Who Are the Moors?

The Moors, who were ascendant during much of the Middle Ages, were northwestern African Muslims of Berber and Arab descent. They successfully invaded and conquered most of the then-Visigothic Iberian peninsula in the 8th century but were driven out by the Christian Asturians in the 15th century.

In addition to most of Iberia, the Moors held North Africa and parts of Italy and Sicily between the 8th and 15th centuries. The Moors also fought for Islam during the Crusades and made great advances in medicine and philosophy that later spread to Italy, possibly triggering the Renaissance. After the 15th century, the Moors of North Africa largely fell under the control of the Ottomans. They continued fighting Europeans with the Barbary pirates, sailing largely out of Tunisia and enslaving captured Christians. Today, Moorish influence is clearly apparent in Spain in language, architecture and art as well as the many historical buildings and ruins they left behind.

The term "Moor" referring to these people dates back to Roman times when they conquered parts of Mauritania, which today is a part of Morocco. They were referred to at that time as the "Mauri," which translates to "Moors" in English. Later in history, Moor was used as a general term for all Muslims — especially Muslims of Arab descent.