When reading history, it is interesting to know where exactly the places mentioned are today. If one is reading history in a language that no longer exists in the region studied, then the task is much harder.
One such case is the Arabic names for towns and cities in the Iberian peninsula, in what is now Spain and Portugal. For eight centuries, this area was under Arab rule, and known by the name al-Andalus الأندلس. Many chronicles and history books have been written by the Arab speaking inhabitants of Iberia.
In this article, I try to provide a list of Arabic and Spanish names of the towns and cities, so it is easy to cross reference those for anyone who is studying the region and its history.
I tried to put some background information on the place, such as the etymology of the name, famous people from that place, and the like.
Not all names are of Arabic origin. Some are Roman or Gothic modified in Arabic, with the current Spanish name derived from the Arabic. Others are native Arabic. I try to explain what the meaning of the Arabic name is.
There are still some names that I could not track down. If you know, please contact me.
Arabic NameSpanish NameComments
أبو القرق البرقوق
Villa de Alburquerque
There are two theories: The first it that the name is derived from Abu al-Qurq ("The place with cork [oak groves]"). The presence of the second 'r' supports this. This is what many Spanish sites on that town say. The other is that it is derived from al-Barquq ("The Prunes"). The presence of the first 'r' supports this. There are also claims that the name is Latin, from Alba Querqus, meaning 'white oak'. The presence of a first 'r' supports this. Afonso de Albuquerque(d. 1515 C.E.) the Portuguese admiral, imperialist and statesman is named after thistown. In the USA, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico was named in 1706 by Francisco Cuervo y Valdés after the viceroy of New Spain, Fernandez de la Cueva, Duque de Alburquerque. In the 1800s, the first 'r' was dropped from the name.
Near Almeria. الأندرشي أبو عبد الله Abu Abdullah al-Andarashi (544 - 621 A.H) , a reknown Hadith narrator, is from this place. So is, Ibn Ayyash al-Andarashi إبن عياش الأندرشي. The castle called Laujar de Andarax was the seat of the short lived Morisco king Aben Humeya (Don Fernando de Valor d. 1569 C.E.) who led the uprising of Alpujarras.
Ubeda was started by Abdul Rahman II, and completed by his son Muhammad. It was taken by the Spaniards after the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa in 609 A.H.
In 1108 CE, 501 A.H., the Almoravids won a decisive victory against Alfonso VI at this place. Alfonso's son was killed in the battle, and soon after, Alfonso himself died of grief.
This was a fort in East Andalusia, where in 1088 C.E. the Almoravids tried to take it with an alliance of Andalusian Taifa kings. After four months of siege, the Moorish alliance disintegrated, and the siege was lifted. This incident caused Yusuf Ibn Tashufin, king of Almoravids to invade Andalusia later and force its divided Taifa kings to unite under him.
This fort was called Astiga from Roman times. It had a large population of Mozarabs (مستعربين, Muslims from Spanish ancestry), and hence was under the control of Omar Ibn Hafsun عمر بن حفصون in the third century A.H. Abdul Rahman al-Nasir عبد الرحمن الناصر sent his slave-commander Badr بدر and took this fort in the year 300 A.H. Its fortification and Roman bridge were destroyed by Badr.
Elvira was intended to be the center of the surrounding area, but because of the repeated rebellions, its inhabitants left and settled in nearby Granada. Many people hail from Elvira, including Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Mas'ud al-Ilbiri أبو اسحق إبراهيم بن مسعود الإلبيري b. 985 - d. 1067 C.E., who wrote a poem against Samuel Nagrela إبن النغرلة, the Jewish vizier of Ibn Habbus إبن حبوس the Berber ruler. Also, the famous poet, أبو القاسم خلف بن فرج الإلبيري السيمسر Abu al-Qasim Khalaf ibn Faraj al-Ilbiri al-Sumaiser d. 484 A.H./ 1091 C.E. whose poems were critical of many his times. Many more from Elvira are known.
Arcos de la Frontera
In 1264 C.E., the Muslim population of Arcos were exiled during the reign of Alfonso X, "El Sabio" (the wise)
A famous battle was fought at Alarcos in 1195 C.E. ending with an Almohad victory over the forces of King Alfonso VIII of Castile
Costa del Azahar
"Coast of the orange blossom". Azhar is Arabic for blossom, not specifically orange.
A large city today, just like it was in the days of Arab rule. It was a center of learning and trade.
A battle was fought in 634 A.H./1236 C.E. in this place near Valencia.
Al Himyari says that the etymology of this is Latin, meaning "golden" (Aurum = Gold, Auriola). In 713 C.E. this city saw a treaty of surrender between the Muslim commander Abdul Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusair and the Visigoth prince of Murcia, Teodomir that preserved religious freedom for Christians and Jews under Muslim rule.
This was the stronghold of Omar Ibn Hafsun عمر بن حفصون (d. 305 A.H.), a Muladi rebel against Umayyad rule. Its ruin still show a Mozarab مستعرب church inside the fort.
Means "The pond"
Means: "The white". Takes its name form the gypsum-white river cliffs.
Means "The Lake" in Arabic.
Means: The Tower
Means: the lake.
All the names starting with "Beni" means "sons of" or "descendants of", often referring to a tribe or clan.
A municipality in Valencia where an International Festival for Music is held.
In this city, the famous physician, botanist, herbalist, and pharmacist Ibn al Baytar إبن البيطار was born in 1197 C.E.
This was a very secure and fortified citadel at the confluence of two rivers. Aben Humeya (1520-1569), leader of the Alpujarras uprising held a sporting event at this place.
From here, أبو الحسن على بن محمد بن شفيع البسطى who was a poet describing his town.
This was one of the last hold outs of the Muslim Moors after the fall of the city of Granada in 1492, and saw a revolt by them.
Founded in 875 C.E by Abdul Rahman Ibn Marwan Al-Jiliqi عبد الرحمن بن مروان الجليقي (d. 889 C.E.). From it, al-Batlayawsi البطليوسي a famed philosopher.
Balad means many things, such as city, town, place. al-Walid is an Umayyad name. So Valladolid means City of al-Walid.
Many famous people are known as al-Bayyasi, such as Abu Zakareyya Yahiya ibn Ismail al-Bayasi أبو زكريا يحيى بن إسماعيل البياسي (d. 590 A.H.) who was a court physician for Salah al-Din (Saladin), as well as a mathematician, and musician. Died in Damascus. There is also the historian and man of literature, Abu al-Hajjaj Yusuf ibn Muhammad al-Ansari al-Bayyasi أبو الحجاج يوسف بن محمد البياسي الأنصاري (d. 653 A.H.) who settled in Tunisia.
Historical neighborhood in Granada on high ground (Ribad).
A center settled by berbers, who later started a rebellion.
Named after Theodomir, Visigothic count at the time of the Arab conquest.
Built by al-Hakam. In the west, Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish traveller is the most famous person from this city. However, there are more famous people from Tudela in the Arabic literature. Abu al-Abbas Ahmad ibn Abdullah al-A'ma al-Qaisi al-Tutaili أبو العباس أحمد بن عبد الله بن أبي هريرة القيسي الأعمى التطيلي was a famous blind poet called "The Greater Tudelan". He died in 525 A.H. when he was only 40 years old. There is another Tudelan poet called al-Tutaili al-Asghar أبوإسحاق إبراهيم بن محمد التطيلي الأصغر ("The Lesser Tudelan").
A recent population study of post-Reconquista Spain was done on Teruel, Baguena and Barbaguena by Professor Mary Halavais of Sonoma University
Jabal Tariq = Mountain of Tariq. Named after Tariq Ibn Ziyad, the berber commander who conquered Iberia in 711 C.E.
This was a center of Jewish learning
Means "The Green Island"
Many people with the title الجياني al-Jayyani come from here.
Means: Island of Shuqr
San Juan de Aznalfarache
Literally means: Fort of The Snake. However, there was one Hanash al-San'ani حنش الصنعاني from the second generation of Muslims who accompanied Musa Ibn Nusair موسى بن نصير to Andalus, established the Great Mosque there, and died in Saragossa. Perhaps this place is named after him. Alange was the base of Abdul Rahman Ibn Marwan al-Jiliqi عبد الرحمن بن مروان الجليقي a descendant of Gothic nobles who led a rebellion of muwallads against the Umayyad rulers of Cordova. He went on to found Badajoz.
Means: The trench
Abu Amr al-Dani أبو عمرو الداني was a famous scholar of Quran orthography and recitations.
Daroca was a center of Jewish learning in Muslim Andalus. The castle in it still exists today.
From this place, hails Abu al-Baqa' al-Rondi أبو البقاء الرندي (d. 684 A.H.) His famous poem (in Arabic and English) lamenting the rapid fall of Muslim cities to the Crusading kings of Spain is one of the most well known and powerful pieces of poetry from that era. Another person is Akhyal al-Rondi أخيل بن إدريس الرندي who was a poet, author, secretary, judge and faqih d. 560 A.H. Other Rondans are Ibn al-Hakeem إبن الحكيم (d. 708 A.H.) and Ibn Abbad إبن عباد (d. 792 A.H.)
Rueda de Jalón
The battle of Sagrajas in 1086 C.E. was a crushing defeat of Alfonso by the Moorish alliance under Yusuf ibn Tashufin.
سهلة بني رزين
From here, Abu al-Tahir al-Saraqustiأبو الطاهر محمد بن يوسف التميمي المازني السرقسطي poet and linguist, d. 428 A.H.
al-Mansur المنصور بن أبي عامر expanded his rule north to the extent that he recaptured Zamora.
This city south west of Seville lends its name to the noble house of Medina Sidonia. The founder of this house is Alonso de Guzman, who had a quarrel with Alfonso X (El Sabio), and left around 1282 C.E. to serve the Muslim Abu Yusuf Ya'qub king of the Almohads. It is interesting that the chronicler of this house later had to be apologetic for this act.
Jerez de la Frontera
There are many person with the name al-Sharishi الشريشي
Means "of the east"
Jerez de los Caballeros
The poetess Mariam al-Shilbia مريم الشلبية (d. circa 400 A.H.) and al-Munakhal al-Shilbi المنخل الشلبي (d. 568 A.H) who was a poet at the Almohad court. The heterodox muwallad mystic, Ibn Qasi إبن قسي who rebelled against Almoravids is from here too.
The famous poet and linguist Ibn Bassam al-Shantarini إبن بسام الشنتريني (d. 542 A.H.) author of a huge anthology of Andalusi poetry, and Ibn Sarah إبن سارة (d. 517 A.H.)
See طلمنكة below.
Jativa surrendered to the Crusading forces in 1244 C.E. The treaty of surrender survives till today, and is unique in being written in both Latin and Arabic. Robert I. Burns has written an article on this interesting document. There are many famed scholars and mystics by the name al-Shatibi الشاطبي. At least two of them settled in Egypt: a. The mystic whom a district in the city of Alexandria is named after, where his grave lies, b. al-Imam Abu Muhammad al-Qasim ibn Ferro al-Ru'ani al-Shatibi الإمام أبو محمد القاسم بن فيره الرعيني الشاطبي(d. 590 A.H.) a scholar in Quranic orthography and reading, who, although blind from childhood, travelled and taughtin the college of Darb Molokheya that al-Qadi al-Fadil القاضي الفاضلfounded in Cairo. c. Ibn Suraqa al-Shatibi إبن سراقة الشاطبي (d. 663 A.H.) who settled in Cairo. There is also Abu Ishaq Ibrahim ibn Muhammad al-Shatibi al-Lakhmi al-Ghirnati أبو إسحق إبراهيم بن محمد الشاطبي اللخمي الغرناطي (d. 790 A.H.) author of al-I'tisam الإعتصام, a famous book in Usul al-Fiqh (Juristic Principles).
There are a few people with the name الشقندي, most famous of which is Ismail Ibn Muhammad Al-Shequndi إسماعيل بن محمد الشقندي (d. 269 A.H.) who wrote a famous treatise on Al-Andalus, and how it has the edge over the Maghreb.
One interesting person from Segovia is Ice de Gebir
There are two Santa Marias. One in the east, and another in the West. The first is known as شنتمرية الشرق the second is شنتمرية الرزين also known as شنتمرية الغرب (Santa Maria of the West). Several people are form these Santa Marias, including Ibn Siraj al-Shantamari (d. 508 A.H.) إبن سراج الشنتمري, Jafar al-Shantamari (d. 547 A.H.) جعفر الشنتمري and al-A'lam al-Shantamari (d. 476 A.H.) الأعلم الشنتمري
Santiago de Compostella
Santiago is supposed to be the burial place of St. Jacob (James) the disciple of Jesus. Many legends have been woven around his body being miraclously brought in ship to this place, to some peasant seeing a star in the field, to St. James leading the charge against the Moors. All this lead to him getting the title Santiago Matamorros (Moor slayer), and being the patron saint of the Reconquista. The Arabic name for this city is closer to the original name of the saint (Yaqub). Although al-Mansur المنصور بن أبي عامر conquered this city, but left the church and tomb untouched and ordered their protection out of respect for the legend.
شنت أشتبن شنت إشطيبن
Arabic name for Saint Stephen
This is the name of a river
A town east of Almunecar. It is said that from here, Abu Ali al-Shalobin أبو علي الشلوبين (b. 562 - d. 645 A.H.) a famed linguist and grammarian, and expert in the Arabic language. His student Ibn Sa'id in Al Mughrib إبن سعيد المغربي في المغرب في حلي المغرب says that he is indeed from that small town. A second opinion, such as that of Ibn Khalikan in his Wafayat إبن خلكان في وفيات الأعيان and others who copied from him, such as al-Dhahabi in Tarikh Al-Islam الذهبي في تاريخ الإسلام, says that this name is not after a place, but rather a description, meaning "White and Blonde" in Spanish. His name is sometimes al-Shalobin الشلوبين (without the nisba -i at the end of the word, and in others, الشلوبيني al-Shalobini.
Abu al-Hassan al-Shaguri أبو الحسن الشقوري a famous hadith narrator is from here. Also see فرغليط below, where two prominent people also have the title Shaguri.
Meaning: 'Rock of Pelayo' in Arabic.
Last major city under the rule of the Moors. The name means Pomegranate.
This area was the west of the Iberian peninsula, and therefore known by that name.
This is the place where Admiral Horatio Nelson defeated the combined fleets of France and Spain, ensuring British supermacy of the seas for a century. For more on the etymology of Trafalgar, I have written a separate detailed article.
Village close to Segura, where Ibn Abi al-Khisal al-Ghafiqi was born إبن أبي الخصال الغافقي in 465 A.H, d. 540 A.H. Also, Ali ibn Sulaiman al-Muradi علي بن سليمان المرادي a faqih in the Shaf'i juristic school d. 544 A.H in Aleppo.
"Plain of the Oaks", or "Acorns". Those hailing from it are called al-Balluti البلوطي such as al-Munthir ibn Said القاضي المنذر بن سعيد البلوطي. Also, Abu Hafs Omar al-Balluti أبو حفص عمر البلوطي, the leader of the Ribad exiles from 202 A.H. who was ruler of the island of Crete.
This was the territory between the Christians and Muslims, with cities and forts often changing hands several times in the conflict.
This word is Arabic for "bridge".
Means: the dome.
Means: the village.
From this city is Hazim al-Qartajanni حازم القرطاجني a reknown poet and linguist
Means: Cartagena of the Island
This was the seat of the Umayyad Caliphate, and the golden age of the Moors in Spain, culminating with al-Mansur المنصور بن أبي عامر
Means: Castle of Ayub. Named after Ayub ibn Habib al-Lakhmi أيوب بن حبيب اللخمي a cousin of Abdul Aziz ibn Musa ibn Nusair, and his successor as ruler of Andalus.
Means: Castle of Rabah. An chivalric order was named after this city.
قلعة بني سعيد
Alcala La Real
Means: Castle of Bani Said (sons of Said).
Means: Castle of Stone.
Alcala De Henares
A suburb of Madrid.
قصر أبي دانس
Means: Palace of Abu Danis
Means: The palace
The historiographers, Ibn Khaldun, Al-Qalqashandi and Al-Maqarri mention that place when the struggle between Yahya ibn Idris and Irdis ibn Yahya ensued in the fifth century A.H (around 440s). Ibn Al Khatib in his history of Granada mentions Ibn Lu'lu'ah أبو عبد الله محمد بن علي بن يوسف بن محمد السكوني ابن اللؤلؤة as being from Comares, and was her khatib (sermon giver on Friday), as well as a poet. He died in the plague of 750 A.H. There is also a palace built in the Alhambra complex by the Nasrid dynasty is also called Comares.
A town in the vicinity of Granada. الكتندي hails from it.
This was a place near Cordova, where a battle in the civil war between the rival Caliphs, al-Mahdi المهدي and al-Musta'in المستعين in 400 A.H.
Pico del Moro Almanzor
A mountain in Spain named after al-Mansur ibn Abi Aamir
Cuevas de Almanzora
إبن أمية Aben Humeya (1520-1569), the leader of the Alpujarras uprising, seiged this city in the 16th century.
A battle between Almoravid general Muhammad ibn Al Hajj al-Lamtuni محمد بن الحاج اللمتوني and the Spaniards was fought in 15 August 1097 C.E. The Almoravids won, and El Cid's son was killed in this battle.
From here, Abu Bakr al-Tartushi, أبو بكر الطرطوشي (b.1059 - d. 1127 C.E.) the famous faqih who lived, wrote and taught inAlexandria, Egypt. Together with al-Ghazali, his fatwa against thedivided and infighting Taifa rulers after the fall of Toledo wasinstrumental for Yusuf Ibn Tashufin to take over Andalusia.
Named after Tarif ibn Malik طريف بن مالك who was a commander in Tariq ibn Ziad's army that conquered al-Andalus.
See Las Navas de Tolosa العقاب
This is an older synonym for شلمنقة (Salamanca). Many people with the name al-Talamanki الطلمنكي are known, most famous of whom are Abu Omar Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Talamanki (340 A.H. - 429 A.H.) أبو عمر أحمد بن محمد المعافري الطلمنكي المقرئ who specialized in Quran orthography, recitation, linguistics
Talavera de la Reina
This was the first major city to be retaken by the Christian kings. Its fall signalled the slow decline in Muslim rule in Spain, though it took four centuries to complete.
طرخونة طراكونة تاراغونا
This city is close to Mont Lisham منت ليشم where Ibn Hazm إبن حزم was in exile most of his literary life.
The famous author Lisan al-Din Ibn al-Khatib لسان الدين إبن الخطيب has his roots in that town.
This was a Jewish town. The famous philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) إبن رشد was exiled for sometime to this town.
Las Navas de Tolosa
A major battle was fought in this place in 1212 C.E. The Christian coalition under Alfonso XIII defeated Almohads
This port was founded by Muslims, and served as a main port for Andalus.
مرتلة ميرتلة مارتلة
Abu Imran al-Marteli ابو عمران المارتلي (d. 604 A.H.) is from here.
Hannibal's siege of Saguntum in 219 BCE started the Second Punic War. The name under Arab rule (Murbiter) was derived from muri veteres ("Ancient Walls")..
Built by Abdul Rahman II. One person from Murcia, Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi أبو العباس المرسي is buried in Alexandria, Egypt, with a mosque named after him.
Built by the Ummayad Emir Muhammad ibn Abdul Rahman. Abu Maslama al-Majriti أبو مسلمة المجريطي is a famous person from Madrid
Almodovar Del Rio, Almodovar del Campo
Means: City of Salim. Named after its founder, Salim ibn Warghamal al-Masmudi سالم بن ورغمال المصمودي a Berber leader during the inital Arab conquest. In this city, al-Mansur ibn Abi 'Amer died during a military campaign.
This means "The dining table". The name goes back to a relic that Iberian Christians claimed to be the dining table of King Solomon. It was taken as spoils of war by Arabs and sent to the Umayyad Caliph in Damascus. See our separate article on this relic.
This was the country estate of Ibn Hazm إبن حزم the famous polymath, and the place where he was exiled and died. Close to Niebla, off Santa Maria.
This city saw a Berber revolution in 2nd century A.H.
The stopping place, for example, for caravans on a travel route. A hotel on the way.
The lighthouse, or the minaret of the mosque
All names prefixed by Guad- are derived from the Arabic word وادي Wadi which means river or valley of a. Several Wadi Ashis الوادي آشي are known.
This could be a compounded name, part Arabic (Guade=Wadi), and part Spanish (Lupe=Wolf). Or it could be that the Spanish world Lupe is a corruption of the Arabic al-The'b (Wolf).
River of the palace
وادي التين وادي الطين
River of Figs, or River of Mud
Ibn al-Qasir al-Walbi إبن القصير الولبي (d. 508 A.H.) who was one of the secertaries of Yusuf Ibn Tashufin, is from this town, as well as the Vizier Abu Bakr al-Walbi أبو بكر الأونبي who has a commentary سمط اللآلئ في شرح الأمالي لأبي علي القالي
Links and Resources
- Mohamed Ibn Abdul Mon'im al-Himyari محمد بن عبد المنعم الحميري wrote a comprehensive geography of Andalus, published in صفة جزيرة الأندلس and in الروض المعطار في خبر الأقطار. The book is available on the internet in several places, among which this one is the most accessible.
- List of some Spanish cities and their histories at Islam Set web site.
- The Languages of Europe: A Cultural Introduction by Joseph E. Garreau.
- Adel Said Bishtawi has a list of names and places in Andalus, in PDF.
- Geonames: Spain has a lot of useful etymological info.
- Historical Markers by Ian Meadows. In Saudi Aramco World.
- Legado Andalusi has some descriptions of cities in Arabic.
- A list of toponyms of Arabic origins in some areas of Aragon: Zaragoza, Teruel and Huesca.
- al-Qalqashandi القلقشندي, in his Subh al-A'sha صبح الأعشى , lists many of these cities
- Unrelated to cities and places, Behind the Name: Spanish Names has a list of Spanish names and their origins. A few of them are Arabic.