Andalusia is the most spirited region of Spain. It is hot and romantic and doesn’t care about the world. Al-Andalus, in Arabic, mesmerizes people with every engagement from the palace gardens to tapas in kitchen, and from flamenco to bullfights.
FIRST STEP INTO THE REAL ANDALUSIA
If you would like to experience at once what Andalusia has to offer then you might want to visit Seville, the capital of the region, where you can observe the Andalusian life style at its purest form. Seville is the biggest city of the region, in which the best tapas cafes of the region situated, and populated with elegant people. One of the most traditional events of the city is Semana Santa (Holly Week.) Seville has as many narrow meandering streets, medieval passages, and romantic squares fragrant with orange blossoms to compete with the other Andalusian cities. Seville is home of the two symbols of the Andalusian tradition: flamenco and bullfighting. The cultural and architectural heritages of the Renaissance, Gothic, Baroque, Rome, and Islam in Seville have no match in southern Spain. Blend in with the crowd; experience Seville nights at clubs, cafes and small squares.
THE MOST AUTHENTIC FLAMENCO AND BULLFIGHTING
Don’t miss the Museo de Bellas Artes, in which the paintings that belong to the golden age of the Hispanic arts are exhibited, the cathedral that belongs to the Christian period, and the magnificent Alcazar. Seville is famous with the best flamenco, tapas cafes and bullfighting of Spain. The west side of the Guadalquivir River that was once inhabited by the Roman population is accepted as where flamenco was born. Stretching along the river, Seville is full of old, narrow streets and small squares except the Plaza Nueva and Avenida de la Constitucion. The Almohad Mosque is now replaced by the great Cathedral of Seville, in which the gravesite of Christopher Columbus remains. The mosque had been used as a church for two centuries after Seville taken over by Christians in the 13th century. At that time, the church authorities, who had suggested that the structure was in poor condition, had the mosque demolished and started a new construction. They had the largest cathedral of the world built with the motto of ‘Let us build a church so beautiful and so grand that those who see it finished will think we are mad.’
The Giralda, 90 meters tall brick tower, was built as the minaret of the Almohad Mosque between 1184 – 1198, which was a great period for Almohad. The Giralda is the perfect Islamic structure of Spain with its luminous effects, bricks in elegant shapes, and windows. The belfry was added in the 16th century. The symbol of Seville, El Giraldillo, was installed to represent faith. The Alcazar Palace (10th century) was actually a fort built for governors of Cordoba. The succeeding kings expanded the whole structure along with the magnificent gardens of Alcazar. The Alcazar Palace is still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence.
Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. The Palace of Alhambra, the old Moorish neighborhood called Albaicin, and the famous Andalusian poet Federico Garcia Lorca are some of the factors that make Granada indispensable. The highest mountains of Andalusia, the Sierra Nevada, and the great valleys of Las Alpujarras, which are in the southern vicinity of the Sierra Nevada, offer delight through their great nature. Now the North African population inhabits the old Moorish square, Albaicin, and they filled the square with kabob restaurants and teahouses. They also built a mosque. The Albaicin Square resembles a colorful mosaic with the gypsies, who settled in the neighborhood in the 15th century. The square is named after the Moorish words ‘El Baizin’ meaning ‘the place for hawk hunters.’ It is possible to come across a few people who walk around with a hawk on their shoulder. It is very likely to see the best panoramas of the Alhambra Palace from Albaicin, which is a beautiful place with its meandering streets paved with cobblestones. Mediterranean neighborhoods are famous with their patios. Don’t miss the old Moorish houses called ‘morisca.’ Some houses that ‘carmen’ is written on their fronts might grab your attention while walking in Albaicin. ‘Carmo’ means ‘grape vine’ in Arabic. Gardens and vineyards once replaced those houses with grape arbors.
THE HEAVEN ABOVE
Don’t miss to watch the view of the ‘Red Palace’ Alhambra at sunset from the observation deck in Albaicin. The palace takes its name derived from red in Arabic. As the sun sets, the tower and the walls are washed with crimson, and this event might be the reason of the name given. The palace is located on a hill called de La Colina Roja meaning the ‘Red Hill.’ The first king of the Nasrids, Ibn-el Ahmar, had the structure built in 1238. He was from the last Moorish dynasty in Granada, Beni Ahmars, meaning ‘Sons of Red.’ Visited by two million visitors each year, the Alhambra Palace is the most powerful tourist magnet of Spain. The garden of the palace, the Generalife, is as legendary as the palace itself. Its name is originated from Arabic and means ‘the heaven above.’
THE BEST OF THE HISPANIC-ISLAMIC ARCHITECTURE
If Seville and Granada were breathtaking, Cordoba would be a city that you can breathe again. This region used to attract people with health problems because of its fresh air and relaxing breeze. The most prominent feature of Cordoba is that the city is an extraordinary synthesis of old and new. Become intrigued by the Le Mezquita, which is one of the best examples of the Hispanic-Islamic architecture; enjoy the spring flowers of the Cordoba patios, Alcazar gardens and countryside; don’t get lost among the mazes of Muslim-Jew neighborhoods; the most significant archeological site of Andalusia, Medina Azahara, is a must see; discover the architectural heritage and the villages set on the rocky southwest of Priego de Cordoba.
The mosque of Cordoba, the Mezquita (8th – 10th centuries), is an extraordinary building despite the transformations applied to its Islamic structure in order to comply with the Christian period. Upon entrance through Puerta de las Palmas (the Gate of Palms), a forest of 850 granite, marble and onyx columns welcome you. The column headings are from the church that had occupied the site previously, which was demolished for the construction of the mosque. The famous alternating red and white voussoirs of the arches curve on top of the columns and the dome is decorated with cedar wood engravings.
DO NOT MISS
A nice Cordoba tradition; takes place each year at the beginning of May, the most attractive patios of the Cordoba Patios Competition, goes from 5PM till midnight.
Try the ‘rabo de toro’ from the menu of El Caballo Rojo, one of the traditional restaurants of Andalusia, and discover the reflection of Arab-Jew synthesis to the Andalusian kitchen.
THE MOST AUTHENTIC
Do not take any advice from the hotels if you would like to experience the real Andalusian atmosphere. Choose the clubs that flamenco is performed every night.
El Bulli Hotel Hacienda Benazuza is a striking place with its decoration and beautiful patio. Olive and orange trees surround the hotel and palm trees beautify the patio. The hotel is a rural palace that belongs to the 10th century and 15 kilometers to Seville.
From the viewpoint of Granada, Mirador del Rolanda, the Palace of Alhambra and the snowy Sierra Nevada Mountains on the background create an astonishing view.
Mingle with the crowd at the Plaza Larga, which is an open bazaar set traditionally on Saturdays since the 13th century.
If touring Alhambra early in the morning or in the afternoon is an option, strolling through the palace at night is a magic one, even though some of the doors kept locked at nights.