Metallurgy is the science of working with metals. It
includes mining, refining and processing the ore (raw rock
containing metals), and fashioning metal into useful and
beautiful things. Because it is heavy work with special
requirements, metallurgy also involves engineering,
chemistry, and the control of fire.
Iberian Peninsula, with its varied Mediterranean landscape,
had long been a center of mining. Already during Roman
times, silver, gold, iron, lead, copper, tin and other
metals were mined in Spain. The revival of these mines for
silver, gold, iron, lead, copper, tin, and cinnabar (mercury
ore) left them with their Arabic names, such as Almadén and
Aljustrel. According to the Andalusian geographers and other
records, mining was fully developed, with centers of mining
at Jaen and Algrava for gold and silver, Córdoba for its
iron and lead, Malaga for rubies, and Toledo and Murcia for
iron. Spain was a major source of mercury mining, as noted
by the geographer al-Idrisi.
Techniques of mining also required ways of drilling into
rock and drawing water out of the mines with the use of
pumps, as well as pumping air in and dangerous gases out.
Several different models by the 13th century
Muslim engineer al-Jazari, like the one at left, used gear
and suction systems to safely remove water from underground.
The writer al-Qazwini (1203-1283 CE) described such
three-stage pumps in use at the silver mines in Morocco.
ores require processing to purify, or refine the metal,
separating metals that often occur together in rock. This
required knowledge and experience of building furnaces that
could reach and hold very high temperatures, and of which
chemical substances would combine with the unwanted
minerals, leaving the pure metal behind when burned or
heated in the presence of the metal ore. Some of the most
famous writers on this subject were al-Biruni (973-1048 CE),
al-Kindi (ca. 801–873 CE), and Jabir ibn Hayyan (d. ca. 815
CE), who worked to gather and record this information from
across Afroeurasia. These useful works were available in the
libraries of Al-Andalus, and many were translated into
Latin. Combined with European knowledge, they laid the
foundation for modern industrial metallurgy.
and steel production were carried out at Toledo and other
Spanish centers using techniques brought from India, Persia,
and Damascus—the famous damascened or watered steel for
swords, armor and tools. Geographer Ibn Hawqal wrote:
“Toledo, like Damascus, was known throughout the- world for
historian writes that the art of inlaying steel and other
metals with gold and silver decorations flourished in
several European and Spanish centers and left such words as
“damascene” in the English, French and Latin vocabularies.
Armor and cutlery was also decorated using techniques such
as gilding, inlay, gold and silver encrusting, as well as
setting with jewels and enameling. Brasswork was also
produced at many centers such as Almería, where
candlesticks, incense burners, plates, lamps, keys and
locks, and other ordinary and luxury goods served customers’
developed for the ceramics industry, and fixatives for
textiles -- such as alum -- also required chemicals based
on metallic oxides. Copper and gold glazes required the pure
metal, as in lusterware ceramics, especially the golden
luster. Zinc is a metal used in medicines and for other
purposes, which was also mined in Spain.
engineering and chemistry of metallurgy are industrial arts
essential to the creation of the modern world. These arts
have developed over many centuries in many lands, but the
written record of the study of chemistry and the behavior of
the elements, along with the experience of artisans in metal
provided a sure link from Islamic civilization to Europe
during the pre-modern period.
legacy of mining by the Spanish in the New World is a story
of plunder, but it is also a piece of global economic
history. When the Spanish conquered territories where there
were mines, they already had access to the technologies of
mining and processing the ore that had flourished in Spain.
It is thought that Muslim artisans with this knowledge were
brought to New Spain, despite the prohibition against their
emigration, precisely because their skills were needed.
Silver currency using American silver helped globalize
currency and trade in the 16th century, and was
shipped to the Ottoman Empire, Japan, and China, in addition
Y. al-Hassan and Donald Hill.
Islamic Technology: An
Illustrated History. New York: Cambridge
University Press/UNESCO, 1986. pp. 233-260.
“Islamic Contributions to Science and Math: Industrial
Progress” retrieved at
“Islamic Arms and Armor,” Metropolitan Museum of Art, New
York, Timeline of Art History, retrieved at
burner, Islamic Spain, Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York,
Timeline of Art History. Retrieved at
Reciprocating pump from Al-Jazarí,
The Book of Knowledge of
Ingenious Mechanical Devices : Kitáb fí ma'rifat al-hiyal
al-handasiyya. Springer, 1973. Retrieved at
of hilt from a Nasrid (Granadian) sword, 14th
century, retrieved at
Umayyad Spain, Sulayman, (400 hijria), gold dinar, found at
Madinat al-Zahra retrieved at
Back | Next