The Renaissance

Spain - 1492

"On the Iberian Peninsula the Moors built a civilization that contributed profoundly to the European Renaissance in the fields of architecture, astronomy, philosophy, mathematics, poetry, and music." The scientific method of logical inquiry and objective proofs was introduced into Europe. The radical mathematical concept of "zero" was being debated by religious scholars and was finally accepted by the Pope. Arabic numerals became the standard. Calculations were done using Al-je-brah and reuseable patterns or rythms of calculation (algorithms) were developed. The guitar, the lute and other similar string instruments entered Europe from Africa and became widely used. "The principal cities of Moorish Spain -- Seville, Cordoba, and Grenada -- are, even now, breathtaking proof of a society that cherished the arts and sciences."

The Moors ruled Spain and parts of Europe and North Africa for about 800 years. The Cruisades brought Christian rule to Spain, and by the early thirteenth century, the area of Moslem rule shrunk by half. "...by the middle of that same century only Andalusia, al-Andalus, remained under Moslem control. Jews in large numbers moved to Andalusia, seeking sanctuary with Moslem rulers who were historically more tolerant than their Christian counterparts. Many Jews and Moslems converted to Catholicism to escape persecution. Some Jews left Spain altogether, moving to North Africa and the eastern Mediterranean.

Eventually, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella brought all of Spain under Christian rule. The horrors of that period are detailed in the histories of the Spanish Inquisition during which Jews and Moslems were burned at the stake in massive public executions called autos-da-fe. "Between 150,000 and 300,000 Jews left Spain in 1492. Perhaps an equal number of conversos [converts to Catholicism - ed.] remained in Spain." By the end of the fifteenth century, there was so much intermarriage between Christians, Jews, and Moslems, that the ultimate aim of the Inquisition -- a purely Christian State -- was virtually impossible to achieve. "Over the centuries, questions of mixed ancestry have hovered over key figures like Christopher Columbus and even over Torquemada, the Grand Inquisitor himself."

Most of the Jews that escaped the inquisition went to North Africa or to Turkey, Greece, and the Balkans in the east -- the area to be known as the Ottoman Empire. The remainder escaped to Jerusalem and Safed. The exiled Jews of the Ottoman Empire became known as the Sephardim. Their music was written down and survives today as a history of peoples once joined, then scattered by religious intolerance and racial hatred.

A traditional song, "Il bastidor" is about a woman who is frustrated at her daily chores that keep her from making a vest (bastidor) for her husband. The language is a mixture of Ladino (Judeo-Spanish), Arabic, and Turkish Balkans. The instrument is the guitar, an African import of the Moors.

- La Rondinella - A Song of David, Music of the Sephardim and Renaissance Spain - Dorian Discovery, 1995 - Quoted text from liner notes. Music from selection number 23, "Il bastidor".

Another group that captures the flavor of those times, is "La Nef". Their interpretations express the cultural mix of the Spanish Renaissance in their CD, "Music for Joan the Mad, Spain 1479-1555".

Many thanks to my friend and co-worker, Michael McKay for turning me on to these gems.

The Aftermath

Spain and Portugal were the industrial centers of the known world before the Inquisition. The Muslims and Jews were these countries most industrious peoples. After their expulsion, "the great steel works of Toledo, the leather factories of Cordoba and the intensive plantations of olive and fruit trees were replaced by grazing land for sheep, and thereby land and manufacture that had been fruitful before the Inquisition were systematically ruined in order to fit the ambitions of the Grandees and the Church. Robbery and plunder became the basic economy of these then mightiest powers of the Christian world..."

- The Chronological History of the Negro in America, Bergman, pub. Harper & Row, Publishers - 1969, pp. 1-2 -