Spain, historically one of the most important counties we visited with its past being dominated by both Islamic and Christian empires, but also to give an opportunity to see Islam within the west right on the border of the ‘Islamic world’. Traveling into Spain I assumed that I knew what to expect, having visited Northern Europe previously I expected something similar, sure it might have its cultural quirks, the differences born out of a warmer climate and slightly different culture, but it would still be ‘Europe’. This might have been true in Madrid, but that assumption grew less and less correct the more south we traveled.
Spain’s Islamic past was definitely visible as we entered into the parts of the country that had once been ruled by the Umayyad empire. The similarities that could be drawn specifically to Tunisia and Morocco, in the design of art, architecture, food, and culture were striking as we entered first Cordoba and then Grenada
It feels a little strange talking about Spain’s democracy, it’s a western country, it’s a European country, it’s a country considered a full democracy according to the EIU Democracy index. In saying that though, Spain can act as the juxtaposition to the rest of the countries on the tour. Whilst it might sound very western-focused, Spain acted as the point of reference to me on the trip, having visited Europe before and finishing the tour in a ‘western’ nation, it tied the experiences of the other nations in terms of their democratic systems to something familiar. In talking to locals in Spain I asked similar questions to what I had done in Tunisia, Morocco, and Qatar, and the answers surprised me simply because of how similar they were. The locals I spoke to in Spain stressed the same points again, wanting those in power to recognise and respect the views and voice of the people, the difference only being in how they were heard. The one point of difference when it came to the democratic system in Spain was on the topic of Catalan. I asked locals in Spain in order to draw a connection to Tunisia, hoping to find similarities in the declaration of independence by Catalan and the Jasmine Revolution. Without being able to travel to Catalan it was clear that only one side of the issue was being heard, with all those I spoke to referencing the official comments made by both Spain and other nations, that I was an issue that would be dealt with domestically and within the current pollical and legal framework. It was interesting to compare this response with the revolutions that took place within Tunisia, as unlike a system in which your voice cannot be heard (Tunisia) where the only answer is revolution, it was interesting to see how within a country with democratic systems in place Catalan was able to declare, and fight for its independence without needing to step towards revolution.
As with the democratisation of Spain, the Modernisation was an equally strange discussion with locals in Spain, as many of the issues that we found within the other three nations, for various reasons, have simply been addressed. The most obvious being LGBT rights, in Spain, unlike the other countries we visited, same-sex marriage has been legalized, same-sex couples can adopt, and LGBT people can serve openly in the military. In talking to a gay local, they felt that while individuals might have their problems, the country and systems did not. This same level of activity extends into women’s rights as well. Locals spoke of the protests over the last few years, the largest ever taking place on International Woman’s Day in 2018, where people from around the country have stepped up to fight for equal rights and treatment. It is hard to argue then that Spain is not already most if not already completed its push to modernity, while not all issues have been dealt with, the largest, of course, being pay disparity, the level of activity, and the passion in which locals spoke of these issues paint a picture of Spain that is desperate to fight for the rights so integral to modernity
The clash of civilisations, an Islam-west relations theory that may have been found lacking in the world of international relations and politics, is a pretty apt description of the architecture on display in Cordoba and Grenada. Each of the cities was undeniably European in its style (And let’s be honest here, they are in Europe, this shouldn’t really come as a surprise) each had their Islamic history still ingrained into the architecture in some form or another.
In Cordoba, our hotel opened out onto the San Rafael Bridge, a stunning 1st-century bridge that spans the Guadalquivir river, beyond it the beautiful Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, known as both the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption and as the Great Mosque of Cordoba at different points in its history. At no other point on the tour was the difference between Muslim and Catholic architecture on display than in this one building. The building itself has a complex history, changing hands more than once as the region was ruled by both Muslims and Christians. The building currently on the site started life as the Grand Mosque of Cordoba, a beautiful and reserved demonstration of Islamic arches and columns. After the city was taken by the Christin empire however the building was altered, while it was not torn down, at its heart a classical Catholic Cathedral was added. Ultimately what this means is the building is a mix, the complex gold, black and white designs of the Catholic cathedral, playing off the simple stone designs of the mosque.
Whereas Cordoba had been a demonstration of the mixture of Catholic and Islamic architecture mixed into individual buildings, in Grenada it was a slightly different case. Grenade is home to the last fortress of the Nasrid empire as they were pushed out of Spain, the Alhambra. The Alhambra palace is an amazing building, a piece of Islamic architecture that is filled with complex mosaics, surrounded by beautiful gardens, and constructed using a stunning red clay that gives the building its name, with Alhambra literally translated to “The Red One”. Whereas the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba had been a demonstration of reserved beautiful Islamic architecture, the Alhambra of Grenada is an example of the amazingly complex and beautiful carvings and mosaics that go into Islamic buildings.