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Listening to ghosts at the Alhambra

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Over long distances, our group spreads out along the road according to each person’s natural rhythms, by which I mean leg cramps, neck pain and aversion to developing terrible piles. And also according to each person’s desire to embrace the kind of solitude that only develops under such big, blue skies. My rhythm is slow, and my desire for solitude is great, so I am alone, a wheel-man-wheel shadow moving slowly across the horizon.

Cycling out here on the Andalucían plains — far from everything I know — reduces me. I hear the soft hum of bicycle tires on hot asphalt, the regular creak of my frame and my tired breathing on the hills. That is all.

It is during these times — when you are small and quiet — that ghosts become real.

Spain is full of ghosts, and they call to us. The modern Spain we cycle through — alongside 300-year-old olive tree orchards and, possibly, 300-year-old men herding goats with sticks on the roadside — sings to us softly of a beautiful, colourful, quiet people we do not know.

But other ghosts call to us, too: those of ancient al-Ándalus, the name given to the Iberian Peninsula under eight centuries of North African Muslim rule. This song is old and strange and wondrous. Moorish al-Ándalus ebbed and flowed under rival factions and various flavours of Islam from 711 to 1492, during which science, art, poetry, music and learning flourished.

The ghosts of ancient Al-Ándalus are everywhere. You see them in the design of the oddly curved arches and doorways, in the colourful tiles on the teterias (“Moorish tearoom”) walls, and in the white-washed fortress towns built on hilltops across Andalucía, each honeycombed with narrow, baffling streets, and crowned with an alcazaba (“castle”).

Throughout Spain, there are ghosts from a thousand years of Moorish rule, clinging to the land and sky long after the Christian kingdoms drove them southward to the sea. But perhaps nowhere more so than in Granada, where finally, on Jan. 2, 1492, Emir Muhammad XII surrendered the Emirate of Granada to Queen Isabella I of Castile and King Ferdinand II of Aragon, completing the Christian Reconquista of Spain.

It happened here in Granada, in the shadow of the magnificent Alhambra, the red fortress and palace complex built for the last Muslim emirs in Spain during the decline of the........

© Times Colonist