When I first came to Spain in 2009; my trip was a whirlwind of 4 cities in 8 days. It was enjoyable but not the best way to really experience a country and its complex histories. As a result, I ended up with a very rudimentary understanding of what Spain was all about. Perhaps to my naiveté, tourist leaflets that mainly focused on the narratives post-Reconquista only briefly mentioning the other histories that formed the stories of Al-Andalus informed my perceptions. Six years later, I am back again with a more inquisitive mind and a more contextual approach to learning.
I have found that one of the best ways to explore meaningfully is by slowing down. Pausing through buildings and spaces, observing conflicting patterns and asking basic questions pushes the senses beyond surface level. To give technology credit, it really helps that wifi is now readily available everywhere. I have also been lucky to have many more opportunities to interact with different generations of local residents - probably the most invaluable way to experience any new place.
With archeological findings of early humans dating back more than one million years, the region of Andalucía has a complex past. Going back 2000 years, you can follow the trajectory of the Tartessus, Iberian, Phoenician, Roman, Visigoth, Moor and finally Christian empires that create the texture of modern Spain. No wonder everyone claims a piece of the Spanish land as their own; and rightly so.
Mosaic tile-work from Roman ruins discovered in Seville, Spain.
As you move from one city to the next; from one major architectural site to the next, you quickly realize that many, if not most, structures are built upon the ruins of previous civilizations. For example, the Mezquita-Cathedral in Córdoba was formerly a breathtaking mosque, built from the ruins of a Visigoth Cathedral, which in turn was built on top of a Roman temple. Similarly, the site of the Cathedral in Seville used to be Roman statuary; upon which the Moors built a mosque in the 12th century. The minaret of the mosque, one of three remaining Almohad minarets in the world, is now the bell tower, La Giralda, of the cathedral and dominates Seville’s skyline.
La Giralda - Cathedral of Seville, Spain.
As you move away from the major cities into the rural mountainous regions of Andalucia; these historic layers continue to be evident. The region surrounding the Sierra Nevada National Park boasts prehistoric findings and during the reign of the Moors, mule paths were carved through the valleys of Las Alpujarras to bring ice from the mountains to the nearby towns and cities. As you enter the valleys of Las Alpujarras through Lanjarón, a small quaint town famous for its natural springs discovered by the Romans, you come across Lanjarón's Moorish Castle - proudly sitting on the edge of cliff over looking the undulating valleys of Las Alpujarras. The castle was the last stronghold of the Moors where they made their final stance against the Christian troops of Ferdinando on March 8, 1500.
Ruins of Moorish Castle - Lanjarón, Spain.
The continuously changing human landscape of Spain and its current iteration is interestingly encapsulated in the small town of Órgiva, also the Las Alpujarras. Órgiva attracts yogis, hippies, Sufis, vacationers, nomads and other people from all over the world and currently people from 65 different nationalities reside there along with the native Spanish people of the region. Órgiva is, in its own small way, a point where global cross-winds meet, the way its larger Andalucían siblings Granada and Cordoba once were.
Baraka Cafe - Órgiva, Spain.
It would be impossible to unfurl all of Iberian history in a few short paragraphs, and the examples above are not meant to be exhaustive. Rather they are an example of how I have approached this trip with a critical and inquisitive lens, and the stories that such an approach has yielded. If anything, this trip has allowed me to appreciate how the passage of time shapes the historical context of a region and how it is necessary to give oneself the time to ask the right questions and ruminate on the answers and possibilities.