|What I didn´t realize about Spain before this trip was that it had been occupied by Muslims for nearly four centuries at one point in its history. It is likely that I once knew this, but the fact didn´t stay with me. My shallow associations from early adulthood consisted of things like fiestas & siestas, tapas menus, flamenca dance, Hemingway (and bullfighting), Picasso and Gaudi architecture... Spain was a popular destination among college students studying abroad, a summer vacation for too many American tourists.
On our flight from New York to Madrid, I finally had some time to do a little reading up on Spain. Lonely Planet´s abbreviated history was enough to get me started, but I would want more. Besides the Iberians and Basques, the Celts, Romans, and Visigoths had all marched through here at one time. The Iberian penninsula was as much a battleground for these conquering peoples as was the rest of Europe. Unique to Spain, however, was the Muslim conquest which lasted from the early 8th to the late 15th centuries.
Al-Andalus was the name attributed to Muslim Spain. Power centered in the southern cities of Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada at different times of Arabic rule, though they did spread up past the Pyrennes and into present-day France. Ongoing was La Reconquista, consisting of fractured Christian states struggling to force out Muslim rule. They did not succeed until the Catholic monarchs, Isabel (of Castille) and Ferdando (of Aragon), united in marriage and might. In 1492, Granada—the Muslim Emirate of the Nasrid dynasty—fell. Following was the Spanish Inquisition and eradication of non-Christian cultures. Quoting numbers from the Lonely Planet, some 50,000-100,000 Jews were baptized in order to stay, another 200,000 left, and untold numbers died during this period. Of Muslims, some 300,000 converted, but only artificially and were therefore finally expelled in the early 17th century. Islamic books were burned; the Arabic language prohibited. Culturally what emerged in the mid-16th to 17th centuries constituted Spain´s "Golden Age”—a period during which architecture, painting, and sculpture flourished. It is this period to which the Spanish turn back to find its cultural and historical pride.