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What it was like to visit Andalucía in Spain

October 29, 2014, 3:17 am | This story has an Influence Score of 1888

By riazhussain

Around 1383 years ago, in the royal family of Damascus, there was born a child who was named Abd al-Rahman. This grandson of the 10th ruler of Damascus grew into a tall, handsome and lovely young man. After 20 years of comforts, trials started for this aquiline youth of exceptional abilities when Damascus throne changed hands in 750 following a sanguinary coup. Amid threats and fears, the defeated family had to flee the capital to escape extermination. Marwan II, the ruling head of the defeated family was caught and killed in Egypt. Abd al-Rahman took his 13-year-old brother and reached a village near the River Euphrates. But their chasers, horsemen with black standards, traced them. The two brothers had to dash into the mighty river. The younger brother was not a good swimmer, so he was caught and beheaded. Abd al-Rahman managed to swim across the river. This lonely, penniless escapee, then, traveled to unknown destinations for years in the tribal areas of Asia and Africa, hiding from the spies and enemies of the new leaders of Damascus.

After several friendless summers, the fleeing prince at last reached Ceuta, the Northern tip of African continent.  He was clear about what he had to do next. He crossed the Mediterranean Sea and reached Iberian Peninsula on the European continent. In Spain, he found a safe haven for himself and managed to win back the support of troops who were once faithful to their family and gradually reestablished his Arab family’s rule in Spain.

As a ruler of Spain, he gave a new life to the city of Cordova in Andalucía so much so that during the 10th century, it became the most populous city in the world—a European center of learning and arts.  Roswitha of Gandersheim, a Latin poetess and dramatist of that time styled the city ‘the jewel of the world’.  Our current story is about a journey undertaken by Pierre-Etienne to the 10th century ‘jewel of the world’.

Pierre-Etienne, a 39-year-old Marketing Manager in the record industry, was born in Bordeaux. Currently, he lives and works in Paris. He is an urban art (graffitis, stencils, stickers ) enthusiast who is fond of visul arts and photography. His love for visual arts has its roots in his family. He explains, 'My parents are museums goers on addictive level, so I was exposed really at a young age to visual arts. I developed  a photography addiction  when my dad gave me his own photography equipment (camera bodies, lenses, accessories and books)'. Our photography addict has visited Europe and Americas. When we asked him about the places that have fascinated him most in Europe, he said, ‘All the places I travelled were appealing for some or other reasons. But my trips to Berlin and Andalucía were very memorable. I liked Berlin for the urban aspects (the city itself, the importance of urban arts and urban construction) and Andalucía is the melting pot of ancient arts, landscapes, and the way of life’.  

Indeed, over the course of history, Andalucía has been under the influence of Iberians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths, the Jews, the Arabs and several other peoples. He further explained, ‘It’s probably the juxtaposition of different cultures from the past, but this is not specific to Cordova, it’s probably what interested me most in Andalucía. I really enjoyed the city structure (tiny streets) and the general common architecture (two or three levels above ground) which divert from the two other main cities (Sevilla and Granada). The mosque-cathedral is probably my best souvenir of Cordova (and a delicious Tio Pepe & Jamon aperitif on a hot late afternoon’.

This multicultural region is situated in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula.  Our interviewee spent three weeks in Andalucía. Talking about how he reached the bustling land, our Parisian said, ‘We came by plane from Paris to Seville, then, rented a car and visited Andalucía in an itinerant way; camping with our tent’. He further explained that they stayed in the region in off-peak days in the month of September. But, the local people still welcomed them. Our marketing professional was really impressed by the hospitality of the local people , 'We met some very nice people in Andalucía, open minded, glad to see tourists outside the regular travel period in love with the cultural weight of their region’. The cultural weight of Cordova hinges on multiculturalism. The city combines spiritual atmospheres of medieval convents, synagogues,  mosques and monasteries.

Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir River, this cultural capital of Spain is the second largest ancient town in Europe.

Talking about the culture of the city, Pierre-Etienne said, 'Culture is everywhere in the city, we feel the importance of History, the continuous evolution of religious architecture following the people domination in the ancient centuries. Cordobans people are also very pleased to give some little tips about their city and its living culture (concerts, place to see…)'. Our voyager wandered through its narrow ancient roads,  bustling squares and cobbled streets.

He was stunned to see the beauty of the Mezquita--a mosque built by Abd al-Rahman. He marveled at the geometrical beauty of its ancient arches.

In addition to the red and white arches, equally attractive were its unending rows of pillars and symmetrical roofs. His eyes traveled along the lovely vistas amid the majestic pillars. 

The successors of  Abd al-Rahman made their own graceful additions to this cool spiritual oasis under the hot Mediterranean sun. This mosque was an intellectual and spiritual center in the heydays of the Muslim empire. Scholars would sit by the pillars of this sanctuary and discuss issues of science and philosophy.

Another monument that left him breathless was Alhambra in Granada.  The majestic structure stands among the mountains and fills the hearts of sightseers with awe and admiration. 

Alhambra served as a fortress and royal palace for centuries.  Now it is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

He was amazed to see the beautiful tessellations on the walls. The tiles in the latter were of varying geometrical shapes and  had no overlaps and gaps. These water-resistant wallpapers not only decorated the walls but also enhanced their durability.

The courtyards and parks of the palace enjoy the cool presence of  several fountains and flowerpots. 

In short, the palace of Alhambra appears to be a paradise on Earth.

During this trip, in addition to visiting the historical places, he enjoyed other activities as well . He explained, 'We took our time to chill, apart the visit of monuments (which left us breathless such as Granada’s Alhambra…) so probably one of our best memories of our trip was a warm late afternoon in Ubeda, we spent it on a barely desert plaza enjoying fresh drinks, a plate of jamon… simple as that. We had also a great time visiting Ronda'.

The splendor of the Moorish Spain faded when the empire crumbled as a result of civil wars and foreign invasions. The late successors of Abd al-Rahman failed to maintain the unity and strength of the empire. Eventually, the Moors and Arabs in Spain reached their downfall in Sapin. 

The builders and rulers passed away leaving behind  emblems of their excellence.The artisitc and architectural wealth of  Cordova, Granada  and Andalucía have, however, endured the turmoils of time.  

These days, Cordova exists as one of the cultural capital of Spain and a visit to this city elevates our soul and mind. The city has lost its wonted splendor. But, it has shown to the world how different religions and distant cultures can peacefully coexist. Our urban enthusiast concluded, 'We feel very small in this stack of cultural domination during the centuries, it gives an atmosphere of “ living together” which could be true of these times'.

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