Spain is typically associated with Christianity, especially since the vast majority of the population consider themselves Catholic. Prior to its establishment as a Christian country, however, Spain was actually under Muslim rule for several centuries — from 711 to 1492.
Many examples of Islamic history and architecture can still be visited across Europe.
Islamic Architecture in Spain
In fact, the name Andalusia, which is now an autonomous region in the southern coast of Spain, actually comes from the Muslim name of this territory: al-Andalus.
Rich Islamic history
Al-Andalus covered most of Iberia, which we now know as Portugal and Spain. It was ruled under the Umayyad Caliphate, the first great Arab kingdom known for consolidating Islamic civilisation. Then it consisted of largely nomadic tribes spread across various areas.
It also established Arabic as its official language.
While Islamic civilisation flourished during this era, the Umayyad caliphs were more lenient about other religious minorities who were under their rule. Jews and Christians, for example, only needed to pay a certain tax in order to be granted protection under the caliphate.
Art and architecture
It is under such diversity that Islamic art and architecture flourished. In fact, the Museum with No Frontiers shows that this diversity is what defined Umayyad art itself. Artists incorporated Byzantine and Sassanian elements into their own artistic style.
Islamic architecture can be characterised by several key features.
- The first is the minaret, a tall tower built for broadcasting the call to prayer five times a day.
- Domes are also important: the Dome of the Rock, now found in Jerusalem, was the first building to have such a feature.
Meanwhile, Moorish architecture is the subset of Islamic architecture that was most articulated in Spain, Portugal, and North Africa. This building style is characterised by opulence. Horseshoe and multi-foil arches set in stones of alternating colours. Walls often featured ornamental details in deep, rich hues. Colbalt blues, deep reds and golden colours.
The movements of the Islamic people, during this period, have made these distinct architectural details evident in different regions. Not only in neighbouring countries such as Portugal or North Africa, but even in countries as far away as Malaysia.
Islamic Architecture in Malaysia
In fact, you can find Islamic architecture making its mark in key cities across the vast continent. Malaysia is home to what is known as Neo-Moorish architecture, also known as the Mughal style of building. ExpatBets provides insights for travellers looking to explore different parts of Asia, points out that Malaysia is a predominantly Muslim country.
Malaysia Itself a melting pot of cultures. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building sits at the centre of Kuala Lumpur. Mosques all over the country feature the signature domes, minarets, and ornamented arches very similar to those found in Spain.
Remnants in Spain
Despite it being centuries since Spain was under Muslim rule, you can still get a feel of this empire’s vast influence through the architecture it left behind Alhambra in Granada, for instance, is a must-see, as visitors can walk through the entire palace. Granada’s Moorish quarters of Albaicín is also a good place to visit, especially if you want to get a view of how such architecture featured in everyday spaces.
There’s more to see beyond Granada. For instance, Cordoba was one of the cultural hotspots of al-Andalus, with three further ideas by TripZilla its clear how the city still retains the grandeur of centuries past.
The Andalusian city of Seville is also very much worth a trip. The Alcazar, in particular, is a site of Muslim and Christian exchange. Christian kings added to this Muslim monument by inscribing praises to their God in Arabic.
What are your favourite Islamic sites in Spain?
Let us know in the comments section below!