With names like Ford cars, the cities built in southern Spain over nearly 800 years of Moorish rule are not just sleepy, sundrenched repositories of the finest examples of Moorish architecture west of Istanbul. Granada, Seville and Cordoba are lively, dynamic places too, the scene of massive industrial expansion. Yet in this region which draws so many visitors to relics of the past, what is the real, living heritage bequeathed by incredibly -- almost eight centuries of Arab interaction in Andalucia?
The mosque with the third largest floor area in all of Islam, at Cordoba, may no longer echo to that inimitable elegiac call of the Muezzin, but the legacy of that period of openness and advance, as well as cultural refinement, is very real. That extraordinary epoch from 711 AD until the last sigh of the departing Moor was heard in 1492, was a time and a place when three communities lived in complete harmony with each other -- Muslim, Christian and Jew, demonstrating an interchange of learning, tolerance, respect and even inter-marriage, which we may well envy today.
Andalucia has absorbed, changed and been altered by successive waves of settlers during its stormy history, but despite the fact that it was five centuries ago that thousands of Moors and Jews were expelled from the region, and indeed persecuted, one meets with the Moorish inheritance at every turn. The most striking aspects to a visitor are obviously the immortal architectural gems, like the quite extraordinarily exquisite palaces of the Alhambra at Granada and Alcazar at Seville. Culturally too, there are so many reminders of that exceptional flowering of the sciences and arts, while the rest of Europe languished In its Dark Ages.
At Granada there's a School of Arab Studies where I met Yousaf Martinez who had originally joined as a library assistant, "because I wanted to find out more of our Arab links in the chain, I became a practising Muslim, and travelled frequently to Morocco to find out about the spiritual links and discover people with living knowledge." Later, he married a Moroccan woman from a family of Shia Sufi masters. "Most of the Spanish population round here have a consciousness of their link with an Arab past -- they can't negate it," he said. "We're building a new society, through communication with and information about Islamic areas; discovering the purpose of life, if you like."
Vestiges of Moorish influence are everywhere. They live on in the Spanish...