When the invading Moors – the Arabs and Berbers of north Africa – took Córdoba in 711, they made it into one of the great cities of the world. In the congenial environment of Andalusia they created a culture that could also encompass the other two peoples “of the book”, Christians and Jews, with a rare degree of enlightenment. They made every aspect of life – eating, drinking, bathing – into a work of art, and had a deep commitment to learning.

Their grasp of mathematics overflowed spectacularly into the intricate patterns that filled every inch of their most splendid buildings. The motivation was religious – to avoid the representation of God or living beings – and the combination of ornate decoration with water-filled gardens at the Alhambra palace in Granada came close to creating the illusion that paradise, the garden that awaits the righteous, can be made on Earth.

Critic and art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon travels from southern to northern Spain to tell the story of some of Europe’s most exciting and vital art. In an exploration of Moorish Spain, he looks at Muslim political and cultural influence as he travels from Cordoba to Granada, seeing classic buildings such as the Great Mosque in Cordoba, the Alcazar in Seville and the Alhambra in Granada. He also shows how the Moors introduced new foods – including citrus fruits, coffee and spices – to Spain.

Seven centuries of Moorish rule is have left its mark on the Spanish people. This can be seen clearly in the buildings produced by some of the most famous Spanish architects. Lluís i Domènech, the Catalan Spanish architect, often used Moorish decorations to adorn his creations.

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