When Allah was creating the earth and dealing out good and bad, each place was given five wishes. The land of Al-Andalus asked for a clear sky, a beautiful sea full of fishes, ripe fruit, and fair women. All these were granted, but a fifth wish – for good government – was refused because that would have created paradise on earth. – Muslim Legend
The sheer size of Andalucia and the diversity of its terrain creates a geographical and climatic mix as disparate as the cultural cross-stitch that is the inheritance of millennia of invaders. From the white peaks of the Sierra Nevada, where snow can still be seen in the summer months, through the wet forests of Grazelma, the rainiest point in Spain, to the wild beauty of the deserts of Almeria, home to many spaghetti westerns (or paella westerns as locals prefer to call them), and the sub-tropical environment of the city’s nearby beaches, where the only sugar cane and tropical fruits to be grown in Spain are found.
Andalucia has over 60% of all environmentally protected land in Spain, with more than 14,000 sq km (18% of the entire region) given over to natural parks. While the coasts include not only the intensively developed Costa del Sol, they also have the rugged beauty of Cabo de Gato on the western tip of the region, and the Atlantic Costa de la Luz.
Legend has it that Hercules was one of Andalucia’s first tourists when he visited the Iberian Peninsula to separate Europe from Africa and create the Straits of Gibraltar. Theories suggest that Neolithic man entered Europe through Andalucia, and in the 8thand 7thcenturies BC the mysterious Tartessos civilisation flourished somewhere in the western part of the region. Phoenicians, Greeks and Carthaginians all had extended stays until the arrival of the Romans in the third century BC.
During ancient Roman times, when the region was known as Betica, the province was considered the most civilised area in the empire west of Italy. Whilst the Romans fed the Empire on Spanish wheat, oil and wine, the province also provided them with two of their greatest Emperors, Trajan and Hadrian, and the earthy philosopher Seneca, who hailed from Cordoba and despaired at the Roman habit of bathing, arguing that sweating should come as a result of hard physical labour and not unproductive sitting in a hot room.
One of the greatest turning points for Spain came in 711 when Arabs crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and ushered in a new era of prosperity. The Caliphate of Cordoba irradiated culture to the whole of Europe and for several centuries the most advanced scientific knowledge spread from Al-Andalus.
The Moorish Empire in Spain continued for almost eight centuries, until in 1492 the Emirate of Granada, the last bastion of Al-Andalus, fell to the Catholic Kings, Fernando and Isabel. This was the same year that Columbus’ discovery of America led to the cities of Seville and Cadiz acquiring enormous wealth, as the ports through which most of Spain’s trade with the new continent was conducted. Sadly, the Catholic Monarchs destroyed much of Andalucia’s economy by handing over vast tracts of land to their nobles, who gave the land over to grazing sheep where once food had been grown.
The passing of so many people has left an enormous cultural heritage, often best seen in the towns and cities. Crdoba with the meandering streets of the Judera, the Jewish Quarter, and the stunning Mezquita; Granada, with the Alhambra and the enchanting gardens of the Generalife, and, in Seville, the Giralda, the 12thcentury, 90 metre high minaret (said to be the most perfect Islamic building in Spain), that stands high above one of the largest historical city centres in Europe.
So it would seem that Allah did grant Al-Andalus its wishes, and with a clear sky, a beautiful sea full of fishes, ripe fruit, and fair women, four out of five can’t be bad.