The Rough Guide to Andalucia

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9781405389907: The Rough Guide to Andalucia
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INTRODUCTION Andalucía is the southernmost territory of Spain and the part of the Iberian peninsula that is most quintessentially Spanish. The popular image of Spain as a land of bullfights, flamenco, sherry and ruined castles derives from this spectacularly beautiful region. The influences that have washed over Andalucía since the first paintings were etched on cave walls here more than twenty-five thousand years ago are many – Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Visigoths and Vandals all came and left their mark. And the most influential invaders of all, the Moors, who ruled the region for seven centuries and named it al-Andalus, have left an enduring imprint on Andalucian culture and customs.

The heartland of Andalucía is the fertile valley of the mighty Río Guadalquivir, flowing across the region from its source in the Cazorla mountains in the northeast through the magnificent cities of Córdoba and Sevilla, before draining into the marshes and wetlands of the Doñana national park and the Gulf of Cádiz. North of this great artery rise the undulating hills of the Sierra Morena, from where was gouged the mineral wealth – silver, lead and tin – sought by successive waves of invaders from Phoenicians to Romans. The Moors, who arrived in the eighth century, were more interested in harvesting Andalucía’s natural wealth and turned the region into an orchard rich in olives, citrus fruits, almonds, saffron, figs and vines – still the major products of the land today. In 1492 the Christian reconquest, after centuries of struggle, finally succeeded in wresting Spain from its Moorish occupiers, the victors symbolically planting their flags on the towers of the Alhambra, the emblematic monument of Andalucía.

The Moorish legacy is the most striking feature of Andalucía today, not only in the dazzling historical monuments such as those of Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada but also in the whitewashed houses of many of its smaller medieval towns such as Ronda or the flat-roofed villages of Las Alpujarras. The Moorish love of water is to be seen in the pleasure gardens of the Alhambra, and the typical Andalucian patio – tiled plant-bedecked courtyards often with a central fountain – is another Arab legacy as are the ubiquitous wrought-iron window grilles which lend character to any village street. The dances and music of flamenco, whilst probably not of Moorish origin, display the soul of Andalucía and can be an electrifying spectacle when dancers in brilliantly coloured dresses drill their heels into the floorboards in a frenzy of emotion or, in cante jondo (deep song), turn the art form into a blues-style lament. The Muslim influence on speech and vocabulary, a stoical fatalism in the face of adversity, and an obsession with the drama of death – publicly displayed in the spectacle of the bullfight – are also facets of the modern Andalucian character. Contrastingly, the andaluzes also love nothing more than a party, and the colour and sheer energy of the region’s countless and legendary fiestas – always in traditional flamenco costume worn with pride – make them among the most exciting in the world. The romerías, wild and semi-religious pilgrimages to honour local saints at country shrines, are yet another excuse for a jamboree.

Despite the region’s abundant natural wealth poverty is widespread, a legacy of the repressive latifundia landholding system of large estates with absentee landlords. The Christian monarchs who ousted the Moorish farmers doled out the conquered land to the Church, the military orders and individual nobles. These new proprietors often had little interest in the land nor personal contact with those who worked their estates, often leaving an overseer in charge, and an atmosphere of resentment built up towards the wretched pay and miserable conditions that this system entailed. It is perhaps not surprising that many inhabitants emigrated to find work in northern Spain or abroad or that anarchism found many converts among the desperate braceros (farmhands) of Andalucía before the Spanish Civil War. Two percent of the landowners still possess fifty percent of the land today, and in the 1960s alone a million Andalucians left their native region to seek a better life elsewhere.

Whilst life for many in the countryside remains hard, new industries, particularly tourism, have had a major impact on the region’s economy. Apart from the petrochemical industry around Algeciras, mining in Huelva and aircraft manufacture in Sevilla, Andalucía has little heavy industry and those not employed in agriculture are usually working in fishing or tourism. One growth industry of recent years is servicing the population of mainly northern European emigrants who have come to the south of Spain to live, retire or do business. Now numbering a third of a million these expatriates have funded much building and development particularly along the coastal strip of the Costa del Sol, earning this zone its new nickname, the "California of Spain".

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About the Author:

Geoff Garvey has been captivated by Andalucia since his first visit as a student in the early 1970s. Garvey first visited Crete as a student of ancient history and developed a great affection for the island and its people. He is the coauthor of The Rough Guide to Crete (with John Fisher), The Rough Guide to Andalucia (with Mark Ellingham), and The Rough Guide to Spain 13 (with Jules Brown, Simon Baskett, Greg Ward, and Annelise Sorensen).

Mark Ellingham founded Rough Guides in 1982 and has created many of the series new ventures over the years, including The Rough Guide to the Internet, The Rough Guide to World Music, and, only a little ashamedly, The Rough Guide to the Da Vinci Code.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Where to go: Andalucía’s manageable size makes it easy to take in something of each of its elements – inland cities, extensive coastline and mountaineous sierras – even on a brief visit. The main characteristics and appeal of each province are covered in the chapter introductions, but the more obvious and compelling highlights include: Sevilla. Andalucía’s capital city, the home of flamenco and all the clichés of the Spanish south has beautiful quarters, major Christian and Moorish monuments and extraordinary festivals at Easter and, afterwards, at the April feria. Moorish monuments. Granada’s Alhambra palace is perhaps the most sensual building in Europe; the exquisite Mezquita, a former mosque, in Córdoba, and the Alcázar and Giralda tower in Sevilla, are also not to be missed. Castles. Niebla in Huelva and Baños de Encina in Jaén, as well as those in the cities of Málaga and Almería are the outstanding Moorish examples; the best Renaissance forts are at La Calahorra in Granada and Vélez Blanco in Almería, whilst hilltop Segura de la Sierra in Jaén has the most dramatic location. Cathedrals. Sevilla’s Gothic monster is the biggest, but those of Cádiz, Granada, Jaén, and Almería are all worthy of a visit. Renaissance towns and hill villages. Small-scale towns and villages, once grand, now hardly significant, are an Andalucian forte. Baeza and Úbeda in Jaén are remarkable treasurehouses of Renaissance architecture, while Ronda and the White Towns to the west are among the most picturesque hill villages in Andalucía. Baroque. The Baroque splendours of Andalucía are without equal; towns such as Écija and Osuna in Sevilla province, and Priego to the south of Córdoba have clusters of stunning Baroque churches and mansions. Roman and prehistoric ruins. Italica near Sevilla, Baelo Claudia near Tarifa and Carmona’s Roman necropolis are all impressive Roman sites, while for an atmospheric "lost city" Mulva, in the hills of the Sierra Morena, is hard to beat. Andalucía also has some of the most important prehistoric sites in Europe, including a group of third millennium BC dolmens at Antequera, and the remarkable Los Millares site near Almería. Beaches and resorts. For brashness and nightlife it has to be the Costa del Sol, but you’ll find the more authentic resorts such as Nerja, Almuñecar and Mojácar are less frenzied. The region’s best beaches lie along the Atlantic coast and to the east of Almería. Hiking. The Sierra Nevada and the nearby foothills of Las Alpujarras in Granada are excellent places for hiking, as are the densely wooded hills of the Sierra de Cazorla and the Sierra de Morena – including the latter’s less well-known offshoot, the Sierra de Aracena, in the north of Huelva. Andalucía's dozen or so parques naturales (natural parks) are located in areas of great natural beauty, and are detailed in the Guide. Seafood. This is Andalucía’s speciality and is excellent all along the coast but particularly so in Málaga and seafood-crazy Cádiz. The many good places to try it are listed in the relevant chapters throughout the Guide. Bars. Spain has the most bars of any country in Europe, and Andalucía has more than its share of these. For sheer character and diversity, the bars of the cities of Córdoba, Sevilla and Cádiz are some of the best anywhere. Offbeat. Among the more curious things to see in Andalucía are a self-styled "pope" who has built a "New Vatican" near Utrera in Sevilla province; a rosary museum at Aroche in Huelva displaying beads once owned by the famous; a nineteenth-century English-designed housing estate in the middle of the city of Huelva; a mini-Hollywood in Almería which preserves the film-set of famous "paella westerns"; still-functioning nineteenth-century sulphur baths used by Lord Byron at Carratraca in Málaga; a Communist village run on Utopian principles at Marinaleda in Sevilla; the spectacular mines of Río Tinto in Huelva, and Andalucía’s oldest inn, complete with highwayman’s cell at Alfarnate, in the rugged Axarquia district of Málaga.

When to go

In terms of climate the question is mainly one of how much heat you can take. During the summer months of July and August temperatures of over 40?C (104°F) on the coast are normal and inland they rise even higher in cities such as Sevilla, generally reckoned to be the hottest in Spain. The solution here is to follow the natives and get about in the relative cool of the mornings and late afternoons finding somewhere shady to rest up as the city roasts in the midday furnace. The major resorts are busy in July and packed in August (the Spanish holiday month) when prices also are at their highest. Better times to visit are the spring months of April, May and early June when lower temperatures combine with a greener landscape awash with wild flowers. The autumn is good, too, although by this time much of the coastal landscape looks parched and the resorts have begun to wind down; in hilly areas, however, such as the sierras of Cazorla and Aracena and the high valleys of Las Alpujarras the splendours of autumn can be especially scenic. The winter months – particularly December and January – can often be dismal and wet as well as cold at altitude, although Almería sees only one day of rain a year on average and in winter has many days of perfect crystal visibility.

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