Andalucia is the Provence and Tuscany of Spain. This southern region is the most varied in topography and history of any area I have visited on this trip. I knew this would be a different experience right from the moment we left Barcelona. For more information can be found here. Click on the city that you are interested in seeing.
Marg and I had a double cabin on the overnight train, and enjoyed a very comfortable ride along the coast of Eastern Spain. This was the most comfortable train I had ever been on, and we were both ready for a busy day of sightseeing when the train pulled into Granada at 8 am. After getting a hotel room organized for the night, we headed for the Alhambra, the last and largest Moorish Palace in Spain. The Moors were in Spain from 711 to 1492 (although they didn´t control Spain during the entire time) when they were forced into North Africa by the Christian Reconquista movement. Granada was their last stand in Spain. The Alhambra consists of the Charles V palace, the Alcazaba Fort, the Palacios Nazaries and the Generalife Gardens. The main attraction to a western visitor is the incredible detail of the Arabic wall reliefs and ceiling structure (looks like short stalactites). The wall reliefs incorporate verses from the Koran to form patterns that look like decorative symmetrical designs. This combined with layouts that incorporated reflecting pools of water and central courtyard gardens was very different than the traditional palaces seen in the rest of Christian Europe. More information on this palace is available in many guide books and on their Spanish website or in English.
Granada had a long history of Moorish occupation and has old neighbourhoods designed in the Moorish style that are still thriving today. We walked around the Albayzin neighbourhood visiting many stores selling Arabic wares amongst the restaurants specializing in Middle Eastern cuisine. This was a definite hybrid of Spain and North Africa. The ultimate Granada experience is to watch the sunset from San Nicolas square opposite the Alhambra. The Alhambra is framed by the snow capped Sierra Nevada mountains, both glowing with the setting sun. This was indeed the best view of the trip so far. Not to be outdone by the Moorish influence, the Cathedral of Granada houses the remains of Isabel and Ferdinand, Queen and King of Spain when the Moors were driven out of Spain and also those responsible for financing Columbus on his voyages of discovery across the Atlantic. This period marked the start of Spain´s ascendancy of power in Europe.
After this introduction to the Arabic side of Spain, we continued south to the more contemporary side – the Costa Del Sol. We stayed in San Pedro, near Marbella with Peter´s family friends Ian and Jennifer (many thanks again for your hospitality!!). This was a very different side of Spain than seen before, and was the type of resort that Peter expected to find on the Mediterranean.
This coast is completely developed with miles and miles of condos, golf courses and hotels. There are so many expatriates that there is a local English radio station and newspaper, and all real estate agents advertise in English, German and Russian. But alas, the sand is not white! However, all the building are nicely painted! From this base we explored Marbella and Puerto Banus ( a mini Monaco of the Costa Del Sol). We also spent the day in Ronda, the largest of the Pueblo Blancos (white villages) in the mountains of Andalucia, within an hour of the coast.
The white villages are scattered across Andalucia and consist of primarily white washed pueblo style houses. Ronda is set on both sides of the El Tajo ravine, with its dramatic bridge overlooking the Guadalevin River below. Ronda is also considered the home of modern bull fighting. We toured the bullring and museum and learned more about the sport than we could ever remember. Walking in the ring one could pretend to be Pedro Romero, one of the greatest Spanish matadors. One characteristic architectural anomaly found all over Andalucia is the concept of Mesquita- Cathedral or Mosque Church. This literally is a Christian Cathedral built on top of a mosque. Ronda has probably the best example of this hybrid architecture, which actually does work as a place of worship despite the confusion in style. More information on Ronda is here.
After stepping in the Mediterranean (too cold for swimming) we headed over the mountains to Seville. Seville is home to Carmen, The Barber, Flamenco and Seville Oranges. There were orange trees everywhere in Andalucia, but particularly in Seville. Seville has the third largest cathedral in Europe after St. Peter´s and St. Pauls in London and was indeed impressive. It is also reputably home to the remains of Columbus.
Another impressive cathedral was the Basilica Macarena. Its museum houses a three ton gold float which shows the Sentencing of Christ. This was incredible to look at and must be very impressive when paraded during Holy Week at Easter.
After enjoying the best tapas and Sangria anywhere we went to the local Flamenco hall to see a 2 hour professional Flamenco show. The rhythm and precision of the foot movements was very good, and is definitely worth seeing if you are in Spain and especially Seville.
The next day we hopped on the AVE, Spain´s new bullet train and stopped off in Cordoba on the way to Madrid.
Cordoba´s main attraction is the Mesquita Cathedral. This is unlike any other in Spain. The main structure of the building uses 850 red and white arches from the mosque to form the support for the Cathedral´s roof. Although the building is not that tall, it is very expansive and looks like a stone forest inside. It really is quite something to see the blending of Moorish and Christian architecture as combined in this building. An interesting footnote to the cities in Andalucia is that they all had a Jewish, Moorish and Christian section, which all seemed to get along until the Reconquista movement in the 1500s. Today there are still old Synagogues in the cities that date from this time period but all of the mosques were incorporated into cathedrals on the sites.
After walking around the old sections of Cordoba, we jumped on the AVE and continued north to Madrid.