Morocco & Andalusia: Andalusia
“Spain is half Africa” — Victor Hugo
The Moroccan Connection: Since at least the 13th C. scholars of Andalusia would venture into Morocco, to spread their knowledge but also to more fully appreciate their origins. Not only did the ìMoorishî invaders since the 8th C. onward cross into Southern Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar, from the late 11th to early 13th C. the region was ruled by Moroccoís early Berber dynasties, the Almoravids and Almohads. The latter established Seville as their Northern capital and built there what is still the city's most imposing edifice, the Giralda bell tower (initially a minaret), while Spainís most visited monument, the Alhambra, was built by Moroccan Berber craftsmen, using artistic techniques that may be seen in palaces and religious monuments throughout Morocco. Exchanges in scholarship and arts continued well past the Christian Reconquista, for even though the last of the ìMoorsî were officially expelled by the end of the 15th C., Spain could not function without its Moorish scribes, architects, bookkeepers, doctors, craftsmen et al. for over 2 more centuries! Andalusia obviously merits a trip on its own. But is also a natural complement to a Moroccan journey, exploring the roots and the highest achievements of Moorish art at the same time. See a sample itinerary.
What to see ... that is Moorish
Grenada: Trying to portray in words the interiors of the Alhambra is kind of like trying to describe the Grand Canyonës grandeur: it has to be seen to appreciate. Mostly completed by the end of the 14th C., it truly has no parallel anywhere, being considered the highest achievement of Islamic interior design. It was the last Moorish stronghold of Spain to fall to the Catholic Reconquista, in 1492. The only problem is that everyone goes there, so getting timed-entry tickets well ahead of time is essential. On the slope below this ìRed Fortî spreads the former Moorish residential quarter, touristy with its bevy of shops but still picturesque.
Seville: Though the top of the Giralda tower was converted centuries ago to accommodate a cathedralís bells, the walls of this former mosque minaret, finished in 1178 CE, still showcase the monumental yet subtle traits that exemplified the architectural style developed by the Almohads, with an unmistakable similarity to its ìsisterî the Koutoubia of Marrakech, built at the same time. At the nearby royal palace of Alcazar, nothing remains of the original Moorish castle, though you wouldnít know it upon entering! Rebuilt by King Pedro I in the second half of the 15th C., the Alcazar underlines why the Spanish could not do without the Moors after the Reconquista: every architectural element is in purely Moorish style, Spainís Christian re-conquerors having no skilled craftsmen of their own to rely on.
Ronda: One of Spain's most dramatically situated towns, above the gorges of the Guadalevin River, Ronda was one of the last Emirates to fall to the Spanish, in 1485 CE. It too has a cathedral, Santa Maria La Mayor, converted from a 13th-C. mosque, though only the mihrab, the niche pointing the direction to Mecca, remains of the original structure. Better restored are the hammams, the original Arab steam baths, from the 11th C. The Casa del Rey Moro was in fact never a Moorish king's castle, though, for the fit, the 300-step walkway from the site down to the river was originally carved into the rock in the 14th C., to ensure water supply during sieges.
Medina Az-Zahra: The "City of a Flower" was built over a period of 42 years by 10,000 workers in the 10th C. Begun by the then ruler of Cordoba in 936 CE, it was meant to be a city of pleasure, exhibiting the finest elements of Andalusian art and architecture of the era. By 1010 CE the city was pillaged, the result of a local civil war, and forgotten ever since. Restorations are under way to offer us a glimpse at the splendors of Andalusian courtly life a millennium ago. The site may be visited as an excursion from Cordoba or Seville.