Published: A Tale of Two Cities (Granada & Cairo)

This year marks the millennium of the Andalusian city of Granada, founded by Berbers from North Africa (the Zirids) in 1013 as a fortified city during the civil war that ended the Umayyad rule over al-Andalus (present-day Iberian Peninsula).

Since its foundation and till it was taken by the Catholic Monarchs in 1492, the city had its ups and downs, its golden age and its doom. The Zirids, its founders, were once agents of the Fatimids that had founded Cairo earlier in 969. Only 44 years separate the foundation of both cities. To what extent were the Zirids (and hence Granada) influenced by the Fatimid culture? Did Granada resemble Cairo in any way?

My latest article in Ahram Online tackles this issue and many others. You can read it all at:

Inside the Alhambra

Remains of a mosque in Albayzin

The Zirid Portal of Elvira

My lecture on al-Andalus @ Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Jan 2nd)

On 2 January 1492, the last Muslim ruler of Granada, king Boabdil (Abu Abdalla al-Saghir), handed the keys of the Alhambra to the Catholic Monarchs, bringing to an end the rule of Islam in al-Andalus in the present-day Iberian Peninsula.

What followed was a tragedy at all levels and it took the Catholic Monarchs no time at all to violate the vows they had made. The first to suffer were the Jews, then the Muslims, and even those that converted into Christianity did not survive the horrors of the Inquisition Courts. The definitive expulsion of the Moriscos (Muslims that had converted into Christianity) came in 1609 through a royal decree by Felipe III. Over 300,000 moriscos were kicked out, and this marked the beginning of a new episode of pain and passion: the moriscos diaspora in the Mediterranean.

On 2 January 2013, I will be giving a lecture titled ‘The Fall of al-Andalus: Reasons and Consequences’ at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina. This is an open invitation. ANDALUS - Copy

My 11th Article in El Legado Andalusí: The Historian King of Zirid Granada

A new article of mine published by Fundación El Legado Andalusí, this time in the name of my son Nur. The article is about an eleventh-century taifa king in al-Andalus: Abdulla ibn Buluggin the last Zirid king of Granada, dethroned and exiled by the Almoravids in 1090.

To our great luck, the man wrote his autobiography (Kitab al-Tibyan), and it was discovered centuries later by Levi-Provencal in Morocco. This is, simply, the 11th century in ‘primera persona’, an interesting century marked by political turmoil and by the rise of such figures as al-Moatamid Ibn Abbad, El Cid, Alfonso VI, Ibn Hazm, Ibn Zaydun, Yusuf ibn Tashufin and others. Here is the article (in Spanish):

The Islamic Capitals of al-Andalus: Cordoba – Seville – Granada

Al-Andalus is a term that the Muslims used to refer to the territory that they conquered and ruled in the Iberian Peninsula. Obviously, this territory changed over time under the pressure of the Reconquista (The Reconquest Battles), until –by the XIII century- it was limited only to the Kingdom of Granada, the Last Kingdom.

The Islamic rule in al-Andalus spanned some eight centuries (711 – 1492), and left a lasting legacy in science and humanities, in art and culture, and obviously, in the memory of stone. From the splendor of the Mezquita (Great Mosque) of Cordoba (the jewel of the Umayyad architecture) to the spectacular palaces and gardens of the Alhambra (the Nasrid art at its best), I was fortunate enough to live and study in Andalusia for a year, visiting every single monument from the al-Andalus era and traveling extensively to visit one site after another.

In this post, I will not be talking about XI century taifa capitals like Zaragoza, Toledo or Denia. Also, another post will be dedicated solely to the Alhambra. Here I focus only on the three major Islamic capitals in al-Andalus:

I. Cordoba

Capital of the Umayyad Emirate and Caliphate (756 – 1030).
The city that gave birth to Averroes (Ibn Rushd), Maimonides (Ibn Maymoun), Ibn Zaydun, Ibn Hazm and many other great figures. In the X century, it had the world’s second largest library in the whole world (after Baghdad), had hundreds of public hamams and mosques, tens of hospitals, and had its streets paved, lit and guarded at night. A century earlier, Ziryab had founded its conservatoire, the first in Europe.

II. Seville
Capital of the Almohads (1170 – 1232).
The hometown of Ibn Sahl, Avenzoar (Ibn Zuhr), Ibn al-Awwam and others. It was the seat of a strong taifa led by the poet-king Ibn Abbada, whose court was the closest thing to a cultural salon. Later on under the Almohad rule (a Berber dynasty), it flourished as the capital of a strong dynasty that adorned the city with splendid monuments. It fell to Fernando III in 1248, twelve years after he had conquered Cordoba.

III. Granada

Capital of the Nasrids (1232 – 1492).
The province of Ibn al-Khatib, Ibn Tufail, Ibn Zamraq, Abu Hayyan, etc. The city preserves tens of Islamic monuments, mostly from the Zirid Taifa era and the Nasrid era, and is famous world wide for the Alhambra and the gardens of the Generalife. The Albaycín neighbourhood is a living testament of the Islamic urban fabric and is dotted with houses and palaces that date from the Andalusi times. All 27 minarets of the mosques of Albaycín are now church towers, with some of them conserving the Andalusi structure and decorations in part or in full (like the Minaret of San Jose, the Minaret-Tower of San Juan de los Reyes and the Minaret-Tower of Santa Ana).

I am sharing photos of mine that cover the entire spectrum of Andalusi Art (mainly architecture) in these three cities:
Umayyad Art, 756 – 1030 (e.g. Medina Azahra and the minaret of San Juan in Cordoba);
Taifa Art, XI century (e.g. Hammam al-Jawza and the Gate of Elvira in Granada);
Almoravid & Almohad Art, 1090 – 1236 (e.g. The Giralda & the Gold Tower, Seville);
Nasrid Art, 1232 – 1492 (e.g. Corral del Carbon and Vase of the Gazelles);
Mudejar Art, XII – XVI century (e.g. Alcázar of Seville).

All photos are copyrighted.

International Congress on Moriscos in Granada: History of a Minority (May 16th)

Today marked the end of the international congress ‘The Moriscos: History of a Minority’, organized in Granada by El Legado Andalusí Foundation. The event marked the 400th anniversary of the expulsion of the Moriscos from Spain in 1609 through an infamous decree by Felipe III.
Between 1609 and 1614, over 300,000 moriscos were kicked out, starting with the morisco community of Valencia, followed by that of Andalusia, Catalonia, Aragon, Castilla, Extramadura and Murcia. These moriscos, it has to be said, were not ‘Arabs’ or ‘Berbers’…they were natives (because after some nine centuries -of their arrival at the Iberian Peninsula- and around 36 generations, you cannot be anything else!).

They were kicked out simply because they were ‘different’. They had a different faith, spoke a different language and dressed in a different way. They were accused of:
– Practicing Islam (and black magic) in secret;
– Disrespecting the Church and its symbols;
– Conspiring with the Ottoman Empire against Spain;
– Failing to ‘integrate’ into Spain.

The congress was a simple tribute to those people, their culture, their traditions, their struggle against oppression and, finally; their doomed fate. The congress also celebrated the legacy they left in the most unthinkable of places, like Peru!

The event saw the participation of professors, writers, researchers and enthusiasts from all over the world, and it was an honor to be present. Always proud about belonging to El Legado Andalusí.

Charla en la Universidad de Granada: El Cairo Fatimí y Granada Zirí (May 21)

Today I gave a lecture at the University of Granada (Faculty of Translation) on the historical and cultural relationships between Cairo and Granada, two cities that –at first glance- would seem like worlds apart. Historically however, they were founded only 44 years apart by the Fatimids (Cairo, 969 AD) and their agents in Ifriqiyya, the Zirids (Granada, 1031 AD).

An offshoot of the Zirid rulers in central Maghreb crossed to al-Andalus to take part in the Umayyad civil war that resulted in the disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate around 1030 AD. During the civil war, several taifa kingdoms started to appear, including the Zirids (Banu Ziri) who founded Granada in 1013 on the ruins of an ancient Roman city.

Their rule (1013-1090) corresponds to part of the Fatimid rule in Egypt, and their art is influenced by the Fatimid style that they once marveled at in Mahdiya and other Fatimid cities in present-day Tunisia. Upon visiting the Archaeological Museum of Granada, the Museum of al-Monastir, the Bardo Musuem and the Raqqada Museum of Islamic Art, one can easily establish the cultural and artistic links.

Charla en Palacio de Abrantes, Granada: El Legado de El Cairo Islámico (Feb 5)

Today I gave the first of two lectures about Islamic Cairo at one of the halls of the Abrantes Palace of Granada, a beautiful 16th century palace restored and managed by Nueva Acropolis Cultural Association.
Islamic Cairo is like an open book, the pages of which are carved in the memory of stone in hundreds of monuments and in the features of one generation after another over more than ten centuries of evolution. The conference introduced several ‘chapters’ of this legacy.

Many thanks to Antonio and Rita from Nueva Acrópolis for their hospitality.

Lecture on al-Andalus in Cairo: Tales of the Kingdom of Granada (Jan 20th)

Today I gave a presentation about the last Islamic kingdom of al-Andalus: the splendid Granada.

Following the fall of the Almohad dynasty under the pressure of the Reconquista, Muhammad ibn Nasr managed to fill the power vacuum through a set of alliances, compromises and balances of power, yielding a new dynasty that bore his name: the Nasrids (better known as Banu al-Ahmar). From its foundation in the 1230s and until its fall in 1492, the kings of this dynasty adorned their tiny kingdom with many marvels, the most spectacular of which is the Alhambra and its gardens (the Generalife).

Granada, their capital, was home for a flourishing cultural life. The city’s Maristan, its Madrasa al-Yusufiyya and its al-Jadida Caravanserai bear witness to the ‘modernity’ of the city, while the verses of Ibn al-Khatib and Ibn al-Jayyab that adorn the walls of the Alhambra are testimonies of the luxury of the court life. The Vase of the Gazelles is probably the most iconic artwork of that period.

It all came to an end with the surrender of Boabdil (Abu Abdallah al-Saghir) and the fall of the city to the Catholic Monarchs in 1492.