The Muslim Moors ruled much of Spain from 711 to 1492. Although they were driven from Andalusia --the Moorish center of power and the largest region of Spain -- in the 15th century, their influence remains evident in the architecture, agriculture, decorative arts and language of modern Spain, particularly in the southern regions. Islam left in Spain a legacy that still lives on, long after the last Moor departed.
The Moors left an indelible mark on Spanish agriculture. Before their arrival, this arid region could only grow winter crops because of the intense summer heat. The Moors introduced an advanced irrigation system, farming methods and crops that still play an important role in the country's economy. Their understanding of water management -- a consequence of desert living -- impacted agricultural methods in Andalusia. Fruit orchards and vegetable production expanded, and, thanks to the irrigation, rice became a viable crop. The Moors brought in citrus trees from India, and dry-farming crops that needed little water, such as sugarcane. Today, the orange is Spain's iconic fruit, and towns throughout Andalusia are lined with orange and lemon trees.
After Latin, Arabic is the next biggest contributor to the Spanish language. Modern Spanish started its development in the more northern Castile region at the same time as the Moors arrived in the south; consequently, Arabic words were absorbed into the language as "Castellano" -- another word for Spanish -- moved south. Arabic words abound in legal and commercial terminology, in agriculture and in place names. Arabic also influences Spanish pronunciation of certain sounds, particularly in Andalusia, which has its own distinct accent. For example, the guttural "h" sound at the beginning of a word like "jota" is typically Arabic. A selection of Spanish words that are Arabic in origin include arroz (rice), alfombra (carpet), jarra (jug), and paraiso, or paradise. The Spanish exclamations "olé" and "ojalá" are also from the Arabic -- both invoke the will of Allah, and the second term is equivalent to the modern Arabic "inshallah."
Spain has preserved its monuments of Moorish architecture in Andalusia's major cities: the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Great Mosque in Cordoba, and the Giralda and Alcazar in Seville. Although these are palaces and forts on a grand scale, certain style elements and decorative approaches used by the Moors exist in contemporary Spanish domestic architecture. The Arab mastery of arch construction, especially the horseshoe arch, had a massive influence across Europe, and is probably the forerunner of the Gothic style used in the great medieval Christian cathedrals, according to historians. The courtyard garden is another Islamic influence -- hidden from the outside world, it's typically rectangular with a fountain at its center. The extensive use of colorful tiling with geometric designs throughout southern Spain is a legacy of the Moors and sections of cities like Seville and Cordoba have quarters exclusively selling "azulejos," derived from the Arabic word for tiles.
The Moors also promoted the idea of a great cultural center, and chose Cordoba as its location. In the 10th century, the Caliph of Cordoba built a massive new palace and city called "Al-Zahra." Some historians believe he built it to display his power and wealth to other European rulers, and that the concept of lavish state receptions can be traced back to this enterprise. Cordoba also attracted scholars, booksellers, philosophers and scientists, and according to historian J.B. Trend, it was the most advanced city in Europe. When the rest of Spain needed a surgeon, they sent to Cordoba. It also had street lighting, 70 public libraries and 900 public baths, amenities rarely found in the rest of Europe.
Based in London, Eleanor McKenzie has been writing lifestyle-related books and articles since 1998. Her articles have appeared in the "Palm Beach Times" and she is the author of numerous books published by Hamlyn U.K., including "Healing Reiki" and "Pilates System." She holds a Master of Arts in informational studies from London University.