In 711 the Visigothic Christian kingdom of Spain was invaded by a Moslem army of Arabs and north African Berbers. In an incredibly short time, Spain was overrun and defeated.
The Saracens, as they were known to the Christians, continued northwards entering France and establishing their rule over the Frankish province of Septimania. In 731 they were defeated at the battle of Poitiers by Frankish forces under the leadership of Charles Martel. The Saracen foothold in France proved tenuous and they were soon expelled. In Spain, however the Arabs were destined to survive and prosper.
In Damascus, meanwhile, an internal power struggle led to the overthrow of the ruling Ummayad dynasty by the Abbasids who now took control of the Caliphate. The Ummayads were hunted down and killed, but one of their number, Abd ar-Rahman escaped to Spain and succeeded in taking power there.
Designating himself emir Abd ar-Rahman Ist, he made Cordoba the capital of the autonomous emirate henceforth known as Al-Andalus. The Arabs soon developed Andalusia into what was probably the wealthiest and most developed region of the age. They evolved a highly refined culture combining scientific learning and the arts. Cordoba, itself became a model city of one million inhabitants.
Christian Europe lagged behind far behind. In Moslem Spain, Christianity was tolerated by the authorities but the Christians of Andalusia, or Mozarabs as they were known, were second class citizens and many converted to Islam. Christian Spain was cut off from the rest of Europe and developed its own special liturgy. Only a small enclave remained free from Arab rule in the region of Asturias in the north, protected as it was by sea and mountains. It was from here that the process of the recovery of Spain from the Moors began. It was called the Reconquista and it combined the desire for territorial gain with Holy War.
A chronicler of the ninth century could only reason that the misfortune of the Christian Visigothic kingdom of Spain was due to the iniquity of her rulers Witiza and Roderic: “The Saracens entered Spain on account of the treachery of the sons of Witiza”, he wrote.
The caliphate of Cordoba ruled over Al-Andalus until 1031 when internal squabbling led to its dissolution. During the course of its hegemony over the Spanish peninsula, the Christian north remained impotent. The vizier Al-Mansur, was able to attack the towns of León and Compostela with impunity, razing the cathedral of Santiago in 997 and carrying its bells to Cordoba, as though to silence the growing cult of the Apostle.