CONTRIBUTIONS TO RURAL LIFE IN SPAIN
No one who has been
so fortunate as to be invited to an Andalusian farmer's home will
ever forget the hospitality of their hosts.
More than any other country in Europe, in this part of
Spain, a stranger is always made to feel welcome.
Why this is so has a historical foundation.
Its roots go back to the 900 years the Arabs remained in
the Iberian Peninsula first as conquerors, then as conquered.
During these centuries, they contributed immensely to all
facets of life in the Iberian Peninsula, especially to the
When a Spanish host
smiles and makes his guest feel at home with the phrase esta
casa es su casa, he is only translating the words of
his Arab ancestors who would say, al-bayt baytak
(this home is your home), or when he toasts his visitors saying,
de salud sirva (may it be your health), he is repeating the
Arab word satayn (may it aid your health).
As the visitor, who
has been treated to the best the host has to offer, departs with
the phrase hasta maٌana,
si Dios quiere, beside hasta from the Arabic
hatta (until), he is echoing the ila al-liqa' insha' Allah (until
we meet again, if God wills), or when the guest answers
with ojala (may God will that), he is repeating the
Arabic insha' Allah (if God wills).
These and other
Arab-inherited phrases in the Spanish way of life are a testimony
to the influences the Arabs left on the culture of the Iberian
Peninsula. There is little doubt that from the first decades after
they had conquered Spain and Portugal until they were finally
expelled in 1609, their impact on all facets of life in these
lands was enormous.
When, after the
advent of Islam in the 7th century A.D., the Arabs poured out of
the Arabian Peninsula, not many historians would have predicted
that they would leave their mark in the annals of world
hardly any learning, they would in a few decades conquer the lands
between China and France - the home of ancient wisdom and
cultures. In the
they absorbed these refinements of man and from them developed one
of the most brilliant civilizations the world had ever known.
For about 500 years, from 800 to 1300 A. D., Arab/Muslim
learning and way of life was the most advanced in the world.
From the heart of China
to the borders of France, Arabic became the language of intellectual
and scientific expression. This
is attested to by the countless Arabic words which were borrowed by
other languages in all fields of human activities. These words, some originally Arabic and others transferred
through the medium of Arabic, are an affirmation of the
contributions the Arabs made to humankind.
This Arab impact is
best exemplified in the Iberian Peninsula where the sons of Arabia
built a dazzling civilization which bequeathed to Europe the basis
of its future development. According to W.J. Entwistle in The
Spanish Language, the Mozarabs (Arabized Spanish Christians
under Muslim rule) were responsible for the easy passage into
Spanish of a considerable Arabic vocabulary.
The administrative, intellectual and scientific tongue in
Spain was Arabic and, hence, a large number of words dealing with
administration, agriculture, architecture, crafts, commerce,
industry, science and place names are today of Arabic origin.
The Spanish Christians in turn gave some of these words along
with the associated technology to the other countries in Europe.
Even in our times, the
influences of this Muslim Spanish state, called by the Arabs Al-Andalus,
still permeates all aspects of Spanish life - best reflected in the
agriculture sector, the pillar of Arab Spain.
In its days of glory, farmers in Muslim Andalusia produced
more, and were more prosperous than most of the other Islamic
countries who, in their turn, were the most advanced in the medieval
world. In his book
The Splendour of Moorish Spain Joseph McCabe states
that the Arabs described Al-Andalus as a glorious garden of terraced
hills where every acre of cultivable land was tilled.
Arab Spain reached its
apogee in the 10th century when Ibn awqal wrote that the major part
of Al-Andalus was fertile and was watered by many rivers, the cost
of living was inexpensive and the people lived a happy and
prosperous life. It is
said that during its golden age in the 10th and 11th centuries Al-Andalus
had 12,000 towns and villages along the banks of the Guadalquiver
alone - a density unknown, at that time, in any other part of the
What made this
westernmost country in the Muslim world flourish was the hard work
of the peasants, rendering fertile the countryside.
Estates tilled by slaves were very few.
The land was almost all owned by small landowners.
Tilling the soil was a proud profession and a person was not
looked down upon if he was a farmer - working was a moral duty.
Agriculture was greatly
developed by this attachment to the soil which led to the
introduction of new crops, advanced techniques of cultivation,
preservation of fruits and vegetables and the use of fertilizers.
These were complemented by an excellent irrigation system
with a tight government control of inspection and enforcement -
still followed in parts of the Iberian Peninsula, similar to that
found around Valencia.
A wide variety of foods
of which the people in the remainder of Europe had no conception
were cultivated. Among
the important crops, many in Spanish still carrying their Arabic
names, which were introduced or immensely expanded by the Arabs
were: acelga - salt-wort, derived from the Arabic (a1-silq
- the garden beet); albaricoque - apricot, (al-barquq
- the apricot); albérchigo - peach, (al-firsiq - the
peach); alcachofa - artichoke, (al-khurshuf - the
artichoke); alfoncigo - pistachio) (al-fustaq - the
pistachio); algarroba - carob, (al-kharrub - the
carob); alubia - kidney bean, (a1-lubiya - the bean); arroz
- rice, (a1-ruz the rice); atramuz - lupine bean,
(al-turmus - the lupine bean); azafran - saffron, (al-zafaran
- the saffron); azْcar
- sugar, (al-sukkar - the sugar); banana, (banan -
fingers); berenjena - eggplant, (badhinjan -
espinaca - spinach, (isbanakh - spinach); garbanzo
- chickpea, (kharrub - carob); limَn
- lemon, (laymun - lemon); naranja - orange, (naranj
- bitter orange); toronja - grapefruit, (turunj -
citron); zanahoria - carrot, (isfariniya - carrot);
two types of melons: palestino, from Palestine and sindيa,
from Sind in the Indian sub-continent; and two types of
pomegranates: Murcian, from the name of the city of Murcia
whose name is the Arabic Miriya - Egypt, and zafarي,
into Spain by a Syrian named Safar.
In addition, the Arabs
increased on a large scale the production of almonds, asparagus,
dates, figs, grapes, strawberries wheat and olives - still called in
Spanish by their Arabic name aceitunas, from al-zaytun
and their oil aceite, from al-zayt.
The Arab-planted olive orchards have only been slightly
expanded in our times, yet, today Spain produces half the world
supply of olive oil.
Besides the food crops,
the Arabs brought to the Iberian Peninsula the cotton plant which in
Spanish is called algodon, from the Arabic a1-qutn.
They also developed the silk industry to make Al-Andalus one
of the major silk manufacturing countries of the medieval world.
The fine fabrics of which Europe was to be proud in later
centuries had their origin in this land of the Moors.
The wealth generated by
agriculture would have been insignificant were it not for the
excellent irrigation system the Arabs constructed throughout Al-Andalus.
When the Arabs first came to the Iberian Peninsula, they
found a primitive form of a Roman irrigation network.
After making scientific studies of the land, they greatly
improved this network, constructing many hydraulic arrangements for
irrigating the whole of their domain.
Rivers and wells were
exploited and underground sources of water were discovered. Channels were cut, even in solid rock, dams built and the
windmill introduced from the East.
The water-wheel, noria, from the Arabic naura,
still used in parts of Spain, was also brought from the eastern
lands. With ingenious feats of engineering they provided water
everywhere. This life-
giving commodity was conserved and utilized with such skill that
until the present day much of what was once a flourishing Moorish
There is little doubt
that the intricate canal networks which supplied the needed water
were responsible for producing the thriving crops in the Muslim era. The lush huerta surrounding Valencia has fascinated
engineers and historians for centuries.
The Moorish irrigation system, which made possible today's
orchards and rice-fields, is still regulated by a more than thousand
year old tribunal established by the Moorish Caliph al-Hakam II.
Every Thursday at midday it holds its sessions to adjudicate
land disputes among the farmers.
The code laid down by the Moors is still the basis of
judgement by this Tribunal of the Waters.
The Valenican huerta
was only one area in Spain which benefited from the agricultural
techniques of the Arabs. In
the southern part of the country the Moors created, what some
historians have called, ‘an earthly paradise’.
M. Defourneaux in his book, Daily Life in Spain in
the Golden Age, writes:
admirable area is around Granada where the Moors for a long time
the kingdom. They
brought water from the snow- capped Sierras, by means of canals
tunnels, to fertilize the plains and the blossoming hills
which surround them to make it
one of the most beautiful sights in the world".
The excellent land watering system constructed by the Arabs
throughout Al-Andalus is attested to by the Spanish language which
is rich in Arabic loan-words in the field of irrigation. Acequia or
cequia - channel, is derived from the Arabic (al-saqiya
- irrigation ditch); açena, acenia or sinia -
waterwheel driven by animal power (saniya - waterwheel); açut,
çut and azut, azud - diversion dam (al-sudd -
dam or barrier); albellon - drain or sewer (al-ballaa
- the drain); ( alberca - pool, (al-birka - the pool);
albufera - lagoon, (al-buhayra - the small lake);
alcantarilla - culvert, (al-qantara - the bridge); aljibe
or aljup - cistern, (a1-jubb - the well); almenلra
-channel, (al-manhar - the channel of the river); atarjea
- small drain, (al- tariyya - the small drain); atanor -
water pipe, (al-tannur - the baking oven); arcaduz or
alcaduf - bucket, (al-qadus - the water trough); zubia
- small channel, (shuba - branch); safareij - cistern
(sahrij - large water tank); sequiaje or cequiaje
- channel cleaning tax, (saqiya - irrigation ditch);
tarquim - silt (tarkim - to pile up); and alfarda or
farda - irrigating duty, (al-farda - the
More than the pen of
any historian, these words tell the story of the Arab impact on the
irrigation system in Spain. They
are a living testimony to the Moorish technical achievement in the
field of agriculture.
The introduction of new
crops with the accompanying irrigation generated a great deal of
wealth. This gave rise
to an affluent society that appreciated the beauty of nature and
that created by man. The
forests were protected, new types of trees and flowers were
cultivated and a number of wild flowers, grasses and shrubs were
identified and named. These,
in many cases, still carry their Arabic-derived Spanish names.
Acebuche - wild
rose, is derived from the Arabic, (al-zanbaq - the lily); adelfa
- laurel, (al-diflà - the oleander); alazor -
safflower, (a1-afur - the safflower); alerce -
sandarac tree, (al-arz - the cedar); alfalfa, in both Spanish
and English, (al-fafaa - the alfalfa); alhelي - gillyflower, (al-khiri -
the gilly flower); alhucema - lavender, (al-khuzamà -
the lavender); almez - the hackberry, (al-mais - the
hackberry); almoradux - sweet marjoram, (al-mardaqush
- the marjoram); arrayan - myrtle,
(al-rian - the myrtle); azahar - blossom of
citrus fruit, (al-azhar - the flowers); azucena -
madonna lily, (al-susana - the iris); bellota - acorn,
(ba1lua - the evergreen oak); daza - panic grass, (dugsa
- type of millet); jara - rock rose or thicket, (shara
bush); and retama - Spanish broom, (ratama - broom
The famous botanists of
Arab Spain, Ibn Bassal, Ibn alWafid, Ibn a1- Hajjaj
and Ibn al- Awwam, have left us a great deal of material on
the productivity and fertility of plants and about general
agricultural practices. Ibn al-Awwam, in the 12th century, wrote a treatise on
agriculture which was translated into the Romance languages of the
Middle Ages. It lists
some 584 species of plants and gives precise instructions regarding
their cultivation and use. He
also wrote about methods for grafting trees and how to produce
hybrids, stop the blight of insects and create floral essences of
With flowers, shrubs
and trees, the Moors created gardens to a grand artistic perfection.
The passion for gardens and flower-filled courtyards was a deep love
in the heart of every Arab. This is reflected in the words of
chroniclers who have left us a first-hand and precise knowledge
about the Moorish courtyards during the Muslim era. As a result of
this legacy Spain today has some of the most charming homes and
gardens in the world. Flowers
pouring down from window boxes against white walls, which beautify
the streets and plazas, are a true reminder from the days when the
sons of Arabia ruled.
Next of importance to
the produce of the land in the Muslim age was sheep raising and the
wool industry it generated. The
head shepherd, from the Arabic, (rabb al-dan - master of the herd); rehala - a flock of sheep of
different owners, (raala - the flock); res - head of
cattle, (ra's - head); and zagal - young shepherd, (zaghlul
- child), playing his albogue flute, (al-bug - the
horn ) are Spanish words which point to the influences of the Arabs
in the sheep raising industry.
Perhaps, even more
interesting are the names and words derived from Arabic which
permeate Spanish rural
life. These tell their
own story of how great the imprint the Arabs have left in the land
of El Cid - the Arabic al-sayyid.
From the some 8,000 basic Spanish words derived from Arabic,
a large number relate to farming and the countryside. Aldea -
village, is the Arabic, (a1-daya - the village); alfolي - granary, (al-huri- the granary); almazara
- oil press, (al-masara - the oil press); almocrebe
- muleteer~ (al-mukari - the donkey driver);
almunia - orchard or country house, (a1-muniya
- the garden); alquerيa
- a small farm, (al-garya - the village); arré -
gee-up for mules, (harr! - an expression used by Arabs to
urge camels forward); arriate - edge of a garden, (al-riyad
- the garden); maquila - multure, (makila -
measure of capacity); and tahona flour mill, is the Arabic (tahuna
- flour mill).
Of all the facets of
country life in which one sees the mark of the Arabs, the home and
its activities is the place where they left their greatest imprint.
The beauty and comfort of the Andalusian abode of today is no
different than that of the Muslim home in Arab Spain.
A Spanish housewife going about her tarea - task, (tariah
- task) trying to ahorrar - to save, (al-waffara - to
save) time, is suddenly surprised by the albaٌiles
masons, (al-banna' - the builder) and alarife -
architect, (al-arif - the architect) who came early.
They have come to build a new home of adobe - sun
dried bricks, (al-tub - the brick) surrounded by zulaque -
waterproof paving, (zulaqa - bitumen) and adorned with
azulejos - tiles, (a1-zulayj - the tile). The plans call
for a small azotea - roof terrace, (al-sutayha - the
little roof); a decorated zaguلn
portico, (usauwan - vestibule); a courtyard with alfeizar -
flared opening, (al-fasaha- the hallway) and a baldosa
- fine tile, (balat - paving stone) floor; three alcobas -
bedrooms, (al-qubba - the dome) with ajimez - twin
window (al-shams - the sun) windows; four alacenas -
cupboards, (al-khazana - the cupboard); an alcobo -
alcove, (al-qubba - the alcove) painted in azul -
blue, (lazuward - blue); a large brass aldaba - door
knocker, (al-abba - the door knocker); and a smal1 zaquizami
- attic, (saqf shami - Syrian roof).
As the masons toiled,
they drank from a jarra - water jug, (jarrah - water
jug) by allowing a stream from the spout to fall through the air
into their mouths - a method of drinking
brought from the Middle East into Spain by the Arabs.
While the men worked,
the housewife prepared for their dinner: albَndiga
- meat balls, (al-bunduq - the filbert) and alboronيa
- vegetable stew, (al-buraniya - the eggplant stew) with
which she would serve escabeches - pickles, (al-sikbaj -
the pickling brine). She
decided to end the meal with alajْ
the stuffing) accompanied by almibar - a sweet drink, (al-miba
- a quince drink) and/or café - coffee, (qahwa -
These Spanish words of
Arabic origin relating to rural life and the home are only one side
of the coin. The
countryside, especially in southern and eastern Spain is dotted with
place names of Arab origin. The
vast majority of the Guads, from the Arabic, (wadi -
valley); Medinas, (madina - city); Alcalلs,
- the fort); and Alcلzars,
(al-qasr - the palace) have become as Spanish as bullfighting
which , itself, is
believed to have been initiated by the Moors.
There are well over 2,300 place names of Arab origin found in
every part of the country.
The expulsion of the
Moors with their farming skills from Spain deprived the land of its
prosperity and led to a great plunge in agrarian production.
This was especially true in the Valencia region and the last
Moorish heartland of the Alpujarras Mountains edging Granada.
According to A. Boyd in The Road from Ronda,
when Philip II expelled the Moriscos (Muslims forced to convert to
Christianity) from the Alpujarras, and repopulated them with
Christians from the North, he ordered that two Morisco families must
stay in each village to show the newcomers how to irrigate the land.
In the Valencian huerta, after the expulsion of the
Moors, the cultivation of sugar- cane was almost extinguished and
the production of citrus fruits declined drastically.
Arab Spain which
covered a little more than 50 percent of the Iberian Peninsula, by
its advanced farming techniques supported a population of 30 million
- more than the inhabitants of all the European countries in that
era. It was to be many
years before the remainder of Europe would reach the affluence once
found in Al-Andalus.
In that earthly
paradise, the Arabs had created the throbbing heart of the medieval
world. Today, the
vestiges that remain tell their own story.
Not only the flourishing-rich Spanish countryside of our
times, but the magnificent Mosque of Cordova, the Alcazar of
Seville, and the majestic Alhambra of Granada still stand - an
obvious visual evidence to the greatness of the Arab civilization in
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in Mediterranean Spain, London: Variorum Reprints,
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Spain in the Golden Age, New York: Praeger Publishers,
W. J., The Spanish Language, London: Faber & Faber
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Madrid: Real Academia Espaٌola, 1970.
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