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When the Moors Ruled in Europe
When the Moors Ruled in Europe
Actor: Bettany Hughes
Director: Timothy Copestake
Genres: Educational, Documentary
NR     2008     1hr 41min

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 ...  more »


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Movie Details

Actor: Bettany Hughes
Director: Timothy Copestake
Genres: Educational, Documentary
Sub-Genres: Educational, History
Studio: Acorn Media
Format: DVD - Color,Widescreen
DVD Release Date: 06/10/2008
Release Year: 2008
Run Time: 1hr 41min
Screens: Color,Widescreen
Number of Discs: 1
SwapaDVD Credits: 1
Total Copies: 0
Members Wishing: 10
MPAA Rating: NR (Not Rated)
Languages: English

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Movie Reviews

Missed Opportunity
Peter A. Schneider | Camp Slayer, Iraq | 06/04/2008
(2 out of 5 stars)

"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.
Impressive, but I feel some misgivings...
Ted Byrd | 04/10/2009
(4 out of 5 stars)

"In the domain of documentaries of ancient history, this seems to be the hour of Bettany Hughes. Until I watched another of her productions, The Island of the Minotaur, I was unaware of the big splash she was making as a celebrity historian. I was quite bowled over by her performance in that documentary. Yes, I say "performance" even though supposedly she was only the narrator/commentator. With her charming British accent and an articulate and self-assured way of utilizing it, I think it fair to say that her presence accounted for a good deal of the appeal of the documentary, although it was very well done on all levels.

But Ms. Hughes vividly dramatized some of her revelations about that ancient culture with a manner that suggested she revels in being an iconoclast. It is one thing to reveal that the much-admired Minoan civilization practiced human sacrifice and quite another to suggest that there has been a huge conspiracy to belittle the achievements of the Moors in Europe. The difference is that most of us today have no ego-stake in whether the Minoans sacrificed people to their gods or not, and if archaeology can prove it, so be it. But unfortunately the issue of the Moors in Spain and France during Europe's dark ages is likely to hit a nerve because of the current animosity between Christianity and Islam.

My perception is that in her documentary of the Moors, Ms. Hughes practiced iconoclasm with a vengeance. I am not saying that she is necessarily wrong about any of the views she espoused in this program. But I do think she may have gone overboard in her methods of setting the record straight. In this study, almost every reference to Christians was a disparaging one, and almost every reference to the Moors was an admiring one. Obviously, this type of emphasis is bound to please some groups more than others. The truth needs to be told, but I question whether this activist form of presentation is going to contribute more to enlightenment or to an increased perception of grievances.

The visual aspect of this program is sumptuous, with a major focus on the truly amazing Moorish architecture that still remains. There is much discussion of the Moorish regard for learning, where even the common people were encouraged to become literate and study. The Moors had irrigation and sewer systems and a successful agriculture. Their cities were pleasingly laid out, with harmoniously proportioned buildings and exotic and fragrant fruit trees to delight the senses. They practiced an advanced form of medicine for the time, and excelled at mathematics and astronomy.

According to Ms. Hughes the Moors were responsible for the Renaissance in Europe which came after the end of their rule in Spain. This is because the conquering Christians appropriated the Moorish heritage of knowledge and made it their own. All of this may be true, but I have a hard time believing that this is the whole story. For instance, I watched another documentary called Byzantium: The Lost Empire, in which it was stated that Christian Byzantium preserved the learning of the ancient Greek philosophers and mathematicians during the dark ages of Europe and transplanted that knowledge back to the Christian West towards the end of the Byzantine empire. There has been a book written which claims that Irish monks preserved manuscripts of Classical learning during the dark ages- How the Irish Saved Civilization. Perhaps there was more than one source for the ideas of the Renaissance, but this concept is given no consideration by Ms. Hughes.

Really, the point is that Christian Europe is portrayed as being inferior in all the aspects in which the Moors were excelling. This is probably true, but there is a strong connotation given off that the Christians were morally inferior and blameworthy for bringing about the downfall of Moorish Spain. That I do not buy. It seems likely that internal weaknesses also contributed to the downfall. And, it seems to me that the Christians are being retroactively held as reprehensible in light of a current fashionable way of viewing history. Christian Europe had not too long before, in terms of the history of civilization, been barbaric tribes and had not achieved the enlightened discernment that certain of their descendants now use to condemn them. It seems to have been a common practice that civilizations advanced by conquering and absorbing others. I don't say that is praiseworthy, but that seems to be the way it worked.

It is indeed lamentable when the ignorant destroy what is refined and beautiful, but ignorance is somewhat of a mitigating circumstance. In other words I wonder if Ms. Hughes has oversimplified the picture of admirable Moors and reprehensible Christians for the sake of making an iconoclastic fashion statement. If the Moors of that particular time and place were more enlightened than their Christian neighbors, that could be a result of many factors, both evolutionary and circumstantial, rather than a sign of inherent superiority, moral or otherwise.

Ms. Hughes shows such obvious relish for her role as iconoclast that I wonder if I can trust her objectivity. But it can certainly be said that she possesses a flair for adding zest to the study of history."
Few TV Documentaries Rise to this Level
Sancho Panza | New York | 10/10/2008
(5 out of 5 stars)

"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)!"
Too Common Selective Reading of History
Serge J. Van Steenkiste | Atlanta, GA | 12/16/2008
(3 out of 5 stars)

"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."