Conquest and Adaptation
Medieval Spaniards were tossed by the Muslim conquest into an ocean of clashing religious cultures of Muslims, Christians and Jews, and were utterly ill equipped to pilot such uncharted waters. For 40 years, the Moorish rule was volatile.
In 756, a prince named Abd-ar-Rahman of the deposed Umayyad royal family escaped the Abbasid bloodletting of his family; he refused to recognize the authority of the Abbasid caliph in Damascus, fled to Córdoba, Spain and seized power to become an independent emir. His reign marked a critical turn for Spanish Muslims and he literally transformed the land during his 32-year reign into the “cultural light" of Europe.
In the years of 784-86, he erected the Great Mosque, which was originally a Catholic Christian Church, and rebuilt the fixture to hold the entire Muslim community of the city. His architecture at its height created the most modern city in Europe. As that community grew, so did the mosque, enlarged by several of his successors. In contrast to Muslim Spain’s earlier chronic instability, the first four Umayyads ruled for a combined eighty years.
It seemed that Jews, Christians, and other non-Orthodox adherents were offered the independence from Moorish Spain in which to navigate their own future even while cultural and commercial links with the Islamic world held out. Pilgrimages to Mecca eventually allowed access to scholarly advances and business opportunities.
Córdoba at its pinnacle became a centralized city; this was a modern concept and the Muslims fostered laws, banking and civil services. The introduction of paper manufacture by Spaniards now held the Hindu-Arabic numerals—0 through 9—that superseded the Roman number system. Spanish scholars translated what became Europe’s standard medical sourcebook.
The transformation took place in infrastructure as well and Córdoba boasted streets that were paved and lit by lamps. Because of the unique navigation of the water systems by their engineers, there were public bathhouses!