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Dome Sweet Dome: The Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain

May 26, 2008
Once the home of Muslim kings, Alhambra is now a tourist attraction and reminder of the debt Spanish and European culture and heritage owes to Islamic civilisation.

Alhambra was completed in the fourteenth century, at the height of Muslim intellectual, social and economic dominance, in the midst of Europe's Dark Age. It's one of the most complete Islamic palaces in the world today; and in its day Alhambra would have been alive with the vibrancy of colour and sound.

Isbabella I of Castille and Ferdinand II of Aragon, whose marriage united the two most powerful Catholic dynasties of that time and paved the way to a unified Spain, are buried there. They solicited the Pope to authorise the Spanish Inquisition, and conjured the end of the incredible society and Golden Age created when a progressive society crossed the Gibraltar Straits.

When the Inquisition arrived in Granada, Muslims were separated from the rest of the population. Much of the Granada accommodation the Muslims were forced out of remains into today. These are beautiful buildings with internal courtyards at their heart - at the centre of family life. If you book a Granada short-term rental for your trip to Spain, you'd be lucky to stay in one of these traditional Muslim homes.

In the end, the Inquisition was so brutally efficient as to cause all Muslims in Spain to convert to Catholicism within a twenty-year period. As many as 1,000,000 Arabic books were burned, and over 300,000 people were expelled from the country. The persecuted were as Iberian as their persecutors, but the effort to erase 700 years of history was absolute, and has been ongoing, in quieter ways, since.

Whether for Alhambra Hay Festival, Alhambra itself, free tapas, flamenco dancing, the Sierra Nevada mountains, or cave house apartments in Granada, which are dug into the hillside, leisure travellers should understand then something of the history that links two cultures in ways only beginning to be understood.

When the Muslims arrived in Europe they saw tyranny rife in a land laid vulnerable and unprotected in the power vacuum left by the collapse of Rome. Evidence suggests the invaders were largely welcomed, sometimes as saviours, with treaties pointing to the free exchange of land for protection. Such were the advantages of this new civilisation, Spain's indigenous population converted to Islam in droves.

The Muslims brought with them social structure and sophisticated knowledge including cutting-edge technology for irrigation, transforming the Spanish landscape, and a sophisticated trade network that enabled this new agriculture to create huge wealth. Spain had never before known the lemon and orange groves so associated with it today.

The Muslims introduced to Europe running water, sewerage works, the concept of land rental, an organised legal system, and even paper, a revolutionary technology that changed the face of Europe. Even Europe's literature has been directly influenced, through the transfer of knowledge from Muslim Spain to the troubadours of France.

In the end Alhambra's overwhelming beauty is less about frivolous and lustrous aesthetics as the mathematical ingenuity behind its geometry, which creates a sense of overwhelming calm. Nor was there anything superficial about 700 years of Muslim Spain, or the inheritance it left to today's Europeans. Nor should there be anything superficial about the modern-day visitor's stay in modern-day Granada - in a holiday apartment and other short term apartment rental in this famed beautiful destination - for there are necessary truths to encounter.
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