About five years ago I read the book Iberia by James Michener, which is an in-depth account of the author's travels in Spain and Portugal, which are extensive. Ever since I've been completely fascinated by Spanish culture, which is so distinctive and very interesting to learn about. Some of my most beautiful postcards have come from Spain, and several from the southern region of Spain called Andalusia. So I thought - double the pleasure. See some gorgeous cards, and learn about one of the most extraordinary regions in Spain.
Friday, May 15, 2009
Andalusia has been greatly shaped by its history; it was the staging ground for the Roman's defeat, under Hannibal, of the Carthiginians. Most notable, though, is the occupation of Southern Spain by the Muslims (or Moors) for hundreds of years. As a result of this occupation, visitors can see Muslim influences all over the region, particularly in art and architecture. Andalusia, or Al-Andalus, was by far the most intellectually superior empire on the European continent in its time. Although predominently Muslim, the state was tolerant of Jews and Christians, and this period became known as a Golden Age of Jewish culture. The Moors in Andalusia made great advances in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, math, medicine, music, and technology. Al-Andalus was a treasure trove of literature as well - the city of Cordoba, the intellectual seat of the empire, had 70 libraries, the largest of which contained as many as 600,000 books. By comparison, the largest library in Christian Europe contained no more than 400 manuscripts. By the 1400s, the University of Paris still had only 2000 books.
The Moorish empire constantly battled with its neighboring Christian empire. The last Muslim bastion of Spain fell in 1492.
Nowadays, Andalusia has developed its own very unique culture. Cuisine in Andalusia is influenced by its proximity to the Mediterranean Sea. Ingredients traditionally associated with the Mediterranean region - olives, honey, almonds, garlic - are in heavy rotation here. Sherry is an incredibly important Spanish invention. Gazpacho, a chilled tomato-based soup, also originates from this region. "The Andalusian kitchen owes a lot not only to the Arabs and geography, but also to the weather and the lack of firewood. Homes did not have indoor ovens because it was too hot and most cooking was stove-top. Kitchens usually had a poyo, a stone counter surfaced with tiles, running along one wall with inset hornillas or burners and an ash box underneath, there being no chimney to take smoke away. Very little firewood existed so fuel sources often consisted of olive pits, dried grape twigs, or picón, a pencil-sized charcoal made by smoldering bush branches which burns relatively free of smoke. Andalusian preparations simmered on these dying fires for long periods of time." (source: www.cliffordawright.com)
Another important cultural tradition of Andalusia is flamenco, which refers both to a style of dance and a style of music. I encourage you to watch the video below to see what a beautiful dance flamenco is.