For over 750 years the arab presence and Jewish learning enriched the early Christian culture of Andalucia.
Seville is energy, elegance, intense colours and vibrant taste. In its patios, gardens and plazas the magic of human life is played out as you sit watching, sipping a sherry, peeling some salted nuts to the sounds of flamenco guitar.
Cordoba’s Caliphate with its breathtaking mosque, bathhouses, and irrigation systems was at the heart of an extraordinary renaissance in the arts and sciences; its agronomy university central to the Green Revolution, creating in the 10thc the greatest city in the west. The palace of Madinat Azahara, with its library of 400,000 books, brilliant mosaics and a daily supply of 20,000 loaves of bread to feed its fish was surrounded by a million almond trees so the Caliph’s lover at blossom time might remember Granada’s snow. Here in the 8thc Ziryab, the Black Falcon, from Baghdad invented male hygiene and table manners, the three-course meal, the heavenly spiced and scented meat ball and the 5 string guitar – the 5th its ‘soul.’
The final flowering of arab culture ended in 1492 with the romantic Alhambra palace in Granada immortalised by Washington Irving. It is poetry in stone and carved plaster whose breath-taking gardens and patios show off roses, acanthus, artichokes and aubergine to stunning effect. Granada keeps its secrets well hidden behind the walls of its Carmens – urban villas – and in its secret bath house that repurposed elaborately carved columns from Cordoba’s Madinat. Ferdinand and Isabella – the Catholic Kings – royal chapel with a van Eyck, Boticcelli and glorious Flemish tapestries faces across to the Arab silk market to the oldest university in Europe. It was at the gates of Granada that Columbus was finally sponsored to sail west. And, the rewards of the voyage – under the patronage of the Virgin of the Fair Winds – Buenos Aires – meant that Seville would become the great world city of Europe when the silver from Potosi started pouring in.