In the Summer of 2015 we visited Southern Spain, and the main purpose of this visit was to explore Muslim Spain, also known as Andalusia or al-Andalus. We visited the amazing cities of Cordoba, Granada and Seville, which were once the capitals of Muslim Spain.
If you are not familiar with the history of Muslims in Spain, I would urge you to learn more, and if you can, visit the region at some point in your life. Truly a beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime-experience. Muslims ruled al-Andalus for 800 years (yes that many years!) and the history is fascinating. I read an amazing book on my travels to enhance my knowledge while we explored Muslim Spain. The book was called Granada: The Light of Andalucia by Steven Nightingale, and it was informative, factual and unbiased in it’s narrative. A must read if you are planning on visiting Granada or other cities of Andalucia.
An extract from the book featuring a Hebrew poem written during the rule of Muslims in Spain
We began our travels from Manchester Airport, having booked our flights, accomodation and tickets to Alhambra Palace in Granada in advance. I would recommend you do the same, as it may not be possible to get tickets to the Alhambra Palace on the day that you visit. There is no point visiting Granada if you are not going to visit the Alhambra Palace.
We booked a cheap Ryanair flight to Malaga airport, leaving our grey Manchester skies behind and arriving in the intense Spanish heat within a few hours.
We stayed for one night in a Holiday Inn Express hotel which was a pleasant stay and just what we needed for a stopover before we went off on our travels. The hotel were kind enough to provide us with two adjoining rooms with a door between the rooms, which made us feel safe to have the kids in the hotel room next door.
As we arrived in the early afternoon, we needed to eat and wanted to take advantage of the sunshine and coast of Malaga. We intended to travel to Cordoba the following day, so wanted to make the most of our first day in Spain. We were blessed to find a halal restaurant and butchers across the hotel called Mix Grill, which looks like it is closed now unfortunately, as the food was delicious.
After eating, we caught the bus into the centre of Malaga and walked around, taking the customary landmark photos along the way.
We were impressed with how clean Malaga was, and the palm trees were beautiful.
On the way back from the coast, we bought some delicious slushies and caught the bus back to our hotel.
The next day, we woke up early, had a lovely breakfast (the price of which was included in our hotel stay) and headed back to the centre of Malaga to catch a train to Cordoba. Unfortunately, we ran a little late and missed the train (which was pre-booked!) We ended up getting the coach from Malaga to Cordoba, which was cheaper than the train but would take a few hours longer. It was comfortable and the time passed quickly as we admired the Spanish scenery along the way.
We arrived in Cordoba, where we’d be staying for the next few days. Fortunately, the station wasn’t too far from our hotel so we walked, and a lovely passer-by was kind enough to walk us to the street of our hotel when we asked him for directions. We stayed at the Sercotel Selu Hotel in the centre of Cordoba, which was a fabulous price for the service and location. The hotel itself was lovely, and the inclusive breakfast was delicious and full of variety.
We planned to visit the Cordoba Mosque (Mezquita) Cathedral the following day, so spent the remainder of our afternoon/evening walking around Cordoba, which is a lovely small city with a modern centre with the latest shops and banks, and a 5 minute walk away takes you back in time to cobbled pathways, and traditional buildings, including the Grand Mosque.
The small parks in Cordoba are beautiful, and give a glimpse into the beautiful architecture and designs that we would later encounter in Granada and Seville.
We visited the Grand Mosque of Cordoba early the following day, and it was a wonderful experience. The even rows and columns of gorgeous red and white pillars, the Arabic text, artefacts and history beautifully preserved. Although the Grand Mosque is a Cathedral and most sections are filled with Christian history and artefacts, there is no denying the Islamic influence.
After visiting the Grand Mosque, we walked up the Roman Bridge, leading to a museum which we didn’t have enough time to visit.
We found a halal takeaway tucked in the cobbled streets not far from the Grand Mosque, and had a lovely kebab with chips before heading back to our hotel.
The next day we visited Madinat al-Zahra, which was one of my favourite excursions. The ruins of Madinat al-Zahra are a short journey from Cordoba, so we booked tickets for the bus to Madinat al-Zahra from the ticket office in Cordoba in the morning and by midday we were on our way. Once we stepped off the bus, we really felt like we had been transported back in time. There are many theories as to why the leader at the time (Abd-ar-Rahman III al-Nasir) built Madinat al-Zahra, but whatever the reason, it is clear that it was once a beautiful, bustling city. The first thing we did was to visit the tourism centre at the site, where we watched a short movie about the ruins and learnt about the history of Madinat al-Zahra and it’s importance.
Then we caught a shuttle bus up to the site, where we spent the next few hours exploring the beautiful ruins.
Madinat al-Zahra is located on high ground/mountain, and when we were there I could imagine the amir (leader) looking across the plains from his lofty palace.
There are many lovely citrus trees in Andalucia, including these pretty orange trees in Madinat al-Zahra
Huge pillars, red and white arches and beautiful gardens – trademarks of the architecture and design during the Muslim rule in Spain, were certainly evident at Madinat al-Zahra.
After visiting Madinat al-Zahra, we had a lovely, relaxed evening. The next morning, we purchased souvenirs from the shops near the Grand Mosque, and left for Seville via train, which was beautifully air-conditioned, comfortable and fast.
We stayed in the Old Town of Seville. The hotel we stayed at had a rooftop terrace and was in a central location which was perfect. I cannot remember the name of the hotel but it was cheap and comfortable. We had a gorgeous view of the cathedral tower.
The main attraction at Seville is the Real Alcázar, which is a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. It is a beautiful palace, similar to the Alhambra Palace, although not as grand. The gardens and fountains were so beautiful and serene.
The Giralda in Seville was originally one the largest minarets built.
After a few days in Seville, we travelled to Granada by coach, which took a few hours. We stayed at Hotel Juan Miguel in Central Granada, overlooking the cafes, shops and fountains in the centre, bustling with activity day and night.
There was a halal takeaway/restaurant in Central Granada, and we were addicted to the Mango slushies from the Burger King.
We were in Granada for the Alhambra Palace, and were super excited as it was the highlight of our trip. We booked tickets to the Palace for two days, one trip for the day time and one trip for the night time, as both are apparently “must-see”.
It was quite a climb to the Alhambra palace, but oh so worth it! Breathtaking views, scenery, fountains, atmosphere, and so much more.
What a view from the Alhambra Palace
Court of the Lions
On our night visit to the Alhambra Palace, we visited the masjid of Granada, and my husband got the chance to pray as it was Maghrib time.
The Alhambra Palace at night
The day before we would be leaving Granada, we visited Orgiva in the Alpujarra mountains. This is where the last of the Muslims fought for two years during the fall of Muslim Spain. The scenery was beautiful, although the coach journey up the mountains was quite scary as it was quite high up in the mountains.
We left Granada the following day, and finished our trip off with two nights at an apartment in Benalmádena, on the Costa del Sol. We visited the nearest beach, which was packed as it was during the Summer holidays, and if you are Muslim, you may want to stay away as many beach-goers were topless. Nevertheless, it was super hot and relaxing.
Our trip to Muslim Spain was truly a magical one, and one that I will not forget anytime soon. I cannot wait to visit again, to experience a little of the era that was known as the ‘Golden Age’ for Muslims.