Andalucia's unique heritage

Granada, Cordoba, Seville and other places - discover the real Spain 

Cordoba - mosque
Built over 1,000 years ago, the Mezquita at Cordoba is a world heritage site
  A few miles south of Granada, on the route leading to the sea, the road crosses a spur of the Sierra Nevada mountains at a point with a haunting name - El Sospiro del Moro, the Moor's last sigh. Legend has it that it was from here that the last Moorish sultan of Al Andalus, Bobadil - or Mohammed XII -  turned back for one final look at his beloved city Granada, and let out a deep sigh. It was a city he was not to see again.
   The year was 1492 - perhaps the most significant year in Spanish history. In this year, with Bobadil's departure from Granada, the Christian "Reconquest" of Spain was completed; and before the end of the same year, Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus had accomplished his first voyage of discovery to the New World.

Patio de los leones in the Alhambra - photo J Gordon
   In the early eighth century, the Moors occupied almost the whole of Spain: over the ensuing eight centuries, the Spanish peninsula was subject to two distinct cultural influences, Moorish and Islamic from the south, European and Christian from the north. Bit by bit, the Spanish Christians regained possession of the whole country, ousting Bobadil from the last Moorish fief in Europe - Andalucia - in that remarkable year of 1492.

    Centuries of Moorish rule have left their mark on Spain, but no more so than in Andalucia, where the Moors continued to rule until the time of the Renaissance. Today, many parts of Andalucia remain culturally similar to neighbouring Morrocco, just a few miles across the Straits of Gibraltar, to where the Moorish rulers retreated : but while the rulers retreated across the water, many of the ordinary people of Moorish Al-Andalus converted to Christianity, and remained.  A visit to inland Andalucia is thus more than a visit to another part of Spain; it's a trip into a uniquely different part of Europe.
     Throughout Andalucia, vestiges of the Moorish past abound; but nowhere more so than in three of Andalucia's great historic cities, Granada, Cordoba and Sevilla or Seville.  (Click for more on Moorish Spain in general)


From the Albaycin
The Alhambra, viewed from the Albaycin    Photo Tirithel
On its hill overlooking the city, the Alhambra palace in Granada is one of the great historic monuments of the Islamic world. Fortunately, this former royal residence has come down through time largely intact and carefully renovated, and now stands as a uniquely beautiful witness to Andalucia's Moorish past. Visitor numbers to this world heritage site, are controlled and advance booking of tickets is normally essential.
     Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Granada is one of the most visited tourist cities in Spain; in addition to the Alhambra, Granada has many more vestiges of its Moorish past, the most interesting of these being the Corral del Carbon, right beside the city centre, which is a beautiful 14th century "caravanserai" or traveller's inn. Visitors can freely enter in through its classic horseshoe arched entrance, into the galleried courtyard within, now occupied by craft shops and cultural outlets. Not far away, beside the great gothic cathedral,  is another typically "oriental" attraction, the Alcaiceria, a typical north African suq or market, where tourists and visitors can barter over the price of Andalucian and Morroccan craftware such as pottery, leather poufs, silverware, rugs, marquetry, and a whole range of knick-knacks and general tourist kitch.
     Another spot not to be missed is the Cuesta Gomerez, the street leading up to the Alhambra from the Plaza Nueva. Here can be found a full range of handicraft shops, making or selling traditional Andalucian products, including guitars, Andalucian marquetry, leatherware and clothes - not to mention the inevitable tee-shirts and other tourist souvenirs. The shops - though small - being bigger than in the Alcaiceria, have a larger array and choice of products to sell; and you can actually watch local craftsmen at work. Walk up the Cuesta Gomerez, and through the portal into the shady grounds of the Alhambra above. While entry to the the palace itself is by ticket only, parts of the grounds can be accessed for free.
   Finally, no trip to Granada is complete without a walk round the Albaycin district, a classic Andalucian pueblo blanco on the hillside opposite the Alhambra. Its steep narrow streets - particularly at the bottom end - are full of restaurants, Morroccan-style tea-rooms, and more craft shops. Higher up, the area is largely residential, its narrow streets lined with flat-roofed whitewashed houses: walk to near the top of the Albaycin (or take a minubus) and admire the best view of the Alhambra from the Placeta de San Nicolás - a spot much frequented by  visitors and Granadinos alike, both in the day and in the evening when the Alhambra is floodlit.

   The two other cities of Aldalucia with a major Moorish cultural legacy, Seville and Cordoba, attract less tourists than Granada.


In Seville, the most impressive monuments are the Alcazar, or moorish fortress, and the Giralda. Formerly the great minaret of the Seville mosque, built in the Almohad style, the Giralda is now the great bell tower for the cathedral of Seville. Close by is the Alcazar, which after the Alhambra is the finest example of a Moorish-style palace in Spain; but this 14th - 16th century palace was actually built and rebuilt by Spanish kings in the Almohad style that had, by the time of the Reconquest, become the dominant local architectural style.


Cordoba - mosque and bridge
Cordoba - cathedral and mezquita from the "Roman" bridge
    As for Cordoba, it is a town that should be on the itinerary of anyone planning to discover the real Andalucia; and for anyone driving from Madrid to Seville, it is actually on the route. Though a sizeable modern city, Cordoba still has, at its heart, perhaps the most intact of old Andalucian cities, and within this an incomparable monument that makes this a truly unique destination. Cordoba's Mezquita, or mosque - now its cathedral - was for a long time the second largest mosque in the world. Completed in the tenth century, the mosque was one of the greatest jewels of Islamic architecture, with its intricate stonework and plasterwork, and vaults supported on a forest of over eight-hundred stone colums. After the Spanish retook Cordoba from the Moors, even they were impressed, to the point that when converting the mosque for use as a cathedral, the kept most of the existing structure, and just built their new cathedral in a small section of the middle. Later, when the cathedral was extended, the highly cultured emperor Charles V, on a visit to Cordoba, lamented to his officials that they had "destroyed something unique to make something commonplace".
     Yet though it now has a baroque cathedral in the middle of it, the moorish Great Mosque remains largely intact to this day, a magnificent testimony to the architectural and artistic skills of the Moors who ruled this area over a thousand years ago.
     In addition to the Mezquita, no visit to Cordoba is complete without a visit to the old town, notably the old Jewish quarter, with its narrow streets, whitewashed houses, and flower-decked interior courtyards. In addition, Cordoba boasts a fine "Roman" bridge over the river Guadalquivir: with its 16 arches, the present-day bridge is more late mediaeval than Roman, but is is one of the larger of several very historic bridges in Spain to have survived, and remained in use, to this day

   Apart from these three centres, Andalucia, however, has so much more to discover:
On other pages :   Almeria, Antequera, the Alpujarras, Cadiz, Cazorla, Guadix, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda, Tarifa, and Andalucia's natural and national parks - including the Sierra Nevada, Doñana, Cabo de Gata, and more....

Continue to...
Eastern Andalucia including  Almeria & Tabernas desert, the Alpujarras, Cazorla, Guadix, Velez Blanco    
Western Andalucia including Antequera, Cadiz, Jerez de la Frontera, Ronda and Tarifa
Other pages of interest :   Travel in Spain  -  Food and eating in Spain
Photo top of page - View from the Alhambra, in Granda, to the Albaycin quarter of the old city
   The main cities of Andalucia, with their historic Moorish heritage, are like no other cities in Europe
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