Below are two of the greatest buildings that the Moors (an inexact but now generally accepted term to describe the early Muslims/Arabs who invaded Spain) left behind: Córdoba’s Mezquita and the palace of Alhambra in Granada.
The Great Mosque, the Mezquita, which dates back to 785 when Abd al-Rahman I built it to honor his wife, is often called Córdoba’s greatest sight.
When I went there, I entered through an unimposing door with a horseshoe arch that gives no hint of what lies inside. Once inside, I found a vast architectural wonderland of more than 850 columns made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite along with giant horseshoe arches in alternating bands of red and white, like holiday candy.
The Alhambra in Grenada, Spain, another etched-in-my-memory highpoint of Andalusia, was the last stronghold of Islam’s 800-year presence in Europe. It was the palace and fortress of the Nasrids, the final Islamic dynasty (1236-1492) of Europe’s Middle Ages.
Poets have called the Alhambra “a fairyland,” “a pearl set in emeralds,” and after stepping through the portal, I understood why. Visitors tend to fall into a succession of rooms that seem to flow from one to the next, as if in a symphonic melody. There are elegant columns, complex stalactite-like ceiling adornments, stylish arabesques, subtle calligraphy, and bounties of arches.
My favorite space there is the Patio de los Leones (Court of the Lions), its perimeter lined by arcades supported by 124 slender marble columns. At the center of the court is the Lion Fountain, a stately alabaster basin resting upon 12 marble lions that signify power and fortitude.
“We’re not sure where the lions came from,” my guide Sebastiano told me. He said that the Muslims surely didn’t make them, because the Qur’an prohibits the representation of living creatures. Prophet Mohammed sought to prevent a return to idolatry. According to my guide, the lions were thought to have been crafted by Jewish or Christian artists.