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  • Hi, I'm Rick Steves. For many travelers, the quintessence of Spain is found here - Andalucía.

  • The sounds, sights, and experiences of southern Spain are shaped by waves of history.

  • In this hour-long special we'll enjoy the classic Andalusian experiences in the classic

  • Andalusian places - dazzling Moorish palaces, fiery Gypsy musicians, sunny laid-back beaches,

  • a never-to-forget paella feast, whitewashed hill towns, somber religious processions followed

  • by flamboyant flamenco revelry, a mighty rock drilled through with history and overrun with

  • mischievous monkeys, weeping virgins, and the ultimate spring fair, with pretty dancers

  • and graceful horsemen. Andalucía is a vibrant sangria of civilizations. It's a lifestyle,

  • it's proud...and for many it's the south coast of their travel dreams.

  • In southwest Europe is Spain. And in the far south of Spain is Andalucía. We start in

  • Jerez, zip over to Granada, enjoy Nerja on the Costa del Sol, explorerdoba, and check

  • out Ronda. Then, after side-tripping into Gibraltar, we finish in Sevilla.

  • Andalucía's heritage is alive in today's culture, and it expresses itself in iconic

  • themes. The town of Jerez is famous for three of them: dazzling horses, velvety sherry,

  • and a spring fair that brings out the entire community for a week-long party.

  • Originally a horse fair, when the sherry producers joined in, it got really big. Today, the Jerez

  • Fair is a vast collection of over 200 casetas (or tents) - each owned by a family or local

  • business who host parties until late into the night. For locals, the fair, which takes

  • please early each May, kicks off the summer season.

  • During the day, the fair grounds are jangling with fancy carriages. It's all about fine

  • Andalusian horses...and the proud traditions they represent. Women, dressed in their peacock

  • finery, seem ready to break into dance at the click of a castanet.

  • Just down the street, the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art provides a foundation

  • for this culture of horses. Performances pack its arena several times a week.

  • This is exquisite horsemanship. The stern riders and their obedient steeds perform to

  • the delight of both tourists and horse aficionados.

  • The riders cue the horses with the slightest of commands, whether verbal or with body movements.

  • The horses are bred and trained to be balanced and focused - both physically and mentally.

  • The equestrian school functions like a university, open to students from around the world.

  • And all over Jerez, sherry bodegas welcome visitors. Just around the corner from the

  • horse school, the venerable Sandeman Winery has been producing sherry since 1790.

  • Tours explain how the stacked barrels are part of the production process. In a time-honored

  • tradition, new wine is blended with aged wine, which is then fortified with alcohol.

  • The vintner shares his product with a passion and finesse that mirrors the richness of the

  • sherry tradition. And the crowd-pleasing finale of every tour is a chance to enjoy the finished

  • sherry.

  • Throughout the countryside of Spain sherry is advertised with huge billboards...or bullboards

  • in this case. This big bull is the icon of another sherry producer. Next is a major stop

  • in any Andalusian visit, Granada.

  • Sprawling at the foot of the snow-capped Sierra Mountains, Granada is a thriving city of about

  • 300,000 people. Visitors focus on its old center, where life has a gentility that belies

  • its illustrious past.

  • Once the grandest city in Spain, its power ebbed and glory faded. It was appreciated

  • mostly by Romantic Age artists and poets. Today, it has a Deep South feel - a relaxed

  • vibe that seems typical of once-powerful places now past their prime. In the cool of the early

  • evening, the community comes out and celebrates life on stately yet inviting plazas.

  • The story of Granada is all about the Islamic Moors. In the year 711, these North African

  • Muslims crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and quickly conquered the Iberian Peninsula, eventually

  • converting most of its inhabitants. Throughout the Middle Ages - for over 700 years - Spain

  • was a predominantly Muslim society, living under Muslim rule.

  • And that age shapes today's sightseeing agenda. Granada's dominant sight is the Alhambra,

  • the last and greatest Moorish palace. Nowhere else does the splendor of that civilization,

  • Al-Andalus, shine so brightly.

  • For two centuries, until 1492, Granada reigned as the capital of a dwindling Moorish empire.

  • As Christian forces pushed the Moors further and further south, this palace was the last

  • hurrah of a sophisticated civilization.

  • While the rest of Europe slumbered through much of the Middle Ages, the Moorish civilization

  • was wide awake. The math necessary to construct this palace would have dazzled Europeans of

  • that age.

  • The Moors made great gains in engineering, medicine, and even classical Greek studies.

  • In fact, some of the great thinking of ancient Greece had been forgotten by Europe, but was

  • absorbed into Islam, and actually given back to Europe via scholars here in Spain.

  • The culture of the Moors was exquisite...artfully combining both design and aesthetics.

  • Facing a reflecting pond, the Hall of the Ambassadors was the throne room. It was here

  • that the sultan, seated Oz-like, received foreign emissaries. Its wooden ceiling illustrates

  • a command of geometry. With 8,000 pieces inlaid like a giant jigsaw puzzle, it symbolizes

  • the complexity of Allah's infinite universe.

  • Arabic calligraphy, mostly poems and verses of praise from the Quran, is everywhere. Muslims

  • avoid making images of living creatures - that's God's work. But decorating with religious

  • messages is fine. One phrase - "only God is victorious" - is repeated 9,000 times throughout

  • the Alhambra.

  • Like the sultan, we can escape from the palace into what was the most perfect Arabian garden

  • in Andalucía. This royal summer retreat, lush and bursting with water, was the closest

  • thing on earth to the Quran's description of heaven. In fact, its name - the Generalife

  • - meant essentially that: the Garden of Paradise.

  • Water - so rare and precious in most of the Islamic world - was the purest symbol of life.

  • Whether providing for its 2,000 thirsty residents, masking secret conversations, or just flowing

  • playfully, water was integral to the space the Alhambra created.

  • For centuries, Europe struggled to push the Moors back into Africa. This campaign was

  • called the Reconquista. Finally, in 1492, the Moors were defeated. The victorious Christian

  • forces established their rule with gusto here in this last Muslim stronghold.

  • This victory helped provide the foundation for Spain's Golden Age. Within a generation,

  • Spain's king, Charles V, was the most powerful man in the world.

  • After the re-conquest, Charles built this Renaissance palace incongruously right in

  • the middle of the Alhambra grounds. It's what conquering civilizations do: build their palace

  • atop their foe's palace. This circle-in-a-square structure was the finest Renaissance palace

  • in all of Spain.

  • And back downtown, Granada's cathedral facade - also built shortly after the re-conquest

  • - declares triumph as well. In fact, its design is based on a triumphal arch, and it was built

  • over a destroyed mosque.

  • The adjacent Royal Chapel is Granada's top Christian sight. This fine building provided

  • a fitting resting place for Queen Isabella of Castile and King Ferdinand of Aragon, who

  • ruled during the final Reconquista victory. Spaniards consider this couple the first great

  • Spanish royals.

  • When these two married, they combined their huge kingdoms. And by merging Aragon and Castile,

  • they founded what became modern Spain. With this powerful new realm, Spanish royalty were

  • able to finance many great explorers - including Columbus - and establish Spain's Golden Age.

  • The royal tombs are Renaissance in style. The portraits of Isabella and Ferdinand are

  • vital and realistic. They seem to celebrate the humanistic spirit of the Renaissance,

  • and with it, a promising future for Spain.

  • The gilded altar is all about that Christian triumph: Christ triumphs over sin...and Christendom

  • triumphs over Islam. In fact, reliefs show the eventual forced conversion of Granada's

  • Moors shortly after the Reconquista.

  • For a time near the end of its Moorish period, Granada was the grandest city in all of Spain.

  • But eventually, with the tumult that came with the change from Muslim to Christian rule,

  • the city lost its power and settled into a long slumber. Today's Granada is a delightful

  • mix of both its Moorish and its Christian past.

  • The silk market, or Alcaicería, was originally across the street from the main mosque, so

  • today it stands across from the main church. Filled with precious goods - salt, silver,

  • spices, and silk - it was protected within 10 fortified gates.

  • Today, while a tourist trap housed in a modern reconstruction, this colorful mesh of shopping

  • lanes and overpriced trinkets is fun to explore.

  • You'll invariably meet persistent Gypsy women pushing their fragrant sprigs and palm reading,

  • and then demanding payment. You can consider them aggressive and annoying...or you can

  • zip up your valuables and have a fun and spirited give-and-take.

  • A handy minibus service loops from downtown through Spain's best old Moorish quarter,

  • the Albayzín. Increasingly around Europe, minibuses wind locals through narrow lanes

  • of old quarters. Tourists can hop on for a cheap and scenic joyride.

  • The Albayzín, with flowery patios and shady lanes, is a delight. Exploring these labyrinthine

  • back lanes and inviting neighborhood squares, you feel the Arab heritage that permeates

  • so much of Andalucía. Enjoy a drink on a no-name square...savor the lazy tempo of Granada

  • life.

  • An alternative community of young people - nicknamed pie de negro, or black feet, for their basic

  • earthiness - hangs out in the Albayzín.

  • And Granada is home to tens of thousands of Gypsies, or Roma people. While their nomadic

  • culture makes traditional employment a challenge, one vocation in which they excel is music.

  • In the evening, in the hilly Sacromonte district, Gypsy families entertain tourists with colorful

  • folkloric shows. These intimate concerts are performed in the very caves that once housed

  • Granada's Gypsy community.

  • Along with Gypsies and hippies, tolerant Granada has a sizable Muslim population. A modern

  • mosque, built in 2003, fits in with the local architecture and comes with a live call to

  • prayer. The muezzin cries "God is great" from the minaret without amplification...as non-Muslim

  • neighbors insisted.

  • There are about 700,000 Muslims in Spain, and that includes nearly 10 percent of Granada's

  • residents.

  • To learn more, we're joined by Malik Basso, a member of Granada's Muslim community.

  • Rick: Would you say most of the Spanish Muslims are immigrant neighbors coming over from Africa

  • for better jobs? Malik: Yes - Moroccans, Algerians, Turks,

  • Pakistanis. But of course, there is the recent phenomenon of Spanish Muslims as well.

  • Rick: You're Spanish? Malik: Yes. I'm from Barcelona.

  • Rick: So tell me a little bit about this mosque. Malik: Well, it was the first mosque built

  • in Granada after the Reconquista. So, for 500 years, this was the first purpose-built

  • mosque in Granada. It was promoted by a lot of people who were native Spanish Muslims,

  • born and raised in Spain, although it caters for all the Muslims.

  • Rick: So, how has the process been with community relations?

  • Malik: Well, some people were fearful at first, you know...the effect of the media and such.

  • But 10 years later, here we are. And some of our most vocal opponents are now our best

  • friends, because they appreciate what we are doing and who we are.

  • The mosque stands next to one of Europe's most romantic viewpoints. From the St. Nicolás

  • Terrace, as the sun sets, locals and visitors alike enjoy both a historical backdrop and

  • a convivial moment.

  • To extend the magic, grab a prime table at one of the several historic Albayzín manor

  • houses - called carmens - for dinner. You'll pay a bit more, but I can't think of a better

  • way to cap your visit to Granada.

  • From Granada, it's a two-hour drive over the mountains and down into Europe's fun-in-the-sun

  • headquarters: the Costa del Sol.

  • I find this strip of Mediterranean coastline generally overbuilt and very commercialized.

  • laga, the major city of the coast, is a good place to pass through. And almost anything

  • even resembling a quaint fishing village is long gone - replaced by timeshare condos and

  • golf courses.

  • The big draw is the beaches. There are plenty of hotels, and sun worshippers enjoy themselves

  • in spite of the congestion and lack of charm or local culture.

  • Nearly every country from Europe's drizzly north tucks an expatriate community somewhere

  • along this coast. They don't want to leave their culture...just their weather.

  • My favorite Costa del Sol stop is the resort town of Nerja. While capitalizing on the holiday

  • culture, Nerja has retained some of its charm. The church fronts the square, which fronts

  • the beach...and everybody's out strolling, eventually winding up on the proud Balcony

  • of Europe terrace.

  • This bluff, jutting jauntily into the sea, overlooks miles of coastline. A castle occupied

  • this spot for centuries.

  • Nerja's castle was part of a 16th-century lookout system. After Reconquista forces drove

  • out the Muslim...oh, that's right. You don't come to the Costa del Sol for history; you

  • come for fun in the sun...and relaxation.

  • And relax is what countless expat residents do. Nerja's expats are mostly British. Like

  • many along this coast, they actually try not to integrate. They enjoy their English TV

  • and radio, and many barely learn a word of Spanish.

  • Nerja has several well-equipped beaches. The one just below town retains its fishing-village

  • charm. Fishermen do their thing, while the tourists do theirs. The humble cottage evokes

  • a bygone day. Spaniards love their little beach restaurants.

  • A short hike takes us to a broader beach that appeals to different tastes. While it's packed

  • through the summer, we're here in May, when the heat and crowds are just right.

  • Ayo's place is famous for its beachside all-you-can-eat paella feast. For 30 years, he's been cooking

  • up this classic Spanish specialty.

  • To create this culinary work of art, start with some junk pallets for fuel, and slip

  • on your handmade heat shields. Then, fry up as many pieces of chicken as can fit in the

  • pan. Add just a pinch of garlic and about a week's-pay worth of saffron. When the chicken

  • is golden-brown, add about a dozen skinned tomatoes and as many red and green peppers

  • as you can stand chopping. Stir everything with a clean shovel. Now add a laundry bin

  • of arborio rice, and just a dash of smoked, sweet pimentos. Stir briskly until the rice

  • has become coated with the oils and spices. Add a few gallons of stock, and bring to a

  • boil. Add another pallet if necessary. Mix in a boatload of fresh, whole shrimp.

  • When the rice is done, remove - remembering to lift with your knees - and let set for

  • 10 minutes. Now you could just stare at the pretty colors and textures, but I recommend

  • eating it for the full experience. Dish out servings daintily, and garnish with a wedge

  • of lemon. Feeds 48 hungry vacationers. Adjust recipe measurements accordingly.

  • A 100-mile drive back inland takes us to the city ofrdoba. While Granada was the last

  • Moorish capital, the capital through the glory days of Muslim rule wasrdoba.

  • Tucked into a bend of its river, Córdoba has a glorious past. While its old wall evokes

  • a tough history, its elegant cityscape and convivial squares show a modern pride. As

  • is typical of Andalucía, it's a people-friendly city, filled with energy and color.

  • rdoba's centerpiece is a massive former mosque - or, in Spanish, Mezquita. This huge

  • rectangle dominates the tangled medieval town that surrounds it.

  • Grand gates lead to the courtyard. It was here, when this was a mosque, that worshippers

  • would gather to wash before prayer, as directed by Muslim law.

  • Entering, you step into a forest of delicate columns and graceful arches dating from over

  • 1,000 years ago.

  • At its zenith, this mosque was the center of Western Islam and the heart of a cultural

  • capital that rivaled Baghdad and Constantinople. A wonder of the medieval world, it's remarkably

  • well-preserved, giving today's visitors a chance to appreciate Islamicrdoba in its

  • 10th-century prime.

  • The columns and arches seem to recede to infinity, as if reflecting the immensity and complexity

  • of God's creation.

  • The mihrab - the focal point of worship in a mosque - was built in the mid-10th century.

  • It's richly mosaicked with 3,000 pounds of tiny, multicolored glass-and-enamel cubes.

  • A painting in the adjacent treasury takes us back to 1236, when Christians conquered

  • the city and everything changed. Here we see the Spanish king accepting the keys tordoba's

  • fortified gate from the vanquished Muslims.

  • According to legend, one morning Muslims said their last prayers in the great mosque. That

  • afternoon, the Christians set up their portable road altar and celebrated the first Mass in

  • what would later become this glorious cathedral.

  • As if planting a cross into its religious heart, this grand cathedral was built in the

  • middle of the mosque. Taking two centuries to complete, the cathedral is a glorious mix

  • of Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles.

  • A statue actually called "St. James the Moor-Slayer" stands next to the altar. Sword raised as

  • usual, James is busy conquering Muslims.

  • Other art is less provocative. The Baroque-era choir stalls are made of New World mahogany.

  • With exquisite carving, it's considered one of the masterpieces of 18th-century Andalusian

  • Baroque.

  • And, towering over the former mosque, a bell tower makes it clear: This huge edifice now

  • houses a place of Christian worship.