It may take some getting used to, but we owe much of our culture to the Arabs. Many of our cowboy and horse traditions come from the Spanish Southwest, but much of Spain’s culture descended from the Moors, who controlled most of Spain for about 700 years.
And who were the Moors? They were Muslims of Spain, of Spanish, Berber and Arab blood, the Arabs and Berbers coming from northern Africa. The term Moor came from Greek and Latin “Maurus,” an inhabitant of Mauretania in Africa. In the Middle Ages, Europeans called all Mohammedans Moors. The Moors contributed immeasurably to Spanish culture while acting as conquerors. This is from the Spain travel website Spanish Fiestas, http://www.spanish-fiestas.com/history/moors.htm:
“The Muslims … left a lasting legacy for Spain — they did not simply occupy the country; as Washington Irving wrote in his ‘Tales of the Alhambra,’ they were not ‘invaders and usurpers’ but ‘rediscoverers of the Greek reservoir of knowledge’ and helped plant the roots of the European Renaissance. The great palaces, castles and mosques of Moorish times are amongst Spain’s greatest tourist attractions, but also, pomegranates, oranges, lemons, aubergines, artichokes, cumin, coriander, bananas, almonds, saffron, sugar cane, cotton, rice, figs, grapes, peaches and apricots were all introduced by the Moors. So too were the irrigation systems that enabled the dry plains to be efficiently farmed.
“Architecturally, there is evidence of the Muslim influence throughout much of Spain. Horseshoe-shaped arches, the decorative use of tiles, the design of inner courtyards, complex stucco work and ceiling embellishments are all part of the Moorish tradition.” That Spanish architecture still lives in the Southwest, although the Indians’ adobe construction replaced tiles and stucco.
Spanish Fiestas quotes historian James Burke, writing about Córdoba in the ninth century: “At a time when London was a tiny mud-hut village that could not boast of a single street lamp, in Córdoba there were half a million inhabitants, living in 113,000 houses. There were 700 mosques and 300 public baths spread throughout the city. The streets were paved and lit. The houses had marble balconies for summer and hot-air ducts under the mosaic floors for winter. They were adorned with gardens with artificial fountains and orchards. Paper, a material still unknown to the west, was everywhere. There were bookshops and more than seventy libraries.”
Moors’ contributions to European thought included astronomy, medicine, science, mathematics and language. The Arabs learned paper-making from the Chinese, and paper-making spread rapidly to Arab dominions. In Europe, Moors established paper-making in Spain in the middle of the 12th century.
The Moors brought Hindu-Arabic numerals to Spain about the end of 10th century. Arabs brought the number system from India about two centuries before, but the numerals did not generally supersede Roman numerals until the end of the 16th century. More important than the characters is the decimalization, says “Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase and Fable.”
The Moors brought superior Arabian and Barb horses to Spain, and those horses became the source of supply to all of Europe. Conquistadors took Spanish horses to the New World, and those horses were the ancestors of North and South American feral herds, which American Indians tamed and cowboys rode while roping cattle.
So next time you think of cowboys, Indians and Southwest art and architecture, think first of the Spaniards and second of the Arabs.
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