Moorish place-names in Portugal
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Moorish Place-names in Portugal

By Dom Pedro de Alcazar

© 2004, Craig Levin.
Reprinted here with gracious permission of the author.

The area that would later be called Portugal was overrun by the Moors in 711, up to the banks of the Mondego. The Christians in the area, first under the leadership of the kings of Leon, and then under their own kings, would take the next six-and-a-half centuries to conquer all of the Moorish principalities in Portugal. Even after the Moors surrendered, some still remained in Portugal as Mudejares, and, when faced with expulsion from Portugal a century-and-a-half later in the days of Manuel the Fortunate, some became Moriscos-the Muslim equivalent to Marranos-and would have retained many elements of Moorish culture in secret until they were finally expelled yet another century later by Philip II (Philip III in Spain).

As one might expect, Moorish influence can be found in many aspects of mediaeval Portuguese life. One of them is the place names of central and southern Portugal. This is a gleaning of the Moorish names for places in Portugal, as given in AH de Oliveira Marques' History of Portugal.

To begin with, Portugal itself was called al-Gharb al-Andalus, or "Western al-Andalus", a fairly accurate name for where it is-the western edge of al-Andalus. The present Portuguese region called the Algarve, mainland Portugal's southernmost region, was the last bit of al-Gharb al-Andalus to fall to the Christians in 1349, and was actually the principality of Labla to its Moorish citizens.

When the Moors originally conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula, they divided the land into military marches, then subdivided the marches into kuwar, which were then split up into quran (not to be confused with the Holy Qu'ran). In many cases, they preserved the old Roman administrative districts, which were preserved by the Moors' German predecessors. The march which included most of modern Portugal was al-Thaghr al-Adna, the Lower March. Its capitol was either Marida (modern Merida) or Batalyaws (Badajoz).

There were eight kuwar in the Lower March:

Ukhshunuba (from the Latin Ossonoba); its capitol was Shilb (Silves).
Baja (Beja)
Yabura (Evora)
al-Ushbuna (Lisbon) The area around Lisbon was also called Balata.
Shantarim (Santarem)
Kulimriyya (Coimbra)
Antaniya (Idanha)

Quran: (NB: Some quran don't have Portuguese names. It's possible that these are ghost towns, created when the Moors left for Moorish principalities further south, or were taken as slaves during war or as a result of postwar debts.)

al-'Aliya (Loule) Maura (Moura)
al-Juza Qastalla (Cacela)
al-Ma'din (Almada) Qaya
al-Mudura Salubr
al-Qasr Sanbras
Abu Danis (Alcacer do Sal) Saqris (Sagres)
al-Qibdas Shanta Mariya (Faro*)
Halq al Zawiya Shirba (Serpa)
Julumaniya (Juromenha) Sintara
Kuriyya (Coria) Tabira (Tavira)
Marajiq Talamna
Martula (Mertola) Yalbash (Elvas)
* (so called because the ruling family were the Banu Harun, and H and F often were confused in mediaeval Portuguese, like Castilian)