If you were to visit Granada, in the South of Spain, you might believe that the Reconquista never happened. Granada was the last Islamic kingdom in al-Andalus (the Muslim name for their Caliphate in Spain) to fall, with Boabdil, the last Moorish Sultan of Granada, uttering his last sigh in 1492.
While the Reconquista and subsequent Inquisition succeeded in pretty much wiping Islam and Judaism off the Spanish map, the town of Granada seems to be making a conscious attempt to reclaim its Islamic past.
The town’s most famous monument, Alhambra (was about to type “the Alhambra” but realised that would be a redundancy since “Al” is Arabic for “the”) is from Islamic times, despite a King Carlos (V) constructing his own palace right in the middle of the complex. After Christian occupation, the town withered, going from a capital city to a neglected provincial town.
With its most glorious time having come during Islamic times, it is no surprise that the town seeks to look back to that part of its past. For example, the Vishwaroopam font is ubiquitous in signboards across town, with even public buses using an Arabesque font to write “Granada”. Then, Shawarma restaurants dot the city, and unlike in Barcelona (where most “Turkish” stalls are run by Pakistanis), these are mostly run by Turks.
There is even a nod to the Gypsy/Roma influence to the city in the markets, which distinctly reminded me of Jaisalmer (that the city is built next to a hill contributed to this comparison). The most common class of items in the market was leather goods, and it was also possible to buy FabIndia style kurtas and harem pants in some stalls (of course we stayed far away from them). Of course, there is a massive Granada Cathedral (built on the site of an old Mosque – this is a recurring theme in Andalusia), but it was clear which period in history this city’s pride lies in.
It was a rather unusual itinerary that we chose for this trip (a kind of parallelogram starting from Granada, successively moving to Còrdoba, Sevilla and Malaga), but it was almost as if we had planned our trip to places in decreasing order of Islamic influence (to an extent).
Còrdoba, for example, is known for its Mesquita, or Mosque-Cathedral, and the Mosque’s arches are a recurring theme through the city. It was less easy there (compared to Granada) to find Arab/Turkish food, and “Califa”, where we had dinner, was actually a a hardcore Spanish restaurant with a Matador theme.
It was Semana Santa (Holy Week) by the time we got to Sevilla and we were greeted by massive processions celebrating the week of Jesus Christ’s death (more on that in another post). During the three days we spent there, it was easy to forget that this had once been an Islamic city (long lines and after effects of excess walking in Granada and Còrdoba meant we skipped the Alcazar). As a fairly religious (the number of men in suits on Palm Sunday wasn’t funny) regional capital, it seemed as if the city had completely gotten over its Islamic past, and now presented itself to us as a completely Christian city! It is possible, though, that parts of Sevilla we didn’t visit still have a nod to the Islamic past.
Malaga retained more of its Islamic past, though. The Reconquista there again happened fairly late, just before Granada, and the most spectacular monuments are the Islamic fort and castle (Alcazaba and Gibralforo). We had two meals at Arab restaurants (one good, one bad). The city was littered with “Arab baths”. Motifs from the Còrdoba Mesquita were common across the city.
And most delightfully for us, the Islamic influence in the city included stalls selling Patatas Asadas (known as “Kumpir” in Turkish), which we had been familiar with from our trip to Turkey five years ago. That sorted my dinner on two evenings in Malaga!