Lecture Review: Al-Andalus as a Civilizing Bridge

It is always an incredible feeling to lecture at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina where once, in its original version, students and scholars gathered around the likes of Euclid, Ptolemy and Hypatia! Am I not, after all, a distant heir to their legacy?

“An orchard is a treasure if the gardener is a moor.” – Spanish Proverb

This phrase is a proper metaphor of the civilizing effect that the Muslim presence had on the Iberian Peninsula and beyond after they had conquered that part of the world in the VIII century, referring to it ever after as ‘al-Andalus’.

More than just a geographical denomination, al-Andalus eventually became synonymous with an extraordinary human condition, as people from different cultures and creeds came to forge a golden age whose zeitgeist was the coexistence and whose epitome was the Library of Cordoba.

From the introduction of new crops and irrigation techniques to the establishment of libraries, universities and observatories, one can hardly perceive the scale and scope of the unparalleled body of knowledge developed and bequeathed to us by generation after generation of Andalusi philosophers, mathematicians, physicians, botanists, astronomers, poets, and the list goes on. The names include Al-Majriti, Ibn Rushd (Averroes), al-Zarqali (Arzachel), al-Zahrawi (Albucasis), Ibn Zuhr, Ibn al-Baitar, Ibn Ammar, and countless other figures. It was in al-Andalus that Ziryab founded the first proper musical institute in Western Europe, the Umayyads founded Europe’s first paper mill in Xativa and its first silk workshop in Almeria, while Cordoba’s Library became the world’s second largest under the enlightened rule of al-Hakam II in the tenth century (second only to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad).

The cultural imprint of al-Andalus can still be seen today, not only in the Iberian Peninsula and the Maghreb, but also in some of the most unexpected parts of the world, like Latin America (where the Islamic mudejar style was introduced by the Spanish invaders) and Basin of the River Niger (which hosts one of the biggest collections of Andalusi manuscripts in the whole world).


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