Pilgrims first began walking to Santiago de Compostela early in the 8th Century following the discovery of the tomb of St James the Apostle by a shepherd in a ‘field of stars’. Before long eight official ‘Ways’ to Santiago were recognised. Today the number of Camino routes has increased and Camino tourism helps sustain many family businesses in Spain and Portugal.
Our May Tour takes us along three different Camino trails. For the first few days we have travelled along the Camino Mozarabe. We started in Granada where in 1492 the Catholic Monarchs Isabella and Ferdinand retook the territory that we now call Spain after 8 centuries of Islamic rule. We have explored the history of Muslim occupation including the era when Muslims, Christians and Jews lived in harmony. This rich history is well documented in ‘The Ornament of the World’ by Maria Rosa Menorcal (2002, Back Bay Books, N.Y.).
As well as visiting the magnificent Islamic red fortress, the Alhambra, we meandered through the labyrinth of narrow winding streets in the medieval Moorish quarter, called the Albaicin. We also spent a day visiting the white washed villages of La Alphujarra on the southern side of the snow capped Sierra Nevada where both Christians and Muslims successfully fended off invaders in different eras. Today these remote and most attractive villages are frequented by the descendants of these ancient peoples and by those seeking to escape busy city life to trek along picturesque mountain paths.
Our Camino journey then took us to Cordoba, once the seat of the Islamic Caliphate where we visited the Great Mosque – Cathedral called the Mesquita. This amazing architectural structure houses over 850 former Roman and Visigoth pillars that support horseshoe shaped terracotta and white arches. During the so called Dark Ages this city was a leading economic, political and cultural centre. Evidence of its more ancient Roman grandeur is also easily found.
Diverting from the Mozarabe trail we are now in Sevillia situated on the banks of the Guadalgiver. Following the ‘discovery’ of the Americas this was the economic centre of the Spanish Empire, it’s port monopolising trans-oceanic trade. Yesterday we visited the Real Alcazar, the oldest Royal Palace still in use in Europe. This spectacular Palace first built by Islamic leaders, the Almohades in the 1360s, was further developed over several centuries by subsequent Christian Monarchs. It combines Arabic, Renaissance and Baroque influences and represents the harmonisation of different cultures and civilisations. Of particular historical interest it is the contribution of King Pedro of Castille, known by Christians as ‘Pedro the Cruel’ due to his pro Jewish policies and his incorporation of Mudecar artistry in the Palace architecture. Non Christians referred to him as ‘Pedro the Just’.