Last updated: 11:00 PM ET, Tue August 25 2015

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  • Rosalind Cummings-Yeates | August 25, 2015 11:00 PM ET

    Moorish Impressions in Andalucia

    Moorish Impressions in Andalucia

    Photos by Rosalind Cummings-Yeates

    When I explored towns in the Andalucia region of southern Spain, I expected to witness the historic architecture and rich cultural traditions that the area is famous for.  What I didn't expect was a close up perspective of how Moorish culture laid the foundation for much of what is generally considered Spanish heritage. 

    This region of southern Spain was ruled for seven centuries by the Moors — Berbers who crossed into Spain from Northern Africa and left a permanent mark on the country. Moorish tradition not only covers the architecture but also art, food and the design of villages that dot the region’s provinces.

    An unexpected aspect of Moorish culture that’s woven throughout Andalucia is the culinary influence. From the orange trees lining the streets, which were introduced by the Moors, to the spices that fill many dishes, the impact is remarkable. Spanish gastronomy hallmarks like paella, gazpacho and almond pastries, all owe their existence to the Moors.

    I was excited to sample the Nasrid menu, which interprets traditional recipes enjoyed by the sultans of the Alhambra, at the Parador de Granada, a historic hotel on the grounds of the Alhambra. The first surprise was that not only did the Moors introduce foods, but these African innovators also designed the order of the meal — starters, fish, meat and then dessert.

    I tasted a delicate harisa soup made with chicken stock and brimming with spices, which was traditionally consumed during Ramadan. It was accompanied by a briwat, a pastry filled with chicken, which was a popular item in the suq market.

    Next was sea bass encrusted with spices and a vegetable stew that is reflected today in tayines.

    Stewed veal with apples and aubergines, a mainstay fruit in Moorish cuisine, followed.

    It was all topped off with zalabiya, a fried pastry filled with fruit and myrtle sorbet. The sultans would direct mule drivers to collect snow from the surrounding Sierra Nevada Mountains for refreshing desserts. Myrtle holds a special place in Moorish tradition as the plant of eternity and divine forgiveness. Sultans were buried with branches of myrtle and drawings of the plant decorate many structures in Andalucia.

    PHOTO: Zalabiya

    Although Spain is mostly a coffee drinking country, I was thrilled to discover teterias or teahouses, lining Granada streets. Thanks to the Moorish tea tradition, I roamed all over Calle Calderia Nueva — a street famous for its tearooms — and sampled the aromatic array of teas. I settled into a Moroccan teteria, which served up tea in silver teapots poured in the high angles that produce a swirling and strong cup.

    Climbing up to the Las Alpujarras mountain region of Andalucia, I glimpsed another Moorish legacy. The area forms their last stronghold, as they fled into these mountains after the Spanish Inquisition.

    Viewing the alabaster-hued villages perched on the Southern tip of the Sierra Nevada Mountains is an enthralling sight. The flat clay roofs and boxy terraces that dominate the houses reflect traditional Berber architecture that can still be seen today in the mountains of Morocco.

    Strolling into the tiny village of Pampaneira, home to about 300, I was greeted with immediate friendliness. A climb up through the steep and winding streets revealed the Moorish innovations of narrow passageways to encourage airflow and trickles of water flowed through sidewalk paths to refresh the air.

    PHOTO: Trevelez

    A visit to Trevelez, the highest point in mainland Spain, left me gazing at stunning vistas once again. Only this time, the vibrant blues and greens of traditional Moorish ceramics also filled my vision, reinforcing the culture’s ubiquitous presence in Spain.

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Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Far-Sighted Field Notes

Rosalind Cummings-Yeates Rosalind Cummings-Yeates is a journalist, author and blogger who specializes in travel and culture topics. She loves guiding readers through the richness of various cultures and discovering the essence of a destination. Her travel and culture blog, Farsighted Fly Girl, offers travel insights through the music, food, art and history of various countries and cultures. Join her on the journey at www.Rosalindcummingsyeates.
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