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Al-Andalus is the Arabic name given the Iberian Peninsula by its Muslim conquerors; it refers to both the Caliphate proper and the general period of Muslim rule (7111492). As the territory was slowly regained by Christians fighting from northern enclaves, in the long process known as the Reconquista, the name came to refer only to the Muslim-dominated lands of the South, the former Roman Hispania Baetica, with an ever-southward-moving frontier.



In 711 AD, a "Moorish" Islamic army invaded Visigoth Christian Spain. Under their leader Tariq ibn-Ziyad they brought most of Spain under Islamic rule in an eight-year campaign. They attempted to move northeast across the Pyrenees Mountains but were defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Tours in 732. Spain, except for small areas in the northwest and largely Basque regions in the Pyrenees, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of Al-Andalus. When the Umayyad empire gave way to the Abbasid empire, an Umayyad exile established himself as Caliph of Córdoba, effectively making Al-Andalus independent from the empire.

This period is known for the tolerant acceptance of Christians, Muslims and Jews living in the same territories. The caliphate during the tenth century has been called an Islamic Golden Age. In Muslim culture, Andalus today is a nostalgic symbol of an earlier "Golden period" of Islam. After the caliphate's collapse, Al-Andalus fell into the hands of the fanatical Berber Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, which ended the tradition of tolerance towards Christians and Jews. The country then broke up into a number of mostly Islamic fiefdoms. Christian states based in the north and west slowly extended their power over Spain: Galicia, Asturias and the León, and the Basque country, Navarre and Catalonia in the Marca Hispanica were the christian strongholds. Aragon and eventually Castile became Christian in the next several centuries.

In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of Alfonso VIII of Castile drove the Muslims from Central Spain. However the Moorish taifa of Granada thrived for three more centuries. This kingdom is known in modern time for architectural gems such as the Alhambra. On January 2, 1492, Boabdil of Granada, the leader of the last Muslim stronghold in Iberia surrendered, in the "Capitulation of Granada," to armies of Christian Spain, recently united under the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile (Isabel La Católica) and Ferdinand II of Aragon (Fernando el Católico or Ferran el Catòlic). Andalus is considered to have ceased to exist with the fall of the last Spanish-Muslim kingdom, the Amirate of Gharnatah (Granada, Spain) in 1492.

In 1502, the Capitulation's extension of tolerance was rescinded, and the remaining Muslims were forced to leave Spain or convert to Christianity, as moriscos. They were an important portion of the peasants in some territories, like Aragon, Valencia or Andalusia, until their systematic expulsion in the years from 1609 to 1614. Henre Lapeyre has estimated that this affected 300,000 out of a total of 8 million inhabitants at the time.

The Moorish domination of the peninsula had a profound effect on language, art and culture, especially in the south Examples include the many Arabic or Arabic-influenced words in Spanish, and architecture such as Granada's Alhambra.

The name of today's Andalusia (Spanish: Andalucía) comes from "Al-Andalus", as this southern province was among the last territories to pass from Moorish to Spanish Christian hands.


It is popularly thought to be derived from the Vandals, the Germanic tribe who settled in southern Iberia and Northern Africa. However, scholars are by no means in agreement. The notion of it originating with the Vandals, who supposedly devastated southern Spain so severely in a mere twenty-two years of tenure (407-429) as to leave their name forever imprinted on it, gained in popularity over time and survives — but it is a theory put forth without much basis, bolstered perhaps by simple onomatopoeia. Three possible etymologies have been advanced in recent times. The first, the Vandal link, is largely disregarded now, and the question of the origin of the Arabic name, given to the entire peninsula, is still open to debate.


Reinhardt Dozy (1820-1883), Dutch author of the famous History of the Muslims of Spain (4 vols., Turner, Madrid, 1984), advanced the theory according to which the name of Al-Andalus is an Arabic rendition of Vandalicia or Vandalucía, on the assumption that the Roman province of Hispania Baetica (southern Spain) could have acquired and retained this name-association, not in Iberia itself, but among the Arabs of the maghreb.


The Spanish philologist Joaquín Vallvé Bermejo, in his The Territorial Divisions of Muslim Spain (CSIC, Madrid, 1986), is of the opinion that Al-Andalus, as in Jazirat al-Andalus, translates pure and simply as "Atlantis" or "island of the Atlantic":

Arabic texts offering the first mentions of the island of al-Andalus and the sea of al-Andalus become extraordinarily clear if we substitute this expressions with "Atlántida" or "Atlantic". The same can be said with reference to Hercules and the Amazons whose island, according to Arabic commentaries of these Greek and Latin legends, was located in jauf al-Andalus — that is, to the north or interior of the Atlantic Ocean.


An etymology was advanced recently by H. Halm in Al-Andalus und Gothica Sors, in Welt des Oriens, 66, 1989, pp 252-263, and drawn upon by Marianne Barrucand/Achim Bednorz in Arquitectura Islámica en Andalucía, Köln, Taschen, 1992, pp 12-13. Halm dismisses any links with the Vandals, an association he finds without foundation, and offers instead an interesting explanation. According to him the name "Al-Andalus" is simply an Arabic rendition of the Visigothic name given to the Roman province of Baetica. The Visigoths, following the custom of their Germanic predecessors, parcelled out the conquered territories by draw, and the allotments to anyone, with their corresponding land, was called "Sortes Gothica". Contemporary texts, still written in Latin, refer to the Gothic kingdom as a whole as "Gothica sors" (singular). It is reasonable to suppose then that the corresponding Gothic designation "Landahlauts" (allotted, inherited, drawn land), in its phonetic form — "landalos" — became easily and spontaneously, to Arabic ears, "Al-Andalus".

  • Lôt (Gothic hlauts: allotment, inheritance. Old High German hlôz, modern German los, which passed to French as lot and Castilian as lote; whence "lottery," "loterie," "lotería," etc.

First use

In the Archaeological Museum in Madrid, a dinar dating from five years after the conquest (716), has the Arabic "Al-Andalus" on one side and the Latin "Span(ia)" on the other — apparently, the first mention known to date.

See also

History of Spain, History of Portugal, History of Islam, Andalusia, Spain, Jihad.

Last updated: 02-07-2005 05:18:21
Last updated: 03-01-2005 21:48:46