April 28th, 2012
Are there really religious tourists? That was the question fired at me recently. You better believe it, was my response. I know, I have met them.
And there are many people who want to see more of Spain. And by that i mean they want to learn more about the Moors. The people who once ruled Spain and whose influence is to be seen throughout the country.
I don’t go to church. At least not for the services. But i do go to Mudéjar churches to photograph them and to admire the design inside and out. And it was in the Mudéjar church in the historic village of Mondújar, in the fragrant Lecrin Valley (the home of oranges and lemons) that i fist met a bus load of people who were in Andalusia on the second leg of their tour to see first hand the buildings that represent the Mudéjar period in Spain.
The word Mudéjar refers to the Muslims who were brave and bold enough to hang around in Spain after the Christian conquest. Their march through Spain wasn’t pretty or pleasant and some places in Spain changed hands several times as towns and cities were first conquered and then taken back by the Moors.
The city of Avila changed hands eight times in all. Avila is is the highest provincial capital in Spain and is packed full of historic buildings and maintains its stunning and complete medieval city walls.
Throughout history the Christian raiders of Spain allowed the Muslims to continue practicing their faith for a while. Though they were taxed for being able to do so. Say what you like about those bullies who took over Spain between the 11th and 15th centuries, but they knew how to raise money from those now under their rule.
Today the word Mudéjar is more readily associated with the architecture of that period, in particular when it involves churches.
That is because one of the first things the Christians did was to build churches on the top of the Mosques they tore down. Or they would adapt the existing building, but make sure it no longer looked like a mosque.
Under the existing Mudéjar church in Mondújar, San Juan de Bautosta is the ruins of the original mosque and buried there are the remains of the last Moorish Queen of Spain. Morayma was the young bride of King Boabdil – a man whose life and times is to be represented in a movie directed by the famous son of Malaga, Antonio Banderas.
Boabdil’s father, Muley Hacen, lived in Mondújar and it was to a castle there that the expelled King and Queen first stayed when they were expelled from the city of Granada. The ruins of the castle overlooking the village of Mondújar can still be reached on foot.
The family intended to travel back to North Africa. They only made it as far as the mountains of La Alpujarra before Morayma died. Her body was buried in the then Mosque of Mondújar along with the Sultans Mohammad II, Yusef III and Abu Saad.
Records kept in the official archives in Granada state that Boabdil prayed regularly at the site of Morayma’s tomb. When he left for exile in Morocco he paid those who ran Mondújar a sum of money to ensure they kept praying for his young wife. Sadly, as a lasting insult to the final Moorish King of Spain, the new rulers of Granada confiscated those funds and instead used the money to demolish the mosque in which Morayma was buried and built a church on the site.
It is believed that the remains of other former Kings are buried under this church. The building stands out from the nearby motorway and does get tourists visiting outside of the winter months. Clearly some knowledgeable people know what an important role the Mudéjar church of Mondújar has in the history of Moorish Spain.
There is none of the overt gold or bling on show as you would find in the big catholic churches that can be seen in the neighbouring city of Granada. Instead it is brickwork and joinery that are the stand out signature features of Mudéjar architecture. Andalusia, Aragon and Castile are the trio of provinces visited by the tourists I met. The ones for whom Moor is, well, more!
Likewise at the Mudéjar church in another historic location just off the motorway. People go to Calahorra near the capital of cave living, Guadix, in order to see the castle there. You can see this very different looking castle from the motorway and it is open to the public on Wednesdays. The castle has been used in a many a film and was used as the hideaway home for a character played by David Essex in the movie “Stardust.”
But walk down into the large open square of Calahorra and you will see another stand out building. The Mudéjar church of Calahorra began to be constructed at the start of the 16th century. Designed by Francisco Centeno work was halted during a Morisco uprising. It was not completed until the 17th century. The tower is more typical of the Baroque style you will witness in the neighbouring town of Guadix which, whether you rent a cave or a more normal holiday home, is an excellent place to base yourself if you are wanting to tour the area and be within striking distance of Almeria, Murcia and Granada.
Those I met had already been to the north of Spain where they had admired Mudéjar buildings in places I have never been to. Coca, Arevalo and Olmedo in Castile. In Olmedo there is even a theme park dedicated to all things Mudéjar. I kid you not!
The Parque Temarico del Mudéjar was the creation of painter and sculptor Felix Aranz Pinto. Tourists from all over the world go there, so I was told by Manolo who i met in Mondujar.
He said: “We are not the only ones. In Olmedo we met people from Germany, Holland, Mexico and Chile. They were all fascinated by Mudéjar architecture and the history. The theme park was a little silly with model churches and buildings but we had already seen some of the real ones. There is a Route of Mudéjar that you can follow in Castile, and Olmedo even had a bar and bakery designed in Mudéjar style.”
But why, i wondered, did Manolo and his companions travel Spain to look at Mudéjar churches rather than famous Mosques such as La Mezquita in Córdoba or the Alhambra Palace in Granada?
He told me: “I have been to those and they are very beautiful buildings. But they have become too popular and busy. You cannot always stand back and admire the architecture. I want to learn more and more about the history of Spain and I think the most magnificent buildings in Spain are those built in the Mudéjar period.”
The Mudéjar style takes its influences from North Africa. Architecture that can be seen not just in churches but in famous buildings such as the aforementioned Alhambra Palace and the Giralda Tower in Seville. For five hundred years the Mudéjar style of building was prominent in many areas of Spain.
I am pleased that it is appreciated by some who come to Spain not so much for the beaches or the bars.
But for much Moor (sic) than that.