Urban life in the Muslim World and Europe: a comparison
Quoted from S.P. Scott in History of the Moorish Empire in Europe; Vol. 3; J. B. Lippincott Company; Philadelphia; 1904. pp 520-2.
In no examples of the political and economic life of the Middle Ages or of subsequent times are such striking, such incredible, contrasts exhibited as in the annals of Mohammedan [Muslim]Spain and Catholic Europe. In the tenth century Andalusia was traversed in every direction by magnificent aqueducts; Cordova was a city of fountains; its thoroughfares, for a distance of miles, were brilliantly illuminated, substantially paved, kept in excellent repair, and regularly patrolled by guardians of the peace.
In Paris there were no pavements until the thirteenth century; in London none until the fourteenth; the streets of both capitals were receptacles of filth, and often impassable; at night shrouded in inky darkness; at all times dominated by outlaws; the haunt of the footpad, the nursery of the pestilence, the source of every disease, the scene of every crime. It was not until the close of the reign of Charles II that even a defective system of street lighting was adopted in London.
The mortality of the plague is a convincing proof of the unsanitary conditions that everywhere prevailed; the supply of water was derived from the polluted river or from wells reeking with contamination. Nor did time and experience bring to the public mind a realization of the importance of improvements vitally affecting the health and convenience of every community.
As late as 1825, water of doubtful purity was hawked about from door to door in the city of New York; a solitary wooden pump in Chatham Street sufficed for the general necessities of the poor; sewage was carried in tubs on the heads of Negroes [European and American name for Africans] and thrown into the river; and only three hundred lamps and gas-jets diffused their uncertain and flickering glare through the squares and avenues of the metropolis of the Western World [London].
[In Muslim Spain], the annual receipts of the state from all sources under Abd-al-Rahman III in the first half of the tenth century exceeded three hundred million dollars; the revenues of the English Crown at the close of the seventeenth century were fifteen million; those of the United Provinces [Belgium and the Netherlands] less than eighteen million; those of France sixty million, estimated at the present value of money. At the decease of this Moorish sovereign in 961, there were found in the royal coffers five million pieces of gold, equal to one hundred million dollars. When Louis XIV, the greatest potentate of his time, died in 1715, the treasury of France was bankrupt.
The inhabitants of England at the death of Elizabeth were about four million; the population of Moorish Spain six centuries previous to that date could not have been less than thirty million, and was probably nearer fifty. In 1700, London, the most populous city of Christian Europe, was only half as large as Cordova was in 900, when Almeria and Seville had each as numerous a population as the capital of the British Empire eight hundred years afterwards.
At the dawn of the eleventh century the Muslim dominions of Sicily and Spain presented a picture of universal cultivation and consequent prosperity, where industry was promoted and idleness was punished; where an enlightened spirit of humanity had provided asylums within whose walls the infirm and the aged might pass their remaining days in comfort and peace.
Six hundred years afterwards what are now the richest and most valuable agricultural districts of Great Britain were unclaimed and uninhabitable bog and coppice, abandoned to game and frequented by robbers; and one-fourth of the inhabitants of England, incapable of the task of self-support, were during the greater part of the year dependent upon public charity, for which purpose a sum equal to one-half of the revenues of the crown was annually disbursed. In the middle of the tenth century there were nine hundred public baths in the capital of Moorish Spain; in the eighteenth century there were not as many in all the countries of Christian Europe.
In the eighth century, the cottages occupied by the lower classes of the Spanish Muslims were embowered in roses, were surrounded by fields of waving grain and orchards of luscious fruits, were furnished with all the comforts and many of the luxuries of life; in the sixteenth century, the peasantry of France and Germany, ill-clad, begrimed with filth, and ignorant of the taste of bread, were living in squalid huts, sleeping upon reeking heaps of straw, drinking the waters of pond and morass, and feeding on carrots and acorns.
Seven centuries after the cities of the [Iberian] Peninsula had been drained by a system of great sewers, their streets kept free from rubbish, and subjected to daily cleansing, Paris was still worthy of its ancient appellation of Lutetia, "The Muddy;" the way of the pedestrian was blocked by heaps of steaming offal and garbage; and droves of swine, the only scavengers, roamed unmolested through court-yard and thoroughfare.
by: Quoted from S.P. Scott, Sun 21 July, 2002