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4 highlights of Andalucía – gateway to Spain’s Moorish past

posted on 05/07/18

Andalucía offers a parade of remarkable architectural monuments from every era of Spain’s history that is matchless in the Iberian Peninsula. In particular, while over 500 years may have passed since the Moors finally relinquished control of Al-Andalus, their influence has never left the region, where the narrow, winding streets of many towns feel like the medinas of North Africa.

In this introduction to Andalucía, we look at 4 cities that have been crucial in the region’s narrative.

 

Málaga

Shaking off the ‘Brits abroad’ connotations of its neighbouring towns on the Costa del Sol, Málaga has transformed itself into the beating artistic heart of the region, with a number of new galleries and a pedestrianised city centre paying huge dividends.

 

Málaga, Roman amphitheatre, with Alcazaba walls in background

 

There is something extraordinary about a stroll down to the city’s beach. Within 10 minutes, you have spotted the remains of a Roman amphitheatre underneath the shadow of the imposing Moorish Alcazaba palace (dating from the 11th century) – the best-preserved such structure in Spain – before finally on the promenade the striking multi-coloured cube of the Museo de Pompidou looms into view. Malaga was also the birthplace of none other than Pablo Picasso, whose eponymous museum houses almost 300 of his works.

 

Granada

The final stronghold of Moorish Spain, Granada was only reconquered by the Christians in 1492, and so this vibrant, university city bears the most obvious Islamic influence of anywhere in the region. The ancient palace and garden complex of the Alhambra, set on a hill overlooking the city, features some of the most spectacular expressions of Moorish art, while the old Arab quarter of the city, or Albaicín, is a particularly intimate reminder of the aromatic smells and marketplace hustle and bustle of this fascinating episode in Spain’s history.

 

Tomb of the Catholic Monarchs, Royal Chapel of Granada

 

Granada’s Christian monuments are certainly worthy of mention, too – its immense cathedral was almost two centuries in the making and as a result its Renaissance layout and interior is combined with Alonso Cano’s magnificent 17th century Baroque façade. The Capilla Real (Royal Chapel) retains the personal art collection of Isabel of Castile, including works by Botticelli and Perugino.

 

Córdoba

As the capital city under the Umayyad dynasty for 300 years from 711 A.D, Córdoba was the largest city in the world for a time. It became the intellectual and cultural centre of Al-Andalus, with scholars undertaking translations of ancient Greek texts into Arabic, Latin and Hebrew – also reflective of a diverse society both ethnically and religiously.

 

Córdoba: the Mezquita.

 

The artisanal and architectural prowess of this era reached its peak in the construction of Córdoba’s awe-inspiring Mezquita, which dominates the city’s old town next to the Guadalquivir river. The inside of the cavernous building contains over 800 columns, many of them Roman in origin, and a number of giant arches, creating a space that evokes serenity despite being a popular tourist destination. This effect is interrupted by the presence of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the centre of the building, which continues to cause controversy among Spanish Muslims to this day.

Elsewhere the Medina Azahara, locates a short journey from the city centre, is a lavish Muslim palace-city which was abandoned after just 80 years, offering a tantalising glimpse at 10th-century Spain. Cordoba’s archaeological museum holds some fascinating finds from prehistory onwards, and is built on the site of a Roman amphitheatre which is now open to visitors.

 

Seville

From Córdoba, the hub of Al-Andalus for much of Moorish rule, we pass to Seville, the epicentre of the Spanish Empire's Golden Age and a city of Mudéjar and Renaissance palaces, fragrant, flower-filled gardens and patios, and excellent art. The city’s colossal cathedral houses the tomb of Christopher Columbus, while a climb up the Giralda (originally built as a minaret during the 12th century) provides a spectacular view over the city.

 

The Alcázar of Seville.

 

Within an arrow’s distance from the Cathedral lies the Alcázar Palace, the most outstanding realisation of Mudéjar art anywhere. Apart from its labyrinth of stunningly decorated rooms, the beautiful orange-scented gardens and mesmeric underground Baños de Doña María de Padilla are not to be missed, as well as the painted altarpiece The Virgin of the Navigators, the oldest known depiction of the discovery of the Americas.

 


  

We visit these 4 cities, and all of the sites mentioned here and much more, during Art in Andalucía (21–27 October 2018). The trip is led by Dr Philippa Joseph, historian and specialist in the society and culture of Andalucía and nearby Mediterranean civilisations.

 

By Miles Rowland, Digital Marketing Assistant.

 

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