I am a fan of ‘Sota Terra’, a programme on TV3 in Catalonia. A few months ago, one particular show caught my attention. It was about an archaeological excavation in Balaguer, a town in the north-east of Spain. The purpose of the programme was to determine if Balaguer had been an important city of al-Andalus during Muslim rule. That struck me as a bit odd. Balaguer is in the province of Lleida in Catalonia. And Catalonia, I thought, had little to do with Muslim Spain. Indeed, I had always believed that the Muslim presence in the northern half of the Iberian Peninsula was short and not very significant. But as the programme developed it exposed my deep ignorance. The archaeological excavation revealed a totally different version to the one I thought was the accepted, dominant history of the region. Not only did Balaguer turn out to be one of the most important cities of the Andalusian North, what is known as al-Andalus Superior, but the presence and impact of Muslims in Catalonia had been longer and far more relevant than I had imagined. I only knew that the first Umayyad wave had gone as far as south ern France until they were stopped at the Battle of Tours (732), and that Cordoba and Granada were great Muslim cities. By the end of the programme, I had learned that the Umayyads not only conquered but had settled in most of Catalonia, irrigated vast areas and founded new cities. And there was something more. The programme argued that to describe the process of expelling people from the land they had lived and cultivated for several centuries as the Reconquista (to conquer back or to recover) was simply absurd. The process is more properly described as usurpation.

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