The Arabs conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711, integrating it into the Islamic Empire, and in 1492 the Catholics put an end to the peninsula’s last Muslim entity, the Kingdom of Granada. These eight centuries represent the longest civilisational period in the history of what we now call Spain, and the Arabs called al-Andalus. The Andalusi cultural component did not disappear with the last Islamic political domain, but survived first through the Mudejars, the Muslims who remained for some time in the Christian kingdoms, and above all later through the Moriscos, Muslims forced to convert to Christianity, until their expulsion in the early seventeenth century. Al-Andalus thus represents a historical experience almost a millennium long.
Few historical periods have been more controversial. Few demonstrate more clearly how the past can be made to serve current ideologies. Al-Andalus and its significance have been the objects of multiple polemics and contradictory historiographical visions, and a fount of myths that have frequently obstructed balanced and contextualised study. Most approaches to al-Andalus have suffered from an excess of grand emotions and a priori assumptions.
Ideological positioning has marked the interpretation of Andalusi history. The ‘Catholic Kings’ paradigm was based on the unity of Spain and the negation (and persecution) of religious diversity. Christianity was the major constructor of an ideology which stubbornly excluded the eight Islamic centuries from the Spanish historical memory. ‘Hispania’ (from which ‘Spain’ is derived) was imposed on al-Andalus in both name and meaning. The Romans named the Iberian Peninsula Hispania when it was integrated into their empire. Of course, this conquest never provoked the historiographical controversy of the subsequent Islamic conquest. The Greco-Roman heritage was presented as the essential source of European being and thought, definitively excluding any oriental contribution.