Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

The flourishing of the court of Córdoba produced cultural and intellectual accomplishments in al-Andalus (Andalusia) that had a profound significance for Western Europe.

Summary of Event

The foundation of the court of Córdoba, which in the tenth century became one of the greatest centers of learning in Europe, reads like a story out of Alf layla wa-layla (fifteenth century; The Arabian Nights’s Entertainments, 1706-1708; also known as The Thousand and One Nights). In 750, a revolution by the ՙAbbāsid ՙAbbāsids[Abbasids] family against the Umayyad Umayyad caliphate caliph broke out in Iraq and Syria. A young Umayyad prince, ՙAbd al-Raḥmān ՙAbd al-Raḥmān I , escaped the proscription and traveled to North Africa, where he gained the support of his Berber relatives. He eventually went to Spain, where he established himself at Córdoba as an independent ruler. [kw]Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain (c. 950) [kw]Córdoba Flourishes in Spain, Court of (c. 950) [kw]Spain, Court of Córdoba Flourishes in (c. 950) Córdoba Spain;c. 950: Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain[1170] Cultural and intellectual history;c. 950: Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain[1170] Education;c. 950: Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain[1170] Government and politics;c. 950: Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain[1170] Religion;c. 950: Court of Córdoba Flourishes in Spain[1170] ՙAbd al-Raḥmān I ՙAbd al-Raḥmān II ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāir Hakam, Al-, I Hakam, Al-, II Hishām I AbūՙĀmir al-Manṣūr





After his death in 788, civil wars and revolts threatened the state he had created. In 912, a strong successor came to the throne: ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāir ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III al-Nāṣir , who firmly established control over Muslim Spain and carried on successful campaigns against small Christian outposts in the North. He and his successors al-Hakam II Hakam II, al- and Hishām II Hishām II brought Muslim Spain Spain;Muslims and to its greatest heights until the ambition of Hishām’s vizier, Abū ՙĀmir al-Manṣūr Abū Āmir al-Manṣūr , caused dynastic difficulties that brought about the collapse of the caliphate of Córdoba in 1031. About the same time, the long Reconquista Reconquista of Spain by the Christians began.

The Umayyads of Damascus had been notable patrons of art and learning, and their descendants at Córdoba continued the family tradition. Cultural and intellectual edification at the new court was so emphatic that its spiritual impact outlived its political life. While ՙAbd al-Raḥmān I was still struggling to secure control of Spain, he found time to promote such artistic endeavors as initiation of the construction of the great mosque of Córdoba, which became the model for future Moorish mosques. He wrote poetry extolling the beauties of his Syrian homeland, imported fruit trees and vegetables from the eastern Islamic lands, and built the Rusafah Palace in the midst of gardens that were regarded as a wonder. Under his successors Hishām I Hishām I and al-Hakam I Hakam I, al- , the great mosque was enlarged and extensive building campaigns were undertaken. ՙAbd al-Raḥmān II ՙAbd al-Raḥmān II , a poet himself, imported scholars and artisans from the East and carried on an extensive building program.

This early activity came to fruition during the reign of ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III, called “the Great,” and his immediate successors. Once he had centralized his authority over Muslim Spain and coastal areas of North Africa, forcing the powerful Fāṭimid Dynasty to move eastward to Egypt, he determined that his court would surpass that of his ՙAbbāsid rivals in Baghdad, who were on the decline. Perhaps for political reasons, ՙAbd al-Raḥmān III was the first Andalusian Umayyad dynast to declare himself “caliph,” establishing throughout his reign absolute authority and increased isolation from his subjects, circumscribed by complex court etiquette. He brought prosperity as well as political unity to al-Andalus; during his reign Córdoba was the most prosperous city in Europe and foreign delegates marveled at the splendors of his court. He introduced new agricultural techniques and carried on a massive building program in and around Córdoba, including the lavish all-inclusive government city, Madinat al-Zahra, on the outskirts of Córdoba. He was a dedicated patron of the ever-increasing body of poets, historians, physicians, geographers, astronomers, mathematicians, musicians, and philosophers who gathered at his court. His son al-Hakam II continued such patronage, as did the powerful vizier of Hishām II, Abū ՙĀmir al-Manṣūr. The Córdoban tradition of scholarship based on Greco-Arabic learning was so strong that even as late as the twelfth century, long after the fall of the caliphate, the old capital produced two celebrated medieval thinkers, the Islamic philosopher Averroës Averroës and the Jewish scholar Moses Maimonides Maimonides, Moses .

The interior of the cathedral at Córdoba, with its 106 pillars. Originally it was a mosque, built during the rule of the Umayyad sultans.

(Frederick Ungar Publishing Co.)

The court of the Córdoban emirate and caliphate, and the al-Andalus Andalusia it ruled, was culturally heterogeneous. Although the rulers maintained the eastern Umayyad ideal of Arab supremacy, in reality the population consisted of large numbers of Berbers, Hispanic Jews and Christians, Slavs, and others, many of whom rose to positions of prominence. This unique blend of cultural and religious elements contributed to the ease with which Andalusian accomplishments were disseminated throughout the West.

As early as the tenth century, certain concepts of Arabic mathematics Mathematics;Muslim and astronomy Astronomy;Muslim were apparently introduced into Western Europe through contacts with Córdoba and Islamic Spain. John, a monk from the abbey of Gorze, was sent as ambassador to Córdoba by Emperor Otto I of Germany and returned with books on mathematics that soon made Gorze and other Lotharingian monasteries centers of study in this field. Gerbert of Aurillac, a young monk who later became Pope Sylvester II Sylvester II (pope) , owed much to Islamic learning when he became one of the greatest Western European scholars of the tenth century. When he visited Barcelona, he absorbed much mathematical and astronomical knowledge, which had spread northward from Muslim centers. Many scholars believe that, as the most learned mathematician of his time, Pope Sylvester introduced the abacus and also Arabic numerals into Europe. Because he was familiar with superior Islamic learning, legends after his death pictured him as a wizard created by Saracen sorcery and magic.


The dissemination of Islamic learning in Spain had its greatest impact on Europe in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, when Latin translations Translations;Arabic to Latin of Arabic texts and treatises on Aristotle began to appear in the North. Such translations spurred the development of Scholasticism Scholasticism , and the philosophical works of Averroës and his school at Córdoba played an influential role in the process.

The intellectual impact of Muslim scholarship was wide and varied. The works of Avicenna Avicenna , the eleventh century Islamic medical theorist, became standard texts for Western physicians. The colorful stonework of the Romanesque churches of Auvergne bears striking resemblance to the variegated patterns of Moorish architecture; development of the Gothic arch can possibly be traced to the colonnades and horseshoe arches of Islamic Spanish masterpieces such as the mosque of Córdoba and the Alhambra. Considering the close contacts between southern France and northern Spain, the similarity between the themes and descriptions of Arabic love poetry is not surprising, and the roots of medieval courtly love poetry and music may be found in Moorish prototypes. One Spanish scholar, Miguel Asin-Palacios, maintains that Muslim legends about heaven and hell influenced that supreme poetic creation of medieval Western Europe, Dante’s La divina commedia (c. 1320; The Divine Comedy, 1802).

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chejne, Anwar G. Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture. St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 1974. Written as a text for graduate students, this work provides a well-written and interesting overview of the history, culture, and intellectual life of al-Andalus.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fletcher, Richard A. Moorish Spain. New York: Henry Holt, 1992. This work incorporates current scholarship on al-Andalus and offers a concise treatment of the Moors in Spain.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hayes, John R., and George N. Atiyeh, eds. The Genius of Arab Civilization: Source of Renaissance. 3d ed. New York: New York University Press, 1992. A lively collection of essays, suitable for the general reader, discussing Arab intellectual and cultural accomplishments. Includes a bibliography and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. The Legacy of Muslim Spain. New York: E. J. Brill, 1992. A massive, one thousand-plus page collection on the artistic and cultural heritage of Muslim Spain. Includes maps, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Menocal, Maria Rosa, Raymond P. Scheindlin, and Michael Sells, eds. The Literature of Al-Andalus. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000. Surveys the literature, including poetry, of the Andalusian period. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Reilly, Bernard F. The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain: 1031-1157. Cambridge, Mass.: Blackwell, 1995. Enlightening use of primary sources to provide insight into the political and cultural changes in Iberia during this critical period.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Robinson, Cynthia. In Praise of Song: The Making of Courtly Culture in al-Andalus and Provence, 1005-1134 A.D. Boston: Brill, 2002. Explores Andalusian and Muslim influences on the rise of courtly culture, namely courtly love music. Includes some color illustrations, a bibliography, and an index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Sordo, Enrique. Moorish Spain. New York: Crown, 1963. A work that concentrates on the three greatest cultural centers of Islamic Spain: Córdoba, Seville, and Granada.

Categories: History