In succeeding centuries, al-Andalus became a province of the Berber dynasties of the Almoravids and Almohads, subsequently fragmenting into a number of minor states, most notably the Emirate of Granada. For large parts of its history, particularly under the Caliphate of Córdoba, Andalus was a beacon of learning and the city of Córdoba became one of the leading cultural and economic centers in both the Mediterranean basin and the Islamic world.
For much of its history, Al-Andalus existed in conflict with Christian kingdoms to the north. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile captured Toledo, precipitating a gradual decline until, by 1236, with the fall of Córdoba, the Kingdom of Granada remained the only Muslim ruled territory in what is now Spain. The Portuguese Reconquista culminated in 1249 with the conquest of the Algarve by Afonso III. In 1238, Granada officially became a tributary state to the Kingdom of Castile, then ruled by Ferdinand III. On January 2, 1492, Muhammad XII of Granada surrendered complete control of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabella, Los Reyes Católicos ("The Catholic Monarchs").
At least three specific etymologies have been proposed in Western scholarship, all presuming that the name arose after the Roman period in the Iberian Peninsula's history. Their originators or defenders have been historians. Recently, linguistics expertise has been brought to bear on the issue. Arguments from toponymy (the study of place names), history, and language structure demonstrate the lack of substance in all preceding proposals, and evidence has been presented that the name predates the Roman occupation rather than postdates it.
A major objection to all earlier proposals is that the very name Andaluz (the equivalent of Andalus in Spanish spelling) exists in several places in mountainous areas of Castile. Furthermore, the fragment and- is common in Spanish place names, and the fragment -luz also occurs several times across Spain.
Another proposal is that "Andalus" is an Arabic language version of the name "Atlantis". This idea has recently been defended by the Spanish historian, Vallvé, but purely on the grounds that it is allegedly plausible phonetically and would explain several toponymic facts -- no historical evidence offered. In Modern Standard Arabic, the name for "Atlantis" is aţlānţis, and this is the title of the entry for Atlantis in the Arabic language Wikipedia.
Arabic texts offering the first mentions of the island of al-Andalus and the sea of al-Andalus become extraordinarily clear if we substitute this expressions with "Atlántida" or "Atlantic". The same can be said with reference to Hercules and the Amazons whose island, according to Arabic commentaries of these Greek and Latin legends, was located in jauf al-Andalus—that is, to the north or interior of the Atlantic Ocean.
The "Island of al-Andalus" is mentioned in an anonymous Arabic chronicle of the conquest of Iberia composed two to three centuries after the fact. It is identified as the location of the landfall of the advance guard of the Moorish invasion of Iberia. The chronicle also says that "Island of al-Andalus" was subsequently renamed "Island of Tarifa". The preliminary invasion force of a few hundred, led by the Berber chief, Tarif abu Zura, seized the first bit of land that is encountered after crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 710. The main invasion force led by Tariq ibn Ziyad followed them a year later. The landfall, now known in Spain as either Punta Marroquí or Punta de Tarifa, is in fact the southern tip of an islet, presently known as Isla de Tarifa or Isla de las Palomas, just offshore of the Iberian mainland.
This testimony of the Arab chronicle, the modern name "Isla de Tarifa", and the above mentioned toponymic evidence that "Andaluz" is a name of pre-Roman origin taken together lead to the supposition that the "Island of Andalus" is the present day Isla de Tarifa, which lies just offshore from the modern day Spanish city of Tarifa. The extension of the scope of the designation "Al-Andalus" from a single islet to all of Iberia has several historical precedents.
In the 1980s, the historian Halm, also rejecting the "Vandal" proposal, originated an innovative alternative. Halm took as his points of departure ancient reports that Germanic tribes in general were reported to have distributed conquered lands by having members draw lots, and that Iberia during the period of Visigothic rule was sometimes known to outsiders by a Latin name, Gothica Sors, whose meaning is 'lot Gothland'. Halm thereupon speculated that the Visigoths themselves might have called their new lands "lot lands" and done so in their own language. However, the Gothic language version of the term Gothica Sors is not attested. Halm claimed to have been able to reconstruct it, proposing that it was *landahlauts (the asterisk is the standard symbol among linguists for a linguistic form that is merely proposed, not attested). Halm then suggested that the hypothetical Gothic language term gave rise to both the attested Latin term, Gothica Sors (by translation of the meaning), and the Arab name, Al-Andalus (by phonetic imitation). However, Halm did not offer evidence (historical or linguistic) that any of the language developments in his argument had in fact occurred.
Under the orders of the Great Umayyad Caliph Al-Walid I, Tariq ibn-Ziyad led a small force that landed at Gibraltar on April 30, 711. After a decisive victory at the Battle of Guadalete on July 19, 711, Tariq ibn-Ziyad brought most of the Iberian Peninsula under Muslim occupation in a seven-year campaign. They crossed the Pyrenees and occupied parts of southern France, but were eventually defeated by the Frank Charles Martel at the Battle of Poitiers in 732. The Iberian peninsula, except for the Kingdom of Asturias, became part of the expanding Umayyad empire, under the name of al-Andalus. The earliest attestation of this Arab name is a dinar coin, preserved in the Archaeological Museum in Madrid, dating from five years after the conquest (716). The coin bears the word "al-Andalus" in Arabic script on one side and the Iberian Latin "Span" on the obverse.
At first, al-Andalus was ruled by governors appointed by the Caliph, most ruling for periods of under three years. However, from 740, a series of civil wars between various Muslim groups in Iberia resulted in the breakdown of Caliphal control, with Yūsuf al-Fihri, who emerged as the main winner, effectively becoming an independent ruler.
In 750, the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads for control of the great Arab empire. But in 756, the exiled Umayyad prince Abd-ar-Rahman I (later titled Al-Dākhil) ousted Yūsuf al-Fihri to establish himself as the Emir of Córdoba. He refused to submit to the Abbasid caliph, as Abbasid forces had killed most of his family. Over a thirty year reign, he established a tenuous rule over much of al-Andalus, overcoming partisans of both the al-Fihri family and of the Abbasid caliph.
For the next century and a half, his descendants continued as emirs of Córdoba, with nominal control over the rest of al-Andalus and sometimes even parts of western North Africa, but with real control, particularly over the marches along the Christian border, vacillating depending on the competence of the individual emir. Indeed, the power of emir Abdallah ibn Muhammad (circa 900) did not extend beyond Córdoba itself. But his grandson Abd-al-Rahman III, who succeeded him in 912, not only rapidly restored Umayyad power throughout al-Andalus but extended it into western North Africa as well. In 929 he proclaimed himself Caliph, elevating the emirate to a position competing in prestige not only with the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad but also the Shi'ite caliph in Tunis—with whom he was competing for control of North Africa.
The period of the Caliphate is seen by Muslim writers as the golden age of al-Andalus. Crops produced using irrigation, along with food imported from the Middle East, provided the area around Córdoba and some other Andalusī cities with an agricultural economic sector by far the most advanced in Europe. Among European cities, Córdoba under the Caliphate, with a population of perhaps 500,000, eventually overtook Constantinople as the largest and most prosperous city in Europe. Within the Islamic world, Córdoba was one of the leading cultural centres. The work of its most important philosophers and scientists (notably Abulcasis and Averroes) had a major influence on the intellectual life of medieval Europe.
Muslims and non-Muslims often came from abroad to study in the famous libraries and universities of al-Andalus after the reconquista of Toledo in 1085 . The most noted of these was Michael Scot (c. 1175 to c. 1235), who took the works of Ibn Rushd ("Averroes") and Ibn Sina ("Avicenna") to Italy. This transmission was to have a significant impact on the formation of the European Renaissance.
The Almoravids were succeeded in the 12th century by the Almohads, another Berber dynasty, after the victory of Abu Yusuf Ya'qub al-Mansur over the Castilian Alfonso VIII at the Battle of Alarcos. In 1212 a coalition of Christian kings under the leadership of the Castilian Alfonso VIII defeated the Almohads at the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa. The Almohads continued to rule Al Andalus for another decade, but with much reduced power and prestige; and the civil wars following the death of Abu Ya'qub Yusuf II rapidly led to the re-establishment of taifas. The taifas, newly independent but now weakened, were quickly conquered by Portugal, Castile and Aragon. After the fall of Murcia (1243) and the Algarve (1249), only the Kingdom of Granada survived as a Muslim state, but only as a tributary of Castile. Most of its tribute was paid in gold from present-day Mali and Burkina Faso that was carried to Iberia through the merchant routes of the Sahara.
The last Muslim threat to the Christian kingdoms was the rise of the Marinids in Morocco during the 14th century, who took Granada into their sphere of influence and occupied some of its cities, like Algeciras. However, they were unable to take Tarifa, which held out until the arrival of the Castilian Army led by Alfonso XI. The Castilian king, helped by Afonso IV of Portugal and Pedro IV of Aragon, decisively defeated the Marinids at the Battle of Salado in 1340 and took Algeciras in 1344. Gibraltar, then under Granadian rule, was besieged in 1349-1350, Alfonso XI along with most of his army perished by the Black Death. His successor, Pedro of Castile, made peace with the Muslims and turned his attention to Christian lands, starting a period of almost 150 years of rebellions and wars between the Christian states that secured the survival of Granada.
In 1469 the marriage of Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile signaled the launching of the final assault on the Emirate of Granada (Gharnatah). The King and Queen convinced the Pope to declare their war a crusade. The Christians crushed one center of resistance after another and finally, in January 1492, after a long siege, the Moorish king, Muhammad abu Abdallah, surrendered the fortress palace, the renowned Alhambra, itself.
The Berbers, who made up the bulk of the invaders, lived in the mountainous regions of what is now the north of Portugal and in the Meseta Central, while the Arabs settled in the south and in the Ebro Valley in the northeast. The Jews worked mainly as tax collectors, in trade, or as doctors or ambassadors. At the end of the fifteenth century there were about 50,000 Jews in Granada and roughly 100,000 in the whole of Islamic Iberia.
The treatment of non-Muslims in the Caliphate has been a subject of considerable debate among scholars and commentators, especially those interested in drawing parallels to the coexistence of Muslims and non-Muslims in the modern world. María Rosa Menocal, a specialist in Iberian literature, has argued that "tolerance was an inherent aspect of Andalusian society". In her view, the Jewish and Christian dhimmis living under the Caliphate, while allowed fewer rights than Muslims, were much better off than in other parts of Christian Europe.
Jews constituted more than 5% of the population. Jews from other parts of Europe emigrated to Al-Andalus, where they were treated with dignity, as were Christians of sects regarded as heretical by various European Christian states. Al-Andalus was a key center of Jewish life during the early Middle Ages, producing important scholars and one of the most stable and wealthy Jewish communities. But there is no consensus among scholars that the relationship between Jews and Muslims was indeed a paragon of interfaith relations. Bernard Lewis takes issue with this view, arguing its modern use is ahistorical and apologetic. He argues that Islam traditionally did not offer equality nor even pretended that it did, arguing that it would have been both a "theological as well as a logical absurdity.
The Caliphate treated non-Muslims differently at different times. The longest period of tolerance began after 912, with the reign of Abd-ar-Rahman III and his son, Al-Hakam II where the Jews of Al-Andalus prospered, devoting themselves to the service of the Caliphate of Cordoba, to the study of the sciences, and to commerce and industry, especially to trading in silk and slaves, in this way promoting the prosperity of the country. Southern Iberia became an asylum for the oppressed Jews of other countries.
Christians, braced by the example of their coreligionists across the borders of al-Andalus, sometimes asserted the claims of Christianity and knowingly courted martyrdom, even during these tolerant periods. For example, 48 Christians of Córdoba were decapitated for religious offences against Islam. They became known as the Martyrs of Córdoba. These deaths played out, not in a single spasm of religious unrest, but over an extended period of time; dissenters were fully aware of the fates of their predecessors and chose to protest against Islamic rule.
With the death of al-Hakam III in 976, the situation worsened for non-Muslims in general. The first major persecution occurred on December 30, 1066 when the Jews were expelled from Granada and fifteen hundred families were killed when they did not leave. Under the Almoravids and the Almohads there may have been intermittent persecution of Jews, but sources are extremely scarce and do not give a clear picture, though the situation appears to have deteriorated after 1160.
During these successive waves of violence against non-Muslims, many Jewish and even Muslim scholars left the Muslim-controlled portion of Iberia for the then-still relatively tolerant city of Toledo, which had been reconquered in 1085 by Christian forces. Some Jews joined the armies of the Christians (about 40,000), while others joined the Almoravids in the fight against Alfonso VI of Castile.
The 11th century saw Muslim pogroms against Jews in Spain; those occurred in Cordoba in 1011 and in Granada in 1066.
The Almohads, who had taken control of the Almoravids' Maghribi and Andalusian territories by 1147, far surpassed the Almoravides in fundamentalist outlook, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, many Jews and Christians emigrated. Some, such as the family of Maimonides, fled east to more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms. However, the Almohads also encouraged the arts and letters, especially the falsafah movement that included Ibn Tufail, Ibn al-Arabi and Averroes.
Medieval Spain and Portugal was the scene of almost constant warfare between Muslims and Christians. Periodic raiding expeditions were sent from Al-Andalus to ravage the Christian Spanish and Portuguese kingdoms, bringing back booty and slaves. In raid against Lisbon in 1189, for example, the Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur took 3,000 female and child captives, while his governor of Córdoba, in a subsequent attack upon Silves in 1191, took 3,000 Christian slaves.
The brilliant Saracenic civilization of Moslem Spain rendered the Moors, even during their declines under the Reyes de Taifas, the most cultured people of the West.
Many tribes, religions and races coexisted in al-Andalus, each contributing to the intellectual prosperity of Andalusia. Literacy in Islamic Iberia was far more widespread than any other country of the West.
From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Córdoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad's. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, freedom to travel between the two Caliphates was allowed, which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time.
In the 10th century, the city of Cordoba had 700 mosques, 60,000 palaces, and 70 libraries, the largest of which had up to 600,000 books. In comparison, the largest library in Christian Europe at the time had no more than 400 manuscripts, while the University of Paris library still had only 2,000 books later in the 14th century.
However, when Al-Hakam's son Hisham II took over, real power was ceded to the hajib, al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir. Al-Mansur was a distinctly religious man and disapproved of the sciences of astronomy, logic and especially astrology, so much so that many books on these subjects, which had been preserved and collected at great expense by Al-Hakam II, were burned publicly. However, with Al-Mansur's death in 1002 interest in philosophy revived. Numerous scholars emerged, including Abu Uthman Ibn Fathun, whose masterwork was the philosophical treatise "Tree of Wisdom". An outstanding scholar in astronomy and astrology was Maslamah Ibn Ahmad al-Majriti (died 1008), an intrepid traveller who journeyed all over the Islamic world and beyond, and who kept in touch with the Brethren of Purity. Indeed, it is said to have been he who brought the 51 "Epistles of the Brethren of Purity" to al-Andalus and who added the compendium to this work, although it is quite possible that it was added later by another scholar of the name al-Majriti. Another book attributed to al-Majriti is the Ghayat al-Hakim "The Aim of the Sage", a book which explored a synthesis of Platonism with Hermetic philosophy. Its use of incantations led the book to be widely dismissed in later years, although the Sufi communities kept studies of it.
A prominent follower of al-Majriti was the philosopher and geometer Abu al-Hakam al-Kirmani. A follower of his in turn was the great Abu Bakr Ibn al-Sayigh, usually known in the Arab world as Ibn Bajjah, "Avempace"
The Andalusian philosopher Averroes (1126–1198) is considered the father of secular thought in Europe and possibly the most important among them.
With the relative tolerance of al-Andalus and the decline of the previous center of Jewish thought in Babylonia, al-Andalus became the center of Jewish intellectual endeavors. Poets and commentators like Judah Halevi (1086-1145) and Dunash ben Labrat (920-990) contributed to the cultural life of al-Andalus, but the area was even more important to the development of Jewish philosophy. A stream of Jewish philosophers, cross-fertilizing with Muslim philosophers, (see joint Jewish and Islamic philosophies) culminated in a widely celebrated Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, Maimonides (1135-1205), though he did not actually do any of his work in al-Andalus, as, when he was 13, his family fled persecution by the Almohads.
Muslim physicians from al-Andalus contributed significantly to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology. Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis), regarded as the "father of modern surgery", contributed greatly to the discipline of medical surgery with his Kitab al-Tasrif ("Book of Concessions"), a 30-volume medical encyclopedia which was later translated to Latin and used in European and Muslim medical schools for centuries.