Atop the hill that hosted Lisbon's first
settlement in the 12th century BC rises the castle built by Arabs in the
8th century. It was named the castle of St. George by Christians in the
14th century to commemorate their alliance with England.
Sawa, who holds a doctorate in historical Arab musicology from the University of
Toronto, explains fado's links to Arab music. The plucking of the strings on the
mandolin and guitar, he says, is similar to the strumming style Arab musicians
use on the fretless 'ud, the ancestor of the lute of the European Renaissance.
Fado's switches between minor and Phrygian modes parallels the Arab use of
nahawand and kurd. Some fado forms, Sawa adds, are repetitive, like early Arab
muwashshaat, where a phrase is repeated over and over.
and historian of cartography Benjamin Olshin says of the similarity that "you
can hear this in the music." Similarly, the authoritative New Grove Dictionary
of Music and Musicians locates fado's roots in the Arab musical tradition.
Olshin adds that "There is also other Portuguese music which is clearly Arab
inspired. Listen, for example, to the modern flautist Rao Kao."
next morning, Antonio, a native of Lisbon guided our group into the capital city's
Alfama district, the heart of historic Portugal. "We are walking through the
Arab part of Lisbon.
Its outline has not changed since the Moors built this section of the city," he
said, apparently taking for granted that all in our group would know that Arabs
had once called Lisbon, Lishbuna home.
Spain, most of the country's inhabitants and a good number of its visitors are
at least passingly, familiar with its Arab heritage. But it is less well known
that Portugal, too, was at one time part of al-Andalus the land known in the
West as Moorish Spain. Cordoba was the capital of al-Andalus its counterpart in
southern Portugal was Silves,
The market in Loule Algarve, shows Arab influences in
its arches and dome.
good number of our people, especially educated people, know quite well that the
Arabs were part of our history," says Jose Antonio Preto d a Silva, a former
Portuguese tourism commissioner in Canada. "They contributed to our language,
our architecture and especially to our knowledge of navigation. The lateen sail
and the astrolabe, introduced by the Arabs, were instrumental in launching our
nation into its Age of Discovery."
bustling beneath its hilltop Arab castle, is today a testimony to the Arabs'
brilliant legacy of convivencia peaceful cohabitation of learning,
innovation and culture that shaped the European Renaissance. Though it was
founded by the Phoenicians and later embellished by Romans and Visigoths, the
Arabs gave it its name, which comes from al-hammah "hot spring." Amid narrow,
cobbled streets that follow the Arab platting, and among the complexity of
close‑quartered whitewashed houses, the aura of the long gone Muslim city
still lingers. Climbing plants and stone vases still sprout flowers in
courtyards, and all appear to have more in common with North Africa than Europe.
was in 711, soon after the first Arab probe across the Strait of Gibraltar,
that the Iberian Peninsula came
under Arab rule. In the western portion of the peninsula, this rule con∆ tinned
until the end of the 10th century, when the northern provinces of what is today
Portugal fell to Bermudo II Christian king of Leon who called the newly acquired
lands Portucalia. Over the next 250 years, the Christian reconquista continued
to push the Arabs south. In 1139, emboldened by a brilliant victory over the
Arabs at Ourique, Afonso Henriques declared himself independent of the rule of
Castile and declared Portugal independent under his own crown. From that date,
Portugual began to develop a national identity distinct from that of the
Galicians, Leonese Catalonians, Castilians and others in the Iberian which later
United to become the nation of Spain.
the mid 13th century, Afonso III conquered Faro, the last stronghold of the
Arabs, the city that is today the capital of Algarve, the southernmost province
of the country. With its fall, five centuries of Arab rule in Portugal ended.
(In what would become Spain, it would be 240 years more before the last Arab
kingdom was extinguished in 1492.) But the Arab legacy enriched and shaped
Arab introduction of new agricultural technology, and the Arabs' plain hard
work, made Arab Portugal prosper. To this day, the common Portuguese verb
mourejar means "to work like a Moor," and it implies unusual diligence and
tenacity. The Arabs introduced and expanded groves and fields, some of which
dated from Roman times, of almonds, apricots, carobs, figs, lemons, olives,
oranges, pomegranates, rice, palms, sugar, spices and numerous vegetables.
Today, many of the orchard and garden products that grace the tables of Portugal
carry modified Arabic names.
This nora, or waterwheel, in Algarve is a descendant of
the Arab waterwheel that helped revolutionize agriculture in Portugal as
al-Andalus, Arab agriculture thrived with the construction of irrigation
systems, parts of which are still in use today. Sometimes built on Roman
foundations, this watering network was made more useful still by the
introduction from Arab lands of the windmill, the watermill (Portuguese azenha,
from the Arabic al-saniyah and the water wheel (Portuguese nora, from the Arabic
na'urah). These innovations may have been the greatest gifts the Arabs gave to
Spain and Portugal, for thanks to them Iberian fields were for centuries better
developed than those in the rest of Europe. The 12th century Moroccan
geographer al-ldrisi described Algarve as a land of beautiful cities surrounded
by irrigated gardens and orchards.
1249, although their western Iberian kingdoms were no more, Arabs continued to
live in the Christian ruled kingdoms, working the land, constructing and
decorating homes, villas and palaces. The 1492 expulsion of Muslims from Spain
led to a similar expulsion from Portugal in 1497, but even after this, the
cultural legacy lived on. The early 16th century court of Manuel I,
for example, the ruler who patronized the first Portuguese voyages to India
around the Horn of Africa, featured Arab clothing, Arab dances and music, and
Arab style harnesses for horses.
Arab decorative tradition that has endured to become part of modern Portuguese
identity is the love of vivacious ornamental tiles, called azulejos. (The word
comes from Arabic al-zulayi, “polished stone.") On the walls of homes,
churches, country mansions, train stations and countless other structures, these
colorful, often geometrically patterned tiles seem to bring out the beauty of
every building they adorn. Tiled walls in every
city and village harmonize with Portugal's baroque and Manueline
architecture the latter developed largely by Francisco Arruda an admirer
of Arab artistry and one of Portugal's finest architects in the period after the
Age of Discovery.
A 1997 tile mural overlooking a park in Monchique
Algarve has artistic roots in the Arab geometric, decorative tile
tradition known as azulejos, which was later also influenced by Dutch
the 18th Century which the
Portuguese regard as the “golden age" of azulejos the Dutch influence brought
pictorial tiles featuring animals, castles, ships, flowers, people and religious
scenes and blue-on-white monochrome tiles. But it is the early, geometric styles
of azulejos that show the clearest stylistic tics to the Arabs Outside Lisbon,
intricately patterned tiles on the walls and floors of the National palace and
the Pena Castle in Sintra, the Church of Nossa Senhora do Populo in Caldas
daRainha, the Church of the Misericordiain Vita do Conde and many other
structures throughout the country incorporate a fine selection of Arab and
Arab‑inspired tile work.
colors, aromas and flavors of the Portuguese kitchen are another important
inheritance from the Arabs. In the days of al-Andalus, basic meats included
lamb, goat, some beef and much seafood. Many of the Portuguese names for fish
Such as atum (tuna, from Arabic al-tun)
savel (shad, from shabal) Mid even alineilon (clams, from al-majjah) attest to
the origins of Portugal's seafood habit. The Arab sweet tooth was passed on,
too, as Portugal's candied
fruits and its many pastries made of almonds, egg yolks, honey and rose water
demonstrate. Brazilian sociolo∆gist Gilberto Freyre noted in his book The
Masters and the Slaves ( 1933) that old Portuguese cook books are filled with
Arab recipes often simply called "Moorish lamb," "Moorish sausage," "Moorish
hen," "Moorish fish," "Moorish broth" and so on.
the fields, the tiles, the kitchens, the Arab architecture of castles, gates and
city walls and the audibly Arabic names of towns and geographical features,
there is the less definable but very persuasive Arab look and feel of Portugal's
landscape, especially in Algarve, to remind the visitor of this important part
of the country's history. The sparkling white houses with red terracotta roofs,
set in lush orchards, the courtyard patios drowsing in their flowery shade, and
the fretted chimneys unique to Southern Portugal all these are evidence of a
Alfama is the oldest of the
city's many colorful districts, and in Arab times, it was the heart of
parts of whose 12th century ramparts remain, is a city whose houses are adorned
with attractive terraces and colorful minaret like chimneys, situated in one of
the loveliest parts of Algarve. Likewise, the older sections of Olhao and Tavira
with their narrow streets, kasbah style town architecture and, again, the "Moorish"
chimneys also appear more North African than European. And crowning all these
towns is Silves, known as Shalb when it was the Arab capital of Algarve, vying
with Cordoba to be the intellectual center of the western Islamic world. The
mystic Ibn Qasi, the poet king of Seville, al-Mu'tamid, and the poet Ibn 'Ammar
were all born in Shalb. Devastated in the reconquista, the city never again
reached its former size or glory, and today it is a modest place whose economy
relies heavily on tourism. Only the Arab castle, the Alcazaba (from al-qasabah,
the fortress), the nearby cathedral (which retains vestiges of tile mosque it
was built on) and a gate in the Arab city walls remain.
all these visible traces, for me there is still no better indication of the Arab
contribution to Portuguese life than what can be heard in a long and heartfelt
fado. Although its modern form is urban and it developed, as we know it, only in
the 19th century, it is increasingly performed throughout the towns of Algarve,
albeit largely for tourists.
Fado is perhaps most
appropriately performed at night. Then, when a fadista pours out her soul to
remind us of all we cannot know, cannot control, cannot understand our love, our
histories inevitably recalls for me the gripping, expansive longs of the Arabs
who once called this land home, and whose influences remain today.
Salloum is the author of five books and numerous articles on Canadian, Arab and
Latin American history, travel and culinary arts He is currently collaborating
with his daughter Mena on an etymology of Arabic contributions to Spanish
lance photographer and writer Tor Eigeland began contributing to this magazine
from Beirut in the late I 960's, after which he lived in Spain His home now lies
on the other side of the Pyrenees, in southwest France Visit his website at www.toreigeland.com.
This page was incorporated from March/April 2001 issue of Saudi Aramco World