The real European Renaissance: A photographic ode to Al-Andalus

On April 27, 711AD Tariq Ibn Ziyad, General for Caliph Al-Walid I, head of the Muslim Umayyad dynasty in Damascus, Syria, landed with his troops on a huge rock that can still be seen from the coast of Morocco today.

That rock is now known as Gibraltar, a Latinisation of ‘Jebel-al-Tariq’ to mean the ‘mount of Tariq’. The rock was named after the general whose arrival signalled the beginning of a European Muslim presence that lasted 700 years and founded, arguably the most advanced intellectual culture the Western world had ever seen – paving the way for the later European Renaissance, enlightenment and modern western society.

Traditionally seen in the west as an ‘invasion’ and a negative chapter of Spanish history, today writers, journalists and academics are revising this to acknowledge that the Muslim presence in Al-Andalus was a colossal intellectual and cultural turning point for a continent that had slipped into darkness since the enlightened days of the Romans and the Greeks.

Here, using my photography and the words of some westerners who suspected this all along is a pictorial ode to the birthplace of Europe’s real Renaissance:

“It was under the influence of the Arabs and Moorish revival of culture and not in the 15th century, that a real renaissance took place. Spain, not Italy, was the cradle of the rebirth of Europe.”

Robert Briffault,(1876 – 1948) Social Anthropologist

“Many of the traits on which modern Europe prides itself came to it from Muslim Spain. Diplomacy, free trade, open borders, the techniques of academic research, of anthropology, etiquette, fashion, various types of medicine, hospitals, all came from this great city of cities (Cordoba). Medieval Islam was a religion of remarkable tolerance for its time, allowing Jews and Christians the right to practise their inherited beliefs, and setting an example which was not, unfortunately, copied for many centuries in the West.”

Charles Philip Arthur George, (born 1948) Prince of Wales


The seat of the Caliph – ‘The ornament of the world’

“Europe was darkened at sunset, Cordoba shone with public lamps; Europe was dirty, Cordoba built a thousand baths; Europe was covered with vermine, Cordoba changed its undergarments daily; Europe lay in mud, Cordobas streets were paved; Europe’s palaces had smoke- holes in the ceiling, Cordobas arabesques were exquisite; Europes nobility could not sign its name, Cordobas children went to school; Europe’s monks could not read the baptismal service, Cordobas teachers created a library of Alexandrian dimensions.”

Victor Robinson (1886-1947) Author, Physician and Medical Journalist

Around Cordoba statues of her scholarly sons Ibn Rushd (Averroes) and Musa Ibn Maimon (Maimonides) can be found sitting off streets named after other academic giants like Albucasis, whilst tucked away behind these are Sephardic synagogues that mirror the interior of Moorish palaces. Outside, on the river an old waterwheel reminds passersby of how the Moors revolutionised Europe’s agriculture. 

“Science and knowledge, especially that of philosophy, came from the Arabs into the West.”

Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1881), German Philosopher

“Above all, the great role of the Arabs and Jews was as the transmitters of Aristotelian thought. It was especially the Spanish Arabs who brought the texts of the great Greek philosopher to the countries of the West, and this contribution marks the period of Scholasticism’s maturity.”

Julian Marias Aguilara (1914-2005) Spanish Philosopher

The Caliph’s city centred around the Mezquita (mosque), which was built in several stages and modelled on the great Umayyad mosque of Damascus. At its height it was one of the largest in the world and a massive site of pilgrimage for globetrotting scholars. Today it is a cathedral.


“I want to see the gardens and palace of the Alcazar where the Moorish Kings used to live. It is as perfect an architecture as the Egyptian, Greek or Gothic and just as beautiful, maybe more …”

Thomas Eakins (1844 – 1916) – American Painter

Around Granada there are many reminders of the city’s former residents, such as the old Muslim quarter and the Moorish architecture that abounds. The city is also home to Spain’s largest Muslim community today who are mainly north African immigrants. Themselves descendants of those first Muslim migrants back in the 8th century. The present Muslim community were acknowledged in 2003 with the opening of the city’s first purpose built mosque in over 500 years. Granada was the last of the Muslim cities and has the most evocative monument of all.

“That period was a very dreamland of culture. Under enlightened caliphs, the Arabs in Spain developed a civilization which, during the whole of the middle ages up to the Renaissance, exercised pregnant influence upon every department of human knowledge … Yet this Spanish- Arabic period bequeathed to us such magnificent tokens of architectural skill, of scientific research, and of philosophic thought, that far from regarding it as a fancy’s dream, we know it to be one of the corner-stone of civilization.”

Gustav Karpeles (1848 – 1909) – Jewish Historian 

The Alhambra is the former royal residency of the Nasrids and their only real legacy, having ruled this city after the height of Andalusian culture … but what a legacy. No other monument in Spain comes close to evoking the spirit of Al Andalus the way this beautiful palace city and it’s stunning gardens do.

I have to deplore the systematic manner in which the literature of Europe has continued to put out of sight our obligations to the Muhammadans. Surely they cannot be much longer hidden. Injustice founded on religious rancour and national conceit cannot be perpetuated forever … The Arab has left his intellectual impress on Europe. He has indelibly written it on the heavens as any one may see who reads the names of the stars on a common celestial globe. Our obligations to the Spanish Moors in the arts of life are even more marked than in the higher branches of sciences.”

John William Draper (1811 – 1882) – Chemist, Botanist, Historian


Spain, under Arab rule, became the most civilized country in the world.” 

Max I. Dimont, (1912-1992) Finnish American historian and author

Islam is part of our past and our present, in all fields of human endeavour. It has helped to create modern Europe. It is part of our own inheritance, not a thing apart.”

Charles Philip Arthur George, (born 1948) Prince of Wales


7 Replies to “The real European Renaissance: A photographic ode to Al-Andalus”

  1. What a beautiful ode to Al-Andalus! It’s also a fascinating introduction to the history of east meets west (or south meets north) and the Islamic nurturing of early European intellectualism. Thank you to the Wandering Musulman for such a lovely piece!

  2. Mr Tharik Hussain you have literally made my eyes drop after seeing these images and pictures of Spain. Keep up the good work and enthusiasm, there is Barakah at the end inshaAllah… 😄

    1. Glad you enjoyed this Al, if you ever get the chance you should definitely make your way over there. It is a place that is definitely worth visiting, with much to teach us about European and Western Islamic history.

  3. If you’ve never been to explore or had never heard of the Islamic footprints that once ruled Spain and Europe, then this is a mouthwatering insight..
    I have been totally engrossed in every paragraph and picture that has so beautifully been described in great detail and shall surely be visiting many areas of this blog.
    Not only because I am inspired by Islam but these findings are an incredible eye opener and give you a different perspective to the modern image of Islam today.
    Great work Tharik Hussain.

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