Story and photos by Barbara Angelakis
Additional photos by Manos Angelakis
Andalucía Crossroads of Culture
Andalucía, the land of tapas and wine...
...of bullfighting and dancing horses...
...of flamenco and exotic architecture...
...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 civilizations along the Mediterranean to take a bite out of and leave their imprint upon. Phoenicians, Celts, Greeks, Romans, all left their tooth-marks and influence.
Under the Romans, the Iberian Peninsula flourished but after the fall of the Empire successive barbaric tribes invaded and devastated the area until, in 711 CE, the Moors attacked across the isthmus of the Strait of Gibraltar from North Africa. Of course when the Moors invaded the Iberian Peninsula exploded in fire and brimstone but as often happens between conquerors and conquered, eventually the best of both worlds came together in a cultural mélange. The Moors named the conquered land the Kingdom of Al-Andalus with Córdoba as its capital. Córdoba was the most opulent of cities known throughout for its culture and riches. At the time in Christian Europe when 99% of the population was illiterate, in Al-Andalus the Moors had seventeen great universities.
This was the golden age of Islamic culture in arts and letters when the advances in science and enlightened leadership made Spain the most cultivated country in Europe. 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.
Largest of Spain’s seventeen autonomous regions, located in the Iberian Peninsula between the Sierra Morena Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea, is the region now known as Andalucía. Andalucía was closest to the Mediterranean and the area on the Iberian Peninsula that most benefited from the mix of divergent populations attracted by its cultural freedom. The first Jews had arrived in Northern Spain as early as the 6th century and were purported to be descendents of King David. Eventually they migrated down to Andalucía to enjoy the favorable conditions established by the Moors. Romani people or Gypsies migrated from Rajasthan in Northwest India and settled in Iberia beginning in the 9th century.
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.
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 Alcázar (Reales Alcázares or Royal Fortress). Throughout Al-Andalus palaces were sumptuous, while at the same time in Christian Europe the monarchs lived in big windowless, smoky barns of stone, with only a hole in the roof to expel smoke. The creative heritage of Andalucía derives in good part from the 800 years under the control of the Moors; once expelled by the Christian Kings (along with the Jews in 1492 - Gypsies as a group were not expelled but barely tolerated) the area fell into an economic downturn brought about by political infighting and the excesses of the Holy Roman Church.
There is an Islamic legend that claims the people prayed to Allah for 5 favors: clear blue skies: seas filled with fish: trees laden with every king of fruit and nut; beautiful women and strong men: and a fair system of government. Only four of the five favors were granted because if all five were allowed the Kingdom would have become an unearthly paradise.
Cult of 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 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 in 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. The cult of bulls 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… Don Quixote fighting bulls instead of windmills?
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 mans mastery over animals: horses embody cooperation with another species. The Royal Andalucian 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 or dressage 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 Andalucian 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
Another form of dance, for people this time, and my particular favorite, is Flamenco. This breath catching, fiery, impassioned, emotional, assemblage of feet, hands, body and attitude, attitude, attitude all set to music, makes me want to jump out of my seat and join in the action. In fact on one occasion some years ago I did just that and had to be invited somewhat strongly to regain my seat. Flamenco’s history is as complex as its presentation and to understand this art form read my article on the Seville Flamenco Festival (see In Search of the “Real” Flamenco in the Arts section).
Andalucia has such a long and complex history that regardless of your interest in architecture, animal interaction, food or the arts, visiting this area of Spain the joys are many and every day presents a new adventure. For more information visit the Tourism Office of Spain www.spain.info and/or the Tourist Board of Andalucía www.andalucia.com.
© December 2016 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.