Spain: Islamic Architecture and Music in Andalucia


Woodrow W. Denham

Sharjah, United Arab Emirates

1 September 2001

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All years are created equal, but some, like Orwell's famous pigs, end up being more equal than others.   Such a year was 1492 in southern Spain.   In that year, Ferdinand and Isabella sent Christopher Columbus on a voyage that opened the Western Hemisphere to European colonization, began the extermination of perhaps 85% of the native population of the New World and began the transportation of millions of Africans westward to centuries of enslavement.   In that same year the Catholics expelled the Moslems from the Kingdom of Granada, under Islamic rule for about 750 years, thus concluding the Christian reconquest of Islamic Spain.    Simultaneously the Christians expelled Sephardic Jews who fled south to Morocco and east to Istanbul thereby saving their lives and enriching the Ottoman Empire while significantly impoverishing the culture of Spain.   And the Spanish Inquisition, working in the background under Tomás de Torquemada, executed thousands of heretics as part of a thirty-year rampage that bears striking similarities to the Holocaust.

Yet 1492 saw the beginning of Spain's Golden Age based on the incalculable wealth of the Indies, with Sevilla as the focal point of a cultural fluorescence that manifested itself in every domain from music, art and architecture to colonial administration and tobacco production.  

Whether you view the events surrounding 1492 as victories of the Christians over the heathens or as appalling examples of ethnic cleansing, genocide, enslavement and theft on a previously unheard of scale, you must agree that 1492 was a distinctly unequal sort of year.

From 25 June to 5 July 2001, Nancy and I visited the site of this amazing historic moment, belatedly it seems, for just about everybody we know has visited the region recently or several times, or owns a house there. Prior to this visit I was there for only three months in 1961, and Nancy had never been there at all.   But it probably was better for us to visit there later than earlier, for the long delay enabled us to do a lot of homework in the Caribbean and the Middle East, and in the musical traditions of Medieval and Renaissance Europe and India.   

Our visit yielded three papers.   This one, entitled Seeing Andalucia, deals primarily with architecture and art, and the second, entitled Hearing Andalucia, deals primarily with music.    In both of these papers, I explore the Moslem and Christian cultures of Spain during the centuries either side of 1492.    The third, entitled Tasting Andalucia, deals with food, transportation, accommodations, shopping and other small things.

Cast of Characters The Moslem occupation of Spain began early in the 8 th century when the Moors, a mixture of Arabs and Berbers from North Africa, captured most of the Iberian Peninsula almost overnight.   They soon absorbed the Visigothic Christians who occupied the peninsula or pushed them northwards over the Pyrenees into France.   Over the following 800 years, the Christian Reconquista (reconquest) inched southward in fits and starts at a glacial pace, until finally the last Moslem area, now the Province of Granada, was brought back into the Christian fold.    Thus the Moslem controlled region of the Iberian Peninsula expanded rapidly, then contracted slowly until it vanished in 1492.   It lives on in the Arabic word "Al-Andalus" and the Spanish word "Andalucia", both of which refer to the southern part of Spain that was the heartland of the Moslem occupation.

Boabdil, the last member of the Moslem Nasrid dynasty to rule Granada, had the dubious distinction of signing over his kingdom to Ferdinand and Isabella and going into ignominious exile in Fez.   Because history tends to be written by the winners, Boabdil is more famous in defeat than are his many illustrious predecessors from Granada's centuries of brilliance.   

Since we have lived and worked in the Middle East and South Asia for most of the time since 1989, Boabdil and the entire Arabic presence in Andalucia were of major importance to us during this visit.   By visiting Andalucia after living many years in the Moslem World, we experienced the Moslem face of the region as we could never have experienced it from a purely Western perspective.  

Ferdinand and Isabella are well known today because of 1492, but two other Spanish rulers, King Alfonso X and King Carlos V, seemed to accompany us everywhere we went, and are not quite as well known today.

King Alfonso X The Wise ruled most of Spain from 1252 to 1284, assuming the crown shortly after his father recaptured Cordoba in 1236 and Sevilla in 1248, and a dozen years before he himself recaptured Jerez.   Nancy's specialty as a musician since the 1960s has been Medieval and Renaissance music, and she has had a long standing interest in the Cantigas de Santa Maria, an important collection of music composed in Andalucia by King Alfonso X during the last half of the 13 th century. Before we went to Spain, we thought of Alfonso X somewhat condescendingly as a bright fellow who liked music, but we quickly learned that there was a great deal more to him than that.   He is a central character in this account.   He appeared everywhere we visited except Granada, which remained under Moslem control throughout his lifetime. I discuss him in more detail below.    

King Carlos I assumed the Spanish throne in 1516 following the deaths of Ferdinand and Isabella, and in 1521 was made Holy Roman Emperor Carlos V.   As Carlos V he ruled until he abdicated in1555.   He was followed by Philip II who ruled until 1598.   Together Carlos V and Philip II controlled Spain through the so-called Golden Century during which they plundered and squandered the vast wealth of the Indies, gained the Holy Roman Empire and lost part of it, and lost the battle with Martin Luther over Protestantism.   We didn't go to Spain to learn about Carlos V, but almost every time we looked under a rock marked Alfonso X we found Carlos V sitting there too.   What we learned about him connected directly with our "Caribbean phase" (1978 - 89) when we worked as anthropologists and traveled extensively throughout the Caribbean and Ecuador, and taught university courses on the anthropology and history of Spain's New World Empire.    Almost everything is connected to everything else if you're open to seeing the connections.


Part 1.   Architecture and Art

Perhaps the most substantial residue of Islam in Spain is the Moorish architecture and art for which the region is justly famous and upon which we focused much of our attention.

We arrived in Andalucia with the idea that "cultural power" is weaker on the fringes of empires than in their centers, but immediately realized we were wrong. The Alhambra fortified palace complex in Granada and the huge congregational mosque known as the Mezquita in Cordoba are at the very western limit of the Moslem World, yet are among the great masterpieces of Moslem art and architecture.   A moment's reflection took us back to Agra in Central India where the Taj Mahal sits near the edge of the Moghul Empire, another of the greatest works in the Islamic artistic tradition erected as a kind of sentry on the eastern boundary of that great culture area.   Finding these masterpieces on the fringes might be likened to stumbling onto one of the world's great Christian cathedrals in Anchorage or Darwin.

Alhambra in Granada    The city of Granada is in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains whose permanently snowy peaks form an 11,400 foot backdrop for the Alhambra.   The fort and palace sit on a hill overlooking the city proper, and are separated by the Rio Darro from Al-bayzin the ancient, steeply inclined Moorish section of the city.

Bad guidebooks have been known to disparagingly describe the external appearance of the Alhambra (al-hamra / the red) as something like "a jumble of stones piled around the edges of a hilltop".   In comparison with some rigidly geometrical European forts, that description seems reasonable.    But an alternative interpretation is that the Alhambra's fortification comes from a different tradition with different "rules" for building forts.   The outside of the Alhambra is strikingly similar in appearance to hilltop forts in Amber, Jaisalmer and elsewhere in Rajasthan.   In each case, the external wall is made of red or yellow stone cut from the hill on which it sits, and its contours conform to the natural curvature of the hill, taking maximal advantage of what is provided by God and nature, and having minimal impact on the environment as a whole, the way Frank Lloyd Wright might have designed a fort if he had been so inclined.

Inside the walls of the Alhambra are three distinctly different sets of structures:   the ancient military barracks and defensive buildings for troops and arms built mainly in the 12 th century but some parts of which date from Roman times, the Moorish royal palace complex built between 1238 and 1492, and a European style Renaissance palace built in 1526 by King Carlos V.    The Moorish palace is what makes the visit imperative.

The outer walls of the Moorish palace have a lot in common with the outer walls of the fort itself.   They are delicate and not especially imposing, softened by gardens and trees, sort of wandering along, irregularly enclosing early sections of the palace and assorted add-ons, expansions and renovations as the complex developed over a period of centuries.  

In stark contrast, Carlos' palace viewed from the outside is huge, angular, massive and painfully symmetrical.   If you think Carlos' palace is what palaces are all about, you might not even notice the unobtrusive Moorish palace with gentle fountains gurgling beside its entrance. If you prefer the Moorish style you could easily mistake Carlos' extravagance for the box the Moorish palace came in.

The focal point of each major section of the Moorish palace is a pool with fountains and gardens.   Enclosing each pool is a building one to three stories high, built to a human scale, with open arcades facing the pool on the ground floor, and various apartments, audience halls, throne rooms, banqueting halls and baths located further back in the building.   The arcades are formed of long rows of slender pillars supporting delicate horseshoe arches derived from the Visigoths.

The pools and gardens are earthly manifestations of the heavenly paradise described in the Quran.   Traditionally the marbled floors would have been covered with carpets whose garden and floral themes reinforced the vision of paradise.   Likewise, from the perspective of people sitting on cushions inside the rooms, the slender pillars reinforced the same theme by creating the illusion of delicate palm trees casting shade beside the pool.   The walls and ceilings display a great diversity of subtle inlays, tiles, stucco, calligraphy and other softly colored decorative work all of which forms a kind of endlessly repeating Arabesque in which all is beauty and nothing holds the center of attention.   The ceiling, wall and door decorations are among the finest of their kind anywhere in the world.   The pools reflect light into the surrounding rooms, and a refined system of twisting passageways insures privacy throughout.

Carlos V did it differently.   Everything is huge.   The palace has an austere circular central courtyard paved with polished marble.   The rooms are grand, built to accommodate furniture, furniture and more furniture.   Two enormous hallways serve as archaeological and art museums now and suit that purpose extremely well, but that is no place to live.   Even on a hot day in July, the building is existentially frigid.

The two palaces are immediately adjacent to each other - in fact Carlos' palace encroaches slightly on a corner of the Moorish palace - and are separated only slightly in time, but the cultures they represent are so different that the structures could have come from different planets.  

The sprawling Generalife Gardens are arrayed beside the Moorish summer palace on the hillside above the main walls of the Alhambra.   They too feature pools, fountains and flowing water as in the much smaller gardens within the Alhambra, as well as a great diversity of plants from around the world including roses, bougainvillea, magnolia and assorted cacti, and a few areas with shrubs in formal geometrical patterns that could have come from Versailles. The gardens are dramatically punctuated here and there by spear-like cypresses towering above the low greenery that surrounds the pools.  

The Moorish palace and gardens reached their peak in the last decades of the 15 th century shortly before the Moslems went into exile.   Mercifully the Christians appreciated the beauty of the art and architecture and did not deliberately destroy what they had captured, even though they made problematic changes in buildings and gardens over the years. By 1826, when Washington Irving spent a year living there as a kind of well heeled vagabond, much of the building was in a sad state and was occupied largely by squatters who had nowhere else to go. But bit by bit the palace has been tastefully restored, and with the coming of international tourism after the demise of General Franco, both the demand and the money to meet it have accelerated the pace of the restoration.  

Even the most Eurocentric guidebooks agree that Carlos' palace is an unfortunate intrusion, but its presence helped to keep the Alhambra complex in the Spanish national consciousness to a much greater extent than many other fine examples of Moorish architecture that were allowed to decay beyond salvage. So Carlos' palace was good for something after all.

Mezquita in Cordoba    The city of Cordoba is on a plain beside the Guadalquiver (wadi kabir / great river) in a setting that is far less picturesque than Granada's.   The congregational   (Friday) mosque known as the Mezquita was begun on the site of Roman and Visigothic structures in 785, and was greatly expanded in the 10 th century.   Until it fell to Alfonso X's father in 1236, the city was a major intellectual center in Moorish Spain, supporting the likes of Averroes and Maimonides, plus translators who saved much of Western classical thought from destruction during Europe's Dark Ages, and the great poet-musician Ziryab, a refugee from Baghdad who developed one of the defining features of classical Arabic music as played in Al-Andulus, Morocco and adjacent regions.

The Mezquita is one of the world's great mosques, and both outside and inside it is totally unlike a European cathedral.   It occupies a huge area of 585 feet by 410 feet, but is only 39 feet high and is as nondescript from the outside as the Moorish palace in the Alhambra.   Just inside the main entrance through the encircling wall is the Patio of the Oranges where orange trees provided shade for Moslems who wash before praying.   In the 16 th century, the great minaret beside the Patio of the Oranges became unstable and to preserve it, it was enclosed in masonry to form a new Christian bell tower.

As happened with the royal palace at the Alhambra, the conquerors recognized the mosque's beauty and did not destroy it. Alfonso X built a small royal chapel inside it, but the building as a whole remained essentially unaltered for almost 200 years and was used by both Moslems and Christians until, in a misguided effort to improve it in 1523, Christians during the reign of Carlos V removed a central section and implanted a cathedral without walls inside it.   

A purist can see today's Mezquita as neither fish nor fowl, and one who is righteously indignant about Carlos' palace sitting beside the Moorish palace in the Alhambra can be even more indignant about the cathedral sitting in the middle of the Mezquita. Yet the mosque is so enormous and the Christian modifications were executed so tastefully that those who have an ecumenical spirit can see the Mezquita now as a masterful integration of antagonistic religious traditions that should serve as a model and corrective for people of all persuasions waving religious banners in Jerusalem, Northern Ireland, India and elsewhere.  

A photograph of some of the 850 surviving red and white striped double arches that support the essentially flat mosque roof and ceiling has become the icon for Cordoba and the Mezquita, followed in importance by a photo of the radiant tile and stucco mihrab (prayer niche) that aligns the mosque with Makkah.    Their beauty notwithstanding, I was more moved by sitting under ancient oil lamps in the vast dim mosque and looking inward toward the open cathedral, an utterly alien creation in that setting, filled with its own icons and glowing softly under subtle modern lighting, like a gigantic Christian jewel at rest in a web of translucent Moorish velvet.

Since the mosque encloses the cathedral, looking inward from the mosque is to look into a life size cutaway model of a cathedral.   An organ and choir would never be found in a mosque but are the center of visual attention here.   Likewise statuary of any kind is anathema in mosques, but here it gorgeously depicts Christian characters and events.   And by walking around the cathedral and looking in, chapels in the round drift by, sacred islands afloat in a complex religious sea.

Looking outward from the cathedral to the mosque, the vast building appears as an endless expanse of red and white arches disappearing into the shadows in all directions.   The mirhab, pulpit and other significant points within it are small and inconspicuous in comparison with the huge cathedral structures, but what they lack in size they make up for in exquisite beauty.  

Cathedral and Giralda Tower in Sevilla     The old city of Sevilla is built on Phoenician, Roman and Visigothic foundations.   Under Moslem control it played second fiddle to Toledo and Cordoba until both of those cities fell to the Reconquista, but it experienced a brief shining moment of Moslem glory at the end of the 12 th century during which a great congregational mosque was built on the site where Sevilla Cathedral sits now.    

After Sevilla was recaptured from the Moors by Alfonso's father in 1248, the Friday mosque was reconsecrated and remained in use as a church for 150 years until its deteriorating physical condition resulted in its being torn down.   Between 1402 and 1506, before New World gold and silver could affect its size and design, a cathedral was built on the site, incorporating as much of the old mosque as could be salvaged. At 520 by 390 feet its floor area of 203,000 square feet is fifteen percent smaller than the 240,000 square feet occupied by the Mezquita in Cordoba, but it is nevertheless the largest Gothic cathedral and third largest Christian cathedral of any kind in the world, exceeded only by St. Peter's in Rome and St. Paul's in London.

Thus Sevilla Cathedral is a huge Gothic cathedral that contains a considerable amount of Moslem architecture, while the Mezquita is an even larger Moorish mosque that contains many Christian elements.

The most conspicuous Moslem component of the cathedral is the enormous Giralda Tower built as a minaret at the end of the 12 th century and converted to a bell tower during the reign of Carlos V.   At its base the vast Courtyard of the Oranges contains fountains and streams as at the Mezquita where the faithful washed before praying.

The Mezquita is oriented horizontally, low and essentially flat-roofed. Perhaps its shape corresponds to that of Moslems at prayer, kneeling with arms and forehead pressed to the floor in a position of submission to Allah.   Sevilla Cathedral is oriented vertically, with roof flying high and spires reaching toward heaven, perhaps corresponding to the appearance of Christians standing upright with their arms raised in an imploring or beseeching posture.  

These two different views of man's relationship to God are reflected in the internal architecture of the buildings. The roof on buildings like the Mezquita or the astonishingly beautiful 12 th century Jain temple at Ranakpur in Rajasthan are supported by a vast array of slender pillars creating an image of a palm grove.   At the Mezquita, the pillars are arranged in a rectangular matrix forming a vast number of vertical, horizontal and diagonal aisles.   That design simply would not work in Sevilla Cathedral or any of the other vertically oriented cathedrals of Europe.   Support there comes from a small number of massive columns that withstand the immense vertical and horizontal loads imposed by the weight and inclination of the roof.   Sevilla Cathedral has about thirty enormous columns arranged to form five naves    The illusion there is not of an expansive grove of palms so much as a tightly circumscribed grove of sequoias, creating marvelous arches high above where they meet the roof but generally obstructing visibility horizontally unless you are looking directly along one of the naves.  

The extraordinarily ornate art that occupies every available niche inside the cathedral is no doubt beautiful and inspiring by some standards, but these marvelous artistic treasures are not to my taste.   Most of them were produced during the Golden Age and represent the wealth of the Indies which made Carlos V and Philip II two of the most powerful men in the 16 th century.   I can understand them intellectually and can appreciate the materials and techniques and ideas that they embody, but I just don't like them.   

Whatever Alfonso X may have done with regard to the mosque that pre-existed the cathedral was destroyed when the old mosque came down and the new cathedral went up.   But Alfonso continues to be present there in at least three ways.   The Royal Chapel, located directly behind the main chapel, holds the tombs of Fernando III and his son Alfonso X, the only two kings buried there.   Also a gift that Alfonso received in 1263 from the Sultan of Egypt still is on display.   Much more significantly from our perspective, recordings of Alfonso's Cantigas play softly in the background at various locations in the cathedral, allowing Alfonso's musical genius, ecumenical spirit and good taste to continue living now as they did 750 years ago.

In the years before and after 1492, Ferdinand and Isabella used Sevilla as their capital, and during the 16 th and 17 th centuries the wealth of the Indies poured into that city as the major port on the Guadalquiver River and the west coast of Spain.   Sevilla Cathedral was at the exact center of the cultural explosion of the Golden Age and benefited from it in every possible way.   As a symbol of the enormous indebtedness of church and city to Christopher Columbus, the great sailor's tomb stands near the Cathedral's main chapel overlooking the largest altarpiece in the world.

During the last forty years, the Moslem and Christian elements of the cathedral have been joined by a distinct "third wave" that has nothing to do with religion.   I refer to the international tourist element whose impact here seems to be much greater than at the Mezquita and Alhambra.   But unlike so many places in the world that have been ruined by tourism, the cathedral appears to have benefited.   Entryways have been tastefully enhanced to handle the flow of visitors, indirect illumination throughout makes the architecture easy to see but appears to be of a kind that will do no damage, highly informative museum exhibits have been installed at various levels on the ramp leading to the top of the Giralda Tower, building maintenance is superb, and the sound system brings the Cantigas to life again.

Alcazar in Sevilla     Just across the square from the great cathedral in Sevilla is the entrance to another Moorish royal palace complex that is similar to the one in the Alhambra.   As a major urban palace in a region of shifting political control, it has been occupied, maintained and modified more or less continuously by a wide diversity of people since the 8 th century, and has a much more complex history than its cousin in Granada.  

Certainly the architecture and decorative art of the Alcazar (al-casr / palace or fort) rival or exceed that of the Alhambra.   Every guidebook lists a dozen patios at the centers of a dozen palaces, grand halls with horseshoe arches and spectacular ceilings, wonderful gardens with fountains and lush greenery.   The individual decorative features in tile, plaster, stucco and inlaid wood are beyond compare, and the vistas are superb.   

As the Christian frontline advanced southward, some Moslems who did not convert to Christianity remained in Christian controlled territory where they where known as mudejars (those permitted to remain).   These people, who included many of the finest Moorish artists and craftsmen, continued the glorious architectural tradition of the past but used their skills for the victorious Christians.   Such was the case in the Sevilla Alcazar, where some of the most brilliant palace designs and decorations were executed after the reconquest by mudejars from Cordoba and Granada.   Thus the alcazar, like all of the other major buildings described here, is a hybrid but of a different kind, all of it built by Muslims but some of it built for Christian rulers by the mudejar.

Again we find Alfonso X and Carlos V squarely on top of each other.   A Moorish palace built in the southeastern part of the Alcazar in the 12 th century was replaced by Alfonso X in the 13 th century. His additions included the "scriptorium" where he composed the Cantigas de Santa Maria and the hall where his intellectual court assembled.   In the 16 th century, Carlos V renovated and upgraded Alfonso's palace leaving little of his illustrious predecessor's work unchanged. The end result is known in the 21 st century as the Hall of Carlos V.  

Despite its unquestionable beauty and noble heritage, the Alcazar's overall effect on me was less satisfying than the Alhambra's.    The Alcazar is built at ground level in the heart of the city and has been directly adjacent to residential, business and governmental districts for at least a thousand years.   It would be hard for any site to compete with that of the Alhambra, and this one offers no competition at all.  

The main sections of the Alhambra palace are arranged side by side, so that each functions as a kind of prelude to the next.   The main sections of the Alcazar in Sevilla are arranged in a much more confusing pattern.   Perhaps if I lived there for a while, I would learn how to navigate within it, but during our visit I was thoroughly disoriented by the maze-like organization, and the overall effect was not cumulative as in the Alhambra.   

In the Alcazar as in the Alhambra, what you see depends largely upon when you see it.   The light and shadow effects are most satisfying in the mornings and evenings, but we visited the Alcazar at midday when the sun was shining straight down, casting harsh shadows where often there are none.  

But I found the Alcazar gardens to be more to my liking. The plantings at the Alhambra were more formal than at the Alcazar, or maybe the Alcazar gardens were somewhat more disheveled and at the same time more welcoming.   

There is a problem here.   Seeing only one palace or mosque or cathedral in a region is not enough to permit generalizations, while seeing too many results in an overdose.   I don't know how many is enough, but the problem is human rather than statistical.  

Archive of the Indies    Located on the same square as Sevilla Cathedral and the Alcazar, the Archive of the Indies was built as an exchange at the end of the reign of Philip II and converted to one of the world's great libraries in 1785 when all Spanish documents relating to Spain's New World Empire were collected there. One of the major disappointments of our visit to Spain was that the Archive was closed for renovations while we were there.

Barrios     The Moorish and not-quite-Moorish buildings that we visited in Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada were not self-sufficient entities like many Medieval Christian monasteries tried to be.   Rather they were affiliated with and supported by surrounding residential, professional, market, workshop and agricultural areas.   At their peaks under Moorish rule, both Granada and Cordoba were among the largest cities in Europe, each having something on the order of 200,000 to 300,000 inhabitants, which is about the same size they are today.   Sevilla was a much smaller city in 1492 with something like 40,000 inhabitants, growing to perhaps 150,000 by 1600 and about 650,000 today.

Each city was divided into neighborhoods or quarters or districts or barrios, each of which was occupied by a group identifiable on the basis of religion, occupation or ethnicity.   In Sevilla for example, Barrio Santa Cruz is the ancient Jewish quarter - some say Jewish ghetto - immediately east of Sevilla Cathedral and the Alcazar.   In Cordoba, a Jewish quarter called Juderia lies west and northwest of the Mezquita, while a Moslem quarter whose name I cannot find lies just to the east of Juderia and the Mezquita.    In Granada, the Moslem quarter called Albaicin or Al-Bayzin stretches up the steep hillside across the Rio Darro from the Alhambra.

We know that the expulsion of the Moslems and Jews happened at different times in different places, that those people displayed a fair amount of mobility within the peninsula, and that expulsions to Morocco often were temporary.   But what does it mean that Juderia "was" the Jewish quarter?   Until when?   Is it still?   If the Jews were definitively expelled from that quarter 500 years ago, are the buildings that we see there now at least 500 years old, or has the quarter gone through perhaps repeated re-buildings so that only the name is the same?   We don't know.   But we do know that walking into all of these barrios is like walking into a different age.

All of the barrios have two or three story stone houses with tiled roofs, solid front walls and no space between adjacent structures.   These continuous rows of buildings line narrow twisting streets that are almost always shaded by the buildings.   Many of the streets, paved with stones that could have been there forever, are used only by pedestrians.    Now that it is fashionable to leave the front doors open, you can see through wrought iron gates and shaded passageways into a multitude of patios at the center of the houses, where tiles and pottery and flowering plants form miniatures of the Moorish gardens appearing on such a grand scale in the Alhambra and the Alcazar.   Virtually all of the buildings have been tastefully gentrified in recent decades and the expensive cars parked in front of some refute the negative connotations associated with barrios in Latin America.

Despite a striking uniformity in the appearance of these barrios, each is unique.   Santa Cruz has some of the hustle of the large modern city of Sevilla that surrounds it, and the Giralda Tower soars above it, dull at noon when the sun is overhead, ablaze with gold in the setting sun, glowing softly in its nighttime illumination.    Juderia in Cordoba still has a Medieval synagogue, in some places the streets are so narrow that slits cut into the walls accepted the ends of axles so carts could pass through them, and a statue of Maimonides watches over all.   In Al-Baysin one street follows the bank of the Rio Darro while all of the others struggle up the steep hillside under the watchful gaze of the Alhambra, each house overlooking the roofs of its neighbors, many with views far down the valley of the Darro to the plains below the city.

Alfonzo X and the Alcazar in Jerez    We met Alfonso at almost every turn, but many of the important things he did left no visible trace.    I have pieced together this brief biographical sketch using scanty and sometimes contradictory information available to me in Sharjah, so please forgive me if I have erred.

Alfonso lived from 1221 to 1284 and ruled as the King of Castille and Leon from 1252 to 1282.   His father's mother's parents were Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and his power base was in his hereditary home in the north, not in Sevilla where he moved his court.    Militarily he succeeded in recapturing not only Jerez but almost all of what is now Cadiz Province from the Moors.    Politically he tried but failed to gain the crown of the Holy Roman Empire. Alfonso was deposed by his son in 1282 and died a fugitive in Seville in 1284 at the age of 63, an unfitting end for a man of his caliber.

Himself a poet and author, Alfonso greatly stimulated the intellectual life of his time, especially in literature, science and law.   He supported ongoing scholarly translations in Toledo and Cordoba, had the Bible, Quran and Talmud translated into Castillian, and directed that public and private documents be written in Castillian rather than in Latin.   He promulgated a new law code known as Las Siete Partidas (The Seven Parts) which clarified Castillian law and claimed to embrace every branch of law, and had what are known now as the Alphonsine Planetary Tables prepared in 1252 as an early example of Renaissance astronomy.

If that were not enough, in the Sevilla Alcazar he composed most of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, a collection of more than 400 sacred songs to the Virgin Mary.   Joel Cohen says "they are the most important examples of vernacular song from the Spanish Middle Ages ... [and] a summit of Medieval Christian spirituality."    As the self-styled "King of the three religions" - Christianity, Judaism, Islam - Alfonso surrounded himself with scholars and artists of all faiths.   Illuminated manuscripts of the Cantigas show light and dark skinned musicians wearing the attire of all three religions performing the music of their king.

Despite his multitude of intellectual and artistic accomplishments, his reign was troubled throughout.   Perhaps one of the most painful events for him was the revolt of the mudejares in Jerez.   For political reasons that I have been unable to discover, new rules and taxes imposed on the mudejares in what is now Cadiz Province required that they celebrate Christian feasts and live in ghettos.   They rebelled and after a five month siege ending in 1264, Alfonso deported them and other mudejares living in Sevilla and Cordoba to Granada and North Africa.    

In the year and the city of the mudejar revolt, Alfonso preserved one last mosque that I must mention.   We stumbled upon it accidentally in Jerez at the end of our last full day in Spain, a fitting end to the architectural part of our visit to Andalucia.

The 12 th century Alcazar in Jerez is tiny as such places go, the walls enclosing perhaps an acre.   Restoration has been underway for many years, and several buildings and gardens are open to visitors now, including fine Arab baths whose walls contain Visigothic arches in mint condition and probably some Roman elements if you know where to look.   But the Alcazar is so small and incomplete that tour busses don't stop there often, so we had the place pretty much to ourselves.  

Just inside the gate a small building of rough beige stone crouches in the sand.   It has a long religious history - perhaps Roman, then Visigothic Christian, then Moslem, then Christian again.   Three Visigothic arches admit worshipers and sunlight, a few internal arches and pillars support the roof, and a Moorish mirhab and minaret remain. It is the essence of a structure that Alfonso X recognized for its fragile beauty and reconsecrated in 1264 as the Royal Chapel of Santa Maria, dedicated to Mary and subtly embellished only by the inscription of two of Alfonso's cantigas on the walls. Perhaps because it is too small or too obscure, his decision to leave the building unchanged except for the addition of the cantigas has been respected.

A quiet, shady plaza behind the gardens and near the baths at the back of the compound holds a life size stone carving said to be of Alfonso X.    We have no idea when the statue was erected or even whether the figure looks like Alfonso, but as a tribute to the man and his ideas it is most satisfying.


Part 2.    Music

When we arrived in Spain we planned to sample as much as possible of Andalucia's rich musical heritage.   As it happened, we approached the topic from two rather different directions.   Nancy's professional background in European Medieval and Renaissance music, including Alfonso's Cantigas, provided access from the north so to speak, while my own amateur interest in Indian classical music provided access from the east.   

The obvious strategy was to start with musical topics we knew something about and move toward those we knew nothing about.    We have done that in other parts of the world and it has yielded a fair amount of knowledge, many interesting musical experiences, and a sizable collection of folk instruments, cassettes and CDs from India and Bangladesh, throughout the Caribbean, and various parts of the Moslem world from Turkey to Indonesia.

The strategy worked in Andalucia too, but we discovered very quickly that perhaps we had bitten off more than we could chew.   The complex Andalucian musical heritage is ancient, huge, diverse, densely interconnected, vigorously active and reasonably well documented.   The result has been a musical learning curve that has been approximately vertical since the day we arrived there.  

Music of Al-Andalus    Arabic music shaped the music of southern Spain as the Arabic language left its imprint on the Spanish language.    This is a topic about which we knew nothing when we arrived, but we soon realized that we had to know something about it if we were to make sense of any other music from the region.  

Just as cathedrals are different from mosques, so too is Western music different from Eastern.   The following broad stroke comparison of Eastern and Western music parallels my earlier comparison of cathedrals and mosques.   I include it here because it is another example of the two different worlds that coexist sometimes uncomfortably in this region, and having some idea of how these things work is an important part of understanding everything from the Cantigas to flamenco.

Post-Renaissance Western music can be quite complex in its execution, but its basic elements are pretty simple:   24 major and minor keys, a 12 tone scale with standard intervals between tones, a nearly minimalist but somewhat flexible rhythmic structure that can be approximated by the Eveready bunny (thump-thum-thump), and the use of harmony.   Musical forms such as fugue, sonata and symphony are highly diverse and new ones can be created at any time.   The composer is responsible for developing a piece of music in one of these forms using the elemental building blocks.   The performer, or the conductor if there is one, is free to interpret the composer's work, but is expected to play it more or less like the composer wrote it.   In this context, musical complexity often derives mainly from the composer's freedom to use harmony.

Classical music in the Arabic, Turkish, Iranian and Indian traditions is different.   In place of 24 major and minor keys, they use anywhere from 50 to 172 modes, called maqam in the Middle East and rag in India, each of which is a very specific scale with idiosyncratic details.   In place of 12 tones with standard intervals between them, they use 24 to 28 tones with much smaller intervals of variable sizes.   Instead of the simple but flexible rhythmic patterns of the West, they use less flexible rhythmic cycles, called tal in India, with as many as 48 beats in which the timing and emphasis of each beat may be different from that of all others in the cycle.   And harmony is generally prohibited.  

Superimposed on these rules that apply at the lowest level of detail are additional complex rules concerning the large scale structure of the pieces or collections of pieces corresponding to the musical forms of the West. The composer if there is one - and often there is not - is responsible for developing a sketch out of the elemental building blocks, and the performer or performer-composer uses that sketch as the basis for improvisation without violating any of the rules.   In this tradition, responsibility for the complexity of a performance rests directly on the intellectual, aesthetic and technical virtuosity of an improvising solo performer and a small number of others who play supporting roles.

Pre-Renaissance music of the West was modal like that of the East, but with major historical differences between the traditions even then.   Nevertheless there were important commonalities between classical music of Arabia and Medieval Christian music of Europe that have been lost in the centuries since the Western tradition diverged from the Eastern.

Within this broad context, Classical Arabic music theory was formalized in two major centers: the Andalus tradition developed in Cordoba in the 9 th century and the Iraqi tradition developed in Baghdad in the 10 th and 11 th centuries.    I know almost nothing about the Iraqi tradition, but somewhat more about the Andalus tradition because of the visit to Spain.

The Andalus tradition was created by a master poet-musician named Abdulhasan Ali ben Nafi, commonly known as Ziryab, who immigrated to Cordoba in 822 from the Baghdad court of Harun Al-Rashid during the reign of Charlemagne.   Among his many achievements, he took a large collection of musical instruments to Cordoba, made major advances in the design of the Eastern oud which is ancestor to the Western lute, established the first conservatory in Europe and devised a musical structure called nuba that continues to distinguish the classical music of Morocco and adjacent regions from that of Arabic countries east of Suez.

The nuba constitute a complex set of rules concerning the large scale structure of classical suites.   A nuba is a suite played in the form of a necklace in which each song is a bead of a different size and form.   The "string" that ties the beads together is the common mode in which all are composed.   The mode determines the mood or emotional color of the suite and the time of day for which the suite is most appropriate.   A nuba is divided into four or five major sections each based on a distinct rhythmic pattern.

Apparently Ziryab laid out the basic rules and devised 24 nuba, one corresponding to each hour of the day.   Each nuba contains a specific number of songs, as many as sixty or seventy, and the songs within a nuba alternate between being vocal and instrumental.   Not surprisingly, a nuba may require six or seven hours – or more - for a complete performance.

The objective of such a quick overview of the basic rules of an alien musical tradition is a lot like that of a short lecture on the grammar of a foreign language.    Neither enables you to understand or use the new medium, but they can at least indicate that the cacophony you hear when presented with an alien performance says more about deficiencies in your own hearing and understanding than it does about the primitivity or lack of it among the aliens.  

With that limited objective in mind, we have spent a lot of time studying the scant materials we have to hand and listening to our new recordings that are based on the nuba tradition and are explicitly linked to Ziryab.    See the discography below for details of the recordings.

Eduardo Paniagua is a Spaniard who has spent a lifetime reconstructing the music and musical instruments of Al-Andalus.    The Splendors of Al-Andalus, by Paniagua and his group named Calamus, contains short excerpts from six nuba and a long series of fourteen instrumental and vocal excerpts from Nuba Gharibat Al-Husayn, a Moroccan nuba containing 64 songs, with roots in both Ziryab and Sufi mysticism.   This is not easy listening - it is more like total immersion in a new universe - but it is a gorgeous recording and the liner notes are rich if somewhat disorganized.   If you don't like this one, you may not find much to your liking in classical Arabic music.    La Felicidad Cumplida, which translates as "perfect bliss", is Paniagua's own beautiful setting of Arabic poetry that is inscribed on the walls of the Alcazar in Sevilla.    It is recent music written by someone intimately acquainted with the modes and rhythms of the nuba.

Joel Cohen is an American who, on his own and as conductor of the Boston Camarata under various names, has been one of the major forces in rediscovering and restoring long forgotten European Medieval and Renaissance music.    In Alfonso X El Sabio : Cantigas de Santa Maria he is joined by the Abdelkarim Rais Andalucian Orchestra of Fez who are among the principal performers in the nuba tradition in Morocco.    Their collaboration has yielded a recording that presents an outstanding selection of the Christian cantigas, vocal works composed in traditional western modes featuring Joel's wife Anne Azema, embedded in instrumental works from the Moslem nuba tradition composed in Arabic modes.    Think of it as 13 th century fusion music.

Paco de Lucia has been one of the principal innovators and performers of flamenco guitar since 1967 when he was fourteen years old.   Since we couldn't buy everything, we bought his two-CD album entitled Anthology, a recompilation of 25 of his best performances including several pieces from his album entitled Ziryab.   The liner notes are sketchy, so there is much here to study without much to lean on.   But the performances are flamenco guitar at its best.   Someday we shall find his Ziryab album, now that we know enough to look for it.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, from Jaipur, Rajasthan, India, has become increasingly important in recent years as a member of the younger generation of Indian classical musicians.   Using an instrument of his own invention, a highly modified guitar called mohan vina that is ideally suited for playing in the Indian tradition, he has made a number of fine recordings of strictly Indian music.   However, his work with performers from other musical traditions may be even more significant.    Among our recent acquisitions are two featuring Vishwa Mohan.    In Saltanah, recorded with the Palestinian musician Simon Shaheen on oud, each composition combines an Indian rag with the corresponding Iranian maqam to yield a fusion of these two closely related Asian musical traditions, one of which is one step removed from the nuba and the other two steps.   In A Meeting by the River, recorded with the American Ry Cooder on bottleneck guitar, two improvisational musicians from different traditions meet in a Franciscan seminary in California and discover that they are on the same wavelength.   The unifying element is the poetry of Jalal Al-Din Rumi (1207-73), a Persian mystic whose poetry, composed at exactly the same time that Alfonso X was composing the cantigas, laid the foundations for the Mevlevi Sufi sect known today as the whirling dervishes. The resulting album is glorious to hear but impossible to classify.

Radio Tarifa is a rather peculiar musical group who set out to fuse just about everything with everything else in the music of southern Spain and North Africa.   Their album Rumba Argelina has received excellent reviews and the music is great to listen to even though the liner notes should embarrass them.   Their compositions and performances, all in the manner of Al-Andalus, include everything from flamenco to nubas to Turkish whirling dervish sounds straight from Istanbul and Konya.

Music of the Sephardic Jews    When the Sephardic (Spanish) Jews were expelled from Spain, they took their musical traditions with them as they dispersed all over the Mediterranean region and further north into Europe.   The tradition lives on and is being revived not only in Spain but also in Turkey where many Sephardim became royal musicians in the courts of the Ottoman Empire, and elsewhere in Europe and America.   We attended a brilliant Sephardic performance in Sevilla at a performing arts center in Barrio Santa Cruz, and another two years ago at the Boston Early Music Festival in a series devoted to Ottoman music.   Unfortunately the religious wars that have been in progress for millennia between Christians, Moslems and Jews made it unwise for us to bring our small Sephardic collection to Sharjah.   1500 years of religious conflict is more than enough!    However, hearing Jordi Saval's Diaspora Sefardi, featuring his wife Montserrat Figueras, is a good way to approach this tradition.

Medieval Christian Music    The enormous musical tradition represented by Alfonso's Cantigas de Santa Maria made us aware of Spanish music in the first place, but since much of it is available in the USA, we probably didn't pay enough attention to it while we were in Andalucia.   Hearing sound bites from the cantigas in Sevilla Cathedral and elsewhere made the tradition come alive for us.   By the time we got there, we already had an Eastern perspective recording of the cantigas by Joel Cohen and the orchestra from Fez described above, as well as two Western perspective recording of them by New York Pro Musica and the Waverly Consort from many years ago.   Jordi Saval recently recorded another selection of cantigas, as did Eduardo Paniagua and just about everybody else who records Medieval music.   Unless you are a true cantiga-freak, there is a limit to the resources you can devote to this body of music.   Clearly our focus is broader than the cantigas so we did not bring any new editions into our collection.

Music of Renaissance Court And Church    Music from the times of Ferdinand and Isabella, Carlos V and Philip II provided much of the "sound track" for life in Andalucia and in Spain's New World Empire during the Golden Age.   This tradition is fully connected with the mainstreams of European Renaissance music, just as Carlos V and Philip II were parts of the European political mainstream.   

Jordi Saval in Spain, like Joel Cohen in the USA, has been a major force in recovering Medieval and Renaissance music from neglect.    I mentioned him above with regard to Sephardic music and the cantigas.   The scope of his work is much broader, but generally focuses on the rich heritage of Spain.   Recent acquisitions of Saval's court music include El Cancionero de Palacio 1474-1516 from a songbook from the court of Ferdinand and Isabella, Lluis Del Mila: Fantasies, Pavanes and Galliardes from Valencia in 1536 and La Folia 1490 - 1701.  

Saval's recording of La Folia features many famous variations on the La Folia theme.   It’s one of those tunes like Greensleeves that has been at the top of the pop charts for about 500 years and shows no signs of fading.   Not only is it a key ingredient in the Western musical tradition, but also you can hear traces of it flitting through several of our new Andalucian albums as well. It’s especially important for Nancy because she spent a lot of time studying and practicing it during her initial training in Medieval and Renaissance music with Joseph Iodone (see below).

Joel Cohen returns here with a fine recording entitled Nueva Espana which he and his supporting groups performed at the Boston Early Music Festival two years ago.   This album is based on extensive research into church music that was composed and performed, then lost and rediscovered, in Spain's New World Empire.    The texts are in Spanish, Portuguese, various African languages, and several American Indian languages including Quecha and Nahuatl, The rhythms range from staid and churchly to exuberantly Afro-Latin.   The performers include Joel Cohen, the Boston Camarata, the Boston Shawm and Sackbut Ensemble, the Schola Cantorum of Boston, and the Women's Choir of Les Amis de la Saggesse, a Haitian church in Dorchester, Massachusetts, whose members provide some of the most exciting sounds on the CD.   Once again Joel Cohen stars as scholar, teacher, conductor, showman and logistician.

Flamenco    Because of a recent unpleasant encounter that we had with members of a Kalbilya Gypsy community in the Thar Desert near Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, we were decidedly ambivalent about getting anywhere near flamenco in Spain with its strong Gypsy affiliations there.   But avoiding flamenco in Spain probably is impossible.   So we went to a flamenco performance at the same performing arts center in Barrio Santa Cruz where we attended the Sephardic music performance, and saw a flamenco dance film from the 1950s at the Andalucian Flamenco Center in Jerez.   Also we visited the beautifully restored Iglesia de Santa Ana founded in the 13 th century by Alfonso X in the Gypsy quarter of Triana where it served for centuries as the principal Gitano church in Sevilla.

The flamenco folk music tradition either arrived or emerged in Andalucia - specifically Sevilla, Granada and Jerez - sometime after the 16 th century.   I have seen frequent references to Moorish roots of flamenco, but have been unable to find anything specific on that topic.   From what I have been able to infer, it seems that flamenco rhythmic structures resemble Indian tal much more than anything the Eveready bunny can do, but in general the history of flamenco seems to be even more obscure than the history of Arabic music in Andalucia.   Also, the role of the Gypsies in flamenco is much less clear on closer examination than it is in popular history and myth.   In any event, flamenco had its own golden age in the late 19 th and early 20 th centuries, and is experiencing a resurgence now.

Flamenco performances may have various combinations of three components:   voice, guitar and dance.   The one we attended in Barrio Santa Cruz had all three.   The temperature that day was above 100 F and the patio where the performance occurred in-the-round was sheltered from breezes except those generated by hand fans.   All three of the performers were really hot, the singer was plunging to the depths of despair with sweat flowing copiously into his eyes, and the young woman was dancing splendidly on the verge of exhaustion.   But nobody passed out and in fact the quality was so fine that we decided to buy some flamenco recordings. The only thing that marred the experience was seeing the singer practice his grimaces off stage without making a sound.

In addition to Paco de Lucia's fine Anthology mentioned above, we purchased two other flamenco CDs.   The first, The Rough Guide to Flamenco compiled by Phil Stanton, is a good access point, diverse, comprehensive, alternately relaxed and exciting.   The second, by Pedro Soler and Renaud Garcia-Fons, is entitled Suite Andalouse for Contrabass and Flamenco Guitar.    Even for someone who approaches flamenco cautiously, this is an impressive performance.   The guitar plays the part of the guitar, which is not surprising, but the contrabass plays the part of the vocalist, which is most surprising to me.   The melody, bowed at the very top of the range of the contrabass, catches the mood of the music to perfection.   I have never experienced duende or heard real cante jondo (deep song), but this recording suggests both.

Spanish Classical dance and guitar seem to be associated more with Madrid than with Sevilla and were virtually invisible in Andalucia, so we learned little about them during our visit.    Contrary to my faulty understanding until recently, these classical forms are in an entirely different musical tradition from that of flamenco dance and guitar.   The classical tradition has its roots in the stylized life of the Renaissance courts, and the music is in the Western classical art tradition broadly defined, including works by JS Bach and a whole host of Spaniards composing in the manner of European art music such as Mudarra, Narvaez, Albeniz, de Falla and Rodrigo. Yet Andres Segovia, the greatest guitarist in the Classical tradition, began his professional career in Granada deep within Andalucia, while Jose Greco, one of the greatest performers in the rejuvenated Neoclassical Spanish dance tradition, was born of Spanish parents in Italy and raised in New York City, and had virtually nothing to do with Spain.   Most peculiar.

Lute and Vihuela    The European lute is derived from the Arabic oud, and the vihuela   lies somewhere between the lute and the guitar in terms of both design and sound.    Both the instruments and the performers in this rich old tradition tend to produce gentler and more relaxed music than most of that from the flamenco and classical traditions.   The literature for the instruments is enormous, reaches back into the Middle Ages and spans most of the countries of Europe. Paul O'Dette is one of the leading performers of Medieval and Renaissance lute music today, and his recent five-CD set of the complete lute works of Dowland transports you straight to Elizabethan England.

Spanish compositions in this tradition seem to be written for both lute and vihuela, but all of the recordings we saw in Sevilla featured Renaissance compositions played on vihuela.    De los Alamos de Sevilla:   Music for Vihuela Printed in Sevilla - Works by Mudarra and Fuenllana contains 28 short pieces performed by Juan Carlos Rivera.   It was playing softly in the background when we arrived at the music shop at Sevilla's Alcazar and we immediately bought a copy.   Produced in cooperation with the Government of Andalucia's Center for the Documentation of Andalucian Music, it is a welcome sign that government support for historical restoration reaches beyond architecture and the decorative arts.    Jose Miguel Moreno's Cancion del Emperador contains music for the courts of Carlos V and Philip II.   The music is brilliant and complex, and a detail from a painting of Carlos V going into battle in 1547 makes a superb cover illustration.

But the best of this group was waiting for us when we returned to Harvard Square.   It is a CD by Joseph Iodone entitled The Art of the Lute that has a unique personal connection.   Back in the 1960s Nancy studied early music with Joseph Iodone, at a time when he was a leader in the Early Music movement and an intense performer and teacher of the music he was resurrecting.   As a member of New York Pro Musica, he performed on one of the early recordings of the Cantigas de Santa Maria, and it was during her work with him that Nancy first studied and played the music of Alfonso X.    Now, thirty-five years later, we find this recording made by him when he was in his eighties, and discover a totally relaxed, laid back, confident old man who plays wonderful music without having to prove anything to anybody about either himself or his music.   The compilation includes solos to quartets with Iodone playing all parts using multi-track recording techniques.   About half of the composers represented here are from Spain, the other half from elsewhere in Europe.    Highly recommended.

European Art Music     Andalucia has produced few composers of orchestral music but has inspired many from other parts of Spain and elsewhere in Europe. Names and compositions associated with this tradition include Manuel de Falla's Three Cornered Hat, Isaac Albeniz's Iberia, Ravel's Bolero and Debussy's Iberia. Nancy is firmly convinced that most art music composed after Johann Sebastian Bach died in 1750 still is too young to have proved itself, so we tend to avoid this new-fangled stuff.  

Nevertheless, we took the opportunity of the visit to Spain to add another valuable item to our small cello collection.   It is a recording of J. S. Bach's Cello Suites 1-6 recorded by Pablo Casals between 1936 and 1939 and recently restored by Ward Marston for the Naxos Historical label.   In addition to revolutionizing the playing of the cello, Casals, at the age of fifteen years while browsing in a music shop in Barcelona, found a copy of Bach's suites for unaccompanied cello that had been lost for more than a century.   This recording, made fifty years after he discovered the works, literally embodies a lifetime of practice and dedication.   The technical quality of the restoration is nearly perfect, providing a unique opportunity to sit in the room with Casals as he performs Bach just for you.   How does it compare with Yo-Yo Ma's recent recording?    You shouldn't have to choose - it's best to have both of them.

Modern American Tentacles     Spain's impact on New World music continues.   I conclude this biased review of the music of Andalucia with three recordings that manifest the continuing connection between Spain and the Americas in three distinctly different ways.  

Luis Delgado's Al Andalus was commissioned in 1992 by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and the Patrons of the Alhambra as the original soundtrack for an American exhibition of Islamic art in Spain.    This is a solo performance by Delgado using several traditional Andalucian instruments augmented by a lot of electronics.   My initial reaction was to hear it as Andalucian space music, but a quick look at Delgado's web site suggests that there is a lot more to him than just a young man with a synthesizer.   He has worked extensively with Eduardo Paniagua and a host of others in his field, performs at universities throughout Spain, and in October will open an exhibition of his own collection of traditional instruments from around the world.

In recent years, we have been trying to learn more about American jazz but one of the items conspicuously absent from our jazz collection was Miles Davis's Sketches of Spain.   We got it.   Davis' interpretations of Joaquin Rodrigo's Concerto de Aranjuez and Gil Evans' Solea with its roots firmly in the flamenco tradition are not only delightful to hear but also were important historically in establishing a firm link between American jazz and the music of Spain.    The addition of three extra bands on the CD destroys the artistic integrity of the original LP, but perhaps you can program your CD player to skip the last three bands.

Finally we arrive at the Buena Vista Social Club, Ry Cooder's fairly amazing resurrection of a group of musicians from Havana whose professional lives went on hold when Fidel Castro took over Cuba forty years ago. Their roots are in Africa, the United States, the rest of the Caribbean, and Spain where several of them have direct ties with Sevilla, and their music is a distinctly Latin fusion of all of those elements.   Like the recording by Joseph Iodone described above, we have here musicians who are not hustling for jobs or trying to get tenure.   They are, on average, about 75 years old and are completely relaxed knowing that they are the best they can be. We have decided we really like music played by old folks.

Conclusion     We simply had no idea what we were getting into as we followed Alfonso and his cantigas into the world of Spanish music.    We are especially pleased to have discovered the works of Eduardo Paniagua and his many collaborators who are doing so much to resurrect the Arabic heritage in the music of Al-Andalus, and to integrate the musical traditions of Al-Andalus and North Africa in performances that are readily available to European and North American audiences.   We hope to add more of his works to our collection in coming months.

In an earlier draft of this paper, I included web sites for Alfonso, Paniagua, Saval, Cohen, de Lucia and several others, but decided to leave them out of this final version.   The web still is young enough that new URLs come on line frequently and old ones change just as frequently.   If you want to know what's happening in the field of Spanish music, I recommend you do your own searches using a scholarly search engine and appropriate key words:   people's names from the paragraphs above, Spain, music genre such as flamenco and cantigas, etc.   Or search or other major music sites.    It shouldn't   take long to find a great many excellent sites for Alfonso X, Eduardo Paniagua, Joel Cohen, Jordi Saval, Luis Delgado, Paco de Lucia, cantigas, flamenco, Buena Vista Social Club, music festivals in Granada and Cordoba and so on indefinitely.  


Part 3.   Creature Comforts

After traveling almost exclusively in developing countries in the Caribbean, Middle East, South Asia and Southeast Asia for the last twenty years, we were astonished at how well everything worked on our visit to Spain in 2001.   

Alitalia Airline     Our travel agent in Fujairah, UAE, made all arrangements for our travel on Alitalia Airlines.   Their basic return fare between Dubai and Boston was better than most, and they gave us free return tickets for travel between Milan and any of their other destinations within Europe.   Our routing overall for air travel was Dubai - Milan - Madrid, Madrid - Milan - Boston and Boston - Milan - Dubai.   The quality of the Boeing 767 aircraft, the service, the food, the baggage handling, and the facilities at Malpensa Airport in Milan all were excellent, and each flight departed exactly on time.   We strongly recommend Alitalia.

RENFE Trains     We did all of our long distance travel in Spain on RENFE, the Spanish national railway system.   RENFE has a user friendly web site that contains timetables, routes and fares for their entire system.   It is available in Spanish and English, and supports online booking if that's what you want to do.   We did not use online booking due to a technical problem associated with our living in the UAE, but when we got there we discovered that we didn't need reservations, and in fact reservation charges add a lot to the fare and the reservations themselves limit flexibility.    We used a printout of the schedules from the RENFE web site to plan each outing and took a copy to the ticket booth so a ticket agent whose English was no better than our Spanish could see what we were asking for.    When we sent email questions to RENFE, we got nearly immediate replies that were entirely courteous and competent.

High speed AVE trains between Madrid and Sevilla provide service as good as anything you would find on an international airline, they are much quieter than airplanes, the stations are in the cities, and if a train is more than five minutes late RENFE cheerfully refunds your money.   But the fares are pretty close to airfares, and at 120mph / 200kph, you can't do much sightseeing.   The regional trains that we used for shorter trips to Cordoba, Granada and Jerez were slower but just as good, provided more opportunities to see the countryside and the people, and were very economical.   We recommend RENFE just as highly as we recommend Alitalia.

Murillo Hotel   We did a lot of searching on the web and found several hotels in Sevilla in good locations at reasonable rates.   The two that seemed best suited for us were the Hotal Murillo and the Hosteria del Laurel, both in Barrio Santa Cruz just five minutes walk from the Cathedral and the Alcazar.   I sent email messages to both and got immediate replies from both.   Since they seemed to be comparable in most ways, we followed up with Hotel Murillo, which was slightly less expensive, and had confirmed reservations at fair rates within a couple of hours.   We were not disappointed, except that we got a little bit bored with the same breakfast every morning.

Busses and Taxis     Getting around the cities, we walked if we could, took busses as a second choice, and took taxis if all else failed.    The Sevilla transit map is excellent and contains a lot of useful information that we saw nowhere else.   Taxis are economical and dependable, but the only people with whom we had unpleasant experiences on the entire trip were a couple of taxi drivers.   One of them was a tout for a Sevilla hotel that was of no interest to us, and insisted on plying his trade far too long after we asked him to take us to the Murillio where we already had a reservation.   The other took advantage of the fact that we were exhausted when we arrived at Madrid International Airport at midnight, and helped himself to an extra tip of 1000pts. After living and traveling for years in the United Arab Emirates where no taxi driver would ever do such a thing, I was not sufficiently on guard.   Shame on me.

Language    The Moors had a major impact on the Spanish language, and indirectly on European languages in general.   Although our skills in Arabic are quite limited, it was good to see old linguistic friends in new bottles as we wandered through Andalucia, trying to read everything from street signs and menus to museum captions and guidebooks in Spanish, Arabic and English.   But if you don't speak a little Spanish you may have minor problems here and there.   English as the world's lingua franca has not penetrated every neighborhood in Spain.

Dining     We had breakfast every morning at our hotel - nutritious and even tasty, but monotonous.   Lunch is the big meal of the day and goes on for hours.   Nancy can pick a good restaurant out of a Lonely Planet Guide at a thousand paces, so she picked 'em and both of us enjoyed 'em.   Excellent and diversified lunches in each city cost about $25 for everything for the two of us.   Dinner was endless tapas (appetizers) with vino (red wine) and fino (white dry sherry).   Some of the tapas bars in Barrio Santa Cruz cater for tourists, but the one directly in front of the Hotel Murillio has a native clientele and the staff were most gracious to us. I'm pretty sure somebody can make a bad tapas, but we didn't encounter one.

Supermarkets    In addition to the meals described above, we made one serious trip to Sevilla's El Corte Ingles supermarket on Plaza de la Magdalena.   (We finally found a couple of Carrefour's Supermarkets on the transit map, but they were out in the suburbs.)    The packaged goods were pretty much standard fare for supermarkets in the USA, the UAE, the UK and elsewhere in Europe, but we were captivated by the fresh local products.   Hams came in an enormous diversity of types and range of prices, breads and domestic cheeses were excellent and cheap, and the deli counter contained a lot of interesting salads, pastas and such. The serving staff thought we were daft when we requested 100 grams of each of several items but more-or-less complied with our requests.   We had no way to prepare fresh fish, meats and veggies that needed to be cooked, but we admired them a lot before moving right along to stock up on fresh fruits - including perfect figs - since our hotel breakfasts were totally fruitless.   The wine and sherry department lived up to our expectations, and their prices were much better than in specialty shops.   The only disappointment was that we couldn't find the mother load of olives.   We expected the olive counter would be world class, but in fact olive counters at many supermarkets in the UAE are vastly larger and more interesting than anything we saw in Spain.   Puzzling.

Books and CDs     English language books that pertain to Andalucia are hard to find in Andalucia.   We found nothing to buy except for general guidebooks and the really outstanding Alhambra in Focus, plus oldies by Washington Irving and Gerald Brenan.    If you want to immerse yourself in the likes of Cervantes, Lope de Vega, Garcia Lorca and Hemingway as you travel, take them with you.

Finding CDs is easier.   Shops at the Alhambra, the Sevilla Cathedral and the Sevilla Alcazar have small selections of excellent CDs including those they play as background music featuring lute, vihuela, guitar, the Cantigas and several from Al-Andulus by Eduardo Paniagua and his group.   For a much broader selection in most of the categories in which we were interested, we went to the music and electronics section of Sevilla's El Corte Ingles department store, not far from their supermarket but in a different building.   All things considered, however, we found better selections of Andalucian music at HMV and Tower Records in Harvard Square than we did in Sevilla.

Sherry in Jerez    While we were in Jerez, we made a pleasant pilgrimage to the Sandeman bodega and tasted several of their sherries.    Since we got there at the wrong time of the year, all we could see were casks sitting there doing whatever casks do.    The lecture tour was informative and the little cups containing different types of sherry were pleasant to sample, but the whole visit was pretty low key.   I much prefer the Mount Gay Rum Distillery in Barbados where the smell of molasses and the bubbling of fermentation yield a more sensual experience.

Olives, oranges and sunflowers    The economy of Andalucia rests largely on agriculture, which we saw only from our train windows.    Over the years we have derived a great deal of satisfaction from driving through Caribbean cane fields, walking through date palm oases in the Middle East, stopping beside rice terraces in Bali, and such like.  It was intensely frustrating to watch olive and orange groves trundle by at moderate speeds as the train worked its way up into the foothills near Granada, and to watch vast fields of sunflowers zip past at warp speed as the AVE zoomed along beside the Guadilquiver.   If we go back, we'll have to rent a car for a day or two to experience the "connective tissue" between major points of interest.

Smile, please     Spaniards are not exactly dour, but they don't waste a lot of energy on smiling unnecessarily.  As the end of the trip neared, I felt increasingly challenged as my attempts to help them deal with their collective flat affect continued to fail.    But I finally cracked the barrier – accidentally - and will share my secret with you.  

It was 2am in the Madrid airport terminal, I couldn't go to sleep in the plastic chair for fear of falling off, and the point on my pencil was exceedingly dull.   I asked the young woman at a nearby counter whether I could borrow a pencil sharpener but she didn't have one.    So I asked if I could go into a nearby office to borrow one there.   Since that elicited a blank look, I went in anyway.   

The office behind the door was as huge as a warehouse and almost empty.   Again I said to the first person I met, "May I borrow your pencil sharpener", which yielded another blank look.   In frustration I made a fist with my left hand, used my right hand to insert the deadly dull pencil into the fist, and did my best to impersonate the "Bzzzzzt" sound of an electric pencil sharpener.   Suddenly the person caught my meaning, went into hysterics, shouted something to her colleagues scattered about this vast empty space all of whom burst into laughter, and escorted me into the manager's office where the smiling manager himself presented me with a much appreciated free gift of a five-cent mechanical pencil sharpener.  

There must be an easier way to make Spaniards smile.


Reading List


Andalucia (1999) Lonely Planet Guide.   All you ever wanted to know about ...

Eyewitness Travel Guide to Seville and Andalusia, rev.ed. (2001) London:   Dorling Kindersley.   Excellent illustrations, not quite enough text.

Goodwin, Godfrey (1990) Islamic Spain; London: Penguin.   Good but quirky survey of virtually every surviving Islamic structure in Spain.

Nunez, J. Augustin, ed. (1991) The Alhambra in Focus; Madrid:   Edilux.   Outstanding text and illustrations. 190 page book with the feel and quality of National Geographic at its very best.   Available in every language except Martian.



Abu-Lughod, Janet L. (1989)   Before European Hegemony; Oxford: Oxford UP.   A look at the world system from a Developing World perspective.

Barraclough, Geoffrey, ed. (1982)   The Times Concise Atlas of World History.   Maplewood, NJ,   Hammond.   Can't get along without this one.

Braudel, Fernand (1972)   The Mediterranean and the Mediterranean World in the Age of Philip II. New York:   Harper and Row.   Cultural history at its best.

Broadhurst, Roland (2001) The Travels of Ibn Jubayer; New Delhi: Goodword Books.   Recent republication of a 1952 translation of a fascinating 12 th century manuscript by a Moslem from Cordoba who made the pilgrimage to Makkah and returned in the days when such a trip took two years.

Descola, Jean (1962) A History of Spain; New York: Alfred A Knopf.    Readable but superficial; may be the only history of Spain in the UAE.

Encarta 98 Deluxe Encyclopedia (1998) USA: Microsoft Corporation. Thank you, Bill Gates.



Brenan, Gerald (1963) South from Granada; London: Penguin.    Well received classic travel book that contains a few   problems that raise questions about the author's veracity.

Garcia Lorca, Federico (1997) Four Major Plays; Oxford World's Classics; Oxford: Oxford University Press.    Elusive in Madrid, but we found it.

Hemingway, Earnest (1941) For Whom the Bell Tolls; London: Jonathan Cape.   Hemingway's classic tale of commitment, courage and love in the Spanish Civil War.

Irving, Washington (1999, reprint of 1832 edition, with photographs) Tales of the Alhambra; Leon, Spain:   Editorial Everest.   What the Arabian Nights would have looked like if a romantic diplomat from upstate New York had written it.

Koestler, Arthur (1941) Darkness at Noon; New York:   Macmillan.   A skillfully crafted, utterly horrifying analysis of a purge of leaders in the Soviet Communist Party, based in part on Koestler's own imprisonment in Malaga, on the south coast of Andalucia, during the Civil War.

Maalouf, Amin (1994) Leo the African; London:   Abacus.    A superb (auto)-biographical novel by a Lebanese author about the historical figure Leo Africanus.   Leo was born in Granada just in time to be expelled by Ferdinand and Isabella, and grew up in Fez, Morocco.   After extensive travels across the Sahara to Timbuktu and Cairo, he arrived at the center of power in the 16 th century Mediterranean when he served as an emissary from Pope Clement VII in Rome to Suleiman the Magnificent, Sultan of the Ottoman Empire in Istanbul, during the reign of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in Sevilla.   Really powerful stuff, and the winner of several European literary prizes.   I am especially fascinated by the wise old Sheikh Astaghfirullah, whose name means "I implore the pardon of God!"   In the 1480s, Astaghfirullah repeatedly attempted to strengthen the irresolute people of Granada by reminding them that the Prophet says, “You will have the rulers you deserve", while Boabdil in his weakness was driving his dynasty to collapse and his people to exile.



Broughton, Simon, et al. (1994) World Music: The Rough Guide; London:   Rough Guides / Penguin.   Good reviews of the history and current status of world music, including flamenco and various traditions from the Middle East and India.

Barks, Coleman trans, (1997) The Essential Rumi, New York:   Harper Collins. Highly acclaimed free verse translations of 13 th century poetry of Jalal Al-Din Rumi.

Encarta 98 Deluxe Encyclopedia (1998) USA:   Microsoft Corporation.



I am heavily indebted to the liner notes that appear with the CDs cited in the discography.

Bhatt, Vishwa Mohan and Ry Cooder (1993) A Meeting by the River; Santa Barbara, CA:   Water Lily Acoustics.

Bhatt, Vishwa Mohan and Simon Shaheen (1996) Saltanah; Santa Barbara, CA:   Water Lily Acoustics.

Casals, Pablo (1936-39) restored by Ward Marston (2000) J.S. Bach Cello Suites Numbers 1-6; Franklin, TN:   Naxos Historical / NHN International Ltd.

Cohen, Joel and the Boston Camarata (1993) Nueva Espana; Paris:   Erato Disques.

Cohen, Joel and the Boston Camarata, with Mohammed Briouel and the Abdelkrim Rais Andalucian Orchestra of Fez   (1999) Alfonso X El Sabio : Cantigas de Santa Maria; Paris:   Erato Disques.

Cooder, Ry (1997) Buena Vista Social Club; New York:   World Circuit / Nonesuch.

Davis, Miles and Gil Evans (1960 / 1997) Sketches of Spain; New York:   Sony Music / Columbia Records.

de Lucia, Paco (1995) Anthology;   Madrid:   Universal Music Spain.

Delgado, Luis (1993) Al Andalus, Madrid:   Sonifolk.

Iodone, Joseph (1995) Art of the Lute; New York:   Lyrichord Early Music Series.

Moreno, Jose Miguel (1998) Cancion del Emperador; Spain:   Glossa Music.

Paniagua, Eduardo / Calamus (1996) The Splendor of Al-Andalus; Encino, CA:   MA Recordings.

Paniagua, Eduardo (2001) La Felicidad Complida: Arabic Inscriptions from the Alcazar of   Sevilla;   Madrid:   Pneuma.

Radio Tarifa (1993) Rumba Argelina; New York:   World Circuit / Nonesuch.

Rivera, Juan Carlos (1994) De los Alamos de Sevilla:   Musica para Vihuela Impresa en Sevilla;   Sevilla:   Centro de Documentacion Musical de Andalucia.

Stanton, Phil (1997) The Rough Guide to Flamenco; London:   World Music Network / Rough Guides.

Saval, Jordi (1999) Diaspora Sefardi; Madrid:   Alia Vox.

Saval, Jordi (1991) El Cancionero de Palacio 1474-1516; France:   Auvidis.

Saval, Jordi (1991) La Folia 1490 - 1701; Madrid:   Alia Vox.

Saval, Jordi (1995) Lluis Del Mila, Fantasies, Pavanes and Galliardes - Valencia 1536; France:   Auvidis.

Soler, Pedro and Renaud Garcia-Fons (1994) Suite Andalouse for Contrabase and Flamenco Guitar; France:   Al Sur.


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