How long did the Arabs occupy Spain?

I like that question reader Zsa Zsa, if indeed that is your real name! It’s popularly said that the Islamic occupation of the Iberian peninsula lasted for 800 years. While it may technically true in that there were Arabs on what is now Spanish soil all of that time, the Caliphate that was established there was always in flux. In fact you can make the case that Al Andalus started shrinking from virtually the moment it was established.

The invasion commenced in 711 A.D. when the first Arab conquerors crossed over at Gibraltar, having swept through all of the Middle East and North Africa over the previous 90 years. By 720 nearly the entire territory of what is now Spain and Portugal was united under a Caliphate. A capitol was set up in the southern city of Córdoba, which in relatively short order (150 years) became one of the dominant economic and cultural centers in all of Europe and the Middle East. This “golden age” didn’t last terribly long however, as infighting soon divided up the Caliphate into some 20 separate states, which fought with outsiders and one another until they eventually began to fall to Christian powers pressing in from the north.

As I mentioned the re-conquest (“Reconquista” as it’s known in Spain) of Al-Andalus started almost immediately after the Arabs took the place, as many of the local peoples — especially those up in the northwest — chafed under Muslim rule. The movement began as early as 718 but really began to pick up steam starting in about 900 A.D.. By 1150 over half of the peninsula was reclaimed, and by 1249 the only remaining region still under Muslim control was a small state all the way south near Gibraltar called the Emirate of Granada. And in fact the only reason that region survived was because it was a convenient way for the reigning powers up in Castile to extract tribute from what was left of the old Caliphate.

By the time Ferdinand and Isabella — of Christopher Columbus fame — came along, Granada was on its last legs. Spanish forces crushed it militarily the same year that the Americas were discovered, in 1492. About 200,000 Muslims remained in Spain following this final coup-de-grace and were allowed to practice their religion until 1500. In what many historian consider to be a gratuitous injustice, even the descendants of those last remaining Muslims were booted out of the country in 1609.

I hope that answers your question, dahlink!

11 thoughts on “How long did the Arabs occupy Spain?”

  1. James Reston, Jr. wrote a highly readable and fascinating book about this very era in history called The Dogs of God. In it the Benedictines act as agents of both the crown of Spain and the Papacy to effect the Reconquista.

    It’s part of a trilogy with the equally interesting The Last Aplocalypse which chronicles how the uncertainties and anxieties of the last millennium resulted in Christianity’s promise of a Second Coming crushing folk religions throughout Europe and The Warriors of God which I haven’t gotten around to reading.

    Despite how thoroughly researched andf historically dense the material is, Reston writes in a style that’s highly accessible and engrossing. I really recommend him to anyone who wants to know more about Moorish Spain.

    1. Thanks very much, Rainey! I’ll have to investigate that. Sounds like something I’d enjoy!

      – joe

      PS – What on Earth are you doing awake at this hour??

    2. The Arabs didn’t occupy Spain, the Moors did! Granted they spoke Arabic and were Moslems, but not Arabs.

  2. Hey Joe, i know that this is an unrelated question to your post but why does sweet cream butter and cultured butter seems to have different fat content? Aren’t they’re using the same technique or is there some scientific explantion for this? Thanks!

    1. Good question, Nate! I’ll answer that on the blog today if it’s OK with you.


      – Joe

  3. My understanding has been that Ferdinand and Isabella (finally) had the money to fund Columbus’ expedition because they no longer needed it to fight the Moors. Who knows what would have happened had the Reconquista taken an extra decade or two!

    1. My take was always a little different, Sandra. I thought Columbus was sent precisely because the royal couple had gone broke with all the fighting. I could be wrong about all that of course. I wrote a cheeky post on Columbus just last year in fact.

      It’s an old favorite! 😉

      Thanks for the comment — I’m going to go back and read! Cheers,

      – Joe

  4. As the saying goes,
    “ocho años de conquista, ocho siglos de reconquista.”

    1. I didn’t know there was a saying like that but that’s pretty much what happened!

      Thanks, Saxforb!

      – Joe

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