Before the Muslim conquest of Spain, Romans
created an extensive infrastructure of roads, bridges, aqueducts, and
urban centers in various parts of Iberia.
They also grew crops such as cereal grains, olives, and grapes on
large estates in the region. These crops were harvested and
exported to other regions of the vast Roman Empire. Spain quickly
acquired a reputation for plentiful harvests and rich natural
The Muslim conquest of Iberia prompted the introduction of new
agricultural technology, innovative irrigation practices, and many new
crops to Al-Andalus. This dramatic agricultural transformation
was known as "The Green Revolution."
The Andalusi people took their cues from such eastern
lands as Dar al-Islam, which saw itself as part of a huge trading
network that extended across the Mediterranean, the Indian Ocean and
the Silk Route.
Andalusi historian al-Himyari -- illustrating this sense of
connection to the East and the Andalusi people's mixed cultural
preferences -- likened Al-Andalus to Syria in fertility, Yemen for
its moderate climate, India for its aromatic plants, China for its
mineral richness, and Aden for its seashore economy.
Arab Muslims effectively "Syrianized" the landscape of Southern Iberia through wide-scale use of the noria (waterwheel), the qanat (underground water channel) the aljibe (cistern), and other structures from the east.
These innovations increased the amount of water available for
irrigation throughout the year and overcame the limits of
previously used gravity-fed irrigation. During the height of Umayyad
rule, historic sources indicate over 5,000 waterwheels were built along
the Guadalquivir River alone.
use of precise water management techniques, coupled with
multi-seasonal planting and harvesting, increased agricultural output.
Rulers and merchants alike sponsored the introduction of a vast new
array of crops that originated in such countries as China, India,
and Persia. The Andalusi people enjoyed many foods previously unknown
in Iberia, including sugarcane, citrus, melons, figs, spinach,
eggplant, and rice.
At the same time, cotton and mulberry trees for silk worms
were introduced. Learned botanists, such as Ibn Bassal and Ibn
al-Awwam, would first acclimatize new plants in royal gardens.
This agricultural explosion served as a foundation for an expanding population and greater prosperity throughout Al-Andalus.
agree that this agricultural explosion served as a foundation for an
expanding population and greater prosperity throughout Al-Andalus.
Arabs acquired newfound wealth in Andalusi cities. The formation of
this new elite further stimulated acculturation to Arab-Muslim norms.
Soon, the masses at large were emulating the elites' lifestyle and
cultural preferences, including culinary habits, intellectual and
artistic expression, and leisure pursuits such as chess and backgammon.
They desired clothing, jewelry, and material objects communicating an
upwardly mobile status and refined taste.
This shift further stimulated the Andalusi economy and its
integration with trade networks. Artisans worked in caliphal workshops
at Madinat al-Zahra to produce marvelous fabrics, ceramics, and
trinkets. Craftsmen produced unique luxury objects, including
intricately carved ivory caskets, which depicted hunting scenes and
other imagery associated with rulership. The caliph and other Umayyad
elites often presented these ivory boxes to friends and loyal servants,
such as to Córdoba's chief of police.
The caliphal workshops produced silken robes, called tiraz, and
clothing that represented the fashionable brand of the day. These
workshops also created ceramics with particular green and black paint
associated with the caliphal household -- the White House Chinaware
of the time.
Each of Spain's major cities came to be known for the crafts in which
their artisans specialized. In fact, people from around the world still
revere many of these crafts today.
For example, Seville became
known for assembling quality musical instruments. Córdoba became famous
for its leather goods, a reputation still maintained today.
Meanwhile, Toledo served as
the center for luxury metalwork and arms. Craftsmen designed swords
using a special grade of steel and forged through a secret process
providing extra strength and sharpness. Today, tourists in Toledo can
also find numerous shops offering damasquinados, which are black and
gold jewelry and objects made in Damascus-style geometric patterns
inherited from Islamic times.
Visitors to the Alhambra in Granada are awe-struck by its architectural
beauty. But, even more remarkable is remembering that when it was lived
in, this and other palaces like it in Al-Andalus were not the bare
structures they are today.
Today, visitors admire the Alhambra in Granada for its architectural
beauty. Equally remarkable is that this and other palaces in Al-Andalus
were once lavishly decorated. Rugs adorned the floors; colorful
draperies and azulejos (interlocking geometric tiles) covered the
walls; and wooden beds, sofas, and chairs with cushions provided
comfort. There were brightly painted alcoves and ceilings, creating a
kaleidoscope of color.
Gardens and fountains added texture and visual splendor, both
indoor and outdoors. Aromatic plants and flowers were planted in
strategic locations to provide fragrant scents. And the sound of
trickling, bubbling water in fountains abounded everywhere. Open
doorways and windows helped unify interior space with the surrounding
All these practices were visible at varying degrees in all levels
of Andalusi society. Consequently, Al-Andalus acquired a reputation for