Monday, 8 November 2010

Toledo provides first taste of Moorish Spain

For the next two weeks, the trip I am on is called 'Moorish Spain'. This means we'll be focusing primarily on those parts of Spain populated by the 'Moors' (northern Africans) in the 7th to 13th C. We'll be exploring their old cities, their culture, their legacy (bring on the Alhambra!) and their relationships with the 'Christians', pressing in from the north, and those of the Jewish faith, who also inhabited Spain at that time.

(This part of Spain became of fascination for me as the result of reading the novel The Lions of Al-Rassan by Guy Gavriel Kay. Although a fantasy novel, Kay has drawn heavily on this period of Spain and the legend of El Cid to explore how religion both divides and unites men.)

We visited Toledo, the first of these Moorish cities, yesterday. It was once a capital of the Spanish empire and is renowned as a place of the former co-existence of the Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures.

Mosque converted into Catholic church
 These days Toledo has a small city centre perched on the top of a hill (not unlike Segovia), which is now a listed World Heritage site because of the myriad palaces, fortresses, churches, mosques and synagogues crammed into quite a small space. Many of the synagogues and mosques were appropriated by the Christian faith over the years, but they have been restored and are now preserved for posterity. It is now regarded as one of the most ancient and best preserved city centres in Spain.

We caught a bus from Madrid for a day trip, and spent a few hours wandering the cobbled streets... up... down... and lunched in the gorgeous tiled covered courtyard of a local cafe.

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