Descended from North African tribes of Berbers and Arabs, the Moors ruled parts of Spain from the eighth until the fifteenth century, focusing much of their domination on the southern province of Andalucía. During their 800-year rule, the Moors inevitably left their mark upon Spanish culture – in its cuisine, language and architecture. Many vestiges of Spain’s Moorish past can still be seen today, from magnificent palaces, to towering fortresses and mesmerising mosques. Here, Esme Fox tells us where to see the best of Moorish Spain.
The Alhambra, Granada
If you only have time to visit just one of Spain’s Moorish sites, then it’s got to be Granada’s impressive Alhambra. Presiding over the city like an ornate crown, the fortress was the Moors last stronghold in Spain. Parts of the complex date as far back as the ninth century, although most of what survives today was built in the fourteenth century by the rulers Yusuf I and Mohammed V.
The author Washington Irving, who actually lived in the Alhambra for a while, wrote of the palace: "Everything here appears calculated to inspire kind and happy feelings, for everything is delicate and beautiful." His words seem apt when standing in rooms of such lavish beauty, fountain-filled courtyards and the fragrant gardens of the Generalife. Tickets allow for half a day’s exploration of the complex, but even this is nowhere near enough time to properly take in everything. You’ll just have to promise yourself that you will return.
Don’t leave Granada without visiting the Moorish district of Albaicín, with its steep cobbled streets, Arabic style arches, ornate tiles and doorways. Today, the lower streets still feel like they’re inhabited by the Moors, lined by Moroccan souvenir shops overflowing with sparkling, multicoloured lamps and carved leather handbags. Stop for a drink at one of the intricately decorated teterías (teahouses), where the smells of spiced-infused concoctions drift through the air.