Onwards to the land of Al-Andalus

Southern facade of the Comares palace in Alhambra in Granada. Pictures: Courtesy of Norhayati Abu Bakar

Sunday, March 21, 2010

FINALLY, the globe-trotting Bruneian, Norhayati Abu Bakar, and her husband, Harun Kurt Eichbauer, have embarked on the second leg of their odyssey, this time driving through mystique Spain with their trusted four-wheel-drive Jambo.

Norhayati's expedition is in commemoration of Brunei's 25th Independence celebration. The journey is supported by the people and government in Brunei as well as the private sectors that are enthusiastic in making both Norhayati and Harun's journey a success. In this edition, The Brunei Times is given the exclusivity to present Norhayati's travel note for her journal entitled: "From Brunei to around the World 2009 - 2010, 25 Years Brunei Independence Expedition".

Spain

February 18

By 10pm the ship was docked and we as well as the other passengers drove off and out of the port. We wasted no time upon arrival in Barcelona, and proceeded to direct our course towards the south.

It was still raining heavily. The wipers could hardly cope with the splashing water falling from above.

On the "Autopistas" as the highways are named in Spain, one cruises with easy — Jambo was flying with 100 km/h. It was cold and windy. Windows closed, heater on, hence it was cosy in the car.

Sometime after midnight we diverted into a service station's parking lot, closed the curtains, crawled into our sleeping bags and in no time met Mr Sandman with his bag of dreams.

February 19

We have been driving since 6am. Although we had escaped the rain by now, a fierce wind was blowing from the Sierra Nevada Mountain range into the valleys below, carrying the message of ice and snow, still visible in the higher altitudes.

About 70km before Almeria a south easterly Town in Andalusia, we turned west, onto a provincial road, direction Granada. This is one of the mountainous regions of Spain. Vast Sierras chains of mountains, overgrown by shrubs and trees elevate their summits into the crystal clear blue sky.

Here common folks still sing praises about their heroes — the contrabandistas and bandoleros, or in plain English smugglers and robbers.

On the foothills of the still snowcapped Sierra with its barracanos or ravines, the streams with pure clear water, there was a place that was worth checking out.

We did not stay long in the town, but continued to Granada, after all it was the Alhambra that we ventured into this region.

Saturday, February 20

On a hill dominating Grenada sits the fabulous Alhambra. A Muslim poet described the Alhambra as a great ruby among the heart of Al-Andalus.

Al-Andalus was the Muslim empire in southern Spain, with its cities of Almeria, Malaga, Cadiz, Huelva, Seville, Cordoba, Jaen and Granada.

For the next hundreds of years, Al-Andalus produced a civilisation far ahead of Dark Age Europe. It was the Muslims who made southern Spain the centre of learning. The Islamic civilisation taught reading and writing, mathematics, astronomy, medicine and science.

Muslim Spain produced philosophers, artists and scientists from which Europe benefited too. Al Andalus prospered.

This Islamic civilisation reached its peak in the 10th century. For example, in Cordoba there were 200,000 houses, 900 public bath, 600 mosques and paved streets. Libraries sprung up in Al Andalus when most of Europe was still illiterate.

Muslims designed and described 200 surgical instruments and gave astronomy Arabic names for well over 100 stars.

One of the magnificent masterpieces of Islamic architecture is the very Alhambra here in Granada.

Alhambra comes from the Arabic word, "Al-Hamra" meaning "The Red". Construction of buildings begun somewhere in the 9th century and ended during the Nasrid period from 1232 - 1492, which was the last Islamic state on the Iberian peninsula.

The Alhambra was a city with palaces, build for the sultan his officials and workforce. Within nest the complex Alcazara. She was the palace complex of the sultan and his close family, with rooms for ministerial meetings and audiences. Several palaces were build in different times, all set between courtyards and gardens in which water and vegetation played an essential role.

We set foot for the palace complex at 7am, and upon arrival at the entrance we saw two Japanese girls were already waiting although tickets are sold from 8am onwards. Such is the demand for a visit at the Comares and Nazrid palace.

There is no way one can describe the magnificent beauty exposed before our eyes, nor is it possible to create a overall image in mere words.

What we could, is select at random sections, like slices of a cake. To understand a bit and come closer to the thinking and beauty, one has to come here, see and reflect the entire complex himself.

Monday, February 22

We left Granada in early morning directing Jambo towards Cordoba, driving by the banks of the Guadalquivir and through the farmlands of the Sierra Morena where one sees nothing but rows upon rows of olive trees, literally in their thousands capable of producing the world's reknown "virgin olive oil", best found in supermarkets almost all around the world.

I later veered far away from the olive trees in Spain.

Rolling on the Autopista over the last hill, we could see Cordoba down in the valley. Right on the Guadalquivir river — due to heavy rains — rushed yellow muddy waters.

There she was the reason we came — the Aljama mosque. Cordoba is rich in history. The Romans had a town build here and as always, nothing last for ever. Their empire declined, and later the Visigoth dominated for a while until by 711 AD, Cordoba was conquered by the Moors.

The mosque was constructed using stone columns from Roman and Visigoth buildings in Spain and even Africa.

The arches are Visigoth in style and are formed in red bricks and white stone, superimposed to heighten and lighten the building.

Due to the constantly increasing population she was successively extended until she took the form which we see today. The Brunei Times