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Greece or Spain pt. 3

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Spain, like Greece, can claim two great cultures: that of Islamic Spain, and that of the later world power of Catholic Spain of the "Golden Age".

Yehuda Halevi or Yehuda ben Shemuel Ha-Levi c. 1075-1141

Medieval Moorish Spain was one of the most fabulous cultures of all history. The Moorish culture in what is today Morocco dates back to the time of the Roman Empire (and perhaps earlier) when they acted as trading partners with Carthage, the independent city-state founded by the Phoenicians and competitor/enemy of Rome. Following the destruction of Carthage the surrounding provinces were integrated into the Roman Empire and later Christianized. With the fall of the Roman Empire the Byzantine Empire, the Vandals and the Arabs all struggled to gain control of the Moors. Around 600 A.D. the region was brought under Arab-Islamic control. In 711, the now Moslem Moors conquered the Visigoths taking possession of the Iberian Peninsula and pushed well into France until eventually defeated by Charles Martel at the decisive Battle of Tours (or Battle of Poitiers). The Moslem forces continued to hold control of most of what is today Spain and Portugal and many of the native population converted to Islam. Nevertheless, a number of Christian-European city-states continued to initiate conflict with the Moors and to slowly push into Spanish-Muslim territories. In 1212 a coalition under Alfonso VIII of Castille pushed the Muslims out of central Spain. Nevertheless, they would hold out in the south until 1492 when the last Moslem stronghold in Granada fell to the Christian forces. With the "reconquista" of Spain by Christian forces there began a period of forced conversion to Catholicism shortly after Isabella and Ferdinand instituted the Inquisition in 1480. Not only was the Inquisition directed at Jews and Muslims who had overtly converted to Christianity but were thought to be practicing their faiths secretly... but also it was geared toward Protestants or other "heretics" who rejected Roman Catholic orthodoxy. The persecution lead to a mass exodus leading to a population loss of about 1/3rd by 1600. It also resulted is a mass destruction of culture... a burning of books numbering in perhaps in the millions... including in many cases unique copies of texts from ancient Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, and even the Greco-Roman cultures.

From the tenth century A.D. until the final fall of Granada Moorish Spain or Arab Andalusia would represent one of the great cultures and great cultural experiments in history. In spite of the Moslem control, there was a religious tolerance so that Islam, Christianity, and Judaism all flourished. Intellectual concepts and beliefs of these three religions and the artistic ideas of the east and west were interwoven in the hot house environment of Arab Andalusia. Among the great artistic achievements of the era one might point first to the marvelous art and architecture of Seville and Granada... especially as found in Alhambra, the fantastic palace complex of the Moorish rulers and once proclaimed the beautiful city in the world:

Islamic Spain produced a wealth of marvelous illuminated manuscripts:

The brilliantly colored visionary book illuminations of the period are what Umberto alludes to in his novel, The Name of the Rose.

Beyond the visual arts, Arab Andalusia would inspire fabulous innovations in literature (Poem of the Cid, Solomon ibn Gabriol, Moses ibn Ezra, etc...) and music. The music of the Sephardic Jews would merge ancient Hebrew traditions with Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Greek, North African, etc. Attempts by the Jewish composer, Isaac Nathan in the early nineteenth century to revive some of this ancient music would serve as an impetus for Lord Byron's Hebrew Melodies. The German poet, Heinrich Heine's Hebrew Melodies were also rooted in the music of Arab Andalusia... but also the poetry of the great Spanish Hebrew poets, especially Jehuda Halevi.

Following the collapse of Islamic Spain, Catholic Spain soon rose to a position of unrivaled wealth and power as a result of its conquests (and pillaging) of the "New World". The rise of Spain was precipitated by the Venetian sack of Constantinople which led to the weakening and eventual fall of this great city to Turkish forces and the closing of the usual trade routes to the East. By the Baroque era... the "Golden Age of Spain"... the Spanish were leading figures in literature (Gongora, Cervantes, Calderon, San Juan de la Cruz), in music (Domenico Scarlatti, Gaspar Sanz, Cristóbal de Morales, Tomás Luis de Victoria) and in the visual arts (El Greco, Zurbaran, Murillo, and most importantly, Velasquez). The Spanish court also collected many of the greatest European painters. The collection in the Prado is one of the finest in the world, housing the vast majority of paintings by Spanish masters such as El Greco...



and Goya...



  1. turanclancath's Avatar
    I enjoy your postings.
    That was especially the reason i became member of this Forum.
    See in introductions who i,m and what i like.
    in Short i like Art in its wides sence and especially the translation of litterature in art and vice versa.
    At the moment i study a theme very important in 16 /17 century art but also in 19 century waterhouse for instance) it could be called Assembly of the Olympian Gods ,Feast of the( Olympian )Gods,,Councel of the etc , marriage of Amor andPsyche and the marriage of Peleus and Thetis.

    Rafael .Bellini.Cornelis van Haarlem,Rubens etc etc etc

    greetings from Holland