Although the area has been inhabited since ancient times, the foundation of the city now known as Madrid owes its origins to a small Roman settlement built on the banks of the Manzanares River called Matrice. It seems that by the late Visigothic period (7th century) this settlement was largely abandoned and only a small village remained. It was only in the ninth century, during the Umayyad period in al-Andalus, that Madrid became an important town in central Iberia (although still not as significant as Toledo).
About three years ago, when I was in Spain, I had the opportunity to visit the south-eastern coastal city of Almería. I was drawn by the city’s illustrious history, which extends back thousands of years and, in particular, by its importance in Andalusi history. The city is distinguished by the fact that its Muslim population was almost entirely composed of indigenous converts to Islam, who were later joined by southern Arabian (Yemeni) tribes who settled in the region. In the late eighth and early ninth century, these converts (known as muwalladun) established an important polity based around the town of Almería (and its neighboring town Pechina/Bajjana) which was entirely independent from the central authorities in Cordoba. This polity was based mainly on local agriculture, the cermanics industry, and maritime trade. Almería’s population specialized in sea-faring, as is evident from their extensive ship-building expertise and the fact that they traveled widely in the Mediterranean.