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on 31 May 2010
In Moorish Spain Richard Fletcher achieves a significant feat. In a short book he not only chronicles the bones of nearly a millennium of history, but also offers much that adds to our understanding of the social context, both of his chosen era in particular and of history in general.

Moorish Spain does not aspire to scholarly excellence. Richard Fletcher's stated aim is to provide a fuller and more accurate account of Islamic rule in the Iberian peninsula than the cursory accounts offered in travel books. He also aspires to a treatment of the subject that is more accurate than the romanticised position of nineteenth century travellers, accounts that served to create and then perpetuate myth.

And paramount in this myth is the received opinion that in Moorish al-Andalus all things social were both sweetness and light and pure harmony. Not so, says Fletcher, as he chronicles power struggles, intrigues and repeated conflict. He describes the different interests that ensured that conflict, both small-scale and local or larger-scale and spread across a wider front, was never very far away. When competing parties felt that they could all benefit from interaction and trade, it was, he suggests, largely pragmatism that kept the peace.

His story begins in the early eighth century when the first invasion of what we now call Spain arrived from Morocco. It ends with the expulsion of the Mozarabes in the sixteenth century. In between, in a quite short and accessible book, he illustrates how shifting alliances and opportunity for short-term gain mix with broader views and humanitarian concerns to present a patchwork of history. And this patchwork is characterised, above all, by our inability to generalise. Throughout, it is the particular that is important.

In contrast he presents a number of generalised overviews and illustrates how none of them is more than partially correct. In a short but telling final chapter he offers a generalisation of his own to illustrate how dominant contemporary ideas can filter history in order to enhance its own credibility. Tellingly, he also reminds us of how much chronicled history relates only to the recorded opinions and lives of a wealthy, sometimes educated elite. How much detail of life in the twentieth century USA could be gleaned half a millennium from now if the only source was a telephone poll of Hollywood celebrities?

Richard Fletcher's book therefore transcends its own subject matter. It presents a rounded, carefully reconstructed picture of an immense swathe of history. In such a short account, of course, he can only present a relatively small amount of detail, but what is there goes a long way beyond what the average reader might ever discover from a shallow tourist guide. The style is easy but never racy and the content has a feeling of reliability that suggests a second visit would be worthwhile.
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on 7 January 2003
Dealing with the 700 years of Muslim civilisation in Iberia, this is a gem of popular history, entertaining without sacrificing scholarly attention to detail. The prose is sharp, evocative, and eminently easy to read; the pages are filled with ancedotes and stories that bring this lost world to life. A taster rather than comprehensive, this is an essential companion to travels in Spain, or an ideal way to begin learning more about this oft-overlooked period.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 30 June 2012
A previous reviewer has characterized this excellent book on Moorish Spain by Richard Fletcher as "a gem of popular history." I couldn't agree more, although it is also more than that.

It is no mean feat to be able to summarize in less than 180 pages over 780 years of history without being superficial. This is a tribute to both the author's writing skills and to his in-depth knowledge of Moorish Spain and of the" historical sources, some of which he has in fact edited himself in another of his books (The World of El Cid - Chronicles of the Spanish reconquest, Manchester University Press, 2000). The author's style is engaging, entertaining, but sharp and to the point. Each chapter is organized around a specific event or period. Perhaps the weakest of the lot is the one on Nasrid Grenada. It is one of the shortest (less than 20 pages) but it covers a period of over 200 years. The period (from about 1250 to 1492) does not generally raise the same amount of interest among general readers, with the notable exception of the last 10 years of the Kingdom of Grenada and its hopeless war against the joint forces of the Catholic Monarchs of Castille and Aragon -Ferdinand and Isabella).

Quite correctly, the fall of Grenada, like the fall of Constantinople in 1453, are the two competing dates that historians have traditionally picked as the end of the Middle Ages. This is what we were taught in school and while it is not strictly correct - the passage from one area to another was a slow transition rather than anything else - it is easy to understand why each of these dates are significant: they mark the end of a civilisation that had dominated the Middles Ages in their respective regions.

This leads to the second major quality of this book which should be, as another reviewer put it, compulsory reading for anyone going to Spain for holidays. While it shows the splendours of this civilization and to what extent it transmitted to Western Europe the works of science and philosophy of Antiquity and Persia, it also paints a very realistic and historical picture. It certainly mentions how legends were created (in particular that of the El Cid) but it does not fall into the romantic trap of showing the Emirate of Cordoba as tolerant, well-ordered and learned. The history of Moorish Spain may have had such periods but they took place before and after periods of disorder, massacres and hideous warfare. By the end of the 11th century, religious fanaticism started to emerge and played an increasing role on both sides, at least until the mid-13th century after which Moorish Spain was reduced to the rump Kingdom of Grenada.

For those that this compelling narrative has drawn into wanting to know more, the following books might interest you - there are others, of course, and some might be better - but these are my personal favourites:

- The Arab Conquest of Spain 710-797 (Roger Collins, 1989)
- The Quest for El Cid (Richard Fletcher, 1988)
- Caliphs and Kings 798 -1033 (Roger Collins)
- The Contest of Christian and Muslim Spain 1031-1157 (Bernard F. Reilly)
- The Rise and Fall of the Party-Kings, David Wassertein, 1985 (very scholarly, hard to find, but the reference on Mooorish Spain and the break-up of the Caliphate during the eleventh century
- Islamic Spain 1250-1500 (L.P.Harvey, 1990) on the Nasrids of Grenada and Muslims in Christian Spain.
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on 6 June 2000
I bought this book because I was going on holiday to Andalucia and wanted some background reading on the area's history. It far exceeded my expectations and was a most enjoyable read in its own right. Richard Fletcher successfully explodes the myth that Moorish Spain was a pinnacle of civilisation bolted onto the barbarian European Christian kingdoms of the time. He dispels the image of a seamless period of rule and describes instead the rise and fall of various dynasties, often warring as much amongst themselves as with their Christian neighbours. He doesn't neglect the amazing achievements of the scholars, artists and craftsmen of the period, whose legacy lingers in the great monuments that draw hordes of visitors today but puts them into the context of mediaeval Europe as well as the wider Islamic world. My only gripe is that the book is fairly slim and in many places I would have liked to have found out more, particularly about the more mundane social history of such a multicultural society. But I firmly recommend it as a general introduction to the period - you certainly don't have to be a history student to enjoy and learn from this informative work.
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on 11 February 2016
Books like these should be published more often. Richard Fletcher unravels the true colors of Moorish Spain. Moorish Spain has always been subject to historians romanticism and this is highly dangerous as it distorts reality. Fletcher attempts very well to draw all sources, being Christian and Arab to understand several issues in Muslim Spain. From rates of conversion to Islam, to interactions between the two faiths to the lack of interest and hostility of Muslims towards Christians and vice versa. We all hear that this was a time of tolerance, unity etc, but Fletcher really hits the nail in the head when he says:

"Beauty? Yes a fair amount of it, here and there. Tolerance? Ask the Jews of Granada who were massacred in 1066, to the Christians who were deported by the Almoravids to Morocco in 1126 to serve as slaves. Learning? Outside the tiny circles of the princely course, not a great deal to be seen. Good order? Mont the feuding Breber tribesmen? Or the turbulent muwallad rebels ike Ibn Hamsun..Or the Moroccan Fundamentalists who succeeded them"?

He continues by saying:

"So the nostalgia of Maghreb writers was reinforced by the romantic vision of the nineteenth century...In the second half of the twentieth century a new agent of obfuscation makes its appearance: the guilt of the liberal conscience, which sees the evils of colonialism - assumed rather than demonstrated- foreshadowed in the Christian conquest of al-Andalus and the persecution of the Moriscos (but not, oddly the Moorish conquest and colonization). Stir the mix well together and issue it free to credulous academics and media persons throughout the western world. Then pour it over the truth"

Do you want any clearer than this? It is clear from this book that Moorish Spain was NOT a tolerant and enlightened society, even in its most cultivated epoch. The Christians of Al- Andalusia was second class citizens, like Christians under Muslim rule elsewhere in the world such as the Copts of Egypt.

He continues by saying:

"The religious history of the Iberian peninsula in the Middle Ages may be summarized, from one point of view, as the persistent and willful failure of two faiths and cultures to make any sustained attempt to understand each other. Human enough, pretty bleak"

It is fair to say that this confrontations and so forth, set the tone to the colonial developments. Portugal and Spain used existing precedents for those whose task was to rule. There was little that was new about the so called early modern period of the sixteen and seventeenth centuries. Colonial Mexico, Peru and Brazil were medieval Andalusia writ large.

Inquisition, yes it was bad but its roots come from the confrontations between Christianity and Islam! I am fooled no more!
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on 10 December 2016
There are today two conflicting and extreme views of Muslim Spain, one is that it was a multicultural paradise where different faiths were tolerated and a conduit for the transmission of classical Greek and Persian learning to Western Europe, the other that it was marked by religious and cultural repression and that its Arab and Berber rulers were incapable of appreciating or transmitting classical culture. Richard Fletcher does not subscribe to either view but gives a nuanced interpretation of almost eight centuries of contact between two different religious and cultural traditions, sometimes in conflict but often having to accommodate each other.

Fletcher explores the effect of the Muslim occupation of much of Spain on its language, arts ideas, and politics. While the greatest effect of what he terms the Moorish impact, because it mostly derived from North Africa, was during the Middle Ages, it continued to shape Spanish culture even after the fall of Granada. After a rapid conquest, by 1000 A.D. of most Christians had converted or emigrated, although Christian and Jewish minorities tried to preserve their faiths in some Muslim areas. Moorish innovations in agriculture, including irrigation and new crops, new industries and integrating Spain into international trade routes transformed the country.

Moorish Spain is an introductory summary which offers no new interpretations. However, Fletcher’s clear grasp of the subject based on a variety of sources and his readable writing style make this a valuable introduction. The lacks reference and footnotes is understandable but at least some readers would like to follow up some of the matters only briefly touched on.

Returning to the original conflicting views mentioned, Fletcher is clear that toleration of any deviation was at best limited and in the periods when North African fundamentalists ruled, almost non-existent. Christians, Jews, Berbers and even Muslims who did not follow the accepted conventions were more often persecuted that grudgingly accepted and the best that could be said is this was no worse than the situation in the Christian kingdoms. On the other hand, he is clear that Al-Andalus was the main conduit for Greek and Persian philosophical, scientific and medical knowledge translated first into Arabic then re-translated into Latin to reach and enrich Western Europe, rather than Sicily or the Crusader kingdoms.

In summary, “Moorish Spain” is a very readable introduction not only to Muslim Spain but towards an understanding of the history of Muslim influence on Europe.
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on 8 January 2010
An interesting account that goes through the various stages - invasion, the Caliphate of Cordoba, dissolution into statelets, developing Christian encroachment, the Almoravid and Almohad invasions and the eventual conquest of al-Andalus by the kingdoms of Portugal, Castilla-Leon and Aragon, leaving the rump of Nasrid Granada to last out until 1492. Fletcher is good on cultural interface and the influence on Europe of philosophy and science conduited through Islamic Spain.
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on 7 April 2009
Having read this book previously, and having had it's sadly-departed author enthusiastically endorsed by a respected Crusades lecturer, I already possessed a natural disposition to purchase this book.

'Moorish Spain' follows an enjoyable narrative style which doesn't overly entrench itself in weighty debate, and yet still manages to convey a measure of authority and knowledge, supported by credible primary sources, whilst, thankfully, avoiding the 'sensationalism' and 'supposition' that has blighted the efforts of some other authors.

Specific areas and topics are clearly demarcated and explored, whetting the appetite to read further works relating to this fascinating area of history, and the illustrations and maps are insightful as a welcome addition to the text.

Although not Runciman - who is!? - 'Moorish Spain' follows in the manner of easily accessible scholarly texts of the highest order.

You will not be disappointed.
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on 11 December 2015
Splendidly readable and insightful indeed. Amazing how historical imprint can leave its indelible mark if only one knows where to look. This book provides an excellent guide.
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on 25 September 2013
If you ever watched the film El-Cid and wondered how much was truth and how much Hollywood invention, this book is the answer. The author states that his aim is to inform those that are taking a trip to Spain and to provide enough detail to explain the events and what lay behind them. He does this supremely well with plenty of historical detail, yet told in a style that keeps the pages turning. Covers 800 years and provides everything you are likely to want to know about this fascinating period with parallels to today's difficult relationship with Islam.
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