The Impact of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula

The Impact of Islam in the Iberian Peninsula

It remains clear that the period of Islamic rule had a lasting impact on Spain as a nation. The Moors, who derived largely from Arabia and Northern Africa, ruled huge swathes of Southern Spain for seven centuries, and had a widening impact on Spanish culture. This exhibit demonstrates that the Muslim rule of Medieval Iberia has heavily influenced Spain’s language, intellectual culture, and architecture.

Subject A: Language 

Words/ Secondary 

It is often assumed that Spanish was derived solely from Latin but when the Muslim Moors invaded they brought Arabic. Language is a living thing and it often borrows words from other languages. This had a profound impact on the language of Spanish during this time with many words in Spanish having Arabic roots. Both of the languages existed at the same time during the seven centuries that the Moors had control of Spain and by 1492, when the last Muslims were expelled from Granada, over 4000 words had become apart of the Spanish language.

Here is a short list of words that have Arabic roots and are in Spanish. (I speak Spanish and I was quite surprised how many words that I use on a daily basis at home have roots in Arabic)

aceite — oil, aceituna — olive, adobe — adobe, aduana — customs (as at a border)
ajedrez — chess, Alá — Allah, alacrán — scorpion, albacora — albacore, albahaca — basil, alberca — tank, swimming pool, alcalde — mayor, álcali — alkali, alcatraz — pelican, alcázar — fortress, palace, alcoba — bedroom, alcove, alcohol — alcohol, alfil — bishop (in chess), alfombra — carpet, algarroba — carob, algodón — cotton, algoritmo — algorithm, almacén — storage, almanaque — almanac, almirante — admiral, almohada — pillow, alquiler — rent, alquimia — alchemy, amalgama — amalgam, añil — indigo, arroz — rice, asesino — assassin, atún — tuna, ayatolá — ayatollah, azafrán — saffron, azar — chance, azúcar — sugar, azul — blue, balde — bucket, barrio — district, berenjena — eggplant, burca — burqa, café — coffee, cero — zero, chivo — billy goat, cifra — cifra, Corán — Koran, cuscús — couscous, dado — die, espinaca — spinach, fez — fez, fulano — what’s-his-name, gacela— gazelle, guitarra — guitar, hachís — hashish, harén — harem, hasta — until, imán — imam, islam — Islam, jaque — check (in chess), jaque mate — checkmate, jirafa — giraffe, laca — lacquer, lila — lilac, lima — lime, limón — lemon, loco — crazy, macabro — macabre, marfil — marble, ivory, masacre — massacre, masaje — massage, máscara — mask, mazapán — marzipan, mezquita — mosque, momia — mummy, mono — monkey, muslim — muslim, naranja — orange, ojalá — I hope, God willing, olé — bravo, paraíso — paradise, ramadán — Ramadan, rehén — hostage, rincón — corner, nook, sandía — watermelon, sofá — sofa, sorbete — sherbet, talco — talc, tarea — task, tarifa — tariff, tártaro — tartar, taza — cup

Maps/ Secondary

With the Muslim invasion of the Spain, many cities were created and named in the Arabic language. After the Spanish reclaimed their territory and pushed out the Moors in 1492, many places in Spain retained their Arabic names.


Islamic Spain and the Reconquista

Islamic Spain and the Reconquista

For example: Wadi I-hidjara — Guadalajara, Madjrit — Madrid, Barshiluna —  Barcelona


Subject B: Architecture

The architectural influence of the Muslim Moors remains the most recognizable aspect of their control over Spain because they practically monopolized the craft of building and ornamentation. This means that they left their style of buildings all over Christian Spain after they were pushed out. Traits of Islamic architecture can be found in Spain with, slender columns, horseshoe arches, cupolas, and colorful buildings.

Image/ Primary 

Here is an example of the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, it was an Islamic mosque converted into a Christian cathedral in the thirtieth century after the decline of the Moors which began to be pushed out of Spain and the Iberian Peninsula.

The Church retained the overall architectural characteristics of the Mosque and was expanded in the following centuries after it was converted.

Link to 360 tour:




Time/ Dated source/ Primary

Here is an example of a Fresco that was in the Church of San Baudelio de Berlanga. The Church was located between the Islamic and Christian lands in the twelfth century in Spain. Islamic Art influenced much of the Frescos during the time because Islamic court art was known and admired by inhabitants of the Christian kingdoms for its costly materials and unparalleled craft.



Subject C: Intellectual culture


The Islamic contributions to Spanish intellectual culture were advancements in astronomy, mathematics and the variety of architectural forms. The Moors dominated the intellectual life of Spain during their rule and had a profound impact on European civilization, which accepted many of their ideas. One of the biggest advancements the Moors brought to the Iberian Peninsula and ultimately Western Europe were the Arabic Numbers and Zero. These advancements in Spain not only changed mathematics in Spain it also changed mathematics all over Europe via the scholars that studied in Muslim Spain and returned to France and England.

Hindu Arabic numerals

For example, four thousand, three hundred and sixty five in the new system was written 4,365 and the value of the digits means:

1000 | 100 | 10 | 1
   4 |   3 |  6 | 5

The same number in Roman numerals was written MMMMCCCLXVc (4 × 1000 + 3 × 100 + 50 + 10 + 5). It was quite difficult to perform calculations with such a cumbersome system.

Social Media/ Primary 

The astrolabe moved with Islam through North Africa into Muslim Spain where it was introduced to European culture through Christian monasteries in northern Spain. The earliest astrolabes used in Europe were imported from Muslim Spain with Latin words engraved alongside the original Arabic. These advancements brought to Spain via the Moors contributed to the Spanish intellectual culture and Navigation.



Updated Bibliography

  1. (Image/ Primary 360 Virtual Tour) “Conjunto Monumental Mezquita Catedral de Córdoba.” El edificio. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  2. (Words/ Secondary) Erichsen, Gerald. “You’ll Be Surprised by the Spanish Words That Came From Arabic.” ThoughtCo. March 02, 2017 . Accessed May 10, 2017.
  3. (Maps/Secondary) “Islamic Spain and the Reconquista.” Islamic Spain and the Reconquista. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  4. (Time/ Primary) “Camel | Work of Art | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The Met’s Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. Accessed April 28, 2017.
  5. (Numbers/ Secondary) Bourne, Murray. “Math of the Moors.” Intmathcom RSS. February 07, 2007. Accessed May 10, 2017.
  6. (Social Media/Primary) Heritage, Islamic. “Al-Andalus: The Orient in the West.” Pinterest. April 05, 2012. Accessed May 10, 2017.



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