The African Influence on a European Continent: Andalucia
If you’re looking at traveling to an exotic location in 2020 with Ciclismo Classico, look at Andalusia.
It is the best the Mediterranean basin has to offer with all the comforts of a European destination.
And, it also is on a lot of travelers’ bucket lists.
The Ciclismo Classico departure to Andalucia is a unique cycling experience. It isn’t simply a bicycle trip along quiet meandering roads (it is that too!). Like all of our itineraries in France and Italy, we bring you the best of the region, not just the county.
So don’t miss Andalusia.
Andalusia and Africa
This southern-most region of the Iberian peninsula reminds you of North Africa: the bustling Medinas of Morocco and the landscapes of Tunisia echo in the local marketplaces and vast desert mesas.
In fact, Morocco had a significant impact on the Andalusian provinces.
The Almoravid movement and the Almohad Caliphate popular in the 11th and 12th C. significantly influenced this southern Spanish territory.
The Almoravid people held their seat of government in Marrakesh, whereas the Almohad tribes originated from high in the Atlas mountains.
The Almohad people reached as far north as the Ebro River in Catalonia, building new mosques and minarets.
But traveling through Andalusia means better understanding this ancient cross-roads of Mediterranean cultures.
Andalusia kisses the Mediterranean and the Atlantic Seas. For thousands of years it was the gateway between two continents and the last frontier of the ancient world.
You could call it the least European – and the most exotic – of all the European provinces.
To prepare yourself for the magical mixture of this rich territory, here are six things to consider when preparing yourself for your cycling tour in Andalucia with Ciclismo Classico:
Andalusia was under Moorish rule for almost 1,000 years. (711-1492 A.D.)
Many people don’t realize Andalusia was under Arab domain for over 700 years (actually, all of Spain was for a couple hundred years).
In 711 A.D. the Moors overran the Iberian peninsula and Abd al-Rahman I became the founder of a three-century dynasty.
He became Emir (the military and aristocratic leader) of the entire Iberian peninsula.
In fact, the name “Andalusia” comes from the Arabic, “Al-Ándalus,” or the name given to this land under Arab rule.
At its height in history, Muslim Spain encompassed the entire peninsula. But throughout the centuries – especially in the 1100s after the Reconquista – Al-Ándalus came to signify any part of Iberia under Muslim rule.
There is current research suggesting the Arabic name has its origins in the word Vandals.
Prior to the Roman Empire, small Nordic tribes of Vandals had made their way to Southern Spain – to the Roman province of Iberica Baetica, or modern-day Andalusia – breaching the Roman frontier in 410 A.D.
Thus, when the Moors appeared a few centuries later, it is possible they named the land as “Vandals-land” or “Vandalusia.”
Caliphate of Cordoba
But the birth of an Arab state in southern Europe was just the beginning.
You can consider Andalusia the cultural and artistic center of the entire country, during certain eras.
Consider Córdoba was the most populated and culturally active center of Europe for 1000 years. It may have even been the most important city in the world for some of that time.
This city (our first stop on Ciclismo Classico’s Andalucia departure) was full of libraries, schools, and a university rivaling the Damascus Caliphate university in the promotion of worldly ideas.
Abd al-Rahman I’s grandson, Abd al-Rahman III, began the Caliphate when he assumed the role of Caliph, or ruler of the Muslim community. The city flourished with many people from different cultures, looking to study in Cordoba’s institutions. The city was a veritable intellectual center from the 7th to the 9th C. A.D.
The Medina Azahara in Córdoba is evidence of more North African influence in this exotic Andalusian city.
The Medina in Fez or Marakesh is nothing compared to the ancient Medina Azahara in Cordoba.
Once again, we can thank Abd al-Rahman III for this contribution to history, and to this marvelous structure protected by UNESCO.
This site is a complex of noble fortress and palace, as much as it is a common city and marketplace. It contains infrastructure, bridges, houses ornately decorated and objects of daily worth. Most of all, this Medina is a microscopic look into the center of the Al-Ándalus reign at the height of its power.
This Medina was the heart of the Al-Andalus de facto government capital.
Ceremonial halls, barracks, a mint, government offices, workshops residences and baths make an elaborate seat of power.
Mezquita de Cordoba
One of the most impressive works of North African influence in Andalusia, must be the Cathedral Mosque Mesquita in Cordoba proper.
Words don’t justify the beauty of such a marvelous structure.
With its many modifications over the centuries, it is a pinnacle of Islamic, worldly architecture.
The exuberant interior, innately decorated with mosaics, reminds us of a time when Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and the city flourished because of the combined richness of these three cultures.
The Cathedral-Mosque is a time-capsule. Imagine the initial site belonged to the Visigoth church of San Vincente in the 6th C. A.D. Later in the 8th C., Abd al-Rahman I constructed the first part of the Mosque, then his son expanded the project years after.
Further expansions by Abd al-Rahman III and Al-Hakam II in the 10th C. made the mosque an epicenter of religious activity.
Fortunately, on our second day in Cordoba, our group will have a walking tour of this impressive structure. Don’t miss out and bring your camera!
Cordoba isn’t the only city in our Andalusia itinerary.
Antequera also has its roots deep within the Arab tradition.
Inside the Muslim Media, at the highest point of Antequera, stands the imposing Arab fortress of Alcazaba.
Soldiers built the citadel towards the end of the Muslim reign in the Iberian peninsula. During the 14th C., it was a strategic location to protect against Castilian troops.
The Granada emirs favored the fortress who looked to observe the movements of Spanish soldiers north of the Straights of Gibraltar.
The Alcazaba contains the largest of the Andalusian angular floor plans outside of Gibraltar.
Two towers favored the view: the Torre de Homenaje, with its 50 steps, was also home to the fortress’s keep. The other, Torre Blanca, allows beautiful views over the city of Antequera’s white-washed houses.