Discover the Arabic beauty in Spain
It all started in the 8th century, when the first Arabic groups crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and arrived in the Spanish Peninsula. This was still divided in reigns. The Umayyad conquered it and established the state of Al-Andalus. Since then the Arabian influence has grown more and more. It is today more notable in the southern regions than it is in the northern ones. In fact, Christians defeated Muslims in Poitiers in the 732.
The Arabs introduced several important innovations such as a different way of counting, with the Arabic numbers like the zero instead of the Roman ones. They were the first to study alchemy, which is the beginning of chemistry. They brought the game of chess and they were innovative in music and cuisine, too – spicy dishes became popular. Furthermore their influence in the Spanish language is still very strong today: for instance Bishop (the chess piece) is “Fil” in Arab and “Alfil” in Spanish. These are just examples of how important the Arabs have been for the Spanish people.
Nevertheless there have been many conflicts between the Muslims and the Christians which have led to a division between these two cultures. Today there are about one million of Arabs in this country and their culture is very important especially in the region of Andalusia.
First Step: SEVILLE
To start with a couple of days in Seville are essential. This city is the heart and soul of the region and it has always been its economical and cultural centre.
The Arabic domination left many traces, which are still today some of the most famous tourist attractions.
Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Sea
For instance you can see the Cathedral of Saint Mary of the Sea, which is the largest Gothic Cathedral. It is absolutely huge and The Christians built it where there had been a Moorish Mosque and that is why it is still a unique symbol of these two cultures, which are different but in reality so close.The purpose of this church was to show the wealth of this city. Despite it being on a Moorish site, it has always meant to be one of the best places of Christianity on Earth. Moreover, it is Christopher Columbus’s burial site. The most famous traveller of all times’s corpse is said to have travelled even after his death, because of the countless places it was transferred to.
Next to the Cathedral you can admire the Giralda, whose name means “she who turns”(girar means to turn). In fact there is like a weather vane on the top of it. Extremely important for the Moorish people, the tower was originally built in 1195 by the Sultan of Morocco as the minaret of the Aljama Mosque. Its original function was calling the faithful to prayer; people used it as an observatory, too. Being 93 metres high, it has dominated the skyline of the city for more than 800 years. To have a remarkable view of the city you can climb up the bell chamber… and you can be sure it won’t be difficult at all, since there no stairs! The Kings were in fact supposed to climb to the top of the tower with their horses!
Facing the Cathedral, you can find the Alcázar, originally developed by Moorish Kings, which is the Royal Palace. It was first built as a Moorish fort, but then it was later developed by King Pedro of Castille, in the 14th century. What is more, it’s in a mudejar style since Moorish workers were employed by the Christian kings to give this structure an Arabic style. It is not only the most outstanding example of the Moorish architecture but you can also find traces of the Renaissance and the Baroque Era. In fact, people have modified it throughout the centuries, for instance Charles V added some Gothic style. In addition to this you can visit in the gardens which, according to many people, are something quite rare.
Second Step: GRANADA
Being between the Sierra Nevada and the Mediterranean Coast, the city of Granada is itself the pearl of the Arabic culture. It is today an attracting city for everyone, especially for the ones interested in the development of the Arabic culture.
The Alhambra is surely one of the highlights of the city. It is a palace city which was built between the 13th and 14th century and it has been the centre of many Moorish Kings’ power. The Spanish Monarchs Ferdinando and Isabella, who are buried in the Capilla Real here, the French ones, Charles V, are just some of the famous people who have actually modified this structure and adapted it to their needs. It is on the foothill of the Sierra Nevada. It may have already been there before the Muslim invasion. This zone is entirely surrounded by walls, since it became a military stronghold. There are different parts in this structure: a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, with the residential area and the main royal palace. The Nasrid Palace offers a unique view of the overall site.
There is a large patio, the Mexuar, whose function was to greet the Kings’ hosts. You can admire its architecture, which consists of an elaborate work, especially on the walls: the prayers written here are a unique symbol of the secular history of this population. Not only the Court of Myrtles but also the Tower of Comares are some of the highlights of this place, which symbolises perfectly the Moorish architecture. The Court of Lions shouldn’t be missed as well, even though the original lions statues, which represents the Asian influence were transferred to the Bellos Artes Museums, in the Carlos V Palace, because of the erosion.
The Generalife is some kind of rest area for the Muslim Kings: it consists of a complex of stunning gardens, whose incredible beauty still attracts plenty of people. Furthermore its engineering really stands out: there are complex ways to have as much water as possible. The aromatic plants are a big part of the gardens, too.
Albaicín is a characteristic neighbourhood in Granada: in fact it still represents the Arabic history and traditions today. During the Muslim reign it was one of the most populated areas in the city. About forty thousands of people used to live and work here. After the reconquest people slightly abandoned this zone, which became just a residential area for Muslims. In the twentieth century UNESCO declared it World Heritage Site. With its narrow streets it is a magic world to explore: take the chance to have an amazing adventure in the Arabic beauty.
Third Step: CÓRDOBA
Founded by the Arabs in the 8th century and claimed to be the largest city in the world in the 10th century, Córdoba really represents the centre of the Muslim culture. It was the capital of the Arab reign for several years and you can see many traces of this today.
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, or the Great Mosque of Córdoba and the Mezquita too, is a place rich in history. People believe that a Roman temple, then a Visigothic church then the Muslim Mosque and finally another church were built in this exact area. The Christians finally dedicated it to the “Virgin of Assumpion”. Despite being just 11,5 metres high, it is the brightest example of the Arabian golden era.
Christians and Muslims were sharing it for a long time and it is a mix of several types of architecture. What is more it was rebuilt and enlarged several times. The Mosque is today the symbol of the strong connection that the Christian and Muslim religion have had during the centuries. There are Catholic celebrations, even though Arabs have fought to have their rights respected. Some of the highlights are the Bell Tower, 60 metres high, built in 1593, on top of which there is the Archangel Gabriel’s statue and then the Patio de los Naranjos, or the court of oranges, which was extremely important for the Muslim religion, as it was the place used for prayers.
After this, if you want to live like an Arabian King for a day, then you should probably visit Madinat Al-Zahra. It is out of the city, but taking the train would be absolutely worth it. It is situated on the top of a hill: the Caliph’s Palace is itself on the highest point. Here there is a complex water supply system, to bring water directly from the mountains to the houses. One of the most stunning parts is surely the Rich Hall that was built using the well-known horseshoes technique. Thanks to this and the effect created by the marble,the result is really breath-taking. In fact the Caliph built it for his favourite concubine, who was called Azahara. Surrounded by beautiful gardens with an incredible variety of flowers, it offers a unique view. There is a museum, too, which shows the history of this building, from its creation to its final downfall. The court moved to another place and everyone completely forgot it for centuries until archaeologists discovered it in 1911. Today it represents one of the jewels of the Arabian influence in Spain.
You will be able to find out that the Arabic heritage in Spain is today important to understand the way of life of this region. These traditions have continued for centuries and they are still a big part of the Spanish life.