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Best Islamic Architecture on the Camino

jungleboy

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Edit: changed title of thread and article from 'Muslim Sites' to 'Islamic Architecture'

I did a search on the forum for 'Muslim' in the title of threads and found only three threads! While the camino is obviously a Christian pilgrimage, there are some incredible Islamic sites to be found on various camino routes and the history of medieval Spain is incomprehensible without the Muslim element of the story. With that in mind, I wrote about my favourite Islamic architecture on the peninsula this week - and all of them happen to be on the camino!

Best Islamic Architecture on the Camino de Santiago

The introduction:
Though modern pilgrims cite various reasons for undertaking the Camino de Santiago - ranging from adventure to spirituality to physical exercise - the journey is, at its heart, a Christian pilgrimage with roots deep in the Middle Ages.

The medieval era in Spain is not simply a Christian story, however. On the contrary, the period is characterised by two seemingly contradictory phenomena: convivencia, or coexistence, between people adhering to the three major monotheistic faiths after the Moorish invasion of 711, and the reconquista, which saw Christian forces slowly advance south over a period of centuries and eventually end nearly 800 years of Muslim presence on the Iberian peninsula at the dawn of the Renaissance.

The legacy of Islamic rule in Spain — and on various routes of the Camino de Santiago — is nothing short of extraordinary. These are six of the best Muslim attractions on the camino, including five UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Have you been to any of these places while on or off camino? Which ones did you find the most impressive and/or are you most interested in seeing?
 
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OZAJ

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I did a search on the forum for 'Muslim' in the title of threads and found only three threads! While the camino is obviously a Christian pilgrimage, there are some incredible Islamic sites to be found on various camino routes and the history of medieval Spain is incomprehensible without the Muslim element of the story. With that in mind, I wrote about my favourite Muslim sites on the peninsula this week - and all of them happen to be on the camino!

Best Muslim Sites on the Camino de Santiago

The introduction:


Have you been to any of these places while on or off camino? Which ones did you find the most impressive and/or are you most interested in seeing?
All except Mertola. Most worth seeing for me are La Alhambra in Granada and the mesqita in Cordoba.
 

jungleboy

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All except Mertola. Most worth seeing for me are La Alhambra in Granada and the mesqita in Cordoba.
Yes, those are the big two for me (and I suspect most others) too. Mértola is obviously not even close to being in the same league as any of the others but I wanted to include it anyway because there is so little visible Muslim heritage in Portugal.
 

Faye Walker

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I haven't yet, but I aim to if I ever get back.... I was extremely struck by the beauty of the blended architectural influences in Barcelona when I was there in 2007 and in 2010... and I would like very much to see other regions with strong Islamic influences (as well as to see the life histories of Seneca, Memnaides, and Averroes in Córdoba).... I wish I were 20 years younger so I could see all the places I long to see...
 

mspath

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Today with most of the world in shambles due to the pandemic it is pure joy to even dream/remember walking to/through the Alhambra .

2004 after my first camino my husband and I celebrated Christmas visiting the Alhambra. We simply walked up the Paseo de la Sabica hill and wandered in. Christmas dinner was a splendid meal in the clublike small adjacent parador. Once experienced the magic of such special spaces and moments is unforgettable.

Thank goodness for enduring memories.

For several earlier posts re the Alhambra see this thread
 
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I think that the "top three" cities to explore the heritage of Islamic Spain must be:
  • Granada - Alhambra
  • Seville - Reales Alcázares, Giralda, Torre Del Oro
  • Córdoba - Mezquita (mosque cathedral) and Medina Azahara
In addition to the celebrated sites (Alhambra etc.), those cities are dotted with old neighborhoods, former mosques (often churches now), sections of walls built during the Islamic time, and so on.

Other cities with significant Islamic heritage would include
  • Malaga - Alcazaba
  • Almeria -Alcazaba
  • Caceres - Defensive towers
  • Merida - Alcazaba
  • Ronda - Baths
  • Jaen- Baths
  • Almonaster la Real - Mezquita
  • Toledo - Bab Al Mardum Mosque and city gate
(I've visited all but the last three).

Especially in Andalusia, you come across defensive structures, former mosques, baths, aljibe (water cisterns), and neighborhoods with narrow, twisty, streets. The camino Mozarabe from Almeria is a route that takes you through a lot of places that are rich in Islamic heritage. In particular, the little towns on the way from Almeria to Granada are reminiscent of settlements in North Africa with narrow streets that twist their way to the top of the hill.

Perhaps this thread (or another) should include some discussion about the Jewish sites that speak to the "convivencia," or coexistence that you described in your blog post. In many places, the traces of Jewish heritage were erased, but cities like Caceres have acknowledged the former Jewish neighborhoods with plaques.
 
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jungleboy

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I think that the "top three" cities to explore the heritage of Islamic Spain must be:
  • Granada - Alhambra
  • Seville - Reales Alcázares, Giralda, Torre Del Oro
  • Córdoba - Mezquita (mosque cathedral) and Medina Azahara
Definitely the big three! These three cities are actually where @Wendy Werneth and I spent our honeymoon (not being into beach / resort type places).
Other cities with significant Islamic heritage would include
  • Malaga - Alcazaba
  • Almeria -Alcazaba
  • Caceres - Defensive towers
  • Merida - Alcazaba
  • Ronda - Baths
  • Jaen- Baths
  • Almonaster la Real - Mezquita
  • Toledo - Bab Al Mardum Mosque and city gate
Thanks for this list - Toledo, Cáceres and Mérida are the ones I've been to. Looking forward to reacquainting myself with the latter two whenever I get around to the VdlP and visiting the others sometime!
 
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I forgot to mention
  • Guadix - Alcazaba (currently closed to public)
The city is one of the extraordinary "discoveries" for pilgrims on the Camino Mozarabe from Almeria. It's not so famous outside Spain, but it ought to be. It's a beautiful city with a Roman theater and an Islamic castle, both in need of restoration so that they can be opened to the public. It also has a remarkable number of homes in caves, which are used to this day .

Restoration of the Alcazaba

Roman Theater

The city has some remnants of the islamic city walls. Also some civil war air raid shelters (also closed to the public). A gorgeous, baroque, cathedral. And a pleasant, compact city center, with some fine plazas - notably the Plaza de la Constitución, which was reconstructed after the civil war. Outside the tourism office in the Plaza de la Constitución, you can see the Roman and Islamic walls of the city, with their distinct construction methods exposed.

Guadix's christian history is also very significant. This is the site where Saint Torcuato established the first Christian diocese in Spain. The "siete varones apostolicos" (seven apostolic men) who established the christian church in Spain had a miraculous escape from a mob of angry pagans here:
 
D

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As you wind your way along the Camino Mozarabe from Almeria, you pass through towns like Abla and Alboloduy, which are just like the villages across the sea in Morocco. You continue to find these remarkable towns as you move into the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.

Some of these villages were involved in the rebellion of the Alpujarras. After the Christian Kings took over all of Spain, the residents of these inaccessible villages resented the heavy handed Christianization of the region and they rebelled. You can see on the map in Wikipedia, that most of the rebellion was on the other side of the Sierra Nevada, but Guadix and other towns on the north side were also involved:

After the rebellion, the residents were moved out of their towns - sent to live in northern spain, while Christian residents were brought in to replace them.

In one of these little towns, Fiñana, are the best preserved remains of an Almohad mosque - now in a church (Ermita de Nuestro Padre de Jesus):
https://www.qantara-med.org/public/show_document.php?do_id=165&lang=en

Unfortunately, it's not easy to get access to the Ermita, Friends of mine spoke to the mayor on their way through the town. He warmly welcomed them as pilgrims, but it wasn't possible to get the Ermita opened up during their short visit.
 
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After finishing my first Camino, I spent 3 weeks exploring Spain. I've been to the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Alhambra in Granada, and the Real Alcázar in Sevilla. In Córdoba and in Sevilla, my hotels were on corners displaying the arrow symbols - it seemed as if the Camino was not finished with me yet. When I returned for my next Camino, I spent time in Ronda and saw the Baths.
 

Elle Bieling

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I toured the "Big three" many years before I was a Camino addict, and I loved them all! I believe seeing this part of Spain initially, before walking Caminos, built the necessary historical groundwork for the whole Santiago phenomenon. Plus the architecture, IMHO was way more sophisticated and ornate. It may have helped, that I had lived in Turkey for two years and have grown fond of Islamic architecture. However, there is nothing quite like the Moorish style! It's all reasons to walk the southern Caminos!
 
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C clearly

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I did a search on the forum for 'Muslim' in the title of threads and found only three threads!
Maybe you were searching the wrong term, and this thread title is a bit misleading. We are not talking about Islam or Muslims, we are talking mainly about architecture.

I refer you to your words in post #11 on this thread in our series on architecture. I have not really clarified these words in my own mind yet, but realize that it is more complicated that we might appreciate!
Regarding Muslim architecture and presence on the peninsula as a whole, we are throwing a few words around here (Moorish, Mozárabe, Mudéjar) and some clarification might be worthwhile. Moors (moros ESP, mouros POR) are what the Muslims who invaded the peninsula in 711 were called. Mozárabes were Christians living under Moorish rule in the southern part of the peninsula. Mudéjar refers to Muslim influence on Christian lands after they had been reconquered. How does this relate back to architecture? Let's consider three buildings: the Mezquita in Córdoba ('Moorish'), the church in Wamba (often described as Visigothic-Mozárabe - again, hard to be neat here), and San Tirso in Sahagún (Mudéjar with some Romanesque). I would suggest that they are wildly different from each other. So we need to think this through a bit.
 

jungleboy

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Maybe you were searching the wrong term
Well, that was just a way to start the post ;) It's true that I didn't search for other terms.
and this thread title is a bit misleading. We are not talking about Islam or Muslims, we are talking mainly about architecture. I refer you to your words in post #11 on this thread in our series on architecture. I have not really clarified these words in my own mind yet, but realize that it is more complicated that we might appreciate!
Yes, it's certainly complicated. Maybe there's no good single word to accurately capture the architecture I listed in the article. I wasn't trying to say it is all the same architectural style, just that all the sites listed were built under Muslim rule, so it seemed like as good a term as any as a catch-all. Someone on Facebook suggested Arabesque but this is also problematic as many of the Muslims who arrived in Iberia in 711 were not Arabs but North African Berbers.
 
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Mozarabic can sometimes help you in the vocabulary area. Not only is it the name of one of the liturgical rites of the Latin church. but it also refers to a school of architecture with Muslim influences. Another search term would be mudejar, which refers to the Muslims who were left behind by the reconquista (somebody more learned please correct me if I am in error on any of this)-- some of their brickwork can be found in churches along the way, most visibly that of San Lorenzo in Sahagun.
 
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this thread title is a bit misleading. We are not talking about Islam or Muslims, we are talking mainly about architecture.
The thread title could be improved, but I hope we don't derail the conversation by filling this thread with debates from other corners of the forum and tying ourselves in knots over the names of architectural styles. If I understand correctly, the OP is interested in seeing heritage from the era of Muslim rule. It happens that architecture makes up most of what can be visited. The objective is not to find "neo" or "revival" muslim style etc. but to find the physical remnants of Islamic spain.

May I suggest the thread title "Islamic Heritage Sites in Spain" or "Where To See Islamic Spain" ?
 

OTH86

Veteran Member
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2017
I think that the "top three" cities to explore the heritage of Islamic Spain must be:
  • Granada - Alhambra
  • Seville - Reales Alcázares, Giralda, Torre Del Oro
  • Córdoba - Mezquita (mosque cathedral) and Medina Azahara
In addition to the celebrated sites (Alhambra etc.), those cities are dotted with old neighborhoods, former mosques (often churches now), sections of walls built during the Islamic time, and so on.

Other cities with significant Islamic heritage would include
  • Malaga - Alcazaba
  • Almeria -Alcazaba
  • Caceres - Defensive towers
  • Merida - Alcazaba
  • Ronda - Baths
  • Jaen- Baths
  • Almonaster la Real - Mezquita
  • Toledo - Bab Al Mardum Mosque and city gate
(I've visited all but the last three).

Especially in Andalusia, you come across defensive structures, former mosques, baths, aljibe (water cisterns), and neighborhoods with narrow, twisty, streets. The camino Mozarabe from Almeria is a route that takes you through a lot of places that are rich in Islamic heritage. In particular, the little towns on the way from Almeria to Granada are reminiscent of settlements in North Africa with narrow streets that twist their way to the top of the hill.

Perhaps this thread (or another) should include some discussion about the Jewish sites that speak to the "convivencia," or coexistence that you described in your blog post. In many places, the traces of Jewish heritage were erased, but cities like Caceres have acknowledged the former Jewish neighborhoods with plaques.
Yes! The Ronda baths!!
 

apoivre

Member
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Mozárabe de Almería in March 2019
In one of these little towns, Fiñana, are the best preserved remains of an Almohad mosque - now in a church (Ermita de Nuestro Padre de Jesus):
https://www.qantara-med.org/public/show_document.php?do_id=165&lang=en

Unfortunately, it's not easy to get access to the Ermita, Friends of mine spoke to the mayor on their way through the town. He warmly welcomed them as pilgrims, but it wasn't possible to get the Ermita opened up during their short visit.

So I'm not the only one to have tried to get in? That said, there's a window in the door so you can get a look at the stucco work in the mihrab from outside.
 
D

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So I'm not the only one to have tried to get in? That said, there's a window in the door so you can get a look at the stucco work in the mihrab from outside.
Yeah. I advised some others who followed you to have a go. They got an audience with the mayor and a peek through the window, but the keys were with someone else.
 
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Other cities with significant Islamic heritage would include:
  • Almonaster la Real - Mezquita
The Mezquita that Raggy mentions in Almonaster la Real is a treasure worth a detour if you are walking the Camino del Sur in Huelva province. When you step inside, although the scale is as different as it could possibly be, the effect is as stunning as stepping into Cordoba's Mezquita. Almonaster la Real's Mezquita is a small humble building, and you are likely to be the only person there visiting, but once inside the door the glory of many civilizations is laid out before you in a way that immediately transmits the joy that generations of many faiths must have felt worshipping there. The columns and their capitals draw from the Romans, the Visigoths, the Muslims, and the Christians, displaying 2000 years of Spanish history. It's one of my favorite places in Spain.
Photos here.
 

happymarkos

HappyMark
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I did a search on the forum for 'Muslim' in the title of threads and found only three threads! While the camino is obviously a Christian pilgrimage, there are some incredible Islamic sites to be found on various camino routes and the history of medieval Spain is incomprehensible without the Muslim element of the story. With that in mind, I wrote about my favourite Muslim sites on the peninsula this week - and all of them happen to be on the camino!

Best Muslim Sites on the Camino de Santiago

The introduction:


Have you been to any of these places while on or off camino? Which ones did you find the most impressive and/or are you most interested in seeing?
Of interest to me while on the VDLP was the old fort in Merida which was built and expanded by a number of armies.
From memory the Romans were followed by the Visigoths then the Muslims. Not sure after that.
What was striking is the shell emblem on what is left of a small central edifice which apparently showed the direction of Mecca. I think this predates the use of it on the Camino.
Photo attached of the shell emblem on the left and the door entrance below which goes down to a water source built from memory by the Romans.
 

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Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
2019
There are hundreds of place names from the Arab in Spain.
If you want to identify them:
All that start with "Guad" (river). Guadix, Guadalquivir
Most that start with "Al" (the). Almeria, ALcalá
Most that start with "Ben" (from the family). Benidorm, Benicarló
Those that have Medina included (city). Medina del Campo.

There are other out of this rule. For example Nájera (C.F) that comes from Naxara (in the rocks)
 
D

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There are hundreds of place names from the Arab in Spain.
If you want to identify them:
All that start with "Guad" (river). Guadix, Guadalquivir
Most that start with "Al" (the). Almeria, ALcalá
Most that start with "Ben" (from the family). Benidorm, Benicarló
Those that have Medina included (city). Medina del Campo.

There are other out of this rule. For example Nájera (C.F) that comes from Naxara (in the rocks)
Guadix is an Arabic-Latin fusion; "Wadi-Acci"
Guad / Wad= (Arabic) River / valley
Acci = the Roman name for the city (also Accitum)

People from Guadix are known as Accitanos / as.
 

linkster

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Thanks for sharing. I have been to Sevilla, Córdoba, and Granada prior to my Camino in 2018.

When Denice, and I were at the Alhambra, there was a tour group in the gardens. We were taking some pictures around one of the pools when this younger woman came up and started taking pictures. Next thing she has backed up, and tripped into the pool. Denice reached out her hand and helped her out of the pool. She was completely submerged. Her camera, day pack the whole kit was soaked. She was shocked. The tour guide just looked at her with disgust shaking her head.

We had a wonderful dinner overlooking the Alhambra at Estrellas de San Nicolás. We sat upstairs on a balcony, and I think we had a degustation menu. It was not inexpensive, but the ambiance and service was great.

I would like to make the side trip to Medina Azahara, Córdoba next time in Córdoba. How did you get there? Looks like a short cab ride might be the way to go.

I would also like to see Ronda, but that is a bit off the Camino. It may be an overnight trip. I just keep adding time to my next trip.
 
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Linkster,

It's also called Madinat al-Zahra.There is a bus to the introduction site where you see a film about it, then you get on another bus to the site a couple of kms away. Find out about the first bus at the tourist office. I recall that the price is all inclusive of buses, museum and site entry. Take water.

I also highly recommend the archaeological museum, which is right in Córdoba (free entry), and the small Jewish Synagogue, now restored (donation for non-EU).
 

Pelegrin

Veteran Member
Past OR future Camino
2019
I also highly recommend the archaeological museum, which is right in Córdoba (free entry), and the small Jewish Synagogue, now restored (donation for non-EU).

In Islamic Córdoba flourished, with up and downs, an important Jewish community with philosophers and students of Torah like Moisés ben Maimón (Maimónides), Abraham ben Daud Haleví and the Negrela family (Ben Negrela).
 

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