05 January 2009

Harmony and understanding

As the situation in Gaza deteriorates further I am reminded of a CNN special report that I saw an ad for while travelling, simply entitled 'Jews and Arabs; Why don't they just get along?'.

Ah, journalists; The solution to, and cause of, all of life's problems.

I was born in the south of Spain, near Cadiz, and spent my formative years in Morocco. Moorish architecture and culture form my earliest memories, and have held a strong fascination for me all my life. In December 2005 The Very Understanding Girlfriend and I fulfilled a long ambition of mine and took a trip to Granada to visit the Alhambra, the 14th century hilltop palace of the Moorish rulers of southern Spain. The city was empty of foreign tourists, and at times we seemed to have the Alhambra to ourselves. The snow covered mountains, the freshness of the air and the clear blue skies that seemed to go on for miles all added to the sense of majesty that the palace commands.

One of the most amazing things about Moorish Spain was the religious tolerance most of the Sultans practised, with Muslim, Jew and Christian living and working side-by-side. It was one of the true golden ages of humanity, where art, literature and science all flourished. It is one of the great ironies of history that this golden age was brought crashing to an end in 1492 with the capture of Granada by the Catholic rulers Ferdinand and Isabella of Castile and Aragon, who expelled the Muslims and Jews and initiated the Inquisition as Christopher Columbus was preparing to set sail on his monumental voyage. In a very real way this golden age of religious harmony ended with the birth of America and the dawning of modernity.

Maria Rosa Menocal has written one of the best accounts of the culture of this golden age, 'The Ornament of the World - How Muslims, Jews and Christians Created a Culture of Tolerance in Medieval Spain', and its definitely worth reading if only to see how once everybody did just "get along".

I've also got round to uploading some pictures of the Alhambra, a task made more difficult by the contrast of Granada's clear blue December skies and our own miserable blanket of overcast greyness.

The Ornament of the World
My photos of the Alhambra

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