As part of the Channel 4’s Hidden Civilisation season exploring Islam’s rich and significant contribution to western art and culture, historian Bettany Hughes traces the story of the mysterious and misunderstood Moors, the Islamic society that ruled in Spain for 700 years, but whose legacy was virtually erased from Western history.
In 711 AD, a tribe of newly converted Muslims from North Africa crossed the straits of Gibraltar and invaded Spain. Known as The Moors, they went on to build a rich and powerful society. Its capital, Cordoba, was the largest and most civilised city in Europe, with hospitals, libraries and a public infrastructure light years ahead of anything in England at the time. Amongst the many things that were introduced to Europe by Muslims at this time were: a huge body of classical Greek texts that had been lost to the rest of Europe for centuries; mathematics and the numbers we use today; advanced astronomy and medical practices; fine dining; the concept of romantic love; paper; deodorant; and even erection creams. This wasn’t the rigid, fundamentalist Islam of some people’s imaginations, but a progressive, sensuous and intellectually curious culture. But when the society collapsed, Spain was fanatically re-Christianised; almost every trace of seven centuries of Islamic rule was ruthlessly removed. It is only now, six centuries later, that The Moors’ influences on European life and culture are finally beginning to be fully understood.