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Sugar cane, cumin and orange grove crops were adapted in al-Andalus from the 10th century

The professor of Medieval History of the Universidad de Granada, Carmen Trillo San José, has asserted in her book “Water and landscape in Granada” that the first Monsoon plants of the Peninsula date from the 9th century, but the new agriculture only strengthened at the end of the 10th century. According to Carmen Trillo, “the southern coasts were the most favourable to adapt the alloctone species. In the kora of Elvira al-Razi mentions some of them, such as sugar, cumin and orange groves. Others plant which were known in the Antiquity, such as vines and mulberry trees, achieved a strong development in al-Andalus with the production of raisins and silk”.

In this 160-page book, there is documentation about the different hydraulic techniques that allowed the diffusion of the irrigation systems. Some of them have survived in our province until recent date, such as the shaduf, also known as jattara or cigüeñal, and blood wheels. They have also studied the application of these methods to obtain water to the rural environment, particularly in the Alpujarra, and also to the urban one, in the city of Granada.

For the professor of the Universidad de Granada, the present irrigated lands have often been extensions of the Andalusian ones; therefore, the landscape we see now has preserved in part an image of the past. “They were originally –she says—the choice of certain society to solve its needs of survival, although they soon generated a benefit that revealed in a sophisticated way of life, even from the present day viewpoint. Therefore, the traditional irrigation systems which have survived in many places of the old Nazari kingdom can not be just considered an economic activity but also a cultural heritage”.

The book “Water and landscape in Granada. A heritage in al-Andalus” is a study of the irrigation lands in the Granada of the Middle Ages. The book analyses the historic roots of the irrigation systems of Granada which, according to the researcher and professor, “were more far away in space and time than we expected”.

According to Carmen Trillo “their origins were, as in the rest of al-Andalus, in the adaptations of plants carried out before the Islamic expansion, between the 5th and 7th centuries AD, in Mesopotamia. They came from more distant places such as the Asiatic southwest, Yemen and Africa and had been improved in India, between the 2nd and the 1st millennium BC. They were vegetal species which came from tropical and subtropical climate regions, used to grow under conditions of heat and humidity. They travelled with the Arabs in their conquests from East to West until they arrived to the Iberian Peninsula”. According to the book, which has just been published, these crops, like in other Mediterranean areas, “They needed –says Carmen Trillo—an artificial water contribution as they grew in summer, the driest season of the year. This is the reason for the great spreading of irrigation systems in al-Andalus, which does not mean that people would not use them in other periods. Naturally, the Romans were great hydraulic engineers, but they applied their techniques basically for urban supply, as big cities were the nodal point of the Empire from a political, economic and cultural viewpoint. However, agriculture had a low technological level, scarce profits, and it was necessary to own many lands to be rich. The main crops, the Mediterranean triad (cereal, olive tree and vine), came from the Mediterranean ecosystem and followed its climatic pace. They did not need irrigation, although when they applied it in the Islamic period, the profits improved significantly”.

Further information:
Carmen Trillo San José. Department of Medieval History and Historiographical Sciences and Techniques. Phone number: 958 243 653