The Moors

Posted by Roddy Yazdanpour on


It is 30 April 711 and the Berber commander, Tariq Ibn-Ziyad, and his small force of soldiers had just landed in Gibraltar when the commander issued a startling command: “Burn all our ships”! His troops, shocked and puzzled, wanted to know how they would return home if all the ships were burnt upon which Tariq Ibn-Ziyad issued even a more shocking command: “We are not going home. THIS is our new home”, and thus began the invasion of the Umayyad invasion into Spain. What followed for the next 800 years would be a flourishing and rich soup of cultures that would finally result in the Renaissance in Europe and make Spain a wealthy country with immense influence over world affairs until the 17th century.

”Though ruthless fighters, the Berbers/Moors were very just. They gave the Goth Spaniards an opportunity to surrender each of their provinces, to which most capitulated. "It is a common misapprehension that the holy war meant that the Muslims gave their opponents a choice 'between Islam and the sword'. This was sometimes the case, but only when the opponents were polytheist and idol-worshippers. For Jews, Christians, and other 'People of the Book'. there was a third possibility, they might become a 'protected group', paying a tax or tribute to the Muslims but enjoying internal autonomy". Even in those early days, the Moors knew and practiced the principles of chivalry. They had already won the title to Knightliness which many centuries later compelled the victorious Spaniards to address them as "Knights of Granada, Gentleman, albeit Moors". Later, after advancing to Cordoba, the Muslims found that the Goth nobles of the kingdom had fled over the Pyrenees Mountains, all but abandoning their land to them. The occupation of the Moors set the stage for beginning the work of building an Islamic empire similar to the one flourishing in Damascus. Within a century of their activity, the Moors, with assistance of the all people and religions in Spain, had developed a civilization based in Cordoba that surpassed that of any in Europe; it was known as Al-Andalus. At the end of the eighth century, Al-Andalus was the most populous, cultured, and industrious land of all Europe, remaining so for centuries. During this prosperous period, trade with the outside world was unrivaled. It was during this time of economic expansion, the Jews, who had been virtually eliminated from the peninsula in the seventh century by the Christians, grew once more in numbers and flourished. Hume wrote in his book "Spanish People": "Side by side with the new rulers lived the Christians and Jews in peace. The latter rich with commerce and industry were content to let the memory of their oppression by the priest-ridden Goths sleep".

The Moors and Jews brought to Al-Andalus their weaving skills and together with Spain’s churro and merino sheep population, the Spanish carpets were born. In the beginning the carpets represented the Seljuk carpets from Turkey, but 800 years later during the Reconquest of Spain the designs changed and many prominent ruling families included their coats of arms, with borders still including the mystical Kufic scripts inherited from the Muslim dynasties. These carpets became known as Admiral Carpets (armorial carpets) and were made famous by paintings of Hans Holbein. With the start of the Renaissance in Europe the Spanish carpets changed once more and mimicked French Aubusson and Savonnerie designs. Carpets are still woven in Spain today following older Spanish carpet designs.

Spanish carpets, like everywhere else, was a sign of wealth and luxury and were commissioned by the powerful and wealthy families. It is, however, the Spanish sheep that enriched Spain. “Between 1500 and 1800, according to Phillips and Phillips, Spain exported an average of seven million pounds of washed wool each year, and during peak years, exports rose to more than fifteen million pounds in the mid-sixteenth and the mid-eighteenth centuries. The exported wool came mainly from flocks whose owners were members of the Mesta. During the reign of Alfonso X in 1273, an institution known as the Mesta was formalized to protect the interests of flock owners and shepherds. Routes of passage for seasonal migration were protected and privileges to the Mesta were extended for a variety of economic intents. Region by region after the Christian reconquest of Muslim areas, drovers’ roads under control of the Mesta expanded as wool became Spain’s major export, shipped from the northern ports of San Sebastian, Bilbao, and Santander. The Spanish churra of the Americas sustained the local communities of conquistadors and settlers with dairy products, meat, and wool, ultimately giving rise to the Navajo’s churro. Globally, it was the Iberian breed of merino sheep, initially protected within Spain and first exported in 1786 to Louis XVI of France, who purchased more than 300 Spanish merinos from his cousin, Charles III of Spain. Thus began the breeding of French Merino, or Rambouillet (named after the rural estate of Louis XVI), which in turn were among those first transported to Australia. In New Zealand, men and stock arriving from Australia in the early 1840s initiated the wool industry there. In particular, they brought the Spanish merino breed. New Zealand sheep farmers continued to import Australian stud merino for many years.”

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