Geographically, one of the most diverse parts of Spain, Andalusia is also diverse culturally. With high snow-capped peaks in its mountainous regions down to the fertile valleys of the Guadalquivir river and the golden beaches along Spain’s Costa del Sol (Sun Coast), Andalusia is a tourist’s paradise as the compact region measures less than 88,000 sq km. It is not just the natural attractions that bring tourists to Andalusia, the region is also famous for its unique mesh of cultures – ranging from Catholic to Moorish and increasingly north African – that have influenced life in Andalusia, from cuisine and culture to architecture and arts.
Granada & Alhambra
While all key cities of the region, including capital Sevilla, bear signs of the Moorish Kingdom, it is in Granada that the cultural and architectural wonders of the period have best survived the time and the battles between the two cultures.
Dominating the skyline of Granada and its surroundings is Alhambra, a 13th century Islamic Palace and Fortress sitting atop a steep cliff which offered unique protection to the Moors from any counterattacks by the Catholic forces. The intricate interiors are believed to have been done during the reign of Yusuf I in 14th century. After the Catholics reconquered Andalusia and expelled the Moors in 1492, a lot of interior of this Palace was effaced and several parts destroyed. In 16th century, it was partly rebuilt in Italian Renaissance style. Though it was further damaged during wars and earthquake, a comprehensive, decades-long restoration work began in late 19th century and was carried on for three generations by the same family of architects.
The Fortress and its Nasrid Palace were recognised by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site in 1984 and are a must on any tourist’s itinerary for the sheer diversity that it offers to classical European constructions and also the manner in which it has been conserved over the centuries.
Andalusia and its various cities are also famous for their various Catholic festivities and notably processions during the Easter Week or Semana Santa that attract thousands of visitors and residents. Most important days are Easter Thursday and Friday which see massive processions with floats of Mother Mary and Infant Jesus. Almost every church and chapel throughout Andalusia organises its own procession, giving a vibrant feel to the entire region.
Like the rest of Andalusia, its capital, Sevilla, too was scene of several bloody conflicts over many centuries that led to large-scale destruction. However, fortunately several sites of the period survive and are worth a visit, notably in the area of Utrera, believed to have been occupied by humans since the prehistoric times. Utrera is home to landmarks such as a 14th-century Moorish castle, Gothic churches of Santa María and Santiago, and the Sanctuary of Consolación.
Another site worth a visit is the Plaza de Espana, which was built in early 20th century as the site for Ibero-American Exhibition in 1929. With a large, open square, with an arc of pavilions built in mélange of Renaissance and Moorish revival styles. It is flanked by a moat where visitors can hire boats. Plaza de Espana is also site of various cultural festivals.
A key attraction in the city is Setas de Sevillas (Mushrooms of Sevilla), which claims to be largest wooden structure in the world, reaching 26 m high and spread over 150 m by 70 m. It consists of six parasols in form of giant mushrooms, a design inspired by vaults of Cathedral of Sevilla and has four levels. It has an antiquarium housing Moorish and Roman remains discovered on site, as well as a central market, a space for public events and higher levels for a restaurant and panoramic city views.
(Text and Photos: Gopal Sadani, is a passionate photographer, based in The Netherlands, who loves to travel in his free time)