Madrid is the capital of the modern Spanish state, a cosmopolitan city located roughly in the center of the country. The city acquired its European quality during the 17th century and beyond, when Spain was at the peak of its confidence and power. The name of the city, however, hints at its Arabic roots: "Madrid" comes from "al-majrit," meaning "the water channel." The Andalusis were famed for their irrigation practices, and a small Muslim settlement located in the border regions between Islamic and Christian Spain bore the name referring to this quality. Al-Majrit was lost to the Muslims at the time when the great city of Toledo was surrendered to the Christians in 1085 CE.

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Toledo is located roughly in the center of the Iberian peninsula, 42 miles southwest of Madrid. It is situated on a large hill and is surrounded on three sides by the Tagus river, creating a natural fortress. As a result of its isolated position, Toledo retains a quaint medieval quality, with narrow cobblestone streets and various handicraft shops. Toledo is still known for the metalwork produced by expert craftsmen in a style that clearly reflects Islamic origins. In fact, the works of gold and black metal are referred to as damasquinos, referring to the Syrian city of Damascus, from whence the Umayyads had come to establish their rule in Iberia. The city was the capital of the Visigoths, who ruled the territory until the Muslim conquest of 711. It remained one of the most important cities of al-Andalus during the height of Muslim power. However, its surrender to Christian forces in 1085, when al-Andalus existed as an agglomeration of muluk al-tawa'if (petty kingdoms), was a fatal blow for the Muslims. Alarmed, the remaining leaders of the petty kingdoms consented to calling the Murabitun (Almoravids) from North Africa for assistance against the Christian powers in the north, thereby preserving a balance of power for another few centuries. During the 12th century, the Christian ruler Alfonso established a translation center in Toledo, where Arabic works of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, botany, and other fields were rendered into Latin. Toledo became one of the major points of intellectual transmission from Islamic civilization to Europe, sowing the seeds for its Renaissance.

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Cordoba, located alongside the Guadalquivir River, is an ancient city that has existed at least since Roman times. After the Muslim conquest of Iberia in 711, the Umayyad amirs made Cordoba the capital of al-Andalus. By the 10th century, Cordoba had become one of the greatest cities in the world, thanks to the efforts of the powerful and wise caliph Abd al-Rahman III. Unrivaled throughout Europe, Cordoba boasted a population of close to one million inhabitants, with numerous districts and neighborhoods, hundreds of masjids, public baths, suqs (markets), mills, and palaces. Students, Muslim and non-Muslim, flocked to Cordoba for religious studies or to gain scientific knowledge available only in the lands of Islam. A few kilometers outside the city, the ruins of the Umayyad caliphal city, known as Madinat al-Zahra, can be seen. The caliphate crumbled amid economic and military pressures in the early 11th century, leading to the rise of smaller kingdoms whose rulers sought to emulate the opulence and glory of Cordoba.

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Sevilla is located downstream from Córdoba along the Guadalquivir River, and served as the primary port of the Spanish empire during the New World conquests in the 16th century. After the Muslim conquest of Iberia in 711, Sevilla rose to prominence as an important center of art and learning. It’s fame and power grew in the 11th and 12th centuries in the aftermath of the downfall of the Cordoba caliphate, as it became a preeminent Taifa (petty kingdom or city-state). However, the increasing strength of Christian states to the north prompted an appeal to the Berber Almoravid dynasty, based in Marrakesh, to cross into Spain and help defend Al-Andalus. Another Berber dynasty known as the Almohads overthrew the Almoravids and made Sevilla the capital, as Cordoba was in ruins at this time. The Giralda tower, the minaret of the Great Mosque of Sevilla (now a massive Cathedral), was constructed by the Almohad caliph Abu Ya’qub Yusuf. The royal palace, known as the Alcazar, was appropriated by Christian conquerors in the 13th century, and elaborated in the Moorish style by artisans from Granada for King Pedro of Castile-Leon.

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The Southern Spanish coast between the port cities of Algeciras and Malaga is known as “the Sun coast,” and is a summer holiday destination for Spaniards, many of whom enjoy a month-long summer vacation in August. Numerous beach towns dot the coast. Algeciras lies close to the famous mountain or rock of Gibraltar (Jabal Tariq), named after the Berber general Tariq ibn Ziyad, whose expeditionary force defeated the army of the Visigothic king Roderic in 711 CE. The city's name comes from "al-jazira al-khadra'," or the "green island," referring to the early Muslim view of the Iberian peninsula as a huge landmass surrounded entirely by water. The Moroccan coastline is visible from this region, and ferries cross the straits hourly between the two countries.

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Though people have lived in the vicinity of Gharnatah (Granada) since ancient times, it became a significant settlement during the 11th century, when al-Andalus was ruled by the muluk al-tawa'if (the "party kings"). Immigrants from the nearby city of Elvira populated Granada under the Banu Ziri, the Berber rulers of the city. In the 13th century, Christian rulers in the north of Spain united their efforts and marched on the Muslim cities of Sevilla and Cordoba, among others. They had been held in check by the Almoravids and Almohads during the 12th century, but these Berber dynasties slowly disintegrated. Muhammad Ibn Ahmar, the founder of the Nasrid dynasty, established control in Granada and made a treaty with the Christian kings, ensuring the survival of the kingdom of Granada. Refugees from the former Muslim territories flocked to the last remaining Muslim kingdom on the peninsula. The Nasrids maintained Granada's precarious position until the end of the 15th century, when Isabella and Ferdinand decided to make war on Granada, conquering it in 1492. While many Muslims fled to North Africa, a significant number remained under Christian rule, initially under favorable terms. The Christian authorities and the Church became increasingly hostile to Muslims and Jews as Spain's national identity coalesced around a Catholic identity. In 1609, after a series of resistance movements led by Muslims during the 16th century were defeated, the Spanish crown pronounced an edict forcing Muslims to leave Spain or convert to Christianity. Many Muslim families emigrated to North Africa, where they maintained fond memories of the great civilization they had lost.

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