WE live in on the Iberian Peninsula which in times past has been part of the Roman Empire, then the Visigoths, and was lastly under Moorish control. The ‘Moors’ were actually composed of two tribes, Berbers and Arabs which hailed from Mauritania (south of Morocco).
Religion is all too often the sad catalyst for warfare and the Moors converted to Islam around 700AD. Around the same time the heirs of the Visigoth king Witiza on the peninsula had been usurped by Roderick (remember Life of Brian? We want Woderick!) He had been chosen by nobles to reign instead of King Witiza’s son and indeed he later killed him in battle.
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King Roderick ruled for just a year from 710-711 as King Witiza’s heirs called for help south to the Moors and their leader Tarik ibn Ziyad crossed the sea with his army and landed at Jebel-al-Tarik or Tarik’s mountain now called Gibraltar.
Roderick was defeated but instead of handing power to the Visigoths reinforcements were sent for and the Moorish invasion began. Within 20 years the Moors had conquered almost the entire peninsula and even crossed the Pyrenees into Frankish territory before being defeated in battle by Charles Mantel in 733.
The mountainous region of the Asturias in the far north then called Ishbaniya also proved too much for the Moors to conquer. Apparently Manuza the Moorish Governor of Leon took a fancy to Pelayos sister and got permission from Tarik to try and take Pelayo hostage and transfer him to Cordoba.
Manuza was slain after defeat by Pelayo at the battle of Covadonga around 720 and Asturia became a refuge for fleeing Christian nobles and an independent kingdom was established here in 722 by the now King Pelayo. Asturia was the birth place of the Christian reconquest of Spain. King Pelayos daughter married a local Chieftain called Alfonso and by 757 he had recaptured about a quarter of the peninsula and had reigned for some 18 years.
In 749 Abd-er-Rahman survived a brutal massacre in Damascus of the ruling Umayyad dynasty. The Abbassid family had invited 80 unsuspecting Umayyad leaders to a banquet where they were promptly murdered. The Abbasids then became the Caliphs of Baghdad so starting the Golden Age of Islamic culture. Somehow Abd-er Rahman managed to escape and he fled to Morocco where supporters prepared for him to cross to Granada which he did in 755 to Almunecar. There he defeated his opponents and he was declared Emir of Al-Andalus starting a new Umayyad dynasty and ruled for 30 years. Thus the Empire was split into two factions The Umayyad to the west and the Abbassid to the east.
At this time the Islamic Empire extended across the whole of North Africa towards China and in 751 AD the Abbassids defeated the Chinese at the battle of Samarkand in what is now Uzbekistan. This was culturally a very important place as it was on the famed silk route linking east and west and new techniques of paper manufacturing were being developed here. Some paper manufacturers were kidnapped at the battle and taught the Arab conquerors the art of papermaking. Slowly the use of paper spread westwards throughout the Empire and a new age of learning or enlightenment began.
The Church at Cordoba was bought from the Visigoth Christians by Abd-er-Rahman
And work started in 784 converting it into a mosque, a job that lasted over 200 years. Traditionally the Mihrab in a mosque faces south-east towards Mecca so worshippers when praying know the correct way to face. But in the case of the Mezquita (which is named after Abd-er-Rahmans wife) the Mihrab faces south. This is either because the old foundations were simply built upon or because southwards lies Damascus the scene of Abd-er Rahmans lucky escape four decades earlier.