Eleventh-century Córdoba was at the heart of the rich culture of Muslim Andalusia. Among its greatest creative figures was Wallada, princess, patron and poet. Leigh Cuen rediscovers one of the most influential women writers in European history.
Wallada Bint-al Mustakfi may be the most influential writer that historians ever forgot. 'Wallada became a legend in Córdoba, more myth than history', said the Spanish journalist Matilde Cabello. 'I heard about Wallada from my father as a child. But I didn't know she was a real person.'
Wallada ran a literary salon in the 11th century, during Córdoba's last years as the literary hub of the western world. Many contemporary scholars, such as Dr Abdulwahid Lu'lu'a and María Rosa Menocal, believe this generation influenced the birth of Europe's courtly love lyrics. Masterpieces like Tristan and Iseult, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, Dante's Divine Comedy and most legends of King Arthur's court that readers know today are all indebted to Andalusian women such as Wallada. In his 1977 essay 'Wallada, the Andalusian lyric, and the question of influence', James Mansfield Nichols even suggests that Wallada 'and her sister poets' could be the missing link between ancient Arabic poetry and the European romance lyrics that emerged in the Middle Ages. But, in the following centuries, European institutions usually dismissed and discarded works written by women, especially Muslim women.