If you have ever wondered whether it is possible that different styles and cultures can live together, delight yourself with a trip to Andalusia, an enchanting region of southern Spain where places like Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada are a magnet for tourists all year long. Regularly under close academic analysis, these cities never experience tourism low seasons, and the main reason is that their history provides inspiring evidence that different traditions and religions can beautifully mingle and elevate each other.
Starting from Seville, my journey also included Cordoba and Granada. These cities epitomise how enhancing cultural differences, instead of holding them back, gives a place a fascinating past and a provocative culture, as well as making it a beautiful subject for photography.
It’s easy to get lost in the maze of narrow alleys that form Seville’s city centre, but the kindness of locals makes it almost a pleasure to be in need of help. “You’re Italian, I love Rome, such a beautiful city,” said the man from whom my cousin and I asked for directions. We were downtown looking at the cathedral tower bell, yet we couldn’t find the way to the entrance of the main church. “If you are interested in history, you will love Andalusia,” he went on. “The brightest period in Seville was during the Moors’ rule.” With this in mind, I started exploring one of Europe’s most intriguing corners.
The first thing visitors notice in any of the main Andalusian cities is the spellbinding interplay of architectural styles that defines the spirit of the region in one of its most splendid moments. Whether it is Seville’s minaret La Giralda or its Alcazar, originally built as a Moorish fort, Cordoba’s former mosque and cathedral La Mezquita, or the wonderful Alhambra, sensitive and curious travellers will wonder how the region would have looked if the different rulers and dynasties had worked together, instead of fighting each other.
When I first entered the Mezquita, I knew I was going to like it, but the feast of artistic styles and personalities that slowly unfolded before my eyes went well beyond my expectations. Visitors are immediately confronted with a forest of arches and columns, built with an alternating pattern of brick and stone that creates the unique red-and-white look.
The mosque/cathedral involves a fascinating intricacy of historical moments; precious accounts of our past and an invaluable opportunity to learn from it. Caliph Abd el-Rahman I bought the land from the Christians, who had already built a Visigothic church on the site which, in turn, was built on top of a Roman temple. The Islamic place of worship built on top of all of these spiritual havens and was given a Caliphal style that blended Roman, Byzantine, Gothic, Syrian and Persian architectural features. The latest “touch” has obviously been Christian, with the placement of a huge cathedral in the very centre of the mosque.
When you think you have caught the essence of the lost Moorish soul of southern Spain in Cordoba’s mosque and central quarter, La Judería, head further south and stop in Granada. In a sort of artistic climax, the majesty of this togetherness of styles and architectural traditions reaches its peak at the Alhambra, an awe-inspiring fortress-palace that stands above the city as if still holding its ancient power and purpose. Nowhere more than in this spectacular masterpiece is it possible to judge the different styles and personalities intertwined in one of the highest representations of Islamic architecture in Europe. The gentle, pastel-coloured patterns and the ever-present flowers suggest the sophisticated yet tranquil decorations of Moorish culture. These decorations contrast with the swift transition to a more rigidly solemn and severe style, introducing visitors to the Catholic era, darkened by the actions of the Inquisition, strongly endorsed by Queen Isabella.
Federico García Lorca, Granada’s much acclaimed poet, used to say that the Christian re-conquest of the city in 1492 by the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella had been a disaster, as the harmony with which Christians, Muslims and Jews lived under the Nasrid rule was suddenly replaced by persecution, intolerance and fear. What made that particular period an enlightened example of civilisation is the tolerance and the enhancement of the differences of culture, religion and traditions among communities, a diversity that was seen as a tool for growth and development.
If the Latin proverb that “history is a teacher of life” is true, today, more than ever, we should understand that trying to erase cultural differences doesn’t bring about progress, but only conflict. If, throughout the centuries we have had glorious moments that showed us the right path, we need to take advantage of such examples and recreate them to promote peace and cooperation. Although the planet is shrinking, thanks to ever-evolving technologies, communities’ basic needs of mutual assistance and friendship are always the same.
Photo Credits: Angela Corrias
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