I began my research in pursuit of the meaning of the word ‘moor’. While growing up, I had come across the word ‘moor’ multiple times in story books, cookie recipes, and even in grocery store isles. During lunch with a Spanish friend at Dana Dining Hall, I mentioned how I was interested in understanding what the term meant and possibly doing further research on it, she asked me to read on the Andalusian region of Spain. There began the early stages of my research interest, and soon I came to know that the term was used to refer to the Muslim inhabitants of the Iberian Peninsula, North Africa, Maghreb and Sicily during the Middle Ages, who were of North African origin. While the architecture in Southern Spain has been described as “Moorish” in various contexts across literary works, in Spain the term can also be used derogatively to refer to Muslim invaders and is a nod to the Spain’s repressed past. Despite the cultural connotations, the presence of Moorish past is evident in the Andalusian identity. Through the generosity of my donors, I was able to pursue a research project in Andalusia that is titled: Moorish Influence on Andalusian Architecture.
To begin my research, I explored various meanings of the word “Moorish” and gained an understanding of the historical events that took place in Southern Spain that has resulted in the word being perceived the way it is today. I gained a nuanced insight into similar words used to classify moors such as mozarabe, morisco, and muladi through travelling to Andalusia (Cordoba, Granada, Seville, and Malaga). I studied relevant scholarly articles, books, and journals to contextualize and enhance my first-hand travel experience. I am specifically interested in understanding how the Moorish culture played a role, or rather, “complicated the construction of Spain in the early modern period, both by Spaniards themselves and by other Europeans” (Fuchs, 2011, p. 11). Perhaps the most evident way of understanding Moorish influence on Southern Spain was through visiting and studying Andalusian architecture that remains in the region today such as palaces, monuments and mosques that were constructed during the period of Moorish rule. These structures still stand today as testament to the undeniable cultural mark left by eight centuries of Islamic influence.
My goal was to produce a research paper, based on scholarly research and firsthand experience, which discusses how Moorish culture became intertwined with the culture of Catholic Spain, focusing specifically on the region of Andalucía, the name of which originates from Arabic: ‘Al-Andalus’. An example of Moorish influence on traditional Spanish practices would be how in the present-day Benedictine nuns in Santa Maria del Socorro Convent in Seville continue to bake “traditional dulces that reflect the lasting Moorish influence on Spanish cuisine”. When I visited cloistered convents in Seville and Granada, I was able to witness (and taste) how Moorish traditions were not only present through the architecture of the area but also in its cuisine. Similarly, travelling to Spain and being able to experience the Andalusian region of Spain, witnessing the architecture and interacting with locals shaped my research paper and provided context for making my own theoretical connections to form my thesis which explores the complexities of the impact Moorish culture had on the Spanish identity and how that is reflected on the Andalusian architecture.
Being able to travel to certain sites in Spain enabled me to make observations on how locals perceive and interact with the architecture. I was also able to ask questions such as: do Andalusians consider the Alhambra representative of their Spanish identity or as the abandoned establishments of the Arabs who ruled the region before they were expelled?
I am grateful to my donors who made this research possible along with Dr. Marina Llorente, and Dr. Elun Gabriel for their insight and support through the early stages of this project. I hope to continue expanding my knowledge on this topic in future academic endeavors. and look forward to presenting my research in the Festival of Scholarship and Creativity.