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Juma #Mubarak to All! Heads up! Or I’d best say, eat up! before it is officially #Ramadan ! The month of the #Ummah, and of the felt #blessings was originally published on Al-Andalus Experience

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Between snow-peaked mountains and the sea, Andalusia boasts some extraordinarily fertile areas, where the subtropical-Mediterranean climate and the terrain work together to allow almost anything to be grown. From bananas, custard apples and mangos along the coast

to almonds, olives, figs, oranges and stone fruits further inland, the Granada province is a real haven for lovers of fresh, real ingredients.

A great many of these fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs and even grains were originally introduced to these lands by Muslims, mainly Berbers from North Africa who led a swift and relatively easy invasion in the year 711 CE. By XXX they had reached Granada, and the valleys of Lecrin and the Alpujarras, and declared them to be the lost paradise of man.

They got to work developing the exiting Roman system of aquedusts, dug into the mountain slopes to channel snowmelt to smallholdings in the valleys below; some of this water was diverted to refill underground reservoirs, which fed the springs, very much like the irrigation systems of Yemen [check].

With this system of watering – essential in an area like this, where there is no rainfall throughout the summer – small-scale farmers could begin to grow oranges, lemons and mandarins, thirsty trees that need a lot of water to produce their fruits. The Moors also brought almonds, which could be cultivated in stony, high-altitude slopes and didn’t need much watering; at about 1000m we also find peaches (including those delicious flattened ones, paraguayos), cherries, plums, apricots (the word in English comes from the Spanish albaricoque, itself from the Arabic al-barquq) and the Moorish berry pare excellence, mulberries – called ‘mora’ in Spanish, meaning ‘Moorish (fruit)’!

The mulberry trees, apart from giving excellent, juicy, purple or white berries, sometimes as large as a small plum, were planted quite extensively to provide leaves for silkworms, which will not eat any other kind of leaf – fussy eaters, indeed. The silk trade was one of the most important trades for the Moors of Granada; in the Albaicin there is the Corral de Carbon, the best-preserved medieval caravansarai in Europe, where silk traders from Venice would stay when on business trips.

However, it was simply for the benefits of the ordinary person’s plate that the Moors imported a great many plants. Honeydew melons, watermelons, quinces, loquats, persimmons, carob pods, and figs are among the many fruits that still make Spain a mouth-watering place to visit. Sugarcane and cinnamon were also introduced by the Moors, giving some idea as to their sweet tooth; even today, many pastries that are seasonal favourites of Spanish people, particularly ones flavoured with cinnamon, aniseed, almonds and sesame, are based on Moorish recipes.

We also have the Moors to thank for their introduction of spices and herbs, such as cumin, coriander (both still favourites for stews), nutmeg, cloves and peppercorns. The names of some of these reveal their Arabic origins: basil (albahaca), saffron (azafrán), aniseed (anís), and sesame (sésamo, or ajonjolí, from the Arabic simsim and the Arabic Hispianic agh-ghongolín respectively).

The ancient knowledge of the Moorish regarding cultivation and cooking was largely lost during the Reconsquista and subsequent persecution, ethnic cleansing and expulsion of the Moors. Nevertheless, those very few Moors who remained in Spain – it is thought that there were no more than 10,000 of them, scattered from Toledo to Seville and further afield – somehow managed to preserve some of their recipes. The Mudéjar style enjoyed a certain popularity for centuries after, in architecture and cuisine, if nothing else.

It is therefore with immense pleasure that Al-Andalus Experience is able to offer tailored tours of Andalusia, which incorporate visits to these richly fertile areas in the Granada province and beyond. AE can arrange visits to functioning ‘huertos’ (food gardens) run by Spanish Muslims today, where visitors can sample fruits picked freshly from the tree, learn how to cook a real paella – the traditional Thursday night rice dish in which the wek’s leftovers of meat, fish and/or vegetables would be cooked, to be served communally – and learn all about Moorish cuisine first-hand with resident chef, Jafar.

If all of this has whetted your appetite, contact Ahmed Zaruq for more information about customised Moorish food tours. ¡Que aprovechen! (Bon appetit!)

Like many places in the Middle East, when we think of Gaza the images that spring to mind are ruined houses, exploding shells, orphaned children, and political treaties in tatters. Yet, like so many places that we only see horrifying glimpses of in the media, even in Gaza there is hope, beauty, and life.

Last year, Al-Andalus Experience received a tour request from a young journalist in Gaza, Yasmine, who wanted to arrange a trip for herself and her family. By the time our admin department had sent her a plan for our popular ‘Within the Heart of Al-Andalus’ 7-night tour, we heard that the family were already in Jordan, en route to Europe! Within 24 hours, Ahmed Zaruq picked them up from Malaga airport, an hour and a half by road from our base in Granada.

We began the tour in Ronda, with an overview of the different historical phases of the Iberian Peninsual, from pre-history to modern times. After delicious seafood meal at Línea de la Conception, a stone’s throw from Gibraltar – named after the Arabic Jabal Tariq, or Tariq’s mountain – we headed on towards Córdoba. But Yasmine’s family made a special request along the way: to visit a particular cactus garden in Seville.

Having worked for many years as a gardener, our chief guide Ahmed Zaruq was more than happy to make a detour, and as it turned out, our visitors wished to see a number of different plant nurseries along the way. Subtropical gardens in around Malaga and the Costa del Sol also provided inspiration for the greenfingered family, and before we knew it, our visitors were snapping up dozens of specimens to take home with them!

What at first seemed like an impossible task quickly became a reality, as the family bought a further five jumbo sized suitcases to carry home all their exotic purchases, which easily fitted into our 7-seater A-class Mercedes 170 minivan. We carefully wrapped each one of the plants and fitted them together like a jigsaw puzzle inside the suitcases. Two of the five cases were used only for tiny cactii, each one only 5 to 10 cm each; once the roots had been cleaned and they had been wrapped up in newspaper they looked like tennis balls. All in all, over 500€ had been spent on cactii, mostly protected species which had been grown under license for commercial sale.

Though it seemed impossible that all of the plants would make it through customs back to Gaza, incredibly, all arrived safely and proceeded to be planted out in Yasmine’s family’s project, the Gaza Archaeo Garden, a wonderful botanical garden in the heart of Palestine. The flowering cactus is a potent symbol for the barbs of aggression giving way to beautiful blooms of many colours. You can see it in action in the video and photo stream below:

https://www.facebook.com/gazaarcheogarden/photos_stream

In these times of political turmoil, a constant dripfeed of terrible news about the Palestine-Israel conflict, and the general misrepresentation of Muslims and Muslim countries in our media, it is heartening to see a project such as the Gaza Archaeo Garden – quite literally – taking root. Yasmine’s younger brother had commented to Ahmed Zaruq during their trip to Andalusia that his homeland was not such a terrible to place to live; life was pretty normal there, except for certain areas. He seemed sad at the situation his people were in, but it did not make him lose heart about the future. His whole family showed nothing but enthusiasm, interest and spirit throughout their trip with us.

As we send them our messages of hope and solidarity today, our prayers for peace and protection, we ask ourselves what the future holds, for them and for us. At times it seems that the political players of today’s world are content to push forward with dangerous, illegal plans that harm individuals and societies as a whole, safe in bulletproof offices while the people on the ground are the ones to suffer. But we have the utmost admiration for people who live with the constant threat of tanks, snipers, and government bills that treat them as ‘collateral damage’, and yet still look to the future with hope for the survival of a life worth living.

We as historians look to the lessons of the past to learn about the patterns that society repeats. It is a study that leads us all too often to lose faith in humanity. But the example of Al-Andalus yields some timely clues about the success of pluralistic, multifaith societies. The keys are invariably mutual respect, tolerance and cooperation; more than anything, hope for the future must remain alive. Seeing a project such as the Gaza Archaeo Garden gives us hope for a Gaza – and a world – where life can continue to flourish.

Welcome to this new little corner on the web. We are Al-andalus Experience, a tourism business based in Granada, Andalusia, with an unusual approach to guiding tourists around Southern Spain and Morocco. We bring our guests to the greatest pillars of this ancient Muslim land, such as Córdoba, Seville, Jaen, Granada and the Alpujarras, among other sites, giving detailed information about the history of the Moorish period as well as a hands-on experience of life for Andalusian Muslims. This might mean visiting the Alhambra palace or a ceramics workshop, a morning painting Islimi patterns, a mountain horse ride, or even a chance to learn some authentic flamenco songs and rhythms. Throughout, the needs of Muslim travellers are catered for in every aspect, and the natural order of the Muslims’ way of life preserved. Here is a YouTube video made from pictures taken on our tour last November with Ihab and our second group from Kuwait this Season. This blog was set up so that past guests can post their experiences with us in Andalusia, while we will also use it to announce upcoming events, or present glimpses of our work and studies. Feel free to email us your experiences of your time here in Andalusia, whether it be a random thought, a picture or even a video from your trip. This will help us to continue offering unique and excellent services in Andalusia, Spain. You can email us your posts and attachments to  admin@alandalus-experience.com and we will upload it to the blog!