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144 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

How Islamic civilization tamed Western Europe

"Inspiring" --The Observer (U.K.)

Join British historian Bettany Hughes as she examines a long-buried chapter of European history--the rise and fall of Islamic culture in what is now Spain and Portugal. Although generations of Spanish rulers have tried to expunge this era from the historical record, recent archaeology and scholarship now shed fresh light on the Moors who flourished in Al-Andalus for more than 700 years.

This fascinating two-part documentary explodes old stereotypes and offers shocking new insights. You’ll discover the ingenious mathematics behind Granada’s dazzling Alhambra Palace, trace El Cid’s lineage to his Moorish roots, and learn how the Iberian population willingly converted to Islam in droves.

Through interviews with noted scholars, you’ll see how Moorish advances in mathematics, astronomy, art, and agriculture helped propel the West out of the Dark Ages and into the Renaissance. What emerges is a richly detailed portrait of a sensuous, inquisitive, and remarkably progressive Islamic culture in Christian Europe.


"The drama seems infused, suddenly, with important complexity, with great questions of war, peace, civilian casualties -- The Wall Street Journal

highly informative and entertaining -- Memorable TV

Special Features


Product Details

  • Actors: Bettany Hughes
  • Directors: Timothy Copestake
  • Format: Multiple Formats, Color, NTSC, Widescreen
  • Language: English
  • Region: Region 1 (U.S. and Canada only. Read more about DVD formats.)
  • Aspect Ratio: 1.66:1
  • Number of discs: 1
  • Rated: NR (Not Rated)
  • Studio: Acorn Media
  • DVD Release Date: June 10, 2008
  • Run Time: 101 minutes
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (144 customer reviews)
  • ASIN: B0013XS87U
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #55,929 in Movies & TV (See Top 100 in Movies & TV)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

40 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Laura M. Place on April 19, 2013
Format: DVD
I found this documentary very informative and beautiful to watch. As other reviewers have noted, this does not have as much factual information as an educated reader could learn from a text in the same time as it takes to view the film - but these media serve different purposes and, frankly, different people, or at least people with different inclinations about how they would like to spend their time.

The information I learned here does also align with what I had already learned about this period of Spain's history from other sources, so I am doubtful that she is somehow just trying to be an iconoclast for the sake of being shocking. Rather, I suspect she takes on material that tends to be colored in one, plausibly inaccurate, light - history, as they say, is written by the victors (and sometimes the dictators, later on, like Franco).

Yes, Bettany Hughes is beautiful and is shown speaking to the camera and interviewing other people in the documentary, just as men have been and continue to do in documentaries on diverse subjects. I am not, in the slightest, aware how her physical presence on screen detracts from the documentary, or how she is seen as self-aggrandizing. I don't recall a single comment she made in the documentary about how intelligent she is or how much she knows or even why she knows it. I think that this ad hominem attack is probably simply because she is a woman, period, in a male-dominated field.

I would agree with the reviewer who noted that it would be wise to discuss the contributions of the Jewish people to learning, in the time of Moorish Spain, as well as the consequences to them of the Spanish Inquisition, but I do not think it is a dramatic failing of the film.
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By Lector on December 29, 2011
Format: DVD Verified Purchase
It is one of the best documentaries that I have ever seen before about Spain. The Spanish people should see this video if they want to know their past.
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51 of 64 people found the following review helpful By Serge J. Van Steenkiste on December 16, 2008
Format: DVD
Historian Bettany Hughes gives a decent, sometimes too politically correct overview of the influence of Islam on Medieval Spain. Ms. Hughes starts her journey with the conquest of the Visigoth Kingdom by the Moors coming from North Africa at the beginning of the 8th century C.E. She ends this journey with the fall of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada at the hands of the armies of the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand at the end of the 15th century C.E. Ms. Hughes introduces her audience to the splendors of Moorish architecture in cities such as Grenada, Cordoba, and Toledo. Ms. Hughes rightly reminds viewers about the decisive but often-ignored contribution of Moorish Spain to the European Renaissance in domains such as medicine, mathematics, and astronomy. Italy is usually credited as the key driver for the European Renaissance. To her credit, Ms. Hughes emphasizes that the Christian Reconquista of Moorish Spain often was about gaining land, prestige, and wealth under a veneer of religious fervor. The Reconquista turned out to be a civil war rather than the black-and-white antagonism between Christianity and Islam that has carried the day in the popular imagination. Many inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula converted to Islam for a variety of reasons in the centuries following the arrival of the Moors. Ms. Hughes rightly compares the expulsion of many Muslims from Spain after 1492 C.E. with what is today understood as ethnic cleansing. Ms. Hughes is at her weakest when she almost completely ignores the important contribution of the Jewish community to the splendor of Moorish Spain. This lapse of judgment is somewhat surprising because Ms. Hughes rightly denounces again and again the selective interpretation that has been given to the contribution of Moorish Spain to this day.
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44 of 58 people found the following review helpful By Sancho Panza on October 10, 2008
Format: DVD
Combining excellent imagery, appropriate graphics, and expert narration, this documentary boldly goes into historical depth and will not lose its viewers in the process. Rather than cultural bias, historical pragmatics are at the heart of this somewhat new approach to Spain under Muslim rule. It is not a revisionist view for most of us who have been following developments in this field for the past 25 years; it is now completely accepted among scholars that the divisions between the muslims and other groups in Spain were exaggerated in the past. However, Islam in the middle ages was anything but marginal in its level of sophistication. What better way to demonstrate this than with the wonderfully technical yet never dry diagrams of the Alhambra in this film. Olé (yes, the muslims gave Spain that word, too)!
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64 of 87 people found the following review helpful By P. Schneider on June 4, 2008
Format: DVD
This is an important topic which deserved a far more comprehensive treatment. If you knew nothing about this subject except what you saw in the DVD then you would conclude that Muslims were all wonderful, Christians were all bad, and that Jews hardly existed in Medieval Spain. For example, Hughes uses the word Crusade, but not Jihad. She also skirts the reasons just how Islam expanded from Arabia to France and Persia in less than a century. It was not just due to the attractiveness of its ideas. On the positive side, she explores the contributions Muslims made in preserving and expanding upon the works of Greece and Rome and how they were transmitted to the West. I only wish she spent more time discussing Averroes, Avicenna, and other great scholars. She might also have spent some time discussing how and why Islam turned its back on science and philosophy in the 12th and 13th centuries. We in the West need to understand more about the rise, grandeur, and decline of Islam followed by the rise of the so called gunpowder empires in Turkey, Iran, and India without fear of being politically incorrect.
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