Andalucia, or Al-Andaluz from Arabic "Land of the Light", lies at one of the world's great crossroads: where Europe meets Africa, and the Mediterranean joins the Atlantic. The constant ebb and flow of peoples and cultures across the Straits of Gibraltar since the Ice Age endowed Andalucia with a rich natural diversity and rich cultural heritage.
In the 700s, when the rest of Europe was enveloped in Dark Ages, the Muslim Moors from Africa crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and transformed much of the Iberian Peninsula into an Arab caliphate which blossomed into a glorious Moorish civilization. Over the next 800 years, while the rest of Europe was adhering to medieval beliefs, the Moorish society, composed of Muslims, Jews and Christians, developed a sophisticated civilization where religion was only secondary to science, art, music and architecture. The Moorish tradition greatly influenced Spanish thought, culture and language, and it can still be felt and appreciated today.
The most easily recognizable Moorish legacy in Andalucia is expressed in architecture. There is Cordoba's Mezquita and Granada's Alhambra, but also the white villages with Moorish quarters and fortresses scattered among the olive groves. The intricate carvings on the buildings incorporate signs, symbols, calligraphy, quotes from the Koran and poetry. In crafts, the Moors are responsible for the hand-tooled leather of Cordoba, silver and gold filigree jewelry, silk and embroidery. In music, the Moors developed the guitar and their melodies influenced flamenco.
Both magnificent palaces and humbler households made elaborate gardens and water features a part of the architectural design. There were pools, fountains, channels and cascades to please the senses. The scented flowers - jasmine, roses and honeysuckle were introduced to scent the gardens, and new crops: bitter oranges, lemons, almonds, rice, cotton, pomegranates, eggplants, artichokes and asparagus enriched the local cuisine.