It is necessary to live for a time amid the subtle and exciting atmosphere that pervades the Arabic monuments of Cordoba, Seville and Granada in order to grasp the extent and importance of a very alien culture, many facets of which survive still. One must stroll along the streets and over the crossroads, enter the tiled dwellings and breathe the delicate fragrance of the Andalusian dusks and nights. One has to live among the people of Andalusia, eat their bread and drink their wine and hear them stoically consoling themselves when mishaps occur, with the words "we endured a greater loss in Granada," as though they tacitly consider themselves the heirs of the Arabs and African Moors who found their last refuge in that city. One needs to savour all these things and, at the same time, to search in ancient works and yellowed chronicles for the essential spirit of that unique and foreign world. As Lévi-Provençal tells us, "we must not shrink from the sudden intuitions that are sometimes triggered off in our minds by an unsuspecting study and a thorough knowledge of the original texts, nor should we turn away from the fleeting visions that an acquaintance with the early documents conjures up, for these texts will shed a great deal of light on the public and private life of that early period."
Western Islam, lying partly in Africa and partly in Europe, slowly emerges, during the Middle Ages, in its true colours, divested of the grey pall thrown over it by the unimaginative chroniclers, who were interested only in the various dynastic events. It becomes clear that, despite the vicissitudes of the centuries, throughout the whole of the Christian Conquest, the intellectual capital of the Moslem West always remained in Spain: first in Cordoba, then in several provincial cities, such as Seville, and finally in Granada. Whatever the state of its political fortunes, one can say that the land of al-Andalus never lost its spiritual sovereignty. Even when it was brought under direct Islamic rule by African monarchs, the land did not lose its power of attraction and soon captivated its new masters, who yielded to its delights and chose to settle in it permanently. A similar process took place later with the tough Castilian conquerors. On the latter as on the former Andalusia had the same effect as Greece had had on the Romans when it became part of their Empire. The words of the Latin poet are also relevant for Andalusia: Graecia capta ferum victorem cepit ("Vanquished Greece defeated its fierce conqueror").
The essence of this land, which had a unique personality and which was able to absorb and invigorate the races and peoples that conquered it down the centuries, is distilled in three cities: Cordoba, Seville and Granada--cities that are very different from one another, although they have some features in common. Each has its own highly . . .