Visiting Andalucía – The Heart of Islamic Spain

Ever since I heard about this place, I’ve wanted to visit. Since then, I made the intention that I will one day make my way there. The place has its fair share of stories from the Visigoths, to the Muslims from Africa and the Reconquista. What amazed me was the fact that Muslims had ruled there from the 8th – 15th century and that many of the remnants and buildings they left behind still stand today.

Follow me below as I share with you details of our trip.

April 2017. Finally I was on the plane, heading towards our first stop in Andalucía; Granada.

Andalucía is a region within Spain. Below is a map which shows the eight provinces that make up the region of Andalucía. (If the map does not appear on your device, the locations should appear allowing you to click on them to see where the provinces are.)

Below is a screenshot of Andalucía from Google Maps.

The region of Andalucía is located towards the south of Spain.

We arrived into Granada Airport at around 10AM using easyjet airways. It was a Friday, so as soon as we landed we made our way to our Hotel so that we can make it on time for the Friday prayers [Jumuah]. We stayed at Hotel Alixares which is located within walking distance to the Alhambra Palace. That is the main reason why we came to Granada; to see the Alhambra Palace. I’ll explain more about that further down the blog.

We checked into our hotel and made our way to the Mezquita Mayor de Granada. This mosque was built in 2003 making it the first mosque built in Granada since the 1400s! Just before that, we made a stop at a Moroccan restaurant to quickly satisfy our hungry selves. Walking around, we noticed that there were quite a lot of moroccan restaurants around as well as a good proportion of Muslims. They were all very hospitable and were trying to entice peckish tourists to dine at their restaurants.

One of the Moroccan brothers informed me that Jumuah was at 3PM and that instead of going to the Mezquita which was a bus ride away, we could go to a nearby Masjid called Masjid Taqwa and pray there. I’ll talk more about that Masjid later on. We finished eating and decided that we will stick to the plan, so we made our way to the Mezquita Mayor de Granada.

To get to this mosque, take the bus C31 from Plaza Nueva. Tell the driver that you want to stop near the Mezquita and he will tell you when to get off. I think we paid a euro each one way. If you want a bit more detail; get off at Placeta del Abad and simply walk from there to the Mezquita. Click here for Google Maps directions.

We arrived just in time for Jumuah which was at 3PM. We quickly performed Wudhu [ablution] and made our way to the prayer hall. As I entered, my eyes caught someone I’ve been wanting to meet; Shaykh Abdullah Hakim Quick. He is an imam, historian and travelling lecturer from North America.

Located within the heart of the Muslim community, this mosque is not only a place for prayers, but is also a place for study and gaining knowledge. The mosque is maintained very well and overlooks the magnificent Alhambra Palace and the snowy mountainous region of Sierra Nevada. The mosque and the locals stand as true manifestations of harmony with there being a church next door.

View of the Alhambra Palace from the Mezquita

After the prayers, we approached Shaykh Abdullah to meet him. He met us with a cheerful face and embraced us with a hug. We told him that we were happy to see him and that we had learnt a lot from him. It was his final day in Granada and he was with some of his students. We asked him for some advice to which he said, ‘reflect on history‘. A short yet an unavoidable lesson.

We then met the Imam of the Mezquita, Imam Abdullah Castineir. A native of the place, he told us about local scholars. He told us about Shaykh Abdar Rahman Ould Murabitul Hajj and Shaykh Hamid Omar. Both scholars are Mauritanian and hail from Murabit-al-Hajj’s tribe with Shaykh Abdar Rahman being the son of Murabitul Hajj. These two scholars lead as imams and teachers in Masjid Taqwa to cater for the Muslims living in the downtown area of Granada, Plaza Nueva. Imam Abdullah informed us that Shaykh Abdar Rahman was travelling but Shaykh Hamid Omar was available to meet. So we decided that we would go and meet him. Click here to read what happened.

Visiting The Alhambra Palace

The next day we visited the prominent historic site, the Alhambra Palace.

The Alhambra Palace is one of the finest pieces of Islamic art left behnd for humanity to come and observe. If someone wants to know what Islam is, one of the best ways to explain is by telling them to listen to some recitation of the Qur’an or see some fine Islamic art. This place definitely possesses some of the finest Islamic arts of the world.The buildings and work of the Palace is a projection and manifestation of what was in the hearts of the Muslims when they built it. As humans we are hungry and thirsty for beauty and spirituality and this is what brings us and all the tourists around us here. Fulfillment and connection with beauty!

The Alhambra Palace is split into 3 parts:

  1. Generalife
  2. Alcazaba
  3. Nasrid Palaces

As for Generalife and Alcazaba, you can access them anytime between the opening times. However, the Nasrid Palaces has to be accessed within ½ hour of the time printed on your ticket. It is best to book your tickets in advance. I would say atleast 3 months in advance. You can buy your tickets from here.

These are a couple of routes you can follow once you’re inside:

Generalife -> Nasrid Palaces -> Alcazaba

OR

Nasrid Palaces -> Alcazaba -> Generalife

We went for the first one and spent quite a bit of time in each place.

As soon as we walked in after having retrieved our tickets, we walked past an area known as Secano. This is the part of the palace which used to accommodate those working in the Palace i.e. a residential area. We also saw beautiful and lush greenery with carved trees. We then came across an old Hammam [bath] and the Masjid which used to be part of the Palace. We then walked through the Auditorium Collosuem which was built by King Charles V after the palace was taken away from the Muslims. It was quite different to the rest of the architecture. This collosuem was not as impressive as the rest of the Palace.

Secano

We then entered the Nasrid Palace; the place was filled with Arabic calligraphy! Almost on every wall you would see something written in Arabic praising Allah.

One thing that was written the most was the quote, ‘La Ghaliba Illallah’ which means “There is no victor/conqueror except God’. This was the motto that belonged to the Nasrid Dynasty. Inscribed hundreds of times on the walls of the palace, it appeared more than the actual Shahadah.

It was strange yet powerful knowing that once upon a time there were Muslims living throughout this city.

We then went to the Alcazaba and the Generalife. From the Alcazaba you can get a profound view of the Albaicin district. I would highly recommend you check this part out.

Info on Purchasing Alhambra Tickets

When purchasing, I recommend booking the ‘Alhambra General’ ticket as this will give you admission into all parts of the Palace with a 1 hour time slot to enter the Nasrid Palace (once you’re in Nasrid Palace, you can stay as long as you like).

  • Getting to the Alhambra Palace: If you are coming from the downtown area such as Plaza Nueva, simply take the C30, C32 or C35 bus to the Alhambra Palace. This will cost you between €1-€2. You can attempt to walk to the Palace, but I warn you that the path on the way up is very steep. Luckily our hotel was within walking distance. To make it easier, you can book into the same hotel [Hotel Alixares] as we did by clicking here.
  • Entry Fee: €14.00
  • Opening Times: Click here for opening times
  • Location: Calle Real de la Alhambra, s/n, 18009 Granada, Spain
  • Website: https://www.alhambradegranada.org/en/ (a lot of useful info on this link)

The Muslim Graveyard & Masjid Taqwa

The next day we visited a cemetery nearby to our hotel. We were told by Imam Abdullah that Muslims are buried nearby to San Jose Cemetery. When we got there, we asked the staff there who told us that it is a further 12 minute walk to the Muslim graveyard. To get there from San Jose Cemetery, follow these directions.

It was a small area dedicated to some of the Muslims of Granada. There was no one in sight so we had to somehow find our way to the back of the building to visit the graveyard.

The front of the Muslim graveyard. The graveyard is behind this building.

We climbed down the hill on the left side of the building and walked through an unmarked pathway and finally found the graveyard which was located to our right. Though the walk up may be quite toilsome, the views you get once at the graveyard is very rewarding.

After visiting we made our way down to Granada downtown, Plaza Nueva, to visit Shaykh Hamid Omar. It took us a while to find his Masjid as it is tucked away in the back streets of Plaza Nueva in downtown Granada. The Masjid we were looking for is called Masjid Taqwa and it is known by this name on Google Maps as well as by the locals. Click here to view the Masjid on Google Maps.

We met Shaykh Hamid Omar, an elderly scholar from the deserts of Mauritania who taught in the Emirates but has been in Granada for over 20 years. For more details on the encounter with Shaykh Hamid at Masjid Taqwa, click here to see my post about the experience.

This was our final day here.

Food in Granada

We stuck to the burgers, chips & shawarmas and on one of the days we did end up eating a range of curries.

Visitors to this place have a lot of choice when it comes to food. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, looking for Halal food or even seafood, you will find something. If you are vegan, I have found that they are very accommodating and most places we went to, we found that they have dedicated items for vegans.

As for Halal food, there are many places. Click here to see all the food places in Granada that are Halal.

Granada to Cordoba

En-route to Cordoba from Granada using the ALSA bus service

The next day we made our way to Cordoba. Once an important Roman city and a major Islamic center in the Middle Ages, it is best known for the Mezquita, a spectacular mosque dating from the 8th century.

We took an ALSA bus; I think that is one of the most ideal ways of getting there. Not only is it in-expensive, it does not take that long and the ride is comfortable. You can book your tickets here. You will have to take the bus from Granada Bus Station

Once you reach Cordoba Bus Station, take a taxi to your accommodation or walk if it’s within walking distance. We had to take a taxi as we were staying at Hotel Marisa which was at a distance from the Bus Station  but very close to the Mezquita.

If you book 2-3 months prior to your trip, the tickets one-way from Granada to Cordoba works out to around €5.45. This is if you travel on most weekdays. On the weekend including Fridays, the ticket price can go up to €15.

Great Mosque of Cordoba

As our taxi approached closer and closer to the hotel, we couldn’t help but notice the maze-like streets all leading towards the Mezquita. When we reached, we stepped out of the taxi and for the first time saw the majestic walls of the Great Mosque of Cordoba – once a thriving place for prayers and an institution for learning, I remembered the story of how the Muslim scholar Imam Qurtubi & the Jewish scholar Maimonides used to sit side by side engaging in scholarly discussions. All this, whilst one worked on the commentary of the Torah and the other worked on the commentary of the Qur’an.

Below are some pictures of the Mosque. Today the historical mosque has been transformed into a cathedral yet it still stands as a Mosque on the exterior and for the most part on the interior. Inside you will come across some old religious manuscripts and Qur’an inscriptions on tablets. You can still see the Mihrab from where the Imam led the prayers.

It really is breathtaking to see this place still standing and takes me back to a quote of Gabriel Rebolloo Puig:

“One of its most exciting features is that it has been used every day for the whole of its life, it has not been abandoned for even one day”

Gabriel Rebollo Puig

One thing which I found quite fascinating was the shadow clock device. This was basically a needle type device planted into the wall which was used to work out prayer times depending on where the shadow was. If you can’t locate it inside the Mosque, simply ask one of the guards. If you show him the below photo, even better.

At around sunset we went to a nearby Mosque for prayers. However, we were informed by a Moroccan restaurant manager that the Mosque is not usually open as they rarely have attendees.

Click here for the location of this Mosque if you are interested in visiting it.

Food in Cordoba

Like Granada, visitors to this place have a lot of choice when it comes to food. Whether you’re vegan, vegetarian, looking for Halal food or even seafood, you will find something. If you are vegan, I have found that they are very accommodating and most places we went to, we found that they have dedicated items for vegans.

As for Halal food, there are many places. Click here to see all the food places in Cordoba that are Halal.

We went to eat at Laor Kebab for which the address is 6 Calle Alfayatas, Córdoba, Andalucía 14003. They served the usual kebab sandwiches and burgers as well as a wide range of curries such as mixed vegetable and lentils. Foods was tasty and sensibly priced.

Other Sites to Visit in Andalucia

Medina Azahara (Cordoba) – one of the very fascinating sites of Cordoba. It is the ruins of a monumental, fortified palace-city built by Abd-ar-Rahman III, the first Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba. There are different opinions on why he built this vast palace-city. The first is that he built this for his beloved wife Azahara and the second is that he built this to promote independency of the western Caliphate as one of the strongest, most powerful empires in Europe.

The weather was quite rainy and windy the day we went so the quality of the images are not the best.

  • Getting Here: Take a shuttle bus from Avenida Alcazar. It is a touristic shuttle bus that departs from Tuesday to Sunday at 11:00 and Saturdays and Sundays also at 10:00, also at 16:30 from Tuesday to Saturday during the summer. It costs around €9 for a return ticket and allows you to spend 2 1/2 hours in Medina Azahara. You can ask speak to the bus driver if you have any queries. You can even get more info on this from the staff at your hotel. Once you arrive and buy your tickets, you are shown a film about the history of the place. Then you can go for a walk in the museum there. After that a shuttle bus will take you to the archeological site as the site is at a distance from the booking office.
  • Opening Times: Visit this site for opening times
  • Entry Fee: €1.50.
  • Website: http://www.medinaazahara.org/en/

Giralda Tower (Seville) – The Cathedral of Seville, or more officially known as Santa Maria de la Sede Cathedral, is known as one of UNESCO’s World Heritage sites.  It was and still is, one of the biggest gothic cathedrals in the world. It was the capital city of the Umayyad Caliphate from the 8th to the 13th centuries. However, when Seville was conquered by the Christians in the 12th century, they decided to use the mosque as a church. They then decided to knock down parts of the church and rebuild it as it began to decay. This includes the Giralda tower which stands at a staggering 104 metres in height.

Statue of Maimonides – Located in the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, stands a statue of Maimonidies [Musha Ibn Maymūn]; the greatest Jewish philosopher that has ever existed. He was also a medic and theologian.

He sat side by side with Muslim scholars near the Masjid of Cordoba and compiled Mishna, a commentary for the Torah.

Unknown to many, he was also the personal doctor of Salāhuddīn al-Ayyūbī.

 Directions for this statue can be found here. It’s free to visit.

Statue of Ibn Rushd – Ibn Rushd [Averroes] – A Muslim Scholar of Cordoba, Andalucia. A scholar – who revived the works of Aristotle – as well as a medic, philosopher and theologian. 

Directions for this statue can be found hereIts free to visit.

Conclusion

Andalucía is very different to the rest of Spain as the place is filled with so much history. The trip to Andalucia was a great experience; learning about the history and seeing it first hand was eye opening.

I would highly recommend people to travel to Andalucia atleast once in their lifetime to witness the Islamic history and learn about the Islamic civilisation that ruled for almost 800 years.

Please comment below if you’ve been here and share with us your experiences.

Lastly, I’d like to invite you to check out my new book called A Muslim Traveller’s Guidebook – a compact pocket-sized book that is filled with tips on how to make your journey more purposeful. You can get this as an eBook or paperback.


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5 Unique Things to do in Granada

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