A speciality in Spain

A speciality in Spain

Mudjar art

A speciality in Spain

Art knows no bounds. The axiom is reflected in the Mudéjar art in Spain, mainly found in the Andalusian region. Here, the architectural craftsmanship fuses Christian and Islamic art sensibilities. When, in many pockets of the world, intolerance and refusal to recognise diversity are escalating, a look back at history, like that of Mudéjar art, is perhaps required.

Mudéjar art decoration emphasises on the techo artesonado (ornately decorated, coffered wooden ceiling). The spaces within the beams are covered with wooden carvings, using geometric designs and plant motifs, or calligraphy.

Live and let live

While visiting this corner of Europe, a sense of familiarity arises while exploring architectural styles and decorations in many palaces, churches and well-laid-out gardens, because they are reminders of the Islamic architecture under the Mughals.

In Spain, the influence of Islamic art can be traced to its medieval history. The Moors from Morocco conquered the Iberian Peninsula — Spain and Portugal — step by step, beginning in the early 8th century, and reigned there for almost 700 years. Some dynasties were tolerant, allowing Christians and Jews to practise their faith, as in Seville and Toledo; and even the constructions in synagogues showed Islamic-style embellishments.

The Reconquista — reconquest of the so-called Christian lands by the Catholic kings, and supported by the papacy — began in the mid- 12th century and continued for 200 years! Moor citadels fell one by one; the last great city to fall was Granada. But the remnants of such a long rule remained, if not among the ruling class, in cultural motifs.

In Seville, for example, a  cathedral was built where the huge Almohad Mosque once stood, and where people of other faiths congregated in the wide courtyard from time to time.

Today, the minaret El Giraldillo, so called by the locals because of the weather vane atop the bell tower, is all that remains of the Muslim legacy. With its beautiful brick panels, it is regarded as one of the finest examples of Almohad-dynasty architecture. The minaret was used by the muezzin to call the faithful for prayers.

Nearby, the Seville Alcazar (palace) is an astounding example of the fusion of Christian and Islamic architectures in Mudéjar style. Many Muslims stayed behind after the Christian reconquest; some even converted (Moriscos), and they were often hired by the new lords to decorate their homes. The evidence is there to see — in the brick work, plaster coatings, wooden ceilings, glazed tiles and inlay furniture.

One of the finest examples, experts say, is the palace in Seville. The alcazar’s trelliswork, the blue tiles and the fountains in the patio reflect a time of co-existence. King Peter I was a friend of the still-ruling Muslim emir of Granada, belonging to Nasrid Dynasty. He sent some of his top artisans from his Alhambra Palace to work on Peter’s palace.

In another story, the Alcazar of Segovia displays 1,392 unique pine cones on one of its ceilings. The Alhambra Palace of Granada, a UNESCO heritage site like the Seville’s alcazar, has some of the finest ceilings and panels marked by Mudéjar art.

The Catholic kings, even after conquest, did not destroy them because they valued them. Today, it offers an apt introduction to medieval art in Iberian Peninsula.

To the north, Zaragoza has in its beautiful Aljafería Palace many Mudéjar panels and ceilings. Toledo, the old capital of Spain, also displays many examples of Mudéjar style of architecture.

Its 2 synagogues, the Santa Maria la Blanca (13th century) and the Synagogue of El Transito (14th century), are in Gothic-Mudéjar style, where Christian and Arab heritages merge with Jewish heritage.