By Marta Perez Cruzado
ABU DHABI,19th October (WAM)– Last November, a delegation from the National Library and Archives of the United Arab Emirates, visited the Alhambra in Spain where they were awestruck by the Islamic legacy of Andalusia, which remains evident on the Iberian Peninsula.
Andalusia is home to a vast array of Arab heritage, and even today, traces of the Al-Andalus (Arabic for Andalusia) era can still be seen throughout the Iberian Peninsula. The Emirati delegation visited cities, such as Granada, Cordoba, and Seville during their trip, which opened their eyes to the Andalusian legacy in a definitive way.
“It was an honour for us to accompany the delegation and show them the rich heritage of a period that unites us so closely,” Concha de Santa Ana, Director of the Andalusian Public Foundation, told the Emirates News Agency (WAM).
A few months later, the UAE launched the ‘Andalusia: History and Civilisation’ initiative, under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Vice President, Deputy Prime Minister and Chairman of the Presidential Court. The initiative is organised by the Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque Centre and the National Library and Archives.
Upon the launch of the initiative in June this year, Mohammed Al Murr, Chairman of the “Andalusia: History and Civilisation” Initiative Committee, said, “The UAE is committed to preserving and promoting human heritage wherever it is found. This is evident in its serious participation in this initiative, which aims to preserve, restore, promote, and disseminate Andalusian heritage around the world. In addition, the initiative is an invitation to the general public to learn about one of the greatest Arab historical eras, the Andalusian civilization, with its rich human, cultural, and scientific heritage. The initiative also seeks to highlight and uphold the values of coexistence and tolerance, which are also core values of the UAE.”
The six-month initiative, launched in partnership with the Kingdom of Spain, reflected the UAE’s unwavering belief in the necessity of openness with civilisations and convergence among cultures and religions.
“In Andalusia, many aspects of Al-Andalus are palpable and go far beyond physical matters, such as the vibrant architectural legacy that is still preserved from the Al-Andalus era and of which we are so proud,” affirmed Santa Ana.
From the Alhambra to the Al-Andalus gastronomy, agriculture & language
Through the gardens and palaces of the monumental complex of the Alhambra, located in the city of Granada and an icon of the architecture of Al-Andalus, it is possible to access essential knowledge for the development of agriculture, science and culture that was engendered within the walls that housed the Nasrid, the last Muslim dynasty in the Iberian Peninsula.
The director of El Legado Andalusí, an institution which among other objectives has set itself the goal of disseminating the role that Spain and Andalusia have played in history as a cultural bridge between East and West, stresses that “there are numerous fields in which this role is still felt and perceived despite the changes that have taken place in the more than five centuries since the end of the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada”.
“Our gastronomy is surprisingly similar to that of the countries on the southern shores of the Mediterranean; our agriculture still owes much to the Al-Andalus period, when numerous plant species were introduced that today form a fundamental part of our diet, and our ways of cultivating them and of getting water to impossible places and using it also respond to the advances that were introduced in the medieval period; and Al-Andalus also continues to live on in our language,” comments Santa Ana.
These aspects do not go unnoticed by the Architect and Curator of the Patronato de la Alhambra y Generalife, Antonio Peral, who explains that the Alhambra “is an example of artistic and aesthetic excellence”, but also “a reference for literature, music and science in general which has left a mark of exceptional universal value”.
The United Arab Emirates is currently promoting all this knowledge through different events such as symposiums, concerts and exhibitions that seek, in the words of Mohammed Al Murr “to pay tribute to the profound cultural and historical legacy of the unique civilisation of Al-Andalus”.
According to the data provided by Peral, in 2022 Alhambra received more than 5,000 visitors from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), and more than 1,000 of them came from the UAE. These figures serve the Director of El Legado Andalusí to make it clear that Arab travellers are not just tourists because “they perceive extraordinary sensations when they feel how an art and a legacy with which they fully identify is still alive in Andalusia”.
In addition to the Alhambra and other places known internationally for their importance, such as the Mosque and Medina Azahara in Cordoba and the Giralda in Seville, other monuments underline the historical significance of Al-Andalus throughout Andalusia.
This is the case of the Mosque of Almonaster La Real, an Andalusian relic in the province of Huelva, which has been defined as the “best preserved in the rural area of the historical period of the Iberian Peninsula due to the singularity of the construction, which is given by the diversity of its materials and patterns and by the interculturality that is reflected in the architectural characteristics of the building,” says Manuel Ángel Barroso, of the Cultural Association Friends of Almonaster la Real Mosque.
He stresses that what is striking about this temple is “precisely the architectural values that have been preserved untouched over time and which demonstrate that coexistence between cultures and civilisations, if desired, is perfectly possible”.
Built-in the mid-9th century, the Mosque of Almonaster La Real belongs to the so-called al-Mutamid route of the Andalusian legacy, which goes from Lisbon to Seville and is one of the richest routes of the golden age of Al-Andalus. Its trail merges the Andalusian and Portuguese past through historical complexes and natural spaces.
Al-Andalus is still alive. It is not only present in Andalusia, in architecture or language, but it is also present throughout the world in music, gastronomy or in books such as ‘El Collar de la Paloma’, by the author Ibn Hazm, which, according to Santa Ana, can still be found on the shelves of any library in Granada, Fez, Tunis, Cairo, Damascus, Dubai or Abu Dhabi.