Cordova… The Free Castle

Cordova… The Free Castle

As we left Seville on our way to Cordova, a recurrent scene made me contemplate that scene the scene of horses placed on special cage like trailers following the same road to Cordova. The horses were no doubt blindfolded to withstand the speed and locked up within their cages which allowed them only to stand, towed by European cars of all kinds. It was ironic that the ancestors of those captive, blindfolded horses galloped freely carrying Arab cavalry conquerors enjoying the green mountains, fertile plains and lively forests over a thousand years ago.

I'll think about the captive horses when we enter Cordova and I'll have to investigate the fate of those wonderful creatures, and I'll discover that they settled at the ruins of the old city when I see horse pulled coaches carrying tourists in the narrow alleys or on stone roads near the River Guadalquivir and round the meadows which carry the city's mark and history as it is equally the means of transport for mounted policemen. In this way, the horses' function changed over the centuries in people's lives and in anecdotes. I wonder : doesn t the journey of those horses reduce our (Arabs') journey on this planet ?

On our way to Cordova, I felt that the book of Arab history in Europe began to unfold before us, and looking at the road signs, I tried to guess the pronunciation of the names of regions, towns and small villages and trace them back to their Arabic origins before they were altered and replaced by a new alphabet.

I first decided not to talk about the past, but I found it hidden in the cloak of the present and can't exist without it. When the feet of Cordova's mountains, off the Sierra Morena range, appeared on the horizon, the start of rainfall reminded me of the story of the conquest of chat city, when it was invaded at night by a military expedition commanded by Mughith Al-Roumi, who was sent by Tariq bin Ziad. Cordova's garrison, which was overwhelmed by rain and severe cold, failed to guard the city's wall and so it fell to the Arabs and later became the capital of the Islamic Sate in Andalusia in AH 138, when Prince Abdulrahman bin Muauia (Abdulrahman Al-Dakhel) founded the Umayyad dynasty in Andalusia. The city reached an unprecedented level of prosperity during the age of the Umayyad caliphate (AH 316 400).

Recalling the past is removed by reflecting on the present, as the day removes the night conflicting thoughts that made the distance between Seville and Cordova (135 km), which the driver covered in a record time, seem shorter. The driver spoke only Spanish, which is the only language, even in places where you could communicate in a neutral language, like English. But, why not ? Spanish has invaded the old and the new world alike.

The music in the car becomes louder or softer as we climb or go down the mountains like a flamenco dance on a green carpeted stage. Flamenco is as common as bread in the Spanish towns, even from childhood. In one evening you may see a ten-year-old girl performing passionately in her white dress with a long tail, carrying a traditional fan, strongly expressing herself in movements recreating the history of generations of traditional dance. A girl from the annals of the history of Andalusia never seen before, but her feet making a sort of rhythm he dreamt of even before he was born ! The sweat that dropped over the bronze face like an old river evaporated from a track dig by his forefather more than a thousand years ago in Cordova. Perhaps the music which moved the body on the edge of the stage and heart was written by Ziriab in a scroll a lover poetess hid in the shirt of history. Perhaps the dress she wore is made from a cotton tree planted in the East and carried by a knight through the Strait. I remember the name of the dance (flamenco) only, so who among you remembers a girl from the annals of the history of Andalusia ?

Recalling Andalusia

Before I set out on my journey I was determined not to be captivated by the history of the city or cry over spilt milk, as most Arab visitors do every day. But Cordova was more powerful, like all other areas in Andalusia which remind you that they have a stone which utters the name of one of your ancestors scientists, philosophers, artists, poets, musicians, builders, etc.

The scholar Pedro Martinez Montpath reassures us about our powerful feelings towards Cordova and its sisters as he said a few days after our arrival that the Arabic word (استحضار) is associated with the word 'Andalusia' ! This is unparalled in any other language, as if he were patting on our shoulders that there was no harm in recollection. However, he blamed us and expressed his regret over the failure of the Arab presence to parallel the past. Let's revive Andalusia and come to it not for lament but to establish our presence as grandchildren of the markers of its civilization.

However, crying over spilt milk is not our habit alone; whoever lost his land or waived his right cried and regretted. As Alvaro, the Spanish Christian writer wrote in AH 854 about his countrymen neglecting their heritage : "My Christian fellows love Arabs' poetry and stories. They study the books of Mohammedan scholars and philosophers not to refute them but to acquire a correct, elegant Arabic style. Where can you find a secular person reading religious notes on holy books today or studying the Bible and prophets' books ? What a pity ! Christian youth, who are the most talented, know no literature or language other than Arabic. They eagerly and fondly read Arabs' books and build up expensive libraries and keep praising their heritage. Less than one in a thousand of them is able to write a letter to a friend in correct Latin, but when it comes to Arabic, they express themselves beautifully."

Alvaro was right in his reference to libraries and books above. The ruler's palace in Cordova over a thousand years ago during the caliphate of Al-Hakam Al-Mustansir (AH 350 366) housed the greatest Muslim library in the Middle Ages with title indexes filling 44 pamphlets. It contained about half a million volumes. There was a special factory for binding the books, in addition to tens of scribes and correspondents to collect books. It is reported that Al-Hakam gave Abulfaraj Al-Isfahani one thousand dinars to send him the first copy of Al-Aghani. This indicates the link between Cordova's civilization and the books it possessed. A one-thousand year old message from a wise man : is anybody listening ?

Today's libraries in Cordova are no longer libraries in the true sense of the word. All you find is travel guides in several languages (not including Arabic). Museums contain nothing but early Biblical manuscripts and publications the oldest of which date back not earlier than the fifteenth century AD. The same is true of the Museum of Fine Arts which we thought would contain old or contemporary art treasures, but the huge building whose construction coincided with that of the Great Mosque in Cordova and was modelled after the traditional design of the Arabian house and was then inhabited by a prominent government official, contained only church paintings, most of which were by unknown painters. (Most of what we saw were colour frames, miniature paintings and statutes of the Virgin Mary and Jesus Christ). There were also portraits of former bishops, in addition to some furniture and old, large wall carpet taken from Arab palaces.

Cordova's Houses

We reach Seville Gate, one of Cordova's old gates. It is a huge, open and safe gate which tempted pigeon flocks to home in on its walls in peace, while girls are giggling on their way to school and water flowing gently and reflecting its stones, and children playing on water with balloons and balls. The city started from here in the past, but today it looks like an olive field with some shrubs in its centre representing the old city. The other trees represent a modern city trying to emulate the architecture of the old city fairly successfully. The new houses emulate more or less the square or rectangular Andalusian entrance; which is found beyond the external gate and before the internal yard. Some people like to sit here in the evening as if it were a ground terrace. It is well kept and beautifully decorated, with a flowerpot and one or more chairs.

The upper floors had the garden in the balcony and mixed modernity as dictated by space with traditional design which contains gardens as far as the eye can see. People frequent the gardens in Cordova's squares in the evening, where young men and women ago for entertainment , and the old strolling alone or with their grandchildren, and men and women always walk with their dogs. It is a phenomenon worth contemplating.

As you cross the Seville Gate the history of Andalusian architecture unfolds as manifested in Cordova's houses : narrow alleys, mainly two storey houses and names dating back a thousand years ago : Baghdad Inn, Umayyad Hotel, Andalusian House Restaurant. Some doors carry the names of prominent Andalusian Arabs : Al-Nasser and Averroes in Latin alphabet and Kufi graphics !

On the walls you find flowerpots, which we may call the hanging walls of Cordova. You find flowers everywhere : in house lobbies, above the old well, on walls, and balconies and gardens in front of the houses. Alternatively, flowers are drawn on tables, doors, floor mosaic, stairs, ceilings and walls. We saw the same thing in Indian houses, and partly in Jewish synagogues.

In the handicraft market we saw one of the earliest machines for producing paper in the West. It was a gift from Cordova to humanity. In the market called 'Zaco' you find traditional handicrafts for sale reflecting the typical Andalusian style made of ceramic, wood, marble, pottery, metal, precious stones, leather and paper. Even the statues of flat rural women wear embroidered traditional dresses.

A distinctive feature of Cordova's houses is making optimum use of space. The importance of the houses surrounding the Great Mosque lies in the fact that they bear witness to an old heritage, with their white walls, hanging gardens, internal cleanliness and tress which form an integral part of house, with birds and flowers in the most important part : the yard. The house has a huge wooden door, few windows with black iron bars overlooking a narrow alley, but there are more windows overlooking the garden which are open at almost all times. The upper floors are bedrooms, and the ground floors are living rooms and kitchens.

In one corner or leaf of the wooden doors there is a small opening, perhaps for communication between those inside and outside, without opening the door, to preserve privacy or as entry and exit for children. These houses are ideal in terms of doing without the complexities of life. They are almost self-sufficient as far as obtaining water from a well, using crops, storing grain and other traditional functions are concerned, not disregarding the eastern tradition of providing household security, without being self-enclosed, but on the contrary living in a garden full of fountains, lakes and plants : cloves, jasmine, palm, lime and bitter orange trees.

As the yard is small it is naturally air conditioned. There are rows of houses like a group of the faithful protecting one another. Large houses have more then one yard, thus turning them into businesses but maintaining and reconstructing the original building, particularly in view of the fact that all building materials are from the environment. Floors are tiled with stone, marble or fine mosaic, and the yard is covered by cloth or vineyards.

The roof consists of two parts : one sloping and covered by backed bricks to protect it from rain, and the other is smaller and called 'azotea' in Spanish, a diminution of the Arabic word (سطح). It is used as laundry drier and house plants. Apart from the red bricks, white is the dominant colour in Cordova's houses. Some bedrooms have an elevated ceiling called 'alcoba' in Spanish ('alcove' in English). Ceramics and china are used for decorating other rooms, and in the reception room there is at least one beautifully embroidered armchair, with comfortable furniture of various types.

(Tell the hands of the clock to go back in time !) قل للزمان ارجع يا زمان

You will be surprised at the many professions in old Cordova's streets, let alone coachmen. An old lottery ticket seller is hawking his ware. A woman soothsayer will stop you to read your palm, carrying some green herbs and asking to be paid banknotes rather coins, as the smallest unit of value of the Euro, which has replaced local currencies in European Union countries, is in five Euro denominations. The soothsayer will hold your left palm to read the lines of age, level and money, and says some words in Spanish, shaking her head assuming that you have understood her. She knows only one word of English : banknotes !

You will also meet guitarists, mostly young men playing traditional tunes, some putting their photographs with those of famous late musicians, as if they were their heirs. Beside the photo there is a hat, box or small basket where donations are put. You can also hire a Mexican sombrero for photos a thousand and one professions, some old, and others dictated by the new market forces.

Om Kolthoum's voice surprised us :

(وعايزنا نرجع زي زمان ، قل للزمان ارجع يا زمان)

We were not the ones who sang that melodious song, but the voice called us far a rendezvous with' the Star of the East' in Cordova.

We entered through a small lobby to find out that the house, like many traditional houses, was converted into a café, according to the dicates of tourism, the main source of income for the Andalusian provinces. The waiter received us with a smile of welcome which, except for the customers from the Far East and the West, made us us feel as if we were in a purely Arab land : cups of tea, a gold copper teapot, eastern sweets, the phonograph playing an Om Kolthoum melodious record loud, chairs made of wood and palm leaves, mirrors inlaid with mother of pearl, a statue of a reader and a well. Here we are in the yard of a two storey house whose rooms carried eastern furniture. We were received by a man named Muhammad who said he came from Morocco 15 years ago, when he was 18. He did not feel like a stranger there, but felt as if that place, with its design, narrow alleys, and with Om Kolthoum's voice easing their suffering from loneliness and cheering them up night and day, were part of a Moroccan heritage city. He told me that the sea and nostalgia attracted many Moroccans to work in the Andalusian provinces. Om Kolthoum's song is a perfect recipe for us here in Cordova : the recapture of the past and recollection of Andalusia are to me nothing but a genuine spirit of travel, a burning desire for learning and artistic adventure which urged a musician from the extreme Arab East, such as Ziriab, to go to Cordova to bring about a revolution in music which is still felt today, from the street which carries his name to the places where his music is heard.

We are always in places which carry Arab names, a natural instinct to see your preferable light in the sky and hear your preferable name. From time to time you see a statue of a scientist like Al-Ghafiqi, or a philosopher like Averroes or Ibn Hazm, or a memorial of the most famous lovers in the city : Ibn Zaydoun and Walladah bint Al-Mustakfi. However, the latter memorial underestimates their status, as it carries no sign and there is no garden or hedge around it which means, among other things, that they are less important than Ibn Maymoun, whose memory is celebrated by the Jews all year round, starting from the synagogue to his statue in the maze of the alleys in the Jewish ghetto and other places. The city's tolerance makes us insist on coming to it to revive its Arab spirit which will never break, as witnessed by the lovers' gravestone on which is written their exchange of love poetry in Arabic and Spanish with two palms which are close but don t touch each other.

In the Great Mosque

We reach Cordova's Great Mosque, which is or was the largest mosque in the west, With a total area of 24,000 square metres. The map of the mosque / cathedral / museum contains a multi colour drawing of the places each representing a stage of construction or extension over the ages coinciding with the enlargement of the city. Abdulrahman II started the first extension (AD 833 852), the part which underwent major alterations upon establishing the cathedral starting from AD 1523. It is now in the centre of the mosque and a fascinatingly luxurious architectural design that attempts in vain to make you ignore the architecture of the mosque. The second extension (AD 961-966) was initiated by Al-Hakam II, and the third extension initiated by Al-Mansour took place in AD 987.

We enter the area of the third extension which doubled the size of the mosque in the direction of the River bank to the south, and to build a fence between the mosque and the tiled street or pavement which is still a park. A mast, a fountain and new statues were built to give the park a church look where candles are lit before the saints in supplication for lost love or anticipated forgiveness.

We then enter the fourth extension, which was modelled upon the style of the rest of the mosque itself : double arches, courses (terraces or beams), white stone or red birch arches. The mosque was originally modeled after the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus. We move towards the striped mihrah passing through a foyer based on double columns with a dome supported by stone pillars, the same style which invaded Europe and was later called the Gothic style. The mihrah is like a marble room with one-piece roof, with symmetry between the dome and the supporting courses. It is worth noting that, apart from the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, this mosque is among the mosques in which decoration is limited to specified spaces. If Cordova's columns in the mosque characterized the then prevalent Islamic architecture, the huge, high minaret with its unique square form was the symbol of the city par excellence, even after the gold and silver balls which decorated its top were removed and bells added. Bitter orrange trees still grow in the yard, as they do in many houses in Cordova, where you find ripe fruit falling off the trees when nobody plucks them !

Except for some glass frames, the collection of holdings in the mosque / cathedral / museum reflects the official history. I wouldn t make you guess too much these frames contained the names of the builders of the mosque : hundreds of names, signatures, scribbles which the Spaniards carried from the columns on which they were engraved to white gypsum moulds : Abdullah, Masoud, Saad, Nasr, Kamal, Yusuf Letters, marks and symbols which are now meaningless, but carry the stamp of those unknown people who died and left behind a mark to follow.

The ornate arches above the mosque entrance reflect the aesthetic value of the Arabic letters in terms of flexibility, in the same way as foliation reflects in Cordova in particular and Andalusia in general palm trees, flowers, branches, stems, lobes. These decorations are supported by bundles of plants, as if they were housing living Arabic letters embellished by symmetry, particularly as the left formation expresses its right one. Architectural designs in the West have no doubt copied this type of decoration.

In the eaves round the writing, rectangular or square as they may be, geometrical forms are mixed with plant decorations. The recurrence of the two distinctive colours dark pink and white is the mark of the mosque and Umayyad architecture. This is echoed even in Cordova's contemporary architecture, in addition to the skilful use of the colours mentioned in the Holy Quran in dovetailing and gilding, such as green, red, yellow, gold and silver. Muslim artists called dark red 'marjan', blue 'istabraq', and hight green 'sundus' to use the Quranic vocabulary. The distribution of these colours is delightful and encourages reflection.

The Free Castle

As we cross the Roman arch, in the middle of which stands a statue of St. Raphael, with candles of the supplicants at the foot surrounded by red ribbons and the remains of tears, prayers and blessings, we reach the side opposite the pavement of Cordova's Great Mosque park where a tower turned museum stands, still carrying its Arabic name (Torre Calahorra in Spanish) (Museum of Andalusian Life), or the museum of the three cultures overseen by the Roget Caroudie Foundation having been declared an antiquity in 1931, and became a museum in 1987, demonstrating the city's tolerance where Muslims, Jews and Christians co-exist peacefully.

At the entrance we are given headphones with four languages : German, English, French or Spanish, to choose from at the pressing of a button you hear an explanation accompanied by music and audio visual aids as you move from one room to another. You see models displaying the system of irrigation devised by the Muslims in the heyday of Andalusian civilization, scenes of life in caliphs' palaces, 'Medina Azahara' harem, princes' entertainment, caravan travels, orchard and house architecture, and even a full replica of Alhambra Palces in Granada, which gives a bird's eye view of it where you can see worshippers in its mosques and hear water gurgling in fountains guarded by lions.

Climbing the top of the tower allows us to have a view of the city. Two flags are hoisted on the top : of Spain and Cordova, the latter having a white strip, probably a symbol of the plain and the River with a man taming two lions. Two green strips are also above and below symbolizing the green spaces surrounding Cordova to the north and south. The minarets forcibly turned bell towers are everywhere but never altered the beautiful architectural pattern.

The second room in the museum, called Philosophers' Room, is the one that truly expresses the eternal spirit of Cordova which made it the capital of European civilization at the time. Here is King Alphonso sitting in front of three prominent pioneers of enlightenment : Ibn Arabi, Averroes and Ibn Maymoun. The voice of the four of them was heard over the microphone in a philosophical conversation about the essence and meanings of life. The Muslims, Jews and Christians as represented by Ibn Arabi (and Averroes), Ibn Maymoun and King Alphonso the Sage, respectively, were witnesses to the twelfth and thirteenth centuries Ad who carried to the world Andalusia's message of freedom, tolerance and artistic and technological creativity in those golden ages of civilization. As Averroes says in English : "Our philosophy is worthless if it fails to link three things I tried to combine harmoniously in science and religion, science based on experiment to find out reasons, and wisdom which reflects on what every research aims to achieve to make our life more worth living, and the spiritual revelation of the Holy Quran which guides us in our life and history". Whereas Ibn Arabi says : "God is unity, unity of love, the lover and the beloved. All love is a desire for unity, and all love, willingly or unwillingly, is closeness to God.

In the Free Castle, I grasped Cordova's gist and significance : the value of freedom which prevailed in the city in its keyday, such freedom that allowed Abu Bakr bin Thakwan, the Chief Judge, to withhold the Awqaf funds from Abu Hazm bin Jahour, head of Jahour dynasty, and allowed Ibn Hayyan to criticize princelings without being punished. Other values prevailed, such as that of learning, whose tools are still kept in the museum, including surgical instruments, navigational aids and geographical methods. Arabic words are once again heard through another language.

There are thousands of words of Arabic origin in Spanish which one occasionally hears, and many Arabic proverbs know their way to Andalusia, such as

'Mejor pajaro en mano, : (عصفور في اليد خير من عشرة على الشجرة)

Que cien volando (in Spanish) and Hacer de tripas corazon :

(يعملون من الفسيخ شربات)

(in Spanish). Twenty years ago, Dr Alia El-Enani collected many proverbs and sayings to continued to exist after the departure of the Arabs, an example of which is (غاب القط إلعب يا فار) Cuando no esta el gato, los ratones bailan (in Spanish). The fact that such proverbs influence daily life indicates that customs and traditions are still practised in cities dominated for centuries by the Arabs. There are similarities between Syrian and Spanish women's expression of joy, attesting to common roots.

When Cordova University hosted evening Arabic poetry readings, I remembered another annual festival organized by its neighbour Granada as part of a programme of contemporary poetry organized by the European Arab Foundation under the patronage of its secretary general. Jissos Gonzales Lopes. Thus the echo of Arabic poetry returns to Alhambra. We should not stop reading poetry and make it heard and reach the other side of the bridge, particularly as there are stations which remember us.

We live in the mood of poetry as we climb the road to Azahara, or rather its ruins on Al-Arous Mountain overlooking Cordova, 6 km from the city centre to the south. On the first of Muharram Ah 325 (AD 936) Caliph Abdulrahman Al-Nasser embarked on the building of a multi layered royal capital. Water gathered from the foot of the Sierra Morena range was carried through aqueducts. The city was divided into levels which were climbed up through a vaulted door surrounded by domes. A paved road with guards rooms, columns and trees on both sides led to the ruler's palace. The mosque was opened in AD 941. The Caliph and state institutions moved there four years later. On the first level you find army barracks, guards' rooms and craftsmen employed in the service of the city. On the second level are the palaces of top state officials and the Caliph's bodyguards and their bathrooms and mosques. On the third level is the grand lobby for the reception of foreign kings and ambassadors. In this lobby, many prominent figures were received, including Huto, King of the Slavs, Emperor of Holy Germany, the ambassador of France. Hue Cobe', the Marquis of Province, in South France who became king of Italy in Ad 926, Marquis of Tuscani, Gredo, son of Adelbert, ambassodar of the Count of Barcelona and Tracona, Al-Mughira bin Soner, John Al-Karzi, the German Christian monk, all of whom flocked to the gem of Europe at the time. Besides all that there was the palace about which the historian Ibn Athari (eighth century AH) said that round the swimming pool in the palace's lobby were 12 red gold statues inlaid with gems and produced in Cordova's arsenal. There were 4313 columns in Azahara, including 1013 from Africa, 140 a gift from the Byzantine emperor and the rest from Andalusia. Such costs of Azahara give an idea about the prosperity of Cordova which was said to hold 113,000 houses and 300 bathrooms and 3.000 public and private mosques. I may have elaborated on Azahara because I found nothing there of what is recorded in history books and documents. All I found was gentle breeze, some columns in the front of the palace and Abdulrahman III's parlour, as if they were an initialled letter almost burnt up. All that escaped looting and damaging was carried to museums. Everything has gone, but one thing remains : the name Azahara which Ibn Zaydoun lamented its demise in his poetry. The town was destroyed during the Great Turmoil.

Ibn Zaydoun was a model anthropologist, and it may be said that as the scholars of the French Expedition against Egypt described the country in their encyclopedia 'Description d 'Egypte', Ibn Zaydoun's poetry described Cordova, thus keeping its geography, topography and even eminent figures alive over the centuries. An example of this is a poem in which he praised Al-Moatamad and combined the initials of some of Cordova's birds. Countless other species of Cordova's birds are also referred to in Ibn Zaydoun's poetry such as pigeons doves, hawks, crows, etc.

But the poetic bird garden which Ibn Zaydoun presented reflects not only a poetic talent, but also indicates that Cordova was and still is rich in birds and it put binoculars on the banks of the River to watch their flocks. Furthermore, the River is rich in marine organisms, and the Spaniards put a list of them on huge posters clearly seem by anyone crossing the bridge on the River, as if it were an invitation to contemplate the sky, earth and marine life. Cordova is also rich in trees and flowers in the botanical garden which one passes by on the road along the River from the old city to the university.

Ibn Zaydoun and the Return of the Arab Spirit

It was ironic that Ibn Zaydoun was recollected in his own city and his name honoured in its university by Arab and Spanish thinkers and that Cordova's Arab nights and Islamic nights in the twenty first century were revived, when the Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain Poetic Greativity Prize Foundation organized a special ceremony, in the conext of its ninth session, to commemorate Ibn Zaydoun's age and poetry and Walladah bint Al-Mustakfi's life and legacy. That ceremony was a good reason to revive the spirit of Cordova which attracted philosophers and scholars from the four corners of the world in the heyday of Islamic civilization, and now their descendants are attracted once again to the platform of knowledge, a clear message : if we entred this land some day before on horseback by the force of arms, now we return to it by the force of knowledge and thought.

The return to Andalusia, as Chairman of the Foundation's Board of Trustees, Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain, said "is by the force of a weapon more powerful than the weapon of conquest : the weapon of love. The age of conquests with its deeds of valour and tragedies is over, and a new age has dawned in which people are equal as far as identity is concerned, but different in terms of their striving for making this world a paradise for all mankind. In our return, we extend a hand of friendship to the great Spanish people assuring them that we have a common history whose gold threads we have together woven and made Andalusia the pearl of Europe-Let's take from this history its glorious pages and make them a basis for a future of creativity and draw from them all values and make them our guide to a new pact which provides freedom and dignity for everyone. Let's take out from the bloodly pages all their mines and learn the lesson it teaches, namely that blood yields thorns not flowers. We are sick with walking on thorns, so let's us look forward to an atmosphere filled with the fragrant odour of love and peace." The opening ceremony which was hosted by Cordova University was a sign of welcome, attention and common hope at various levels : the roval level as represented by Princess Elena Juan Carlos, the official level represented by the Ministry of Culture and the city Major, and the academic level represented by the President of Cordova University. Creativity and thought also made their presence in the session as represented by the participants' papers and discussions.

Participants in the literary symposium wanted to revive the features of the prosperity of the Andalusian civilization in all fields, and Dr. Mohmoud Ali Makki gave a brief account of its history and contribution and confirmed the originality of creativity which introduced, inter alia, the arts of 'Tawashih' and 'Zajal', which the Arabs of the East later loved. Other participants presented papers discussing mutual influences on literature, including Dr Ahmad Abdelaziz and Dr Mamrela Cortez Garcia's paper, which looked at contemporary Spanish poetry, and Dr Mahmoud El-Sayyed's paper, which dealt with Arabic influences on old Spanish poetry and Dr Aldelperto Alfish's paper, which investigated Arabic influences on Portuguese poetry. The floor was then given to Drs Mabrouk Al-Mannaie, Miguel Arnandet and Pierre Gichar to talk about unity, multiplicity and social and religious co-existence in Andalusia. Ibn Zaydoun also had his share and that was contributed by Drs Salma Al-Khodraa Al-Joyoushi, Wahab Roumia and Maria Jisos Bigiera. Walladah and her life were also there as presented by Dr Maria Teresa Garolo.

Literary and historical studies attracted a large audience, and so did the sessions which discussed current and controversial issues. I refer to the intellectual symposium which provoked a more heated argument and debate, particulary surrounding those papers addressing the others' image (Drs Muhammad Al-Rumaihi, Fred Halliday and Shaikh Muhammad Ali Taskhiri), the three heavenly religions (Drs Muhammad Salim Al-Awwa, Khalid Al-Mazkour, Gil Anidgarond and Milad Hanna), economic relations (Drs Hazim El-Biblawi, Bishara Khidr and Antoin Zahlan), culture and extremisim (Drs Rashid Al-Mubarak, Juan Pedro Monfrer and David Solar the latter was absent due to illness and his paper was read on his bchalf and it provoked a considerable debate), culture and globalization (Drs Ali Omlil, Stephen Fled and Juan Pedro Monfrer), and minorities between identity and integration (Drs Abdulwahhab El-Afandi, David Newman and Nabil Matar).

The symposium witnessed a contribution from Moshe Ari Friedman, the Chief Rabbi of Vienna, who didn t share in the festivities of Austria's Jews to express his solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right in their homeland and to put forward a solution to the problem of aggression by the Zionist, illegitimate, racist regime, the country with the most disregard to UN resolutions, against a peaceful people. Arabs and Muslims have a great history of tolerance and so do not accept lessons in tolerance from others. Friedman elaborated on attacking Zionist coercion and on defending Arabs' rights. His paper, which was in English with an Arabic translation distributed thereafter, was loudly applauded.

Many guests were not happy about giving summaries of the papers in a few minutes, let alone their discussions. The full papers were not available, and these will be published in the proceedings of the symposium as part of the Foundations' Publications, which in this session included Ibn Zaydoun's anthology and letters as explained and authenticated by Ali Abdulazim, with an introduction and revision by Dr Muhammad Ihsan Al-Nass, Ibn Zaydoun's times by Dr Jumaa Shehata, and other important studies in Andalusian poetry and literature.

The session was crowned with the signing of an academic agreement between the Foundation, represented by its Chairman of the Board of Trustees and the University represented, by its President Dr Ojinio Doming Fletches. The three year, renewable agreement provides for establishing a chair of Arabic at the university with the Foundation bearing all relevant costs in addition to the costs of related cultural activities.

At the closing ceremony, Muhammad Abdullah Abulhassan, the Kuwaiti Minister of Information presented prizes to the winners in the session : Poets Mohyiddin Fares (Sudan First Prize), Rabih Lotfy Gomaa (Egypt Best Anthology), in addition to a prize for the best poem which was shared by two poets from Egypt and Morocco. Dr Ahmed Darwish won the poetry criticism prize. The writer Fahmi Howeidi read out the Cordova Declaration 2004, outlining the significance of choosing the place which hosted an ideal model of unity with due respect to multiplicity, and religious and social co-existence of different religious and ethnic groups. The declaration called on the European Union to adopt a parallel effort to foster joint relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

The last day of the ceremony witnessed the return officially of Arabic to Cordova with concurrent heavy rain, as rain was associated with the coming of the Arabs to Andalusia. That was a good omen, as the University's President felt, and so did I. The President invited the Arabs to share in Cordova's celebration after 12 years when the city becomes Europe's cultural capital. I said to myself : Here are the Arabs celebrating their European city !

During the farewell tour of one of Cordova's new districts, I looked at a tall building on the top of which was something like a minaret wishful thinking ! Dr Ahmed Darwish awakened me from my dreams saying it was a lightning rod ! Such was the distance between dream and reality, but reality changes when we keep our dreams and work hard to make them come true. The return of Arabic to Cordova, the Free Castle, is just the first dream!


Ashraf Abul-Yazid


Placenames and persons' names carrying the remnants of Arab features : the Umayyads, Al-Maymoun, Marsia, etc. settled on restaurant and hotel signs in a city which abandoned celebrating its rich history in favour of tourists' euros

Seville Gate, one of the city's gates : a huge, open, safe gate, tempting pigeons into homing in peace, while girls are giggling on their way to school, and water flowing gently and reflecting its stones

The architectural features of Cordova Mosque include double arches, courses (terraces or beams), white stone and red brick arches as originally built and modelled after the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus

Before Cordova's mountains off the Sierra Morena range appear on the horizon, green meadows looking like a carpet decorated with olive and fruit orchards seen

Arabic coffee, cups of tea and a golden copper teapot; eastern sweets ; a phonograph playing an Om Kolthoum melodious record loud; wooden and palm leave chairs; mirrors inlaid with mother – of – pearl, a statue of a reader, and a well

You will be surprised at many professions in old Cordova's streets, let alone coachmen. An old lottery ticket seller is hawking his wares. A woman soothsayer will stop you to read your palm, carrying some green herbs

In the corner or leaf of some wooden doors in Cordova : a small opening, perhaps for communication between those inside and outside without opening the door fully, to protect privacy or entry or exit for children

Cordova's traditional houses are self-sufficient in terns of water which is provided by a well, and fruit and plants, such as cloves, jasmine, palm, lime and bitter orange trees

Cordova's youth spending their time in cafes' by the River Guadalquivir, merrily listening to music

Rows of houses in old Cordova, like a group of the faithful protecting one another. All building materials are from the environment. The floors are tiled with stone, marble or fine mosaic, and the courtyard is covered with cloth

Rows of houses in old Cordova, like a group of the faithful protecting one another. All building materials are from the environment. The floors are tiled with stone, marble or fine mosaic, and the courtyard is covered with cloth

Inside the Free Castle Museum : prominent figures of Cordova, including top officials, leaders of enlightenment, philosophy and mysticism : King Alphonso, Ibn Arabi, Averroes and Ibn Maymoun

Statues of Cordova's people as exhibited in the handicraft market of traditional artists

Walladah and Ibn Zaydoun's gravestone

Scenes of life Cordova

Scenes of life Cordova

Scenes of life Cordova

The Free Castle Museum, and two snapshots of a replica of Andalusian life. A Spanish artist practising inside another fine arts museum in Cordova

The Free Castle Museum, and two snapshots of a replica of Andalusian life. A Spanish artist practising inside another fine arts museum in Cordova

The Free Castle Museum, and two snapshots of a replica of Andalusian life. A Spanish artist practising inside another fine arts museum in Cordova

The Free Castle Museum, and two snapshots of a replica of Andalusian life. A Spanish artist practising inside another fine arts museum in Cordova

Ruins of Azahara

Muhammad Abdullah Abdulhassan, the Kuwaiti Minsiter of Information, presenting the Criticism in Arabic Poetry prize to Dr Ahmad Darwish

Abdulaziz Saud Al-Babtain signing a cooperation agreement with Cordova University

Faces from the Arab East and West came to witness the return of Arabic to Andalusia: Shaikh Dr Ibrahim Duaij Al-Sabah (Kuwait), Yassin Al-Ayyoubi (Lebanon), Manuel Cortez Garcia (Spain), Milad Hanna (Egypt)...

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