Top Outstanding Islamic Heritage Sites To See in Andalusia

Islamic Heritage: Roman bridge, mosque, Cordoba, Andalusia

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The current Top Islamic Heritage remains witness of the impact left by the Islamic Era in Andalusia (711-1492 AD). It has left its indelibly ineradicable traces in the Hispanic culture and its landscape. It has impregnated most thoroughly the landscape of the Iberian Peninsula, but also and above all, its culture. This is still visible today throughout Andalusia and Spain. All of that is manifestly undeniable in the people´s style of life and their spiritual world.

All started back in 711 AD

Since a famous general named Tariq Ibn Ziad set his feet onto the Iberian Peninsula, Spain couldn´t be anymore the same. Tariq entered the Iberian soil at a peak point that, later took his name, “Gibraltar”. Since then, Andalusia and through it, the whole Spain witnessed 800 years of illumination, prosperity, peace and progress on all life´s levels and aspects.

The name of “Gibraltar” is in fact misleading. The right name is “Jabal Tariq”, (Arabic: جبل طارق), “Jabal”, (Arabic جبل) means mountain while “Tariq” (Arabic طارق) is the first name of the North-African Umayyad expedition´s general that conquered the Iberian Peninsula in 711 AD over the Visigoths. The full name is “Tariq Ibn Ziad” (Arabic: طارق بن زياد‎).

Whether it is architecture, philosophy, astronomy, theology, jurisprudence, mathematics and science or poetry, music and Flamenco dance, the Moorish and Arabo-Islamic footprints, imprints and marks are still today everywhere visible. Such name as Averroes (Real Arabic full name: أبو الوليد محمد ابن احمد ابن رشد‎ Abū l-Walīd Muḥammad Ibn ʾAḥmad Ibn Rušd (1126 –1198), son of Córdoba, was at his time one of the most prominent erudite, scientist and scholar. He attracted students, learners and researchers from allover the world. His prominence and fame still nowadays shine on the whole Europe. 

Islamic Heritage: Granada (Arabic: غرناطة Ġarnāṭah)

Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra Palace (Arabic: الحمراء, Al-Hamrā)

Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra interior decoration, Granada Al-Andalus, Andalusia, Spain
Example of the Islamic Heritage: Al-Hambra interior decoration, Granada Al-Andalus, Andalusia, Spain

Al-Hambra or Al-Hamrā comes from Arabic الحمراء, meaning “red”, the red color or the red one. Here, most probably, to mean the “Red Palace” by reference to the red bricks of the palace´s outer wall. Built first in 889 CE as a fortress on the remains of earlier Roman fortifications, the ruins were rebuilt in the mid-13th century by the Arab Nasrid emir Mohammad ben Al-Ahmar, “Ahmar”, (Arabic: احمر), meaning red). He began the original palace including its outer walls that became later, in 1333, the royal palace of Yusuf I, Sultan of Granada.

Al-Hambra Palace complex reflects still today the splendor and refinement of the Islamic Architecture and design of that time in Andalusia and Spain. It was designed in the Nasrid style, the last flourishing Islamic Art Style in the Iberian Peninsula. The same style still today influences the Maghrebian and the contemporary Mudejar Art, which is a mixture of western elements and Islamic forms.

Arabic poets of the same era described Al-Hambra Palace as “a pearl set in emeralds”, by allusion to the color of its buildings and the woods around them. The palace complex was designed taking into consideration the palace´s mountainous emplacement. The garden (Alameda de la Alhambra) was planted mainly with Mediterranean fruit trees as pomegranate, roses, oranges, citrus trees, olives and myrtles.

World Islamic Heritage Site Since 1984

Al-Hambra is since 1984 listed as UNESCO World Heritage Site and is, nowadays, the most visited monument in Spain with an average of 2,5-3 million visitors per year. Al-Hambra displays one of Spain´s historically and artistically most significant precious and renowned Islamic architecture and design art. As part of Al-Hambra Palace complex is the Lion Fountain that has now finally returned to the palace´s famous patio after a decade of restoration.

The patios, the Palacio de Generalife, the water garden with its wonderful decorative landscape design form along with Al-Hambra Palace a fascinating and extremely beautiful ensemble. The Palacio de Generalife (Arabic: جَنَّة الْعَرِيف‎ Jannat al-Arīf, usually translated as “Architect’s Garden” was an extension of Al-Hambra Palace. It used to be as a recreation and relaxation place but later also as the summer palace or residence of the Nasrid rulers in Granada.

While you are at Al-Hambra Palace, you will have the privilege to enjoy spectacular panoramic views. From the palace, open out sensational viewpoints to the neighboring ancient quarter of Al-Baicín, to Spain´s highest mountains of Sierra Nevada and to the city of Granada.

Islamic Heritage: Al-Baicín /Albaicín or Albayzín (Arabic: البائسين)

Islamic Heritage: Albaicín Albayzín ancient quarter, Granada, Al-Andalus, Andalusia, Spain
Albaicín Albayzín, Granada, Al-Andalus, Andalusia, Spain

Al-Baicín or Albayzín (Arabic: البائسين, al-bāʾisīn, “the miserable” in plural) is one of the oldest centers of the Islamic popular culture in Granada. It included Al-Hambra, the Realejo (formerly, the Jewish quarter), and the Arrabal de Bib-Arrambla. In Arabic Bab-Arramla, meaning the “Gate of Sand”, in the lower part of the city.

Al-Baicín has preserved its original architectural layout and its old charm of the Medieval Era. Narrow streets, old, beautiful mosaic fountains, traditional whitewashed houses and stunning small plazas spread allover the area neighboring Al-Hambra Palace. Al-Baicín is the ideal place to discover the Moorish-Islamic architecture left from what is commonly known as the Medieval Age in Europe. In 1994, Al-Baicín was officially listed as World Heritage Site by UNESCO as an extension of the monuments of Al-Hambra and the Generalife.

The Mosque of Granada

Islamic Heritage: New Mosque of Granada, opened in 2003, Granada, Andalusia, Spain
New Mosque of Granada, 2003, Granada, Andalusia, Spain

The new Mosque of Granada was inaugurated in 2003 on the summit of Al-Baicín, after 500 years of interruption. The mosque stands again near the Churches of San Nicolás and that of San Salvador. The latter rose on the site of the Great Mosque of Al-Baicín. The Society for the Return of Islam in Spain purchased the site in 1981, but it took many years for the plans to be approved.

Sheikh Abdalqadir as-Sufi al-Murabit who envisioned providing Granada’s new Spanish Muslim community with a mosque supplied the new mosque’s initial funding. Additional funding came from few Muslim countries as Malaysia, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates. In 1991 the CIE (Comunidad Islámica en España) hired the architect Renato Ramirez Sanchez to design the mosque. In the 1990s, however an intense and passionate debate took place over the design of the mosque´s minaret. The construction, finally, started almost a decade later in 2001.

The Mosque of Granada includes 3 elements that typically characterize ancient mosques overall environment design. They include the prayer hall where the Salat/prayer service is held. Usually, this comprises an Islamic studies center or a Madrasa with its library section and learning space or class. The ensemble is completed by a recreation garden. Such garden normally includes traditional Andalusian style mosaic fountains and local Mediterranean, mainly fruit plants as pomegranate, orange, olive, citrus, etc. The whole having an impregnable views on Al-Hambra Palace, Al-Baicín and the Sierra Nevada.

El Bañuelo or Baño del Nogal (Arabic: حمام الجوزة, Hammam al-Yawza)

The Bañuelo or El Bañuelo (a diminutive of Spanish baño “bath”), also known as the Baño del Nogal (“Bath of the Walnut”) or Hammam al-Yawza, is a preserved historic hammam (Islamic bathhouse) in Granada. It is located in Al-Baicín quarter of the city, on the banks of the Darro River. It served as a bathhouse up until the 16th century. In the 20th century it underwent numerous restorations by Spanish experts and is now open as a tourist attraction.

Bathhouses (hammams) of this type were a common feature of Muslim cities across the Muslim world, serving both a social and religious purpose. They served the general purpose of hygiene as well as being a place for socialization. The Bañuelo/hammam is traditionally dated back to the time of the Zirids Taifa kingdom based in Granada in the 11th century.

After the fall of Granada to Spanish Catholics in 1492, the bathhouse continued to be repaired and maintained during the 16th century as it continued to be used by part of the city’s population. In 1918, the site was declared a Cultural Heritage Property of Spain. The site underwent a series of restoration works throughout the 20th century, and the building is currently open as a tourist and historic site.

Córdoba (Arabic: قرطبة Qortoba)

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba 

Islamic Heritage: The Great Mosque, Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain
The Great Mosque, Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba (Spanish: Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba) is a unique masterpiece that still nowadays bears witness to the genius of the Arabo-Islamic and Moorish architectural skills of Córdoba of that time. Due to its status as a former Islamic mosque, it is also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba (Spanish: Mezquita de Córdoba), or simply the Mezquita.

According to history records, Abd ar-Rahman I commissioned the Great Mosque in 785 CE, when Córdoba became the capital of the Islamic Al-Andalus. It was then expanded multiple times afterwards, notably under Abd ar-Rahman’s successors up to the late 10th century, by adding, a  decade later, a maqsura section and, particularly, a new minaret around 958 and a richly-decorated new mihrab (Arabic:  محراب‎, miḥrāb).

The Al-Mihrab is one of the essential elements of any mosque´s inner structure. It is , usually, a semicircular niche in the inner-wall of a mosque that indicates the qibla (Arabic: قِبْلَة‎, qiblah, meaning direction) which is, the direction towards the Kaaba in the Sacred Mosque in Mecca, used by Muslims in various religious contexts, particularly the direction of prayer for the Salah or prayer service. The mosque became a cathedral in 1236 when the Christian forces captured Córdoba during the so called Reconquista. The mosque´s structure itself suffered a huge disfiguration when a renaissance style cathedral nave was inserted into the center of the mosque in the 16th century.

The mosque structure is an important monument in the history of Islamic architecture and many scholars considered it as highly influential on the subsequent “Moorish” architecture of the western Mediterranean regions of the Muslim world. It is also one of Spain’s major historic monuments and tourist attractions, as well as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1984.

Madinat az-Zahrā مدينة الزهراء

Medina Azahara (Arabic: مدينة الزهراء‎, Madīnat az-Zahrā, means ‘the shining city’) is the remains of a quite large Andalusian style city located at the outskirts of Córdoba. It is commonly believed that Abd-ar-Rahman III, then Caliph of Córdoba, has commissioned and built this city-fortress over five decades, starting from 912. The city included mosques, ceremonial buildings, bathhouses, governmental and administrative offices, gardens and other useful premises and edifices. It was by that time the very center of the power, since either the government and the administration of the Caliphate of Córdoba operated from Madinat az-Zahrā.

There were quite many reasons why the then Caliph of Córdoba Abd-ar-Rahman III ordered the construction of a whole new city at the outskirts of the historical capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba, Córdoba City itself. However, the main motives may hide behind the fact that a powerful Caliphate needed a powerful and Shining City to show and display the supremacy and prestige of the Caliphate of Córdoba by comparison with the other Abbasid and Fatimid caliphates in North-Africa and the Middle-East.

Islamic Heritage: Seville (Arabic: إشبيلية Ishbiliyah)

The Minaret of the Great Mosque of Seville, called La Giralda Tower 

Islamic Heritage: Great Mosque Minaret, La Giralda, Seville Al-Andalus, Spain
Great Mosque Minaret, La Giralda, Seville Al-Andalus, Spain

What stands nowadays for probably the most symbolic landmark of Al-Andalus´s capital Seville, La Giralda, served as the minaret of Seville´s prestigious Great Mosque. As the minaret or what remains of it (La Giralda) still todays attests of the grandeur of Moorish Islamic architecture. The Great Mosque of Seville was one of the most prestigious Islamic Moorish architectural works of the 12th century. It was however demolished and its remains served to build on its site what we known today as the Cathedral of Seville. The Minaret (La Giralda) stands still proudly today on its 104-meter height and attests the architectural genius of that time.

Abu Ya´qub Yusuf or Yusuf I (Arabic: أبو يعقوب يوسف‎ Abū Ya‘qūb Yūsuf; 1135 – 1184) of the Almohad dynasty or Caliphate, then Caliph of Seville, commissioned the Great Mosque in 1171. The Almohad (Arabic: المُوَحِّدون‎, al-Muwaḥḥidūn, ”those who profess the unity of God” was a North African Berber Muslim dynasty and empire founded in the 12th century and reigned over Al-Andalus (Iberian Peninsula) and North Africa (Maghreb).

To get back to Seville´s Great Mosque, its construction finished in 1176, but the minaret´s construction took 20 more years and was finally completed in 1198. Many prominent architects and designers of that epoch took part into the minaret´s construction, including Ahmad ibn Baso and Alī de Gomara as well as Sicilian architect Abu Layth Al-Siqilli. The Minaret became one of the famous example of the Mudéjar decorative and geometrical architecture and design. The minaret of Seville´s Great Mosque (La Giralda) was listed since 1987 as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, along with the Alcázar and the General Archive of the Indies.

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