Logroño, where we slept two nights previously, is the capital of the small province of La Rioja, and we crossed the eastern border of the province into Castile just before reaching the outskirts of the city. Today we left this province about ten kilometre past Santo Domingo, so the district of La Rioja at this point appears to be only sixtyfive kilometre wide.
In the past an important event had occurred close by. Legend tells us that in 844 a great battle was fought near Logroño where vastly outnumbered Christian forces defeated a Muslim army commanded by the Emir of Cordoba. In the battle the Apostle Saint James, whose stone sarcophagus, as we know, was discovered in Santiago de Compostela in 813, appeared as a vision. He was riding a white horse and with his presence led the Christian army to a great victory. This was the turning point in the struggle for domination between Christians and Muslims in these northern regions.
In time to come the vision and spirit of Saint James continued to inspire Christian forces and he became, and still is, the patron saint of Spain. Because of these Christian victories, the Moorish armies with their administrative strongholds were progressively pushed southwards. It took place over centuries, until the Catholic monarchs, Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon conquered the Moors’ last remaining castle, the Alhambra in Granada, in 1492.
The Muslims were finally expelled a few years later after having dominated the Iberian Peninsula for around 800 years. This equals a time span from about the year 1200 to the present. After such a long period they left behind numerous legacies which we frequently witness on our walk and which are even more visible in Andalusia, in the southern part of Spain. Not only did we inherit architectural styles and detailing, they also left us with important scientific knowledge and wisdom and other practices which in many ways formed a strong foundation for the later development of Western Europe.
During the Islamic occupation of the Iberian Peninsula Muslims did not only rule with militarily force, they also brought about cultural changes by peaceful means. Uta and I had previously visited a museum in Toledo which demonstrates Jewish, Muslim and Christian co-operation in pursuing intellectual goals. This cultural exchange continued even after Toledo was liberated by Alfonso VI in 1085. Libraries containing many diverse subjects in ancient books and manuscripts from the East and the Greek Empire were preserved. Scholars from the three denominations studied and translated these in collaboration with one another and debated their interpretation. The advanced knowledge of nature and science from the Middle East was formidable.
Examples of transferred knowledge include the many words originating from the Arabic world which are interwoven into the English language. Those starting with ‘al’ are typical, such as algebra, Allah, alkali and alchemy, and they exist in Spanish as álgebra, Alá, álcali and alquimia, respectively. English words resembling those of Spanish/Arabic origin are alcohol and algorithm, almirante translates into admiral, atún to tuna, espinaca – spinach, jirafa / giraffe, limón / lemon, naranja / orange, sofá in Spanish is sofa, tarifa is tariff, etc. Not only did the words have an Arabic origin, their underlying meaning was also part of the heritage from the Middle East.
We cannot ignore nor dismiss the connection to the Islamic world and Islamic influences are, as we can see, still with us. In the agricultural sector for instance, by introducing new crops to the west, such as sugar cane, rice, citrus fruits, apricots, cotton, artichokes, aubergines, saffron and others, European agriculture was changed in a dramatic way. Farming methods and irrigation techniques were transformed and outdated practices were modernized. As a result farming became more scientific and a new industry developed where previously crops had been limited to a few strands of wheat.
With the greater variety of food the eastern culture of eating became fashionable. Dining developed into a far more elegant ritual, rather than just eating without any refinement, as was the case with the Visigoths and the tribes in Germanic Europe. Muslims introduced us to eating a three-course meal in a relaxed and semi-formal way, which consisted, as it is still today, of soup, a main course and dessert.
Physicians from the Islamic world and from Jewish immigrants to Spain contributed significantly to the field of medicine, including the subjects of anatomy and physiology. An Arabic thirty-volume medical encyclopaedia was the most advanced and comprehensive at the time and included neurological analyses and procedures, some of which are still in use today. The Arabic influence on astronomy and related mathematical practices, the 60 second timing and 360 degree angular projection are some of the legacies we inherited.
Europe also benefitted as far as musical instruments are concerned: our guitar derives from the Arabic kaitaar and the violin is similar to their kamanjah. Their al-ud became our lute and the zither is similar to their quanun. The riq is widely used in Arabic music and provides underlying rhythms; it is what we call a tambourine. Even Flamenco dancing has similarities to the sensuous oriental belly dance and castanets owe their existence to the oriental kasatan.