustrated descriptive catalogue of Mudejar buildings in Aragon (in Spanish)
Full illustrated list of historic monuments in Toledo (official site)
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  Cathedrals in Spain   -   Roman Spain  -  Castles in Spain
Other pages of interest :   Travel in Spain  -  Food and eating in Spain
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The "Mezquita", the former great Mosque in Cordoba, built 784 - 987 AD

Puerta Sol - Toledo
Toledo - Puerta del Sol

Mudejar brickwork
Decorative brickwork on the Mudéjar tower of San Salvador, Teruel.
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