Story and photos by Manos Angelakis
Andalucía: Crossroads of Spanish Culture
Located in the southern part of the Iberian Peninsula, with coasts fronting both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, lies the second largest autonomous region in Spain: Andalucía. It is best known for gifting to the world Flamenco, Bullfighting, and its own adaptation of Moorish architecture and arts that were developed through nearly 800 years of occupation by North African Muslim tribes. Andalucía’s gastronomy is internationally renowned for its distinctive wines, olives and olive oil, Iberico ham and cured pork products.
In the center of the area between the capital city of Seville to the west, Malaga to the south, Córdoba to the north and Granada to the east, lays the very heart of Andalucía. Here are towns that cling to steep hillsides and take fierce pride in their history and traditions.
My love affair with Andalucía started in the late 1950s, when I heard, for the first time, Andrés Segovia play Enrique Granados’ Danzas Españolas on the guitar and then Arthur Rubinstein playing Manuel de Falla’s Noches en los Jardines de España, a symphonic piece for piano and orchestra.
Ever since, my dream has been to spend some time in Andalucía and visit the gardens referred to in the de Falla work: Palacio de Generalife in Alhambra; an unidentified distant garden in which there is an exotic dance; and Los Jardines de la Sierra de Córdoba.
Andalucía, the land of tapas and wine...
Unfortunately, the days of free tapas are almost completely over in Andalucia. Nowadays, the free bread-based tapas I remember from my earlier Spanish forays have been mostly replaced by charcuterie slices or small cooked plates; and the vast majority now costs money.
Tapas may be cold (such as mixed olives, tortilla Española, cheese wedges and quince paste or jamón and sausage slices or canned fish) or hot (such as ‘albóndigas’ small meatballs in sauce or ‘gambas al ajillo’, prawns in sizzling olive oil with garlic and chili peppers). In most bars of the larger towns in Spain, tapas have evolved into a very sophisticated regional cuisine.
...bullfighting and dancing horses...
Flamenco has become a beloved dance form world-wide. In the west we are familiar with flamenco as a dance that includes heel stomping, hand clapping, finger snapping and lots and lots of Attitude… with a capital A.
But what do we really know about Andalucía? September is the annual flamenco festival in the home of flamenco, and we were fortunate enough to be touring around the area courtesy of Spain’s Tourism Office and visiting small towns in the region.
For the flamenco aficionado, Seville is the heart of the action. We began with a visit to the Museum of Flamenco www.museoflamenco.com where we learned about the 7 principal styles. Alegria: happiness. Seguirilla: death, deep hurt. Soleá: loneliness. Tango: passion. Guajira: sensuality. Farruca: elegance. Buleria: seduction. We also saw films of famous dancers and some of the original outfits they performed in. At the theatre on the museum’s lower level we attended a live performance with singer, guitarist and dancers.
Andalucia is a land of warm, welcoming, people.
Iberia is positioned like a juicy piece of fruit hanging off the continent of Europe, falling toward the land mass of North Africa. It was a perfect plum for major ethnic groups along the Mediterranean to take a bite out of and leave their imprint upon. Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks, Romans, all left their tooth-marks and their influence.
Under the Romans, the Iberian Peninsula flourished but after the fall of the Empire successive barbarian tribes invaded and devastated the area until, in 711 CE, the Moors attacked across the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa.
When the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula, as often happens between conquerors and conquered, the best of both worlds came together in a cultural mélange. The Moors named the conquered land the “Kingdom of Al-Andaluz” with Córdoba as its capital. Córdoba was the most opulent of cities known throughout the then known world for its culture and riches. At the time in Christian Europe when 99% of the population was illiterate, in Al-Andaluz the Moors had seventeen great universities. During this time the rest of Europe was going through the so-called Dark Ages; a time when ignorance, fear, superstition, and disease thrived under a system of despotic feudal rule. In fabled Al-Andaluz, where the Moors held sway for some 800 years, east melded with west. Around 822 A.D. one of the most famous Moorish singers, Ziryab (the blackbird) introduced the guitar and other string instruments to Iberia.
In fabled Andalucía, east melded with west in perfect synchronicity; here an exotic stew of Gypsy, Jewish, Moorish and Christian peoples became one integrated culture that existed in peaceful coalition for eight centuries and achieved extraordinary heights in the arts and sciences.
…Alcázar, interior garden…
The Moors contributed stunning architectural monuments such as the Alcázar in Seville, originally constructed in the 10th century. Their ardor for interior courtyards filled with verdant gardens, fountains and colorful tiles with geometric designs lining the walls and floors is nowhere more breathtaking than in the Reales Alcázares i.e. the Royal Fortress. Throughout Al-Andaluz palaces were sumptuous, while at the same time in Christian Europe the monarchs lived in big windowless, smoky structures of stone, with only a hole in the roof for a chimney to expel smoke. The creative heritage of Andalucía derives in good part from the 800 years under the control of the Moors but they were expelled by the Christian Kings after the “Reconquista” that is the Reconquest, along with the Jews in 1492. Gypsies were not expelled but were barely tolerated.
…Cult of the Bulls…
Bull veneration has a long history dating back 15,000 years to Neolithic cave drawings with Mesopotamia, Samaria, Anatolia, Greece and Egypt all having traditions relating to bull worship and/or sacrifice. In Egypt the Apis Bull was associated with the moon and worshiped as a God. Slaying of the bull by stabbing it in the neck was an integral part of the sacrificial rite in many ancient civilizations.
Bull dancing was developed into an art form by the Minoan civilization of Crete, with acrobats leaping over the bull’s horns and using them to propel them safely to the ground. Young men and women chosen for their grace and dexterity would flip over the fierce animals and perform other feats of gymnastics. Scenes depicting this dangerous sport are found on frescos at Knossos in Crete and the Heraklion Museum. The cult of the bull permeated the Mediterranean basin with each area developing its own traditions. Andalucía took bull sacrifice one step further with bull fighting; a form of death and rebirth where man fights and hopefully overcomes brute nature.
…Plaza de Toros, Ronda…
For information on one of the oldest and most picturesque bullrings, its museum and chapel -- where prayers for victory were offered before and, hopefully, thanks for success were offered after -- visit The Plaza de Toros in Ronda www.rmcr.org
Ronda is a small typical Andaluz town with a fascinating history; it is only a short distance from Seville and well worth the visit. While there, stop for lunch at Pedro Romero, a restaurant honoring the legendary bullfighter. Romero is credited with inventing the “classic style” turning bullfighting from a killing sport into an art form. www.rpedroromero.com
Bulls represented a form of man’s mastery over animals; horses embody cooperation with another species.
The Royal Andalucían School of Equestrian Art Foundation or Real Escuela Andaluza Del Arte Ecuestre was founded in 1973 in honor of the equestrian heritage of Andalucía. The Andalucían pure bred has existed in the area for 20,000 to 30,000 years and cave paintings of the animals attest to their history in the peninsula. Here the horse and rider are as one. They train together and form a bond of trust that allows the horse to accomplish artistic moves that would not normally be possible. The riders are adorned in 18th century costumes and the horses are dressed with classically braided mane and tail; together they perform a ballet to Spanish music in sync with other horses. Not all the horses are white, they range in color from grey to black although white is preferred as they deflect the bright Andalucían sun and tend to be cooler in the summer. The foundation is located in Jerez a small town between Sevilla and Cádiz and the horse show is a well-deserved very popular attraction requiring advance reservations. www.realescuela.org
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