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The twelve must-see sights of historic Spain

23 July 2018

The cities of Seville, Córdoba, Málaga and Granada – heavily influenced by the Moors – were from 700 to 1609 among the most scientifically and culturally advanced in Europe. David Hurst is spoilt for choice…

Granada's Alhambra glowing in the sunshine

The Alcázar, Seville

Built for Christian king Peter of Castile on the site of a Muslim fortress, this is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe. A magical marriage of Iberian and Islamic artistry, it’s an impressive complex of palaces, courtyards and gardens.

The Alhambra, Granada

Originally a small fortress, the Alhambra was converted into a grand Moorish palace in the 1300s. One of the most stunning sets of buildings and gardens in the world, it’s hardly surprising that it’s the most popular historical site in the country.

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Alcazaba, Málaga

Overlooking this historic port and the Med is the best-preserved 11th-century alcazaba (citadel) in Spain. Nearby are the ruins of a Roman theatre and the Aduana Palace – Roman, Arab and Renaissance culture within a few metres.

Medina Azahara, near Córdoba 

Medina Azahara (shining city) was built to impress in the 10th century, with huge halls, mosques and gardens. It’s the largest archaeological site in Spain and about a tenth of it has been restored.

Giralda tower, Seville

The cathedral’s 100m bell tower was built in 1184 as a minaret. A Renaissance-style top was added after the expulsion of the Moriscos in the early 1600s, when the mosque was converted into a church – now the cathedral.

Guadix, near Granada

This mountain town has more than 2,000 man-made cave dwellings – the largest number in Europe – in the Barrio de Cuevas. They mostly date from the 15th and 16th centuries. Many are still inhabited today, and visitors are often invited in.

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Mosque/Cathedral, Córdoba

The conquering Moors divided a church into Muslim and Christian halves. Then, in 784, an emir bought the Christian half and created the grand mosque, with a surreal forest of 856 columns of jasper, marble and granite supporting red and white stone arches.

The Albaicín, Granada

After the Roman Empire fell, the city was largely abandoned – until the Moors came in 1013. Keeping its layout from this period, with winding cobbled lanes and white-washed houses, it’s an ‘open-air museum’ best enjoyed by a casual wander.

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The Fortaleza, Velez-Málaga

Some 20 miles east of Malaga, the impressive Fortaleza tower was built some 1,000 years ago on the highest hill around, it was ideal to defend the town. From its fantastic vantage point you can still see the town's Moorish defence walls and the minaret that is now part of the Church of Santa Maria.

Alcázar of Jerez de la Frontera 

Lower key than some of the Moorish palaces, but a quiet delight, perhaps even more so than tourist-crowded Andalusian heritage attractions. Dating from the 11th century, it boasts an octagonal tower, delightful gardens, open ceilinged baths and, always great fun, a camera obscura.

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Arab Baths, Ronda

The semi-subterranean baths were built in the 12 century and fuelled by a series of wood-burning stoves, with three main chambers – cold, warm and hot. It was here that, at the end of the day, local Muslims would literally let off steam, as they descended on bath house to sweat off the dirt (and spiritually cleanse themselves). By contrast, Roman baths had been filled with water rather than steam. The baths provide an intriguing insight into the daily lives of the Moors.

The Alcazaba of Almería

The largest of the Moorish citadels, it is designed on classic lines and took some two centuries to complete, starting around 955. It was designed for both military and civic use, with its walls some five metres high and three metres thick to withstand siege conditions Christian kings later added to its already imposing fortifications. Set against the city skyline the castle, inner buildings and gardens comprise one of the must-see sites of Andalusia.  

This article was taken from the August 2018 edition of the Saga Magazine

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