Granada in the heart of Spanish Andalucia is a city deeply characterised by the historical vicissitudes of its religious and political identity. On one street you may confidently conclude that you are in a richly embellished bastion of Catholicism; mere metres away, you feel as though you have been magically relocated to Marrakech. In Granada, you can find shisha pipes being smoked and moroccan mint tea being sipped with baklava right next door to where, in one of Europe’s biggest and most imposing cathedrals, the bells of a campanile call the Catholic faithful to prayer, and incense is swung majestically before a statue of the Virgin Mary. It is a stark contrast which can be noted across the city, recalling the turbulent but glorious history which has made Granada truly unique in the modern world.
Of course much of what you see today has a ring of Disneyland about it, The tightly packed streets full of arabic wears and shops clustered with so many glittering glass lamps, silks and leather goods that you feel as though you have entered Aladdin’s cave, are all somewhat contrived for the tourists. But they are nonetheless deeply rooted in a past which begun in the early 700s, when the muslims crossed the narrow Straits of Gibraltar and swiftly conquered the Iberian Peninsula, founding Al Andalus, a kingdom of such rich prosperity and harmonious living that it was the nearest any civilisation had come to the Roman Empire before it. But the State’s precarious location encircled by Catholic countries meant that it was never destined to last for ever. One by one, a Catholic reconquista swept through the Iberian Peninsula, reclaiming Spain for the Christian world, until only one citadel of Al Andalus remained, the strongest of all – Granada.
Granada’s magnificent Catholic face
It took some 250 years of negotiations, wrangling and final all out war before Ferdinand and Isabella, the “Catholic Monarchs” were able to complete the Christian reconquest of Spain, take Granada, and banish the Muslims for good. But they were never able to banish the heritage they had left behind. Spectacular monuments such as the Alhambra Palace remained as a clear testament to the stunning creativity of the artisans of Al Andalus, and remain today because their beauty was such that the Christian’s could not bear to destroy them.
However a visitor to Granada today will likewise note that the city is bounteous in its Christian relics too. Constructions such as the vast Cathedral of the Incarnation are every bit as glorious an architectural gem of the city as the Alhambra, and were no doubt contrived to be all the more beautiful owing to the need for the Christians to show-off their creative prowess in the aftermath of the reconquest.
Happily, the dual identity of Granada is one which has returned to the city, long after the terrible years when all non-Christians were expelled from Granada. While much of the Arabian shops and bizarres are laid on for the tourists, there is a very evident presence of a renewed muslim population in the city, allowing visitors – us included – to enjoy the wealth of their religious and social culture alongside the distinctive Spanish culture which has emerged from the years of more recent Catholic rule. These photos are testament to our discovery of both cultures.
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