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Al-Andalus
By Evelyn - 2 May, 1999

Page 2 of 2

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Gregg and I spent two days in Madrid, wandering the alleyways of the old town. We did visit some of the major touristic destinations—the Plaza Mayor and the Museo Prada (where Spain´s national treasures are on display), but of greater interest to us was an old neighborhood called Lavapies. Lavapies once was a Jewish settlement, but is now a working class barrio inhabited mainly by North African, Middle-Eastern, and Chinese immigrants. The neighborhood isn´t large—a few main alleyways lined with stores. Some sold fabrics from the Middle-East, others were thematically African with figurines, drums and other trinkets in the windows. The Chinese stores had your usual eclectic inventory of keychains, luggage and handbags, sunglasses, lighters, and cheap souvenirs.

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At the heart of Lavapies was a public plaza. This was not your well-groomed park with greenery, but a basic utilitarian cement square. Lined on three sides were crowded but very colorful apartment facades. On the fourth side was a gated off church ruin that continues to deteriorate. The square had a good vibe to it. Teenagers played board and dice games, bums sat smoking and chatting, young kids rode their bicycles round and round the plaza.

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As we sat and took in the scene, I wondered if this was it for ethnic diversity in Madrid. Was this at all representative of Spain? Were there larger migrant communities outside of Madrid, like in Paris and London? Our wanderings gave me the impression that Madrid, though cool and chic, wasn´t particularly cosmopolitan. I´d looked for traces of Islamic influence in the architecture, language, street names, food, faces. Besides seeing the expected dark-featured Spanish faces, I didn´t find much. Was this because the Muslim occupation was so long ago that such traces disappeared over a long process of integration? Or was Islamic culture so completely eradicated in the years of and following the Reconquista? Or maybe Madrid was too ¨modern¨ a city, capital only after Felippe II declared it so in 1561.

On our third day of journey, we boarded a train to Barcelona. Perhaps there I would see more in the way of Islamic influence, but probably not as the Catalans are a fiercely independent people in their own right. I would probably have to wait until we got to Andalucia, the modern name for Al-Andalus.

On the train, I dug out the Spain Lonely Planet again. In a section titled “other minorities”, I read that some consider Spain´s only “ethnic minority” to be Spanish gypsies that had originally migrated from India in the 15th century. A few years ago, they numbered over half a million. Interestingly, most of them are in Andalucia.



 



 

 
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Al-Andalus
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