Learn Spanish... and Visit Spain! In summer, Andalusia (Andalucía) smells of salt, the sea, fried fish... and culture.
This large Spanish region at the extreme south of the continent, a gateway between Europe and Africa, has figured prominently in the history of Europe and the Mediterranean. Its name is derived from the Arabic word Al-Andalus.
Each of the region's eight provinces boasts its own special jewels.
These are the most visited in each of the Andalusia's eight capitals.
When the Romans colonized southern Spain, they built their own city here and called it Illibris. The Arabs, invading the peninsula in the 8th century, gave it its current name of Granada. It was the last Muslim city to fall to the Christians, in 1492, at the hands of Queen Isabel of Castile and her husband, Ferdinand of Aragon.
The Alhambra ("the red"), a fortress of palaces and gardens, is so named for its crimson color at sunset. Its decoration and architecture that blends into the landscape make it the quintessential masterpiece of Nasrid art. With 2.7 million annual visitors, it is the second most visited monument in Spain.
The Romans, who founded Córdoba, prized it for its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River. It became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine, and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called "El Puente Romano."
Córdoba became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus. Work began on the Great Mosque, or Mezquita, in 786. The building was enlarged several times during the Emirate and Caliphate periods, and became one of the largest mosques in all Islam.
When the city was reconquered by the Christians in the Reconquista of 1236, the new rulers were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing. In 1238, they built their Catholic cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, creating the extraordinary church-mosque which is today the most important al-Andalus building in Spain. The landmark received some 1.8 million visitors in 2017.
The city of Cádiz stands on a peninsula jutting out into a bay, and is almost entirely surrounded by water. It was a significant trading post for the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, and Romans, but sank into oblivion under the Visigoths and Moors.
In 1722, when Cádiz had a monopoly on trade with the Indies, construction was begun on a cathedral that would reflect the city's renewed strength.
Famous for its yellow dome and its crypt, the cathedral took one hundred and sixteen years to complete, and contains elements of both Baroque and Neoclassical styles.
In the early 19th century, Cádiz became the bastion of Spain's anti-monarchist, liberal movement. The country's first Constitution was declared here in 1812.
Castillo de Santa Catalina (Jaén)
King Ferdinand III ordered the construction of the Castillo de Santa Catalina in 1246, after the conquest of Jaén. He built the castle on the remains of a 9th century Caliphal fortress.
Built on a hill 2,690 feet above sea level, it offers stunning views of the city and surrounding region.
La Manquita (Málaga)
Málaga offers tourists a profusion of quirky museums, a delightful, pedestrianised center, beaches and a stunning coastline - and La Manquita, a cathedral which is still unfinished, after two centuries of construction.
The vaults are incomplete, and there is only one tower - hence its name, "La Manquita" (The One-Armed Lady).
It is a jewel of Spanish Renaissance art, and the most visited monument in Málaga.
Monumento a Colón (Huelva)
Huelva focuses on its connection to Christopher Columbus, rather than architectural jewels. Bordered by Portugal to the west, its Muelle de las Carabelas (Wharf of the Caravels) in Palos de la Frontera is located mere steps from where Columbus set sail for the New World.
The capital is home to a monument to the explorer, called the Monumento a Colón. The statue was built in 1929 at the Punta del Sebo. He carries a sword to the waist, holds a flag with the Crown of Castille in his left hand. The flag is crowned by a parochial cross, symbolizing the role of the Catholic Church in his adventures. With his right hand, he points to the sea. A medal of the Virgen de la Cinta, patroness of Huelva, hangs from his neck.
La Catedral y su Giralda (Sevilla)
According to legend, Sevilla was founded by Hercules. Called Hispalis under the Romans, and Isbiliya by the Moors, it is today the largest town in southern Spain; the city of Carmen, Don Juan, and Figaro.
The second-largest Catholic church in the world, after St. Peter's Basilica, is home to the city's iconic bell tower: the Giralda. It is a Gothic and Renaissance jewel that once was the tallest tower in the world (341.5 feet, including the Giraldillo) - and, until 2010, the tallest tower in Seville.
The city of Almería is Andalucia's most eastern capital. It is located at the foot of a mountain range which is crowned by the magnificent Alcazaba, an Arab fortress built by the Caliph of Córdoba.
Declared a Monument of Historic and Artistic Interest, the Alcazaba is one of the peninsula's most important Muslim complexes. Almost a thousand years old, it is a living testimony of the evolution of civil and military architecture during the Arab domination. The walls provide spectacular views of the city and the port.