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Places

Travel Guide to

Muslim Europe With travel writer and European Muslim heritage specialist Tharik Hussain

The pining palaces of Portugal

T

hey say if you wander through the lush, green hills of the Serra di Sintra on bright moonlit nights, chances are you will come upon a stunning Moorish maiden all in white. Her enchanting figure will emerge carrying a pot, which she will fill with fresh water at a nearby spring. She will not speak to you, nor look you in the eye, but as she passes you, listen carefully for it will seem as if the earth, trees and the wind are sighing in unison for a time that is now gone and will never again return. Muslims first arrived in al Gharb alAndalus - modern day Portugal - in 714 CE as part of the North African conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. They stayed for over 400 years changing the way people farmed, ate, spoke, dressed and behaved. Theirs was a legacy remembered fondly - the above legend of the mystical Moorish maiden was still doing the rounds centuries after the Muslims had left in 1147 CE. During those years, like neighbouring al-Andalus (Spain), al Gharb alAndalus flourished. Innovative agricultural techniques were introduced; new and exotic food and spices became the norm; major

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centres of learning were established in cities like al-Ishbun (Lisbon); music and poetry were widespread, and an air of tolerance allowed Jews, Christians and Muslims to live in relative harmony. It is no wonder so many reports claim long after Alfonso Henriques took al Gharb al-Andalus and declared it the Christian Kingdom of Portugal, many still pined for that golden age. Nowhere is this melancholy more deeply apparent than in the beautiful green hills of Sintra’s UNESCO World Heritage Park, 30 kilometres north-west of the country’s capital, Lisbon. Here, stunning remnants of Portugal’s Muslim past stand alongside a wealth of later romantic Moorish reimaginings. Built in the 10th century, the Moorish Fort of Sintra was a strategic construction designed to protect the city of al-Ishbun. Today, it is probably the most atmospheric and best preserved Muslim fort in Portugal, if not Europe. Only the outer wall still survives, and this stretches from the old Royal Tower all the way to what was the Castle Keep - a stunning walk that offers breathtaking vistas across the foothills and the other monuments in

Islam today issue 50 August 2017 issuu  
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