Andalucía – a land of many layers

It is often said that the Costa del Sol is a very cosmopolitan place, with residents from across Europe, including Russia, as well as the Middle East and parts of Latin America. It is a region where you will hear Argentinean and Castilian dialects mingle with English, Dutch, French, Swedish and German, but did you know that the Andalusians themselves are of a highly varied origin?

You see, Andalucía has been at the crossroads of cultures for millennia, its clement climate and riches attracting visitors then as it does now. The original Iberians are considered to be the indigenous people of the peninsula, but they were soon joined by Celts invading from what is now France. Although the Celts reached southern Spain, their main concentration was in the north of the country, where they merged with the locals to form the Celtiberian culture that is still visible in Galicia now.

Not long after, and we’re talking around 1000 BC, came the Phoenicians, traders from what is now Lebanon, who created settlements along the coast such as Málaga, Cádiz and also Lisbon, and brought with them the Almadraba fishing technique still used today. They merged with the locals in the south to form the prosperous Tartessian and Turdetanian civilisations. These regions later fell under the control of the Carthaginians, descendants of other Phoenicians who had colonised what is today Tunisia, in North Africa. It was their famous leader, Hannibal, who took his army from Spain and through the Alps to attack Rome.

His successes were to prove futile in the end, for eventually Rome gained control of the entire peninsula, and the subsequent merging of the Iberian population into what became known as a Hispano-Roman culture manifests itself in the Latin culture and languages of Spain and Portugal. If Spain is predominantly Roman-Mediterranean in culture, then the influence of the next wave of invaders was rather smaller. The Vandals, Suevii and Visigoths who became a military elite after the fall of the Roman Empire did not manage to significantly impose their Germanic culture and ways, but instead themselves became latinised over time.

Finally it was the much-vaunted Moors’ turn to invade the peninsula, and they did in 711, landing at Gibraltar before racing northwards. Of Berber and Arab origin, they especially influenced the culture and architecture of Andalucía, a fact that can be seen in the appearance of the many white-washed mountain villages of the region. Centuries later, after the Christian reconquest that began in the north had reunified the country under a Spanish king, it would be Barbary pirates from North Africa that would for several centuries plague and pillage the Spanish coastline, carrying hundreds of thousands of Spanish slaves away to Morocco, where they were sold as concubines and serving slaves, while others were worked to death on large building projects alongside Africans who had also fallen prey to the Arabic slave trade.

History is not always pretty, but it is fascinating, and in Andalucía the blood, culture, languages and traditions of many different peoples have blended into an identity that, while being quintessentially Spanish and Mediterranean, is also unique.