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Book Review


Fletcher, Richard. Moorish Spain (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992), 189 pp, $21.95.

      Contact between different religious-cultural traditions is a basic theme of most world history surveys. As the late Richard Fletcher suggests in this lively, reissued introductory volume, Spain between 711 and 1492 is among the best examples of accommodation and conflict. In nine thoughtful chapters, he explores Islamic-Christian interconnections in agriculture, the arts, language, ideas, and politics. While the Arab impact was greatest during the Middle Ages, it continued to shape Spanish culture long after the fall of Granada. 1
    Fletcher's first chapter argues that Iberia was home to "the most prolonged and intimate encounter between Christendom and Islam" (5) in Mediterranean Europe. One of the most significant and enduring consequences of this interaction survives in Spanish, Portuguese, Gallego and Catalan. For example, suq (market) became the Spanish zoco; the plaza in Old Toledo today bears the name Zocodover. Fletcher helpfully lists Arabic-derived place names and of words beginning with the Arabic al. From here, Fletcher moves to a rich discussion of artistic linkages, comparing the plastered arabesques of Granada's Alhambra to the luxurious plasterwork adorning the sacristy of the Cartuja. In another compelling vignette, Fletcher traces the evolution of the mosque at Córdoba, constructed between the eighth and tenth centuries only to be transformed into a Christian cathedral after Córdoba's conquest in 1236. 2
    Subsequent chapters explore the Arab invasion of 711 (and legends generated by conqueror to justify victory and the conquered to explain defeat); conversion and coexistence among Christians, Muslims, and Jews; the Iberian cultural florescence, and the gradual Christian reconquista. The Moors, he argues, decisively transformed life in Medieval Spain. In agriculture, they introduced sophisticated irrigation systems to water the crops they introduced to the peninsula, among them citrus, rice and cane sugar. Textile, ceramic, silk, and sugar-refining industries also owe much to the Arab presence. Finally, the Moors integrated Iberia into a network of international trade extending out to North Africa, Egypt, Constantinople, the Middle East, and Central Asia. 3
     One of the most useful chapters for teachers of world history is titled "The Curve of Conversion." In the conquered regions, conversions grew rapidly between 850 and 1000 CE. By the latter year, three-fourths of the population accepted Islam and there were a large number of mixed marriages. Extensive expansions of the mosque in Córdoba attest to growing Islamic population. Fletcher also addresses Christian and Jewish efforts to preserve their faiths in Muslim-dominated areas. 4
     Intended as an introductory overview, Moorish Spain offers no new interpretations. Yet Fletcher's energetic writing, his intimate knowledge of his subject, his thematic organization, and his reliance on diverse source materials make Moorish Spain valuable in world history classrooms.   5
Michael J. Galgano
James Madison University

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