The Essence of Spain
Immortalised in operas and vividly depicted in 19th-century art and literature, Andalucía often acts as a synonym for Spain as a whole: a sun-dappled, fiesta-loving land of guitar-wielding troubadours, reckless bullfighters, feisty operatic heroines and Roma singers wailing sad laments. While this simplistic portrait might be outdated, stereotypical and overly romantic, it does carry an element of truth. Andalucía, despite creeping modernisation, remains a spirited and passionate place where the atmosphere sneaks up and envelops you when you least expect it – perhaps as you're crammed into a buzzing tapas bar or lost in the depths of a flamenco performance.

A Cultural Marinade
Part of Andalucía's appeal springs from its peculiar history. For eight centuries the region sat on a volatile frontier between two faiths and ideologies: Christianity and Islam. Left to ferment like a barrel of the bone-dry local sherry, Andalucía underwent a cross-fertilisation that threw up a slew of cultural colossi: ancient mosques transformed into churches; vast palaces replete with stucco work; a cuisine infused with North African spices; hammams and teterías (teahouses) evoking the Moorish lifestyle; and a chain of lofty white towns that dominates the craggy landscape, from Granada's tightly knotted Albayzín to the hilltop settlements of Cádiz province. Wild Andalucía
It takes more than a few golf courses to steamroller Andalucía’s diverse ecology. Significant stretches of the region's coast remain relatively unblemished, especially on Cádiz' Costa de la Luz and Almería's Cabo de Gata. Inland, you’ll stumble into villages where life barely seems to have changed since playwright Federico García Lorca created Bodas de sangre (Blood Wedding). Thirty per cent of Andalucía’s land is environmentally protected, much of it in easy-to-access parks, and these conservation measures are showing dividends. The Iberian lynx is no longer impossibly elusive; the ibex is flourishing; even the enormous lammergeier (bearded vulture) is again soaring above Cazorla's mountains.

One of Andalucía's most intriguing and mysterious attractions is the notion of duende, the elusive spirit that douses much of Spanish art, especially flamenco. Duende loosely translates as a moment of heightened emotion that takes you out of yourself, experienced during an artistic performance, and it can be soulfully evoked in Andalucía if you mingle in the right places. Seek it out in a Lorca play at a municipal theatre, an organ recital in a Gothic church, the hit-or-miss spontaneity of a flamenco peña (club) or Málaga's remarkable art renaissance.

In and around Andalucia

  • Alcazaba
    Castle in Málaga

    The entrance is next to the Roman amphitheatre, from where a meandering path climbs amid lush greenery: crimson bougainvillea, lofty palms, fragrant jasmine bushes and rows of orange trees. Extensively restored, this palace-fortress dates from the 11th-century Moorish period; the caliphal horseshoe arches, courtyards and bubbling fountains are evocative of this influential period in Málaga’s history. There are various unlabelled exhibits of Islamic pottery, but the main joys are the building itself, the gardens and the views. The dreamy Patio de la Alberca is especially redolent of the Alhambra.
    Calle Alcazabilla, 2 - 29012 Málaga
    9am-8pm Apr-Oct, to 6pm Nov-Mar
  • Catedral de Málaga
    Cathedral in Málaga

    Málaga’s elaborate cathedral was started in the 16th century on the site of the former mosque. Of the mosque, only the Patio de los Naranjos survives, a small courtyard of fragrant orange trees. Inside, the fabulous domed ceiling soars 40m into the air, while the vast colonnaded nave houses an enormous cedar-wood choir. Aisles give access to 15 chapels with gorgeous 18th-century retables and religious art. It's worth taking the guided tour up to the cubiertas (roof) to enjoy panoramic city views.

    Calle Molina Lario, 9 - 29015 Málaga
    10am-8pm Mon-Fri, to 6.30pm Sat, 2-6.30pm Sun Apr, May & Oct, 10am-9pm Mon-Fri, to 6.30pm Sat, 2pm-6.30pm Sun Jun-Sep, closes 6.30pm daily Nov-Mar
  • Museo Picasso Málaga
    Museum in Málaga

    This unmissable museum in the city of Picasso’s birth provides a solid overview of the great master and his work, although, surprisingly, it only came to fruition in 2003 after more than 50 years of planning. The 200-plus works in the collection were donated and loaned to the museum by Christine Ruiz-Picasso (wife of Paul, Picasso’s eldest son) and Bernard Ruiz-Picasso (Picasso's grandson) and catalogue the artist’s sparkling career with a few notable gaps (the ‘blue’ and ‘rose’ periods are largely missing).

    Calle San Agustín 8 - 29015 Málaga
    10am-8pm Jul & Aug, to 7pm Mar-Jun, Sep & Oct, to 6pm Nov-Feb
  • Catedral de Cádiz
    Cathedral in Cádiz

    Cádiz' beautiful yellow-domed cathedral is an impressively proportioned baroque-neoclassical construction, best appreciated from seafront Campo del Sur in the evening sun. Though commissioned in 1716, the project wasn't finished until 1838, by which time neoclassical elements (the dome, towers and main facade) had diluted architect Vicente Acero's original baroque plan. Highlights within are the intricate wood-carved choir and, in the crypt below, the tomb of renowned 20th-century gaditano composer Manuel de Falla.

    Plaza de la Catedral - 11005 Cádiz
    10am-9pm Jul & Aug, to 8pm Apr-Jun & Sep, to 7pm Oct-Mar
  • Palacios Nazaríes
    Islamic Palace in Granada

    This is the stunning centrepiece of the Alhambra, the most brilliant Islamic building in Europe, with perfectly proportioned rooms and courtyards, intricately moulded stucco walls, beautiful tiling, fine carved wooden ceilings and elaborate stalactite-like muqarnas vaulting, all worked in mesmerising, symbolic, geometrical patterns. Arabic inscriptions proliferate in the stucco work. Admission to the palacios (included in the Alhambra ticket) is strictly controlled. When you buy your ticket, you'll be given a time to enter. Once inside, you can stay as long as you like.

    Calle Real de la Alhambra - 18009 Granada
    8.30am-8pm Apr–mid-Oct, to 6pm mid-Oct–Mar, night visits 10-11.30pm Tue-Sat Apr–mid-Oct, 8-9.30pm Fri & Sat mid-Oct–Mar.
  • Alhambra
    Islamic palace in Granada

    The Alhambra is Granada’s – and Europe’s – love letter to Moorish culture. Set against a backdrop of brooding Sierra Nevada peaks, this fortified palace complex started life as a walled citadel before going on to become the opulent seat of Granada’s Nasrid emirs. Their showpiece palaces, the 14th-century Palacios Nazaríes, are among the finest Islamic buildings in Europe and, together with the gorgeous Generalife gardens, form the Alhambra's great headline act.

    Calle Real de la Alhambra - 18009 Granada
    8.30am-8pm Apr–mid-Oct, to 6pm mid-Oct–Mar, night visits 10-11.30pm Tue & Sat Apr–mid-Oct, 8-9.30pm Fri & Sat mid-Oct–Mar
  • Capilla Real
    Historic building in Granada

    The Royal Chapel is the last resting place of Spain’s Reyes Católicos (Catholic Monarchs), Isabel I de Castilla (1451–1504) and Fernando II de Aragón (1452–1516), who commissioned the elaborate Isabelline-Gothic-style mausoleum that was to house them. It wasn't completed until 1517, hence their interment in the Alhambra’s Convento de San Francisco until 1521. Their monumental marble tombs (and those of their heirs) lie in the chancel behind a gilded wrought-iron screen created by Bartolomé de Jaén in 1520.

    Calle Oficios - 18010 Granada
    10.15am-6.30pm Mon-Sat, 11am-6pm Sun


Andalusia Spanish: Andalucía [andaluˈθi.a]) is the southernmost autonomous community in Peninsular Spain. It is the most populous and the second largest autonomous community in the country. It is officially recognised as a "historical nationality". The territory is divided into eight provinces: Almería, Cádiz, Córdoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaén, Málaga, and Seville. Its capital city is Seville. The seat of the High Court of Justice of Andalusia is located in the city of Granada.

Andalusia is located in the south of the Iberian peninsula, in southwestern Europe, immediately south of the autonomous communities of Extremadura and Castilla-La Mancha; west of the autonomous community of Murcia and the Mediterranean Sea; east of Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean; and north of the Mediterranean Sea and the Strait of Gibraltar. Andalusia is the only European region with both Mediterranean and Atlantic coastlines. The small British overseas territory of Gibraltar shares a 1.2 kilometres (3⁄4 mi) land border with the Andalusian portion of the province of Cádiz at the eastern end of the Strait of Gibraltar.

The main mountain ranges of Andalusia are the Sierra Morena and the Baetic System, consisting of the Subbaetic and Penibaetic Mountains, separated by the Intrabaetic Basin. In the north, the Sierra Morena separates Andalusia from the plains of Extremadura and Castile–La Mancha on Spain's Meseta Central. To the south the geographic subregion of Upper Andalusia lies mostly within the Baetic System, while Lower Andalusia is in the Baetic Depression of the valley of the Guadalquivir.

The name "Andalusia" is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus. The toponym al-Andalus is first attested by inscriptions on coins minted in 716 by the new Muslim government of Iberia. These coins, called dinars, were inscribed in both Latin and Arabic. The etymology of the name "al-Andalus" has traditionally been derived from the name of the Vandals. Since the 1980s, a number of proposals have challenged this contention. Halm, in 1989, derived the name from a Gothic term, *landahlauts, and in 2002, Bossong suggested its derivation from a pre-Roman substrate. The region's history and culture have been influenced by the Tartessos, Iberians, Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Byzantines, Berbers of North Africa, Jews, Romani, Arab Umayyads, and Moors. During the Islamic Golden Age, Córdoba surpassed Constantinople to be Europe's biggest city, and became the capital of Al Andalus and a prominent center of education and learning in the world, producing numerous philosophers and scientists. The Castilian and other Christian North Iberian nationalities reconquered and settled the area in the latter phases of the Reconquista.

Andalusia has historically been an agricultural region, compared to the rest of Spain and the rest of Europe. Still, the growth of the community in the sectors of industry and services was above average in Spain and higher than many communities in the Eurozone. The region has a rich culture and a strong Spanish identity. Many cultural phenomena that are seen internationally as distinctively Spanish are largely or entirely Andalusian in origin. These include flamenco and, to a lesser extent, bullfighting and Hispano-Moorish architectural styles, both of which are also prevalent in some other regions of Spain.

Andalusia's hinterland is the hottest area of Europe, with cities like Córdoba and Seville averaging above 36 °C (97 °F) in summer high temperatures. Late evening temperatures can sometimes stay around 35 °C (95 °F) until close to midnight and daytime highs of over 40 °C (104 °F) are common. Seville also has the highest average annual temperature in mainland Spain and mainland Europe (19.2 °C, 66.6 °F), closely followed by Almería (19.1 °C, 66.4 °F).


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