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Al-Andalus: In the Far West


Al-Andalus was Spain’s Islamic name. The name comes from the (V)andals tribes who populated the western Mediterranean or, according to another explanation, came from the legendary continent of Atlantic, or from the Atlantic Ocean.


The Muslims conquered Spain from the Christian Visigoths in 711, and ruled or lived there until their ultimate expulsion for Spain, together with the Jews, in 1492. During the around 600 years of its existence Andalusian Islam in the western Mediterranean developed unique identity, culture and art which are different from eastern Islam. The exhibition offers a glimpse of the Andalusian delicateness in culture and art, poetry and music.


In Muslim and Christian Spain there was a fascinating dialogue between Islam and Judaism. This dialogue also involved Muslim rulers, Jewish intellectuals, poets, writers and scientists. The Muslims needed the Jews who lived in Spain and were familiar with its ways. While the Jews, some of whom became assistants of the rulers, used their knowledge and status to improve the lot of the Jewish community in Spain, and the neighboring countries. The confluence of the Jewish, Islamic and Christian cultures spawned wonderful works in literature, poetry and art.


The exhibition presents gleaming Spanish vessels made of gold, ivory and jewelry, colorful tiles used to decorate the Alhambra and the homes of the Christian aristocracy in the Mudéjar style (featuring Muslim and Christian elements). This was in addition to illustrations in manuscripts (copies) of the Koran, the Bible, the Byad and Ryad novel and Christian psalms that document the religious ritual as well as day-to-day life between the Muslims, Jews and Christians in Spain.


The Andalusian and Mudéjar artifacts and manuscripts are exhibited against a backdrop of illustration of the Mosque of Cordoba, the Alhambra palace and the Jewish synagogues of Toledo that convey the Andalusian “arches language” which resonates in the music and poetry performed at venues of Caliphs and those who loved the art form.


Even though the convivencia (coexistence) between members of the three religions was sometimes fragile, that was what gave Al-Andalus its unique hybrid character which continues to impact on the Hispanic identity to this day: in the arches and patio yards with orange trees through to the red color and flamenco dance.


The Andalusian Golden Age depicts the blossoming of relations between Jews and Muslims, which produced fertile ground for rich cultural growth.


Perhaps, now, we can benefit from such a Golden Age.


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