After Seville, we rented a car and traveled further west towards the mountains with our Dutch friends, Taco and Marjan, to the stunningly beautiful city of Granada. Why beautiful, because the city sits at the base of the Sierra Nevada mountains and of the exquisite combination of Moorish (Muslim) and Christian architecture and extravagance of the Moorish palaces in the walled city, known as the Alhambra. This area is steeped in history starting as early as 5500 BC with pre-Bronze age occupation (nearby Malaga, Spain is the site of famous prehistoric cave drawings) eventually replaced by Roman and Visigoth peoples into the early AD centuries. Apparently in the early 700’s, a Visigoth King needed a little help in a kingly dispute and he invited the Moors from North Africa to assist his cause. The Moors, consisting mainly of Berber people from the Atlas mountain areas were very effective warriors and were instrumental in final success in the Spanish battles. There was only one little wrinkle, in that the Berbers and their Arab comrades realized that southern Spain was a pretty darn nice place to live with river valleys, olive groves, barley fields, and agreeable Mediterranean climate - so they decided to stay. Eventually the Muslim leaders conquered much of Spain and Portugal to form a Moorish Empire that continued until final defeat by the Spanish Christian armies in 1492 (same year as Columbus discovery of America - coincidental!). As we toured Granada, the last Moorish stronghold to fall to the Christians, it was interesting to note the various different Christian, Jewish, and Moorish quarters or neighborhoods as evidence to the ruling Moorish leaders’ tolerance of other religions/cultures and general cultural harmony within the city. When Granada fell to the Christian army of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, things changed rapidly eventually resulting in the Papal Decreed Inquisition and subsequent torture, execution, or expulsion of all Muslim and Jewish people in all of Spain. A bit of a dark period in European Christian history.
All tourists must visit the Alhambra in Granada or else you really can’t check the Granada visit box off your bucket list. This complex of Moorish palaces, mosques, and gardens is surrounded by an ancient wall and is a testament to the incredible riches and power that these Granada sultans had in that Moorish period between 711 and 1492. For you literature afficionados, you are probably familiar with the works of Washington Irving (author of “Legend of Sleepy Hollow”) and his visit to the Alhambra in the 1830’s. He discovered a rundown vestige of Moorish culture populated by squatters, with very little evidence of preservation of the previous glory. After his visit and publication of the “Tales of the Alhambra”, the world was reminded of the grandeur of this city and today this site is one of the world’s best examples of Moorish architecture. Everyday life in southern Spain follows a prescribed beat, that we easily fell into. Morning starts quiet and slow around 9 with an espresso and pastry at a sidewalk cafe, a bit of activity around shops until they close at noon for siesta, a light lunch of bread, olives, toasted sandwich at (again) a sidewalk cafe, a leisurely visit to a museum or two, and then as the afternoon cools around 4 pm the shops reopen, people frequent the cafes for afternoon espresso, and finally around 8 - 10pm we joined the Spanish for dinner until 11:30. A bit of a change from our American work schedule!