The first time I landed in Malaga was in the end of January. Starting from the exit of the airport, I began taking off my clothes layer by layer, which I had piled on at the -15 degrees in Sofia. By the time I got to the hotel, I was already wearing short sleeves. Not a joke! There is hardly a place with warmer winters and more unbearably hot summers than Andalusia. But the weather is not the biggest advantage of this colorful region, recognized for its originality and colorful mix of cultures. Already in the second millennium BC, the Phoenicians colonized part of the coastline and founded what today is known as Cadiz. They were followed for a short period of time by Assyria and Persia, and for a longer one by Carthage, only to lose it to Rome in the Second Punic War. After the collapse of the Empire, it was the turn of the Vandals and Visigoths, who brought with them Catholicism. But perhaps the most important period in the history of Andalusia are the 500 years – from the 8th to the 13th centuries, of the period of the Islamic dominion. The traces of it are visible to this day in every Andalusian city – the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Alcázar in Seville, and the Cordoba Mosque are works of art that should not be missed for anything in the world. Although Islam prohibits the depiction of images of humans, the Arabic architecture is rich in decorative elements. Even if the Castile’ Spanish built on them at a later stage, thankfully, they preserved the Moorish accents because they realized that destroying treasures of such magnitude would be a crime.
It turns out that the Arabs were more tolerant with the beliefs of the conquered local population than the Castilians. Since the 2nd century, Andalusia was inhabited by many Hebrews, known as “Sephardim”. During the Moorish rule, they were not persecuted for their faith, which enabled them to develop and contribute to the “golden age” of Science, Medicine, Arts and the Crafts. This is not the case, however, when the Spanish took over, and brought with them the Inquisition and the so-called “Edict of Expulsion” at the time of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. The Edict forced the Hebrews to either accept Catholicism or to move out of Spain forever. Other European countries in the same period chased out their Jews, but the 1492 Spanish Expulsion remains the largest and most significant in history all the way to the Second World War. The Alhambra Decree was abolished only in 1968 by the Second Vatican Council, after which the descendants of the expelled Sephardim received the right to dual citizenship.
Little known fact is that Christopher Columbus, who discovered America in his quest to find a Western road to India, sailed for this memorable journey, out of Huelva, Andalusia. Therefore, everything from the New World, was first brought in in Andalusia. In Seville you can visit the “General Archive of the Indies”, in which are stored over 43 000 volumes containing Columbus’ ship ledger, naval maps and everything that was recorded during the expeditions of the Great Navigator. Naturally, while in Seville, you should also see the largest functioning Cathedral in Europe, in which is Columbus’ tomb. Every Sevillan would be proud to tell the story of how Cervantes was illuminated by the idea for the book of his life “Don Quixote” while he was serving a sentence in a prison out of all places – in Seville.
Whether because Andalusia is where the Mediterranean and the Atlantic meet, you can observe huge whales, dolphins and other marine mammals in their natural habitat. You can catch some of the rarest and most expensive seafood, like the white shrimp. And at the same time, behind your back are the snow-capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada, where, if you wish, you can go skiing. You can go watch the bullfights at any of the 70 corridas in the area. Or enjoy the emotional Flamenco dancers dressed in passionate red dresses. Yes, Flamenco also emerged in Andalusia under the influence of the Gypsies who came in the 15th century. Andalusia is the homeland of sherry, named after the city of Jerez (or Shariz in Persian). And let us not forget the gazpacho, made from tomatoes, apple cider vinegar, garlic and olive oil. And if you think that Italy is the largest producer of olive oil, you are mistaken. Spain, and in particular Andalusia, produces twice more than Italy and 4 times more than Greece, thus holding a share of 44% of the world’s olive oil production. One more thing was invented here – the legendary tapas. We all know that this is not a dish, but rather a way of consuming food – small amounts of different types of food served as an appetizer to drinks, that is if you can afford to go to a bar. If not, there is another activity deriving from Andalusia – the so-called. “botellón”. You buy alcohol from the store where it is cheaper, and you go to drink it on the street to socialize with groups of others like you. In recent years, however, the majority of cities have limited this type of gatherings to places designated for the purpose, called “botellódromo”.
In order to feel the taste of Andalusia, today I have prepared a typical recipe, borrowed from All Recipes.
ANDALUSIAN FLAMENCO EGGS (Huevos a la flamenco)
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 2 red peppers, finely chopped
– 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
– 500g fresh tomatoes, grated on a cheese grater
– 1 tablespoon smoked paprika
– 8 eggs
– 8 slices Serrano ham (or something similar)
– 8 slices chorizo
– 150g frozen peas
– Salt and pepper to taste
– Chopped parsley to garnish
Preheat oven to 200 C / Gas 6. Make a ‘sofrito’ by frying the onion and peppers slowly in the olive oil when they’re soft (approximately 10 minutes) add the garlic. Continue to fry briefly until the garlic releases its aroma then add the tomatoes and smoked paprika and fry the sofrito gently for 15 minutes. Season to taste. Divide the sofrito into 4 ramekins, break 2 eggs on top of each and place 2 slices of ham, 2 slices of chorizo and a handful of peas on top. Bake the ramekins for about 10 minutes or until the eggs are set but still runny. Garnish with parsley and serve with crusty bread.
I have been to Andalusia at least three times, but because of the food, I am sure I will go back.