Welcome to Southern Spain, the region of Andalusia, Al-Andaluz, "The land of light". When the traveller crosses the Sierra Morena from Castile or comes down the aircraft steps at Málaga, he/she is stepping into a very different kind of Spain, the Spain of the Moors, a land that is softer, gentler and more cultured than the barren plateau of Castile and León to the north. For more than 700 years the Moors ruled Southern Spain. Although they have been gone for more than 500 years, much of their culture remains in great cities like Seville, Córdoba and Granada, in the small villages of the hinterland, and in the glittering White towns north of Ronda.
Today, Southern Spain is divided into eight provinces, each established around a major city: Almería, Cádiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga and Seville. Each of them unique and each contributes a portion to the colourful mix that combines to form Andalusia.
This is a land of sunshine, where strong colours are picked out in the bright light of the Mediterranean sun, from the golden oranges in the tree lined streets of Córdoba, to the glittering houses of the white Towns, Pueblos Blancos, of Andalusia � places built by the Moors to withstand the full heat of the midday sun.
With high snow tipped sierras and a long sea � washed coastline, this is a land for all seasons, perfect for a holiday at any time of the year. There are championship golf courses, a wealth of tennis courts, marinas for yachting and sailing fraternity and, in the hills behind the Costa del Sol, there are great opportunities for walking, riding and skiing.
Southern Spain is a place of music and dance, where the guitar provides the music for the flamenco and the Sevillana, danced here not just for tourists in nightspots, but for sheer joy in cafés and bars. It is typical Spain, yet a place apart. Here there are bullfights and holy week processions, caballeros on white horses and señoritas in mantillas. Here you will find sherry bodegas, tapas bars and throbbing discos, village markets and country fairs. This is the Spain of the tourist posters, but it is also Andalusia and nowhere in Spain is quite like it.
Southern Spain, the province of Andalusia, is an area of about the size of Portugal. It is the second largest region of Spain and scenically diverse � a range of mountains, a coastline and a river valley. The main physical features of the landscape are the coast and the high sierras that rise behind it. The former is divided into two parts: the Costa del Sol, along the Mediterranean, and the Costa de la Luz, along the Atlantic. The two coasts meet at the headland of Tarifa. Finally, there is the great river and delta of the Guadalquivir, which flows along the foot of the Sierra Morena, the range of mountains that divides Andalusia from Castile and Extremadura, and into the sea at the Coto Doñana.
The valley of the Guadalquivir is a distinctive feature of Southern Spain, wide and flat, a great sweep of fertile land running from north of Jaén to the Atlantic Ocean, filled with orange groves, vineyards, olive trees and even cotton. Study a map of Southern Spain more closely and other features start to appear, deep gorges and great reservoirs, or embalses, some of them vast lakes, like inland seas, at least until high summer has reduced their water levels. The mountains are high, at an average of around 2 000m (6 000ft), but the Mulhacén peak of the Sierra Nevada soars up to 3.482m (11 424ft), and is now tipped with snow for most of the year. The other major sierras, the Serranía de Ronda, the sierras of Aracena and Cazorla, and the Alpujarras range between the Sierra Nevada and the sea, are lower but still formidable, though the valleys below the peaks support farms and fruit orchards.
As for the coasts of Southern Spain, they offer a vast expanse of sand in a seemingly endless series of bays, some small, some running for up to 50km (30 miles), each of them backed by resort towns and beach villas, though there are cliffs in the section between Gibraltar and Cádiz. The estuary of the Guadalquivir supports the Coto Doñana National Park, one of the most important bird and nature reserves in southern Europe. At times Southern Spain can be a rugged country, where the sun and the sierras combine to make the countryside a challenge to those who venture into it without a map, a hat and a bottle of water.
Although Southern Spain is, above all, a land of the Moors, Andalusia has a history that can be traced back to remote antiquity. Every race that roved around the fertile Mediterranean shore has left some mark. The Iberians, who gave their name to the peninsula, and established themselves in the Guadalquivir valley, near the present site of Seville, came from the Sahara and were swiftly followed by the Tartessians, another Iberian tribe who made their capital at Córdoba.
Then came the Phoenicians, who were said to have founded Cádiz in 1100BC and certainly established trading posts along the Southern shore. The roving Greeks inherited these ports when they took over the sea trade of the Mediterranean. Hamilcar Barca, the Carthaginian general and father of Hannibal, conquered the Iberians but the Carthaginians were in turn driven out by the Romans, who arrived in 206BC and made Iberia a Roman province, Hispania.
All this is history, or prehistory, but there is mythology as well: Hercules came this way, on one of his Labours, seeking the Golden Apples of the Hesperides, which were probably the oranges of Andalusia. The Torre de Jerez in Seville has an inscription saying "Hercules built me, Cesar surrounded me with walls and towers; the King Saint took me".
The Roman name for the region was Baetica.
A number of famous Romans came from Andalusia, like the philosopher Seneca, who was born in Cördoba in 4BC, and two emperors, Hadrian and Trajan. When the Roman Empire collapsed in the 5C AD the Visigoths arrived and made it the capital of their conquests south of the Pyrenees. The Visigoths ruled in Spain until the Moors arrived in 711 AD.
Moors and Al- Andaluz
Once again Andalusia played a part in the history of Spain. The first Moor to arrive in the peninsula was a minor chieftain called el Tariq. He established himself on a distinctive single mountain - or jebel- just north of the straits which therefore became known as the Jebel el Tariq � or Gibraltar.
These were the Umayyad Moors, from Damascus, who had been spreading the Muslim religion along the north African shore for 100 years before they arrived in Spain. Once there, they spread north rapidly and by 732 AD they had overrun most of the peninsula. Then began the long fight back, the Christian War of Reconquest, which went on for over 700 years until 1492, when the last Moorish kingdom of Granada, was conquered by the Catholic monarchs of Castile and Aragon, Ferdinand and Isabella.
The time of the Moors was a olden age in Spain, not just in the south; a look at the Moorish monuments that remain make that very clear. The Moors built the Mezquita in Córdoba, the Alhambra and Generalife gardens in Granada, the Alcazar and Giralda in Seville and the white towns which adorn the countryside. They irrigated the land and introduced crops such as orange and cotton. Under the Moors, Andalusia flourished and prospered.
The Moors were poets, doctors and philosophers, while the Spaniards to the north of the Sierra Nevada were simple armoured warriors. When Abd el Rahman was the Emir of Córdoba at the end of the 8C, the city was four times the size it is today. His dynasty, the Abbasids, ruled Al � Andaluz, as it was then, until the end of 10C when a warrior vizier, Al Mansur, overthrew the ruling Emir. Under Al Mansur, the Caliphate of Al � Andaluz reached new heights of power, but after his death, in 1002, the Caliphate collapsed and a number of smaller kingdoms sprang up in Al � Andaluz. During this period the Almoravids and Almohads arrived from Africa to join in the Muslim struggle against the Christian north. These new arrivals were true warriors and they soon took over the land of the Abbasids and ruled Al � Andaluz in their place.
Al � Andaluz has a way of softening people, and the Almoravids soon succumbed to the good life and soft living of the peninsular, coming to terms with the Christians. Trade between the two halves of Spain flourished and civilization leapt forward; the Moors gave shelter to the persecuted Jews and encouraged advances in medicine and science. One Jewish resident of Córdoba, the philosopher Maimonides, even became personal physician to the mighty Saladin at the end of his life in Egypt.
The Almohads were made of sterner stuff and when they arrived in the 1150s the wars between Christian and Moor began again. The Almohads wisely elected to avoid the soft temptations, and having taken over Al � Andaluz in their turn, they ruled it from their African capital of Marrakech.
Source : http://www.spectra-properties.com/areas/andaluc.ht