Gateway to the Classics: Peeps at Many Lands: Spain by Edith A. Browne
Peeps at Many Lands: Spain by  Edith A. Browne

The Land of All Delights

We have taken a flying leap from the far north of Spain to the extreme south. We are in Andalusia, the most fascinating region of the whole country, where all life is a merry-go-round, in an atmosphere charged with romance, glowing with sunshine, and radiant with colour.

Andalusia was the stronghold of the Moors during their period of supremacy in Spain, from the eighth to the fifteenth century. They divided this particularly beloved part of their whole conquest into four kingdoms—Seville, Cordova, Jaen, and Granada. These names are still in existence, and, although they now refer to smaller territorial districts, they embrace some of the finest monuments of Moorish architecture in the world. But it is not only the magnificent buildings in the south which bear testimony to the keen intelligence, wondrous skill, and refined taste of the Moors. Throughout all Andalusia Moorish influence is strongly felt; the cottages of the poorest peasants show how the Moorish ideal of cleanliness so permeated the country that it became a lasting power—for the meanest Andalusian home has freshly-whitewashed walls, snowy curtains, clean rooms, and, however destitute it may be of furniture, there are flowers blooming everywhere, so that joy and beauty are the heart and soul of the tidy scene; the whole sunny province is rich in cool fountains, which proclaim the Moorish love of water; and there is much that is Oriental in the Andalusian temperament.


An Andalucian dance.

The Andalusians, however, have not inherited the agricultural enterprise of the Moors. The excellent irrigation methods introduced by the Arabs are frequently neglected; scientific efforts at cultivation are hardly ever dreamed of; the most primitive implements are used, because it is too much trouble even to think of replacing them. As a result, there are waste tracts of land, some of considerable extent; but Nature left to her own devices makes such an excellent farmer in this Southern sunny territory that, in spite of the indolence, indifference, and ignorance of the labourers, the fertile soil of Andalusia produces many a rich harvest and a wealth of flowers most fragrant and fair.

The Andalusians have all the best qualities of their defects. Away from them, we may condemn their idle habits, their exaggerated methods of expression, their superstitious beliefs; but when we are with them, idleness becomes the virtue of infectious joy and happiness; exaggeration figures as the dramatic instinct; superstition is national romance. In Andalusia we unconsciously learn the importance of not being in earnest, as, willy-nilly, our every stern principle is magnetically charmed away and scattered to the winds.

The most beloved vagabonds are to be found in Seville, where singing, dancing, courting, and bull-fighting make up the common round. True, there are people who pick oranges for a few months in the year, but they so successfully manage to turn the whole harvest-time into a continuous series of festivals that the fruit-picking season cannot possibly be regarded as a business interval in their pleasure-loving lives. And there are upwards of five thousand workers at the tobacco manufactory, besides the thousands who keep shop in the city, or take some part in connection with the export trade in oil, olives, lead, copper, liquorice, and cork. But these Andalusians, who must be credited with pursuing some branch of labour, as employers or employed, have no faith in the gospel of work; they do not live to work: they work to live up to their joyous ideal of what life should be. Moreover, the typical representative of a most popular phase of ideal existence does not even pretend to follow any sort of trade. He hangs round a tavern, feasting on the notes of someone else's guitar, and cajoling this customer and that into taking pity on his thirst; he lies on his hack in the shade, doing nothing, and doing it so picturesquely that you are tempted to hope he will never attempt anything more strenuous; when he wants excitement, he begs his way into the bull-ring; and when night falls, he sinks down to slumber on the steps of the nearest church.

Seville shares with Cordova and Granada the honour of being numbered amongst the most world-renowned treasure cities of Moorish art. The chief of the many important Moorish buildings and remains in Southern Spain are the Mosque at Cordova; the Giralda, the Alcazar, and the Casa de Pilatos, at Seville; and the Alhambra at Granada.

Before I take you specially to see one of these specimens, I want to tell you a little about Moorish architecture in general. The distinguishing features of the style include horseshoe arches; walls which have stone-embroidered bands of insertion for ornament, or which are worked like lace; richly gilded and painted ceilings, sometimes flat, sometimes consisting of numerous little concave parts, covered with a honey-comb pattern and grouped into domes. The carving on these buildings always presents a flat surface to the eye. Sometimes the stonework is fretted and covered entirely with an openwork design, but in the case of solid walls the pattern is carved into the mass, a marked contrast in method and effect to the outward relief in which we are accustomed to see stone ornamentation. Moorish buildings are rich in white stonework that now has little or no trace of colour on the design worked therein; this gives the walls an appearance of being enriched with finely carved ivory, toned to wondrous cream, golden, and brown tints by venerable age. But all these magnificently decorative details must be sought within a Moorish pile, for externally the style is very plain. Even with this warning as guide, you will never forget your first feeling of surprise as you enter the portal of the building which introduces you to the style, the picture of its dowdy exterior fresh in your mind's eye, a vision of its gorgeous interior bursting on your gaze.

Now let us make a pilgrimage to the famous Alhambra at Granada. The name is frequently supposed to apply to one building, whereas it designates a fortified enclosure on a height, akin to a Greek acropolis.

Just as we should have to toil up a hill to a Greek citadel, so must we wend our way up the Alhambra Hill to the fortress which crowns it. We leave the city of Granada by way of a steep and narrow street which is devoted to the interests of the class generally known as tourists. En route  we are greeted by a self-styled "Chief of the Gipsies," who is dressed for the part. He pesters us with attentions which have a very different exchange value in his estimation from what they come to have in ours; but at last we manage to get away from him in the flesh, bearing his photograph to remind us of our meeting with him—as if we should ever forget it—and leaving him with fifty centimos as a reminiscence of his latest prey. Presently we are entering the beautiful groves that are embosomed in a hollow between the Alhambra Hill and a neighbouring ridge. How deliciously cool it is among these richly-wooded slopes; after the scorching heat of the open road how grateful we are for the shade of trees, the sight and sound of rills trickling and tumbling all around, fountains playing near and far! We sit down to rest awhile, blessing the Moors for having converted a stretch of barren rock into a garden that seems a natural wilderness of leafy bowers and flower-decked dells, echoing with the music of flowing waters, the songs of birds, and the drowsy hum of insects.


A water carrier.

Long have we sat watching the water-carriers climbing up the hill to fill their skins, hastening down on their way back to the city to sell the precious liquid.

"Agua! . . . agua-ah! . . . agua-a-ah!" The streets will soon be resounding with their cry, and it will not be long before they have all disposed of their supply.

You did not know that water has its price? The more you wander about this land, which is visited for months on end by a very thirsty sun, the better will you realize what it means to long in vain for a draught of cold water; and when you get home and see it flowing in a continuous stream till you choose to turn off the tap, you will remember the moments of joy when you heard the cry of "Agua!" approaching nearer and nearer, and the hours of thirst-haunted endurance when you would have emptied your purse at the feet of a water-carrier if Fate had been merciful enough to send one your way.

We are tempted to linger on in these beautiful shady gardens. Another day we may come here to romance and dream to our heart's content, but to-day it is time to he up again and doing.

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