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Visiting Andalusia (اندلس میں اجنبی)

Whether its Ghalib’s Dehli or Al-Hakam’s Cordoba, history and historical places always fascinate me. Visiting Andalusia (اندلس) was on my wish list for a long time and this time while leaving Paris for Spain on the day of Taha’s 5th birthday was an exciting moment.

I was quite keen to see the land of Europe that was a medieval muslim state ruled by ‘moors’ for more than 700 hundred years. The state of Al-Andalus or the Moorish Andalusia, occupying parts of today’s Spain and Portugal, was divided into various regions including Córdoba (قرطبہ), Granada (غرناطہ) and Seville (اشبیلیہ), the areas in which I was more interested. Gibraltar (جبل الاطارق) was also included but that is not under Spain anymore; at present time it is under UK control. 

Cordoba, Granada and Seville are separate provinces in modern Spain still they are part of the greater autonomous community of Spain called Andalusia.

Gibraltar (Arabic جبل الاطارق – meaning rock of Tariq) is a place where Tariq-ibne-Ziad entered in Europe in 710, some historians believe that he burnt his boats under the affirmation they will succeed and never returned back. Probably he was successful for the following 700 years but the bitter fact is that after the so called reconquest muslims were drowned in the same ocean and then they had no boat to escape. The so called reconquest was happened about 500 years ago; muslims were killed or forced to leave but they left behind for modern Spain something which is memorable and worth visiting. 
At times, Muslim Andalusia was most prosperous region of Europe and was considered a role model for rest of the world. Its borders were extended towards Barcelona; Catalonia remained under muslims for roughly 100 years before the state started shrinking. In fact Catalans were the most prominent who fought against muslims and ultimately forced them to leave Spain. Perhaps, this is the main reason Catalans feel proud among all other Spanish communities; that they fought against ‘invaders‘, the moors or the muslims.
During my visit I noticed that muslims Spain is much different than muslim India; when muslim India was introducing Sofi-ism, muslims Spain was producing scientists and other scholars. When India under muslims was building forts, mosques and gardens at that time muslim Spain was building Universities and libraries. I don’t remember any example in which muslim rulers of India had established any educational institution or library but this was the case in early age of muslim Spain. Probably this is because research and development was already part of the European culture; and that culture was adapted by then muslims while church was debating about education for women.

Many tribes, religions and races coexisted in al-Andalus, each contributing to the intellectual prosperity of Andalusia. Literacy in Islamic Iberia was far more widespread than many other nations in the West at the time. (Wikipedia)

Another difference between muslims India and muslim Spain is that muslim India was under the caliphate of mainstream Muslims, but muslim Spain had their own Caliph; they separated from mainstream caliphate in the beginning and remained independent till fall. Perhaps due to this fact, the request for help by the last Caliph in 1492 was turned down by all other Muslims powers of the time. The last 200 years of Muslims in Spain were just squeezed to Granada (local pronunciation is same as we pronounce it in Urdu i.e. غرناطہ) whose area was perhaps smaller than a Pakistani district or the state of NY.

Our first stop was at Seville; we travelled by air from Barcelona to Seville and stayed there for two days. Seville is a province as well as capital of Andalusia; one of the 17 autonomous communities of modern Spain. Spain and India both have divided various regions into smaller provinces for better administrations. However, Spain did not diminish the historical importance and cultural bonding of each region and maintained those larger political units as autonomous communities. I believe Pakistan can learn from Spain and divide its provinces into smaller administrator units while keeping the political autonomy of current provinces.

An evening in Seville – The minerat of the Great mosque can be seen in the background

The current name of the 2000 year old city of Seville is a modern denomination of Arabic name Ishbilliya (اُشبیلیہ) which was evolved from old latin name Hispalis. The city was conquered by muslims in 712 and remained capital of Al-Andulus for many years under the Caliph of Ummayad. Muslims left the city with various beautiful buildings which were converted but maintained after the reconquest. As usual the great city mosque was converted into a Cathedral; the minerat is still preserved and shows the aesthetic sense the rulers of that era. The moorish palace called Alcazar (القیصر)  still invites visitors to see the authority of islamic art.

A view of the Garden outside the great mosque of Cordoba (مسجدقرطبہ)

We travelled from Seville to Córdoba by train and then reached Granada by bus on the same day. Córdoba (قرطبہ) is famous for the great mosque of Córdoba (مسجرِ قرطبہ – now Cathedral) and is the capital city of province Córdoba. It is the second historic city of Europe and lagest urban area that is declared as world heritage. During muslim era Cordoba was the most advanced cities in the world and becomes a great cultural, political and economic headquarter. Beside continued warfare Córdoba was then called Jewel of the World. Before fall of the muslim era in 1236, the city had 3000 mosques and the largest library of the world.

From the earliest days, the Umayyads wanted to be seen as intellectual rivals to the Abbasids, and for Córdoba to have libraries and educational institutions to rival Baghdad’s. Although there was a clear rivalry between the two powers, freedom to travel between the two Caliphates was allowed, which helped spread new ideas and innovations over time (Wikipedia).

More than 1000 years old, the stunning mosque of Córdoba, is a masterpiece. Mustansar H Tarar in his travel log اُندلس میں اجنبی (A stranger in Al-Andalus) describes in detail the architecture beauty and stunning construction; an arcaded hypostyle hall with 856 alternating red and white columns. The great philosopher of the 20th century Dr. Allama Iqbal also visited Cordoba in 1932 and wrote a poem in the Mosque about Al-Andalus:

اے حرم قرطبہ ! عشق سے تیرا وجود
عشق سراپا دوام جس میں نہیں رفت و بود
تیرا جلال و جمال مرد خدا کی دلیل
وہ بھی جلیل و جمیل ، تو بھی جلیل و جمیل

Sacred for lovers of art, you are the glory of faith,
You have made Andalusia pure as a holy land!
An inner view of Cordoba Mosque 

We spent a few hours in the Mosque and its surroundings and then left for Granada (غرناطہ); another historic city and province of modern Spain part of the  autonomous community of Andalusia. It was the last city of Al-Andalus that took 200 more years to fall in 1492; year 1492 marks the end of muslim era in Spain. 

Alhambra (الحمرا) is the most prominent and worth visiting place in the Granada. The complete name is The Red Fortress (الاقلعة الاحمرا); it is a palace, a fortress, a beautiful garden, a court and much more. 

I think Andalusia can be defined just in two words: Cordoba and Alhambra. 

The last muslim ruler Abu Abdullah (ابو عبداللہ) had tears in his eyes while leaving Alhambra right after the fall of Granada. Then his mother said: “if you could not save Alhambra like a brave man at least stop crying like a child” (Mustansar Tarar).
A view of Alhambra
We spend one day in Alhambra and then left for Malaga(مالقہ) and spent some time on the Playa de la Malagueta (a town beach) and return back to Seville. Next day when we reached Seville airport, our flight was already gone; we had to spend next 24 hours in a train travelling from Seville to barcelona ;-).

One response to “Visiting Andalusia (اندلس میں اجنبی)

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