After a coup overturned the Umayyad rule in Damascus in 750 A.D. and the victors massacred the royal Umayyad family, Abdul Rahman, the lone surviving relative of the caliph, escaped. He traveled south to North Africa, narrowly escaping his pursuers, and eventually entered Muslim Spain, a pro-Umayyad constituency which at the time was beset with infighting and rivalries. By 756 A.D., he had united the different factions under his leadership and re-established Umayyad rule in far-away Cordoba in Spain, also known as al-Andalus.
The Caliphate of Cordoba c. 1000
This marked the beginning of a glorious era in which al-Andalus became known, on the one hand, for its architectural grandeur, aesthetic gardens, intellectual achievements, scientific inventions, and cultural advancements, and on the other, for a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect among people of differing faiths, also known as convivencia.
At a time when Western Europe was, quite literally, plunged in darkness, there was street lighting and running water in Cordoba. The Great Mosque of Cordoba dazzled its visitors with its intricate calligraphy and imposing arches. Cordoba’s sprawling gardens, and the later cities of Madina al-Zahra and al-Hamra, showcased the power, splendor, and luxury of Muslim Spain.
The Umayyad rule lasted through the 11th century, followed by North African Muslim rulers reigning Spain until the 13th century. Infighting and rivalries had reduced their unity to individual kingdoms which enabled the northern Christian rulers to regain those territories. At this point, Cordoba was lost and Toledo became the next major Muslim city. However, Muslims soon lost Toledo as well, and the last Muslim stronghold in Spain was Granada where Muslims continued to rule for the next two centuries, until Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand conquered it in 1492 – incidentally, the same year when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas.