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Jasmine Dispatch

The Odyssey Discovers a New World

We could hardly believe our eyes when we first saw the busy port city. Monica and I docked in Algeciras on the southernmost tip of Spain. The two-hour ferry we'd taken from Morocco, our final stop in Africa until we arrive in Egypt, left us staring in amazement at our fist glimpses of European soil. After spending the last ten months in developing countries, it was literally shocking to be surrounded by a bustling metropolis, with paved streets, a real public bus system, a subway, and tall modern buildings. Monica even commented that it reminded her of New York City. We made our way to the main street to find a bank that would exchange our dirhams (Moroccan currency) for pesetas (Spanish currency). We then set off to explore Spain (as much exploring as one can do in four days anyway)!

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Catholic Cathedral
It didn't really hit me until we arrived at the bus station--there are thousands of important places to visit in Spain! Where should we start? From Algeciras we could take buses to the surrounding cities of Gibraltar, the place behind the saying "strong like the Rock of Gibraltar." Maybe we should visit Cordoba, the first capital of Spain back in the 1st century BC. Monica, giggling, said "Let's start in Malaga, Picasso's hometown. That would be inspiring!" Then of course there's always Madrid, the famous capital city of Spain. And surely we'd have to visit Barcelona, the city where Christopher Columbus presented his "discovery" of the New World to Queen Isabel and King Fernando. Decisions, decisions, it was absolutely overwhelming!

A threatened kingdom...the beginning of a New World

To root out those who didn't practice Christianity, as the Catholic church wished them to, the Catholic Monarchs of Spain, King Fernando and Queen Isabel, revived the almost extinct inquisition (founded earlier in France to deal with traitors and heretics). The Spanish Inquisition focused most of all on the conversos, Jews who had converted to Christianity, accusing many of continuing to practice Judaism in secret. Despite Fernando's part-Jewish background and the Jewish loans for the Granada War, Jews were considered Muslim allies. The Inquisition was responsible for nearly 12,000 deaths over 300 years, 2,000 of them in the 1480's under Isabel and Fernando's rule.

In April of 1492, under the influence of Grand Inquisitor Tomas de Torquemada, Isabel and Fernando ordered the expulsion from their territories of all the Jews who refused Christian baptism. Around 50,000 to 100,000 Jews converted, but some 200,000 left for other Mediterranean destinations. The bankrupt monarchy then seized all unsold Jewish property and all talented people were decimated. It was during this same month in 1492 that the Catholic monarchs granted Christopher Columbus (Cristobal Colon to Spaniards) funds for his long-desired voyage across the Atlantic in search of a new trade route to Asia. Isabel and Fernando were motivated by the desperate need to fill their kingdoms empty treasury.

Columbus set off from Palos de la Frontera, today's Andalucia (near the port Monica and I first docked), on August 3 with three small ships and 120 men. They stopped at the Canary Islands, then sailed west for 31 days sighting no land. The unconvinced crew grew rebellious and gave him two more days. Shortly thereafter, he sighted the island of Guanahani (Bahamas), which he named San Salvador. He went on to discover Cuba, and Hispanola (Haiti), and returned to a hero's welcome from the monarchs in Spain eight months after his departure.

Columbus made three more voyages, founding Santo Domingo on Hispanola, discovering Jamaica, Trinidad and other Caribbean islands, and reaching the mouth of the Orinoco and the coast of Central America. Even though the New World was a great discovery for Christopher Columbus and the Spaniards, it was home to established Indian civilizations. Thus began the conquest of the Americas from the Native Americans and other indigenous peoples who greeted Christopher Columbus upon his arrival. Christopher Columbus eventually proved himself an unsuccessful administrator and was shipped home a prisoner from his third voyage. Though he was released on his return, he died poor in 1506 apparently still believing he had reached Asia.

It wasn't easy, but it was pretty exciting, and after serious thought, we finally had a plan. With so much to cover, we figured that we would start with the city nearest Algeciras and head north to Barcelona. In order to be most effective, we decided to split up. I would go to Granada, and Monica would head straight up to Barcelona. Abeja was already in Central Spain covering Madrid, and Kavitha was on her way from Morocco. With that, we bought our tickets, bussed up the Costa Del Sol, the beautiful coast of Southern Spain, to Malaga where we spent the night. Monica continued from there up to Barcelona, and I headed to Granada where this adventure begins.

The Islamic city was called Karnattah, from which 'Granada' is derived; (granada also happens to be Spanish for pomegranate, a fruit which appears on the city's coat of arms). After the fall of Cordoba in 1236 and Sevilla in 1248, Muslims sought refuge in Granada where the famous Mohammed ibn Yousouf ibn Nasr had recently established an independent emirate. Today thousands of tourists come to Granada daily, and at first it's hard to imagine why. The streets are congested with traffic jam after traffic jam. If you combine that with the high-rise apartment buildings, huge department stores, and fast food restaurants, Granada has a very modern-day appeal. It reminds you of any big city, and seems a disappointing world away from its Muslim past.

It's not until you look up that you notice the famous Alhambra, dominating the skyline from its hill top perch nestled in the magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains. In addition, you'll notice the fascinating Albayzin, the old Islamic quarter, which also rises high above the modern city. The Alhambra, from the Arabic alqala 'at al-hamra (red castle) was a fortress dating back to the 9th century. The Nasrids of the 13th and 14th centuries turned it into a fortress-palace complex adjoined by a small city (medina), of which nothing remains. The founder of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed ibn Nasr, set up his home, the Palacio Nazaries, on the hilltop, restoring and expanding the Alcabaza fortress. It was his successors, however, who are responsible for the palace's exquisite decoration. The royal palace is most famous for its intricately carved stucco walls, wooden ceilings, and elaborate layout with beautifully proportioned rooms, courtyards, and gardens. All of this is in contrast to the cold stone walls and towers of the fortress.

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During these times, Spain was not a united country. Instead, there were two distinct kingdoms, Castilla and Aragon. These kingdoms weren't united until the late 14th century when Isabel I of Castille married Fernando II of Aragon, creating a strong nation and an unbeatable team By that time, control of the Alhambra had changed hands many times over the years, as a result of numerous battles and religious persecutions. Power again changed hands at the close of the 14th century when the Catholic Monarchs moved in after their conquest of Granada. With the assistance of Jewish loans and the Catholic Church, they were successful and acquired control over Alhambra from the last Muslim ruler, Emir Abu al-Boabdil. All that remains are the distinct religious monuments that outlasted all of the battles they once represented. Still standing today are numerous Catholic Cathedrals, the religion of the state during the rule of Queen Isabel and King Fernando. The large stone monument depicting Jesus on the cross, for example, was built in the courtyard of La Iglesia San Pedro, one of the oldest churches. This was a symbol to the Jews and the Muslims of the new Christian presence. In time, the palace mosque was replaced with a church and a convent, the Convento de San Francisco, was built.

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Stained glass picture of Jesus
The war against Granada was just one of several steps they took to unify Spain. Despite their assistance with the acquisition of Granada, this era was characterized by a growing intolerance towards Jews. The Spanish Inquisition, which followed, was responsible for over 12,000 deaths of Jews accused of still practicing Judaism in secret. By the time Fernando and Isabel died, all of Spain was under a single rule for the first time since the Visigothic days, centuries before. Still, Granada and the Alhambra had seen its last era of abundance and bountiful rule. By the 18th Century, the Alhambra was abandoned to thieves and beggars. Further, during Napoleon's occupation it was used as a barracks that narrowly escaped being blown up. It wasn't until 1870 that it was declared a national monument after the huge demonstrated by romantic writers, such as Washington Irving, who had written his wonderful Tales of the Alhambra during his study in the 1820's. Since then it has been salvaged and heavily restored.

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Me with Alhambra up on the hill
Today, the Alhambra is representative of a pivotal period in time that set the stage for numerous events to come. For Americans today, it was one of the events that snowballed into the discovery and conquest of the Americas; the very events that brought us the country we call home today. Just imagine, it took hundreds of years, event after event, war after war, to establish the United States of America; and to mold it into the society that makes our country what it is today.

Vocabulary box

derived - received or obtained from a source
emirate - office or rank of an Arab chieftain or prince
nestled - placed or situated
root out - to find
decimated - destroyed in great numbers
America is a free nation, one that our forefathers fought and struggled to build in the face of the injustice of their homeland. But even still there is work to be done as we too face adversity. Now in the face of our own struggles and the injustice of our day, it 's going to take the same effort on our part to ensure that the tomorrow for our children and their children, hundreds of years from now, is not the same reality. Our posterity should benefit from our struggles just as we have benefited from the blood, sweat, and tears of those before us. So ask yourself--What kind of world do I want to leave behind for my generations to come? Then challenge yourself with this question --What can I be doing to make that vision a reality?

If you have any questions or ideas about how to make that change a reality email me! I always look forward to meeting our leaders of tomorrow!


p.s. - Please e-mail me at

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