The birth of archaeology
Islamic archaeology
Spain’s Islamic heritage was a key part of its modern identity.
European focus was on the peoples who could be claimed as ancestors of the Europeans: Greece as ancestor and role model, the Middle East for its biblical relevance. Islamic sites drew less attention.

In Spain, the Islamic past was valued as a part of the national heritage, and was something that set Spain’s identity apart from that of other European nations. Study of Islamic art and archaeology had already begun there in the 18th century.

The fine quality of materials and workmanship made Middle Eastern artefacts desirable. Growing appreciation of Islamic art made this subject one of the new professional fields studied. But archaeology lagged behind. The foundations were laid in work at Fustat (Egypt) and German excavations at Samarra 1910–13 under Friedrich Sarre and Ernst Herzfeld.


National Museum of Decorative Arts, Madrid, Spain

Tin-glazed earthenware

Spanish archaeologists were interested in traditional techniques, in the hope of making connections between contemporary and historic materials. They thus collected not only antiquities but also contemporary pieces from North Africa. This ceramic dish was brought back from Safi (Morocco).

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In this Exhibition
About the Exhibition
The birth of archaeology
The formation of museums
Inspired by the past