CORDOBA, THE UMAYYAD CAPITAL OF AL-ANDALUS
This unique, breathtaking city contains many Muslim, Jewish, Christian and Roman architecture and cultural landmarks. An exotic fusion reflecting shrewdly the diverse artistic and religious era of Spain, standing as an integral UNESCO Heritage town. First time visitors mainly look forward to visiting this sun drenched jewel of Spain.
Cordoba was Spain’s first city ruled by Muslims since the early 8th Century, during the Junid period, early settlements of Muslims into Visigothic Iberia. Today we witness a unique, fused culture , from the Roman through to the Islamic period of Al-Andalus. The city was chosen by AbdulRahman al-Dakhil, last descendent of the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus, founder of the Umayyad Emirate of al-Andalus. Al-Andalus was kept together as an Emirate from 750 EC, ruled from Cordoba by the Ummayad dinasty until it’s peak in 929 EC. It was at this point when AbdulRahman III, claimed himsel Emir al Mu’minin making himself Caliph of Al-Andalus. Cordoba’s famous Umayyad Mosque, contains many secrets that complete the cities history.
A symbol of the peak of Umayyad al-Andalus is also the Palatial City of Medinat al Zahra, which some claim to be of the first parliaments in Europe, where a government structure formed by 128 Walis or regional delegates would come together with the Vissir and counsel the Caliph on the event of Ashura (Council or reunion). Organized and commissioned taxes were collected from places as far as the silk, gold and other medieval commercial routes reached: eastwards to China and India and southwards to Senegal and deeper into Africa! Although the Court city only lasted just under 100 years, it symbolizes the climax of Muslim Spain, the Umayad Caliphate and its downfall. After this period the Caliphate fell into smaller units or provinces becoming fortified Kingdoms in themselves.
GRANADA, THE LAST MUSLIM KINGDOM OF AL-ANDALUS
Witnessing what the Spirit of Al-Andalus once was, Granada is home to to daily stream of 4-8 thousand visitors who glimpse in wonder at what was the motto of a time: Wa lã Galiba illallah, There is no victor but God. The display of beautiful Arabic invocations, reminders inscribed within the palaces and gardens of the Alhambra, crown the city from the ledge of La Sabika, echoing through the surrounding valleys harmonious to the natural surroundings of a unique location. The city is secured by concentric fortified city walls which trace Granada back to it’s origin as a Muslim and Jewish refugee city and the last Muslim Kingdom of Al-Andalus. Nowadays considered Human Heritage Site by UNESCO, the city of Granada produced and safeguarded perhaps the most prosperous era of Islamic Heritage from Al-Andalus, allowing for the condensation and evolution of Andalusi arts and culture a further 250 years after the rest of Al-Andalus had fallen to the newly branded Christian Spain in 1492. We may also experience and discover later stages fusion of Islamic Heritage into Spanish culture today, though the Al
There was a time when the entire Christian Peninsula was said to live off the taxes collected from the Kingdom of Granada, this was the price the prosperous Muslim Kingdom paid to remain in peace. Although not all times were equally stable. Just over two centuries later, Isabel the Catholic of Castille and Fernando II of Aragon, would unite in a marriage that would prove itself deadly to “heretics” (Muslims and Jews). Having established the ‘Holy Inquisition’ in 1480, this would be the the beginning of a violent farewell to Islam in Spain.
You will note as you approach Granada the town of Santa Fé. This town was founded by Isabel and Fernando after the Christian army had camped at the site for 10 years, in their siege of the city of Granada. After this long and stalled checkmate around the city of Granada, the Kingdom was signed over to the Catholic Kings, in the Alhambra itself, by the last Muslim King of Granada: Muhammad Abu Abdullah in 1492, only after guaranteeing Muslim rights in his Kingdom.
SEVILLA, FROM RIVAL KINGDOM TO CAPITAL OF ANDALUSIA TODAY
The history of Sevilla remounts prior to Al-Andalus, to the Roman period, today it stands as one of the key historical points on the Andalusian landscape. This is where the Almoravids settled in the early 11th Century, taking over Córdoba and the entire west of Andalusia. The ongoing battles against the Christians in the northern front had led the Almoravids in Sevilla to call in the more radical Almohads from Northern Africa for support. This, in turn, served to further intensify the already existing divisions in Islamic Spain. A turning point in Andalusian history was the battle of Navas de Tolosa, which took place in 1212 C.E. The Catholic-Christian alliance took over Cordoba in 1236 C.E. and Sevilla in 1248 C.E.
During this last period of Muslim rule, Sevilla became an important capital to the Christian monarchs, who would later become friendly with the Muslim sultans of Granada, receiving not only taxes but all sorts of gifts, artworks and handicrafts. A testimony of this is the incredible Alcázar Palace of Sevilla, “commissioned by Christian kings, built by Muslim craftsmen and financed by Jewish bankers,” another symbol of the tolerance and balance between these three cultures.
MADRID, FROM ISLAMIC MEDINA TO CAPITAL OF MODERN SPAIN
Madrid was founded in the 9th Century by the Ummayad Dynasty of Al-Andalus. Initially it served as a stronghold in the north of the Emirate, which was governed from Cordoba 400 km away in the south. It was not until much after the Spanish Kingdom of Castille captured Madrid from its Muslim founders, around 1560 C.E., that Madrid was made the capital of Spain, a position it retains day today.
The iconic gateways or baabs of the medieval Islamic medina no longer remain, but in their place, Puerta de Alcalá, Puerta del Sol, Puerta de Toledo, to name but a few, are the more modern Neoclassical representations. These were symbols of triumph throughout the more modern European disputes, against the French and during the Civil War of Spain 1933-1936.
Each of Madrid’s districts has its own flavor, infused with a different aspect of Spanish character, representing the diversity of Iberia itself.
Whenever we pass through the capital of Spain, we usually arrange a day to spare in the big city. If you are planning a whistle-stop tour of several cities or even countries, it’s strongly recommended to give yourself a day’s break in Madrid to stretch your legs and sample some of the city’s delights.
BARCELONA, A MEDITERRANEAN MICRO-CLIMATE IN SPANISH CULTURE & STYLE
Barcelona has a rich historical background to offer to its visitors. The medieval buildings and beautiful alleyways are infused with a sense of peace and a magical tranquility. Here are a few of our top places to appreciate the beauty of this city:
The Gothic District is a historical area much favored by walkers. You will want to keep your camera handy as there are plenty of views worth capturing. Narrow cobbled streets, small shops and ancient buildings tell a tale of old times. The place has a magical feel to it, inspiring even the most world-weary visitor. Next up is the Barcelona Cathedral, a sensational monument whose intricate architectural beauty propels you back to another, bygone world. The fountain of Montjuic captivates with its combination of whispering water, illumination and music. No trip to Barcelona can be complete without a visit. Parque Guell is one of Barcelona’s great attractions, both for its visual elegance and for its artistic importance. Designed by Antoni Gaudí in the 18XX, it still invites a crowd for its innovative aesthetic approach.
For those with a passion for football, the ‘Camp Nou’ provides an unforgettable experience. Apparently the biggest stadium in the world, Camp Nou also contains a museum and a player’s pit. For any football fan, the gigantic sports arena is out of this world.