Saturday, 17 September 2016

(112): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history (II)

One thing you cannot escape noticing in the cities of Spain, is the dual atmosphere that is apparent in the architecture, landscape and historical monuments of the country. On one hand, you notice the European design of its buildings, which is a common sight in the Western World. Some of the buildings resemble parts of London, or even the heart of San Francisco in California.

The other part of the old city, were the restaurant Sobrino de Botin is located represents the cross-cultural nature of Spain, where you see historical traces of other civilizations like the Greek and Islamic civilizations.

The IE Business School assigned a tour guide for us to go through the old city after witnessing the more modern part earlier.  The ancient city comprises of some hilly areas, the old city town hall and restaurants. You can tell from the onset that tourism is important to this country. In fact, I noticed it right from the airport. 

On arrival, I was expecting serious scrutiny from the immigration officials. Interestingly, in all the countries I visited so far, I experienced the fastest clearance from an immigration official in Spain. I handed in my passport, the official looked at my visa, without saying a word, stamped on it, and in no more than 5 seconds, I was on my way out to check for my luggage.

I was traveling together with a friend and colleague from our office. Unfortunately, his luggage did not arrive along with mine, even though we checked our bags together from Jeddah. We were asked to report to the lost luggage office, which we did. They promised to trace the bags and let us know within the next 24 hours. We left our hotel address with them.

The following day, after lectures, we returned to the hotel, and my friend asked at the reception whether he received any message. He was asked to check his room, lo and behold! His bags were brought intact, and placed in his room. I told my friend that I had similar experience back in 2004, precisely on the morning of September 10 at Manchester airport in the UK.  On arrival, I noticed that one of my bags was not there. I reported to the lost baggage office.

Two days later, a man knocked at the house I was staying. Hello, he said, “I would like to apologise for the delay in bringing your luggage. We noticed that the handle of the bag was broken, that was why we could not clear it at the airport. Here is a replacement for the broken one; I hope you will continue to use our airline.”  That was it, and the man left. I was perplexed, remained speechless as I gently took the two bags, wondering what happened to the sense of justice in our countries. Apologies for the digression.  

The tour guide took us to the old city of Madrid, where we visited several monumental places. Among them was the restaurant called Sobrino de Botin, believed to be operating continuously without changing location since 1725. The Guinness World Book of Record awarded a certificate to the restaurant, which they placed at the entrance. “Wow,” exclaimed one of our colleagues; “this is Moroccan architecture,” he said. Many of us turned to Khaled Idrisi, as he explained to us the similarities between the design, sitting arrangements, arts and other features that define this restaurant. It wasn’t surprising at all to hear this from Khaled, as most of the buildings in the area have an element of North African outlook. A testimony to the influence of the Andalus Empire, many of which have been preserved by the Spanish authorities.

Next place to visit was a local market called Alfonso Dube Y Diez. It was a typical market made from steel. Its current design was completed in 1915. The market gives you a feeling of ancient Spain. It was well designed; there are butchers on one side busy selling meat, while smaller fish markets are located in other areas. You cannot lose sight of tourists also enjoying the taste of local dishes. I hope our local markets in Nigeria, like the old Kurmi Market in Kano will one day receive the attention, preservation and promotion that markets like Alfonso have received. In fact, in a period of economic recession, it is a source of income for the state.

Several landmarks in the older part of Madrid still signify the impact of Andalus in Modern Spain. Among these landmarks are the Hammams, originally from the Arabic word Hammam. Although in present times, Hammam is translated as toilet, in those days, the Hammam refers to a bath place, not bath in a literal sense, but a place of relaxation. Hammam Al-Andalus was one of the key areas of tourist attraction, and it has branches in several cities like Grenada, Cordoba and Malaga.

In order to “kill the lice on our eyes,” we visited one of the Hammams in the city Centre. The entrance resembles what in Hausaland we call “Soro,” a waiting area or sitting room in traditional Hausa architecture. The design so much resembles the traditional palaces in Hausa city-states one might think he is in Kano, Kazaure or Daura. This is not at all surprising looking at the historical relationship between North Africa and parts of Sub-Saharan Africa.

There are small ponds similar to modern day swimming pools, albeit much smaller. The sense of tranquility and calmness in the Hammam creates a feeling of admiration for those civilizations that flourished. It makes you engulfed with nostalgia for the achievements of Andalus. I was curious to know the function of the Hammam in those days. Our tour guide in Hammam Al-Andalus told us that scholars in Andalus frequently used the Hammam, so when they are tired of reading, writing or other forms of studies, they use the pools to take bath, relax and continue with their intellectual activities.

To be continued

08 Dhul Hijja, 1437

10 September 2016

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

(111): Al-Andalus: The Mosque-Cathedral and the conscience of history

For the youth of today, when you talk about Spain, what easily comes to their mind are the legendary football clubs, Real Madrid and Barcelona. Two major football clubs that provide entertaining football on weekly basis to their fans.

However, the story of Spain goes beyond football. It is the story of a civilization whose impact continues to be relevant today.  By God’s providence, I enrolled for a study in one of the leading tertiary institutions in Spain, the IE Business School back in 2014. For the next 18 months, I came to understand the people, culture and educational system of this former empire, called Al-Andalus.

It was a multi-campus programme between Madrid, Jeddah, Boston and Berkeley. Of course, the primary aim of visiting these cities was to receive lectures, but at the back of my mind was to explore the historical edifices that still attract attention and provide interesting lessons in history.

On arrival in Madrid, the university surprised us with a number of historical visits within the city. The biggest surprise from the perspective of the coordinators was an official tour of the Santiagou Bernebeu the stadium of Real Madrid.

While we appreciate the effort of the school administrators, my mind was elsewhere. Having read about the contribution of Andalusia in the development of science, education, arts, literature, and how this former empire contributed in shaping the technological advancement of the Western World, my heart was thinking about one city, Cordoba or Kurduba as it is known in the Muslim World.

But before sharing the story of Cordoba, let us go back to Madrid. Madrid is currently the capital of Spain and the city has undergone several transformations. Although one of the leading cities in the Europe, historical sources have documented the origin of the name of the city, part of which was from the Arabic term, Almajrit. The Arabs gave it this name due to the proximity of the city to a river.

It is also on record that the city has produced famous scientists whose contribution remain relevant to date. One of such scientists was Abul Qasim, Masalama, Al-Qurtubi Al-Majriti. Almajriti was an astronomer, chemist, economist and Islamic scholar.

According to the Islamic encyclopedia: “Al-Majriti’s work in Chemistry had indeed produced some momentous contributions. He is greatly credited for his notable chemical treatise, Rutbat al-Hakim, which, amongst other things, described formulae and procedures for the purification of precious metals. 

It is in this work that Maslama attempted to prove the principle of mass conservation, credited eight centuries later to Lavoisier. Exact details of such attempts are not available at the present time, yet inferences from his experiment on Mercury prove that he was alert to the almost non-existent change in the weight of the mass after the reaction.”

In fact, his classical book, Kitab Ghayat Al-Hakim (the goal of the wise) has been made available by University of Pennsylvania’s online library through the Hathi Trust for those who might be interested.

Therefore, as we prepare on the morning of the visit to Santiago Bernebeu in the autumn of 2014, I knew that I was working through history. That the story of Madrid and Spain outweighs the popularity and athletes of Cristiano Ronaldo, and more skillful intellectuals have been produced, whose contribution by far eclipsed the dribbles of Lionel Messi. Of course nothing would be taken away from both Ronaldo and Messi, but certainly there were heroes from various ethnicities, nationalities and faiths that made the story of Spain possible.

As we disembarked from the bus that brought us to Santiago Bernebeu, about 40 of us from different nationalities, Nigerians. Egyptians, Saudis, Americans, Indians, Pakistanis, Senegalese, Gambians and many more. Almost everyone got himself busy taking pictures of this huge stadium that keeps many people awake in different parts of the world.

It was early in the morning, and we went round every nook and cranny of the stadium. From the football pitch, to the dressing rooms of the players. We saw the preparation area of players, from Ronaldo, Benzema, Rodriquez to Pepe, Bale etc.  A replica of La Decema, the 10th Champions League trophy was also on display. In fact it was the centre of attraction.

Next after the visit to the Real Madrid Stadium, was a visit to Sobrino de Botin, believed to be the oldest restaurant in the world according to the Guinness World Book of Record.

To be continued…
10:12 pm