Moorish Andalusia!

In Europe, Photography, Places, Spain, Travel on June 3, 2012 at 7:48 pm

My one and only exposure to Moorish architecture has been in the south of Spain and to say I was awed would be an understatement. This post follows the architectural marvels we saw during our trip from Seville in the west, moving east to Cordoba  and finally to Granada in the east.

Moorish architecture is a Berber-Islamic Architecture that developed in the north of Africa and monuments reflecting this type of architecture can still be found in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. However the height of Moorish architecture is considered to be the Alhambra in Granada, Spain so Spain is probably one of the best places to see Moorish architecture. The region of Southern Spain (or Andalusia which comes from the word Al-Andalus) was part of the Iberian peninsula governed by the Berber Muslims at various points during 711- 1492 A.D.

A lot of cultural exchange took place at this time between Muslims and Christians. On the political level however, it was translated into wars and a fight for control. The Berber Muslim rule repelled Christian attacks from the north for a long time till Cordoba succumbed, which was the last straw and the final blow to the Berber Muslim rule and Granada was the only outpost left. It was only a matter of time before Granada fell and it happened in 1492.

The political tensions between the empires and the religious upheavals can be seen in the culture and the architecture of this region. Both tried hard to leave their mark and ultimately what exists today is a mix of both. Only the Alhambra in Granada seems relatively untouched.

In Seville, one can see the minaret or the Giralda, which is today the bell-tower of the Cathedral of Seville. Because the Cathedral today was originally a mosque, it has an unusual shape and it even has a courtyard with orange trees. There is no water flowing in the courtyard canals anymore but one can still see what it used to be like. The topmost half of the minaret was rebuilt and bells added to make it a functional Bell-tower. The inside,instead of stairs, the way up is a smooth slope, bending at every right angle till the very top. Reason? Because the Imam used to ride up the tower on a horse to call for prayers!

The Minaret/bell-tower as seen from the inside courtyard:

The Cathedral of Seville with the minaret/bell-tower on the right:

One can see some evidence of Moorish architecture in the Alcazar as well, which is used as the Royal Palace today. However, most parts of the Palace can be visited. This is the Patio de las Doncellas or the Maidens Courtyard.

The following pictures are close range pictures to give you an idea of the intricate work under the Moorish rule in the buildings. However, as the Palace expanded under different kings, there is also a mix of various designs and influences in the final structure.

Our next stop was Cordoba (or Cordova). Cordoba was under the Roman rule when the Berber Muslims attacked and captured it in 711 and in 1236, it was captured by Ferdinand III during the Spanish Reconquista.

The Cathedral of Cordoba tells the same story as the Cathedral in Seville. However unlike the Cathedral in Seville, the Cathedral in Cordoba screams of the architectural massacre to which it was subjected. To convert the mosque into a Cathedral, the four sides which were supposed to let in light and air were sealed off to allow light to come in only from the top. And in the middle of the gigantic hall, a church was constructed. The result is that you can see clearly what it might have been like without these changes and it can be quite depressing to visualise it in its former glory.

Charles V, the ruler of the Holy Roman Empire may have given his permission for the installation of the church but apparently when he saw the result, he is said to have exclaimed, “You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world“.

The hall is a maze of arches which were supposed to represent palm trees. In the second picture you can see how the church was built in the middle of the hall surrounded by the arches.

One can see the vestiges of the mosque in parts of the cathedral.

Apparently, religious tensions continue in the region with Muslims demanding the right to be able to pray in the cathedral and being systematically refused. Can you imagine, Christians and Muslims being able to pray under the same roof? I would consider it a strong message of cohabitation and tolerance. Unfortunately, I think that a lot of people won’t see my point of view and it can also result in more tensions. Sigh!

Anyway, coming back to architecture which is after all what this post is all about, the finest piece of Moorish architecture is definitely the Alhambra in Granada. The Alhambra is the ancient fortress with the royal palace situated within its grounds, with the Generalife or the summer palace on a nearby hill and both palaces linked by a garden. In the garden you might also hear nightingales singing if you can make out their sound above the cacophony of the tourists. The grounds also house a palace built by Charles V. However, the thing to see is the Nasrid Palace, which will still leave you spell-bound and captivated in spite of the plundering and the apparent ill-conceived restoration of the Palace.

The architectural wealth that this fort represents was ignored and neglected for a long time. Washington Irving wrote the Tales of the Alhambra while working on the history of the conquest of Granada and of his stay at the Alhambra. Yeah, he got to stay there because he was already a celebrity but then even a celebrity would need more than his status to be able to stay at the Alhambra today.

I leave you with some pictures from the Nasrid Palace to feast your eyes . However, know this that these pictures don’t do any justice to the Palace. Someone asked me if it wasn’t too much, so much intricate work all around. It would seem so wouldn’t it? But surprisingly it wasn’t. I could easily imagine ordinary life in the Palace in spite of the rich decorations all around. What can I say, you will just have to see it for yourself.

To visit the Nasrid Palace, you will have to reserve your place in advance. If you are planning to get there and then buy tickets, know that without a miracle you will not get it for the same day and in peak season, not for the next 5 days at the most so you must plan your trip in advance so as not to miss out on these absolute wonders.

Information regarding Alhambra tickets.

Online Tickets for the Alhambra.

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