The period known as La Convivencia refers to the peaceful coexistence of Muslems, Jews and Christians during the Moorish reign of al-Andalus (Spain), between 711 and 1492. Although during the entire period the Moors were under attack by the Christian Reconquista, they nurtured a culture of prosperity and - for a while - an unprecedented degree of religious tolerance.
While the rest of Europe was still enveloped in the Dark Ages, Muslem Spain enjoyed a Renaissance which lay the seeds for the later European Renaissance. Cities like Toledo, Cordoba and Seville were centers of the arts and sciences, with unsurpassed libraries and universities, as well as that great symbol of civilization: streetlighting (not to be found in Northern Europe for several centuries to come).
During this period, the Moors created a great cultural output, ranging from philosophy and poetry to mathematics, astronomy and medicine, by such illustrious names as Ibn Rushd (better known in the West as Averroes), Ibn Bajjah (Avempace), Ibn Arabi (Doctor Maximus) and Abu al-Qasim (Abulcasis). A similar list can be made for the Jews living in al-Andalus - even though the most famous Jewish philosopher of the time, Maimonides, was forced into exile in Fes by a less tolerant caliph.
An interesting BBC documentary on the subject is 'An Islamic History of Europe' (available online in six parts). Among other things, it disproves the common belief that Medieval Arabic science did little more than preserve the Ancient Greek texts that had been lost in Europe. For example, the extensive commentaries on Aristotle by Averroes would prove highly influential by themselves.
All in all, a fascinating and - in the West - little-known historical era that made Washington Irving understandably wistful (see previous post).