The Garb al-Andalus was the name given to the west of the Muslim Iberian Peninsula, which covered the centre and south of Portugal and also the extreme west of Spanish Estremadura and Andalusia. Portugal is a mystery of cultures, a Catholic country without a doubt and a very devoted one. But the old continent was the cradle of many civilizations way before the crusades conquered Europe. In the year 710 the Muslims entered in the Iberian Peninsula and one year later Cordoba and Toledo fell. It was only 800 years later that the last breath of the Muslin Empire in this peninsula was taken.
As I know you are passionate about Portugal, otherwise you wouldn’t be considering buying a home and maybe retire here to live under this splendid sun, I thought of sharing with you just a glance of the Arab heritage in the country. The Muslins left a strong presence in some Portuguese cities and as I know that sooner or later you will visit the cities in your process of getting to know us better, you will probably recall this article and look at the view with a different perspective.
The cities of Garb al-Andalus developed notably under Arab domain. They didn’t have a scorched earth policy, and often concede broad administrative autonomy in return for the recognition of the authority of the Caliph and the payment of taxes. The introduction of new products and goods brought about not only by sophisticated techniques in the areas of agriculture, science and handicrafts, but also by the silk and spices route revitalizing old cities that where fallen in to decadence, making them prosper. Muslim geographers describe the cities of Garb in glowing terms, boasting of their natural riches and the beauty and qualities of their inhabitants
Beja (Baja) is probably the most important Arab city in Portugal, as it was the home of very illustrious intellectuals like the theologian Sulayman Ibn Khalaf al-Baji, the poet king al-Mu’tamid or the historian Ibn Sahib al-Sala, but also has the foremost of a region rich in cattle, olive oil, honey and other fruits of the heart.
Alcácer do Sal (Al-Qasr Abu Danis or Al-Qasr al-Fath) they say, had the advantage of its pine forest from where wood was taken for naval construction. For this reason, its shipyards and arsenals where famed.
Lisbon (Lishbuna) is referred to as an important port, its city walls having many gates. The most important was the west gate (Bad al-Garb) near Aljama Mosque, on the site of the present cathedral. This gate was adorned with monumental marble arches and columns. It was, even then, a city of sailors and alfama was famous for its hot springs and baths. The Saga of the Adventures took place here, the story tells of eight cousin-brothers who went off in search of the mythical Enchanted Islands and reached the Canary Islands before landing in Morocco. It is a true story, the precursor of the Atlantic navigations of the Portuguese. The best –known poet of the Lisbon region was Abu Zayd ibn Muqana.
Santarém (Shantarin), home of the great poet Ibn Sara and of the noted historian and literary commentator Ibn Bassam, is portrayed as an important agricultural town, living on the abundant harvest of wheat from the Tagus plains and the breeding of horses.
Sintra (Shintara), probably the birthplace of the poet-mystic bakr Ibn Dawudal-Marwani al-Shantarini has two castles attributed to it. All indications point to these being the forticications today known as the Castelo dos Mouros and the Palácio da Vila, which would have been the governosrs palace. It was praised for its apples (hence Praia das Maças – Apple beach).
Coimbra (Qulumriya) is credited with an unconquerable castle on the banks of the Mondego (Mundik), which after flooding proved to provide excellent soil for abundant harvests. The riverside plains produce olives, apples, grapes and cherries. The Mozarab culture around the Lorvão Convent was prosperous.
Mértola (Mirtula) was important for its strategic position as the strong castle dominated the landscape of the Guadiana river (Wadi Ana), an important access route to the interior and to the sea. It was the birthplace of the poet Sufi AbuÍmran al-Mirtuli. At an early stage the centre of the ephemeral reign of the poet and notable Sufi master Ahmad Ibn Qasi was based here. In Mértola, there is the only relatively intact Portuguese mosque from the Arab period, although altered as a church.
Évora (Yabura) described in Arab sources as an important city was, however, presented as dependent variously on Beja and Badajoz. It had beautiful estates outside the town, backing on the to the castle walls. One of its many illustrious sons was the poet and notable scholar Ibn’Abdun.
Finally, Silves (Shilb) is the object of the most praise from the Arab historians and geographers, both for the beauty of its architecture and landscape and for the prosperity and culture of its people. In the castle was famous the Palácio das Varandas (Qasr Al-Sharajib), which existed inside it, was no less so. The river Arade, which the city is built on, was then navigable for a long extent and, along its course, there where watermills and shipyards for naval construction. If its markets where famous, no less where the poetic vain and the purity of the Arabic language of the inhabitants mainly of Yemeni origin.
These prosperous cities with fertile soils, strategic positions or riverside used their fortune and intellectual abilities to enrich the culture and footprint in the territory. Take a ride through these towns and explore ancient churches and take closer look to details – you will find 800 years of history that bring an exotic singularity to the scenery and an enchantment to handcrafts goods.
Traditional properties in the Algarve are very representative of the Arab culture, their white walls, flat roofs and round shimmies are Algarve’s postcard and the culture brand of this coastal territory.