“Like all great travelers, I have seen more than I remember, and remember more than I have seen.” – Benjamin Disraeli
The ending of any journey is bittersweet. Reflections of exotic sights and experiences are balanced by anticipation of home, which, whatever it holds, is still home.
This has been my 5th trip to Spain. Each time has felt like a first visit. Over fifteen years, currencies have changed, recessions have come and gone, restorations have been started and completed.
What endures: the multi-faceted culture, the spirit of the people, the diversity of their histories, and the mosaic that is their heritage. Moors, Muslims, Jews, Christians – a rich texture of religions laid and overlaid and existing side by side and often within each other, as history has melded their differences into a rich patina.
It all began in 500-600 BC with the Celts and marched forward past Carthage, Rome, the Barbarians, Muslims, Jews, the Catholic Kings. Spain would not be Spain without the influence of all of these cultures – not assimilated but still in distinct harmonies. Mosques became synagogues became cathedrals. Arabic prayers accompany Stars of David beside Christian crosses. They remain religious symbols, of course, but they exist without those associations as great art. And of our culture and icons, what will remain? As religion. As culture. As art?
What will endure?
The Iberian Peninsula has been, at different times, isolated, joined and protected by the Pyrenees.
In Madrid, the most recent capital of Spain, we immersed ourselves in the art of the country, learning of the people and their cultures through centuries of paint. Titian, Tintoretto, El Greco, Velasquez, Murillo, De Goya, among many, grace the Prado. Picasso, renegade of the 20th c., is down the street. Madrid seems a relatively modern city.
Toledo hides behind a wall, a fortress appropriately adorned with weapons, swords. Even the damascene jewelry is “forged” and has the look and feel of armor.
In the shadow of the Alhambra, artisans inlay hundreds of tiny pieces of wood to create individual objects of art. Never mind that they are also the souvenir de rigueur of Granada; they are still elegantly beautiful.
White washed hill towns of Andalucia, once self-contained agrarian villages, now rely on the kindness of visiting tourists, who cannot resist the colorful ceramics that accent the white walls. When the tourists have gone, one hopes there is still an underlying economy that will feed a village.
Sevilla, in all her infinite grace and beauty, has created a kind of peace and harmony of old and new. Every half-century or so, she recycles her buildings for more current purposes. The buildings remain, are restored and given new function and life, and a promise of a future. From her huge cathedral and Alcazar to her Flamenco dancers, Seville is the heart of Andalucia. Go to a Flamenco show prepared to remain above it and you will find tapping heels, perspiration, and castanets entering your skin by osmosis.
Begin or end your time in Spain in Cordoba. The visit gives perspective. Wander through the cathedral, born mosque. Walk under the Moorish arches. Face Mecca and the wall of mosaics from 950 AD. Observe Lent in the Chapel.
A thousand years pass as you walk. A millennium -- as if it were an hour.
SCENES OF CORDOBA
Cordoba -- Cathedral and Roman Bridge
Cordoba -- Cathedral arches
Cordoba Cathedral -- Christian Chapel
Cordoba Cathedral -- Mosque wall facing Mecca -- 950 AD
Cordoba Cathedral -- Arches within arches
Cordoba -- Cathedral entrance