delanceyplace.com 11/11/10 - andalusia, the caliphate, and tolerance
"After the Moorish conquest of Spain in the eighth century, the emir of Al Andalus had been a vassal of the caliphs of Damascus and Baghdad. But this western outpost of Islam was the first of the Muslim provinces to break free of its Oriental masters. When the Mongols destroyed the caliphate in Baghdad in 1258, the independence of Al Andalus was solidified, and the Spanish Moors began to relate more to Europe than the Middle East.
"In arts and agriculture, learning and tolerance, Al Andulus was a beacon of enlightenment to the rest of Europe. In the fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir and the Guadiana rivers, as well as the terraced slopes of the Alpujarras, agriculture surpassed anything elsewhere on the continent. Moorish filigree silver- and leatherwork became famous throughout the Mediterranean. In engineering, the skill of the Spanish Moors had no parallel, and the splendor of their architecture was manifest in the glorious mosque of Cordoba, the Giralda and Alcazar of Seville, and the Alhambra of Granada. Its excellence in art and literature, mathematics and science, history and philosophy defined this brilliant civilization.
"Among its finest achievements was its tolerance. Jews and Christians were welcomed, if not as equals, then as full-fledged citizens. They were permitted to practice their faith and their rituals without interference. This tolerance was in keeping with the principles of the Koran, which taught that Jews and Christians were to be respected as 'peoples of the Book' or believers in the word of God. Jews and Christians were assimilated into Islamic culture, and occasionally, Moorish leaders helped to build Christian houses of worship.
"In 1248, work began on the colossal Alhambra in Granada. With its thirteen towers and fortified walls above the ravine of the Darro River, the river of gold, the red palace took shape over the next hundred years. The extraordinary rooms of its interior - the Courtyard of the Lions, the Hall of the Two Sisters, the Court of the Myrtles - were finished at the end of the long process under the reign of Yusef I in the mid-fourteenth century. With their arabesque moldings and gold ornament and vegetal carvings, these rooms became the wonder of the world. Most stunning of all was the Courtyard of the Lions, whose Oriental feel was more reminiscent of Japan than the Middle East and whose vision was to replicate the Garden of Paradise."
Author: James Reston, Jr.
Title: The Dogs of God
Date: Copyright 2005 by James Reston