Sunday, March 24, 2013

"Like Morocco, but nicer, cleaner and better"

Although we like to think of Spain as a fixture of Christian Europe, seven centuries of rule by the Islamic Moors might argue otherwise. Imagine a Spain where imams call out from minarets, activity stops mid-day, not for the afternoon siesta but for the afternoon prayer, and where ham is not considered a local delicacy but rather an unclean meat (ok, that last one would stretch the belief of many Spaniards). This Spain (Al-Andalus) existed for hundreds of years between the initial moorish conquests in 711 until the Christian re-conquest of the last moorish emirate in 1492.

Nowhere is the Islam-influenced cultural hold of Al-Andalus as strong as in Granada, the last stronghold of the Moors in Europe. And no people would be more appropriate to come visit Granada with me than my two friends who live in Morocco, the Moors' stronghold in Africa: Colin and Valerie!

As fate would have it, we somehow managed to book an AirBnB in Granada's Moroccan district, so the cultural syncretism was pretty heavy.

Granada's big attraction is the Alhambra, a great fortress/palace/garden comlpex situated on an imposing bluff above the city. The palace features some of the most beautiful islamic architecture I've ever seen, a sentiment the Alhambra's later Christian rulers shared. The subsequent kings and queens of Spain attempted to add Christian elements but mostly kept the Moroccan-style arches and intricate geometric carvings that serve as a non-iconic tribute to the beauty of the world Allah created.

Other islamic elements include the beautifully designed gardens and the focus on water through streaming rivulets and fountains.

Colin, who had been coming off of a bit of a rough time in Morocco, described Granada as "like Morocco, but nicer, cleaner and better." I won't make value judgements, but I can say it would be a bit harder to sit and chat with wine and ham tapas in Fez or Rabat.