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Homage to Andalucía

ISSUE:  Summer 1979

The civilization of Andalucía is the oldest in the Western world: a thriving native culture along the lower reaches of the Guadalquivir River traded regularly with Phoenicia and occasionally with the Israel of Solomon some thousand years before Christ. Strong evidence exists that this culture—known as Tarshish in the Old Testament and as Tartessos in the Greek texts—ranges well back into the second millennium to the time of the Minoans, while some of the most recent evidence involving revised radiocarbon dating indicates even earlier dates. Perhaps even more striking than its remote antiquity is the extent to which that ancient culture has continued to survive in certain demonstrable ways up to the 20th century and the extent to which that sense of antiquity has remained a part of the sensibility of the Andalusian people. Indeed, an early agricultural Mediterranean way of life has remained in many regards unchanged in Andalucía at least up through the generation born and reared before the Spanish Civil War.

But the days of that way of life are numbered: the inevitable paradox in this land in which paradox is the norm is that our technical progress is simultaneously responsible for discovering and destroying such an arcane and vestigial culture. As we unearth we bury, in the process moving steadily away from that more original humanity which is still alive in certain remote or isolated villages. Andalucía is quickly becoming much like the rest of our world; and while we cannot logically begrudge the fruits of progress to the people of Andalucía, we can make it our intention to preserve an icon or two still pristine among the debris.

The traveler who emerges from Despeñaperros, the spectacular defile separating Andalucía from the monotony of La Mancha, becomes immediately aware that he is in another world. The famous pass, where Christians and Moslems threw each other off the cliffs and where the ancient Iberians worshipped their gods, forms a natural gateway through the Sierra Morena to an older and a not altogether European world. It is precisely this non-European, or more specifically non-Indo-European, cast which comprises both the source of Andalucía’s atavistic culture and the source of much misunderstanding of that culture.

In the broadest terms, the south of Spain was settled by the Iberians, a “Mediterranean” type of uncertain origin. The north was settled by the Indo-European Celts, the same tribes that settled over much of northern Europe. In the center of Spain the groups mixed, forming the so-called Celtiberians. From the beginning, there emerged a pattern of a Mediterranean bias in Andalucía and a European bias in the north which was to be repeated time and again.

In 1927, José Ortega y Gasset, the most sharply honed Spanish thinker of his time, wrote an essay called “Theory of Andalucía,” which is still hotly discussed today by Andalusians. Typical of Ortega, the article is in some respects brilliantly original and in others somewhat uneven. The first half of the essay, which Ortega calls “Prelude,” is particularly of interest as it makes certain points about Andalucía, including a quite correct as well as original explanation of the most irritating and persistent problem plaguing any student of Andalucía or, for that matter, of Spain.

That problem is the Spanish, and particularly the Andalusian, stereotype: Carmen dancing with a rose in her teeth and a dagger in her garter while bullfighters and bandits alternately duel with each other and swoon at her feet, the “multicolored farce,” as Ortega calls it, which the inhabitants of Andalucía perform for the benefit of tourists. He makes the point that the Andalusians enjoy presenting themselves as a spectacle, and he believes—quite accurately-—that the traveler in Sevilla can suspect that he is witnessing the presentation of a magnificent ballet called Sevilla. The propensity to play a part and to mime themselves shows, Ortega believes, a surprising collective narcissism: in order to imitate himself, one must become the spectator of his own persona and must be habituated to watching himself, in fact to contemplating himself and taking delight in his own figure. Sometimes, Ortega surmises, the effect produced is one of lamentable mannerisms. And from these mannerisms, we might add, emerges the continuation of the old stereotype.

But the mannerisms, the narcissism, the self-stylization are only part of the story. There is another dimension involved: the mannerisms also reveal, as Ortega notes, a profound selfawareness or self-knowledge. Perhaps no other culture, he muses, possesses such a clear consciousness of its own style and character, a consciousness which allows the Andalusians to maintain themselves invariably within their millenary profile, faithful to their destiny and the cultivation of their exclusive culture. Ortega believes, and this is the crux of the matter, that the self-awareness is precisely the product of the antiquity of the culture. It should not be forgotten, he admonishes, that they are the oldest pueblo of the Mediterranean, older than the Greeks or the Romans.

If we follow Ortega’s logic, which I believe to be essentially correct, then the antiquity of Andalusian culture and the Andalusian stereotype are two sides of the same coin: on one side we have the Ballet ofSevilla, on the other the “millenary profile.” Quite probably, then, the annoyingly persistent superficiality of the stereotype can be interpreted in part as confirmation of Andalucía’s antiquity, and we can forget about its brilliant but skin-deep reflection for the moment.

The other important point that Ortega makes is that Andalusian culture is a cultura campesina, that it is deeply rooted in the land, the soil, the campo of Andalucía. This chthonian quality—and that is the only word which expresses the concept—is of utmost importance; it is the basis for the radical conservatism of Andalusian culture, particularly the aspects we shall examine. Chthon in Greek meant “earth,” and particularly “earth” in a pantheistic, pre-Christian sense. Ortega compares Andalusian history to Chinese history and makes the precise point that Andalucía was invaded over and over again by practically all the violent cultures of the Mediterranean without ever putting up any real resistance. Yet just as the Chinese did, the Andalusians successfully conquered— conquered by receiving passively—their invaders with their superior, more refined, culture.

It is easy enough to quarrel with Ortega or to point out that similar phenomena have occurred at times elsewhere, for example in Greece. But I want to agree with him especially since this passive reception of other cultures with their rapid absorption into the Andalusian mainstream seems to me one of the best explanations for the syncretism of Andalusian culture. Not just once, but many times over, Andalucía received and passively conquered other cultures. Andalusian culture, then, is ancient and self-aware, passive and agricultural, chthonian and extremely conservative: the narcissistic stereotype reveals the sense of antiquity; history bears out the passivity and agricultural nature of the culture; and the lack of change, the essentially conservative nature with its absorptive, syncretistic tendency, is everywhere evident in this tierra de Santa Maria, as the Andalusians call it, the “Biblical” nature of which cannot fail to strike even the casual visitor who ventures into the rural landscape. As Ortega concluded, the Andalusian olive branch is both a symbol of peace as a cultural norm and a principle of the culture.

Ortega was not the only one, nor the first one, to propose such theories. Richard Ford in his Hand-Book for Travellers in Spain, which describes brilliantly the Spain of the 1830’s, wrote that Spain was “a land bottled for antiquarians.” Andalucía, where he had lived and traveled extensively between 1830 and 1833, was quite obviously his favorite country, and he never tired of pointing out the Oriental, pagan, or ancient nature of its culture. On several occasions he quotes Livy, who described the Andalusians as Omnium Hispanorum maxime imbelles, “Of all the Spaniards the most unwarlike,” to which Ford adds: “nor are they at all changed.” That is, Ford means, not at all changed since the days of Livy some two millennia ago.


Richard Ford, upon whose usually sagacious and profusely documented opinions we shall rely in more than one instance, brings up an interesting problem which I call the Hispanophile Imperative, a problem which returns us to the prickliest part of the Andalusian stereotype. The Hispanophile Imperative is the utter inability to avoid writing books about Spain: it flourished in Roman times, during the Romantic period, and again in the 20th century. What is worst about the Hispanophile Imperative is that it has produced a steady stream of terrible books about Spain—usually the worse the book the more it propagates the superficiality of the stereotype. What is best about it are the superb books that explain Spain’s radically different culture, heritage, and history to the rest of us unenlightened Westerners.

This Hispanophile Imperative exists because over the centuries Spain—and particularly Andalucía-—has fascinated the travelers who ventured there. Spain, as James Michener points out at the beginning of Iberia, intrudes on the imagination. There are those who love it and those who despise it, but rarely does one remain unaffected or neutral regarding his experiences there. In the U. S. , our literature is colored by what Hemingway has written on Spain. And in England the tradition of traveling to Spain—that curiously chauvinistic habit the English have of going out, as they put it, for the exotic experience—goes back at least to the time when Dr. Johnson told Boswell, “There is a good deal of Spain that has not been perambulated. I would have you go thither.”

The modern Hispanophile Imperative grows out of the Romantic movement. The one near, still geographically European place one could visit with the assurance of encountering the bizarre, the exotic, the Oriental, precisely what the Romantic imagination craved and fed on when it could, was Spain, and the farther south the traveler ventured the more bizarre things generally became. Spain, and particularly Andalucía, is different: the Romantics and their modern followers, most of whom we might call post-Romantics, thereby expressing their evolution and simultaneous attachment to many of the precepts of Romanticism, went purposely to Spain seeking—and finding—a peculiar exoticism, the origin of which was understood by few of them. Andalucía was particularly different: they found it “exotic,” “strange,” “quaint,” and “primitive.”

The problem lay not with that cultural difference but with the explanation of the difference, even by the Andalusians themselves, which so lamentably often consisted merely of dressing the stereotype in a new traje de luces in order to stage another performance of the Ballet of Sevilla. Richard Ford, George Borrow, Alexandre Dumas, Gustave Doré, Rilke, Mérimée, Bizet, Byron, Washington Irving, to name a few of the most famous, found a world in Andalucía which they reflected with varying fortune, sometimes to the detriment of our understanding of that culture. Maugham, Motherlant, Hemingway, Dos Passos, Malraux, Walter Starkie, Gerald Brenan, and Michener, again to pick but a few, continued the tradition, often in great style but not in every instance with the greatest accuracy. Dumas had declared roundly that Africa began at the Pyrenees. Maugham believed all Andalusians potential bullfighters, thought the key to Andalusian beauty was nothing less than the 6,000 sevillanas on display at the Tobacco Factory, and maintained that Spaniards were cruel to animals (but the English to their wives and children). Hemingway’s worst gaffe was inadvertently to give Maria—his heroine in For Whom the Bell Tolls, who was so pure that not even rape by the fascists could spoil her—an obscene nickname. Yet amusing as some of these faux pas, commonplaces, exaggerations, and clichés are, they also reveal the difficulty some of the best non-Spanish artists have in dealing with all of Spain, and especially Andalucía.

But the blame does not belong merely to the foreigners. At least since Cervantes wrote the line,

Cuando Preciosa el panderete toca When Preciosa plays the tambourine

which gives us the quintessential vision of the Gypsy girl and her tambourine, there has existed a similar propensity among Spaniards, especially non-Andalusians, to misinterpret or make dreadful generalizations about Andalucía. We all do it: it seems as difficult to avoid as it is necessary to recognize and admit. Even Ortega in his essay on Andalucía shows the insensitivity, not to say gaucherie, to call cante jondo, the best of flamenco, which he included mistakenly in the Ballet, quincalla meridional, “southern frippery.” For all of everyone’s ardent desire to express the truth about Andalucía, the pandereta (as it is spelled today) or tambourine, which has become the symbol for the worst of the old stereotype, remains with us, threatening to drown out in its jingles and seductive beat anything of value we might have to say.

A thorough understanding of the pandereta does, however, let us identify it and ward off its evil effects when we believe misinterpretation is possible. Often that very misinterpretation of the pandereta has been the cause for larger misunderstanding: because we fear falling into the trap of dealing with “Romantic Spain,” we avoid altogether the most interesting and complex issues which Andalusian culture presents for our enrichment.

Orientalism, by which I mean the cultural and ethnological influence of the Eastern Mediterranean and the Near East, is such a phenomenon. Dumas could get away with saying that Africa began at the Pyrenees only if he meant that Europe stopped there. If Africa begins at the Pyrenees, it is only because the French influence was insufficient to overcome Spain’s ancient heritage, not because Spain is African. But Andalucía, while not African—and very distinctly not African—is nevertheless the most Oriental land in Western Europe. To deny the importance of African and Oriental influence in Andalucía is to fail to read history, but to claim that all Spain is African is equally myopic, not to say brutish: the journey to Santiago was for centuries—and still is—as holy a pilgrimage as a journey to Rome, and in the 12th century the Christian struggle against the Moslems was declared a Crusade.

The Africanization as opposed to the Europeanization of Spain brings up a division as ancient as Celts arid Iberians, and one which seems to need constant reinterpretation by succeeding generations. While we cannot solve such a conflict, we can examine briefly the extent to which Andalucía was influenced by Africa and the Near East. If we bear in mind as we examine this process that Andalucía sometimes exceeds its boundaries geographically and that it often extends its sphere of influence far beyond those boundaries, then we can begin to understand why the Andalusian stereotype, the pandereta, is so often, and so fallaciously, taken to represent all of Spain. The cultural sphere of Andalucía is at times so pervasive that the part colors the whole. Yet such has been the prejudice against the East, the Moslems, the African, the Oriental, that the interpretation of that influence is ignored or tossed off as exoticism and relegated to the brilliant superficiality of the pandereta. The foreigner sees the pandereta, the Ballet of Sevilla, the dark-eyed women, and takes the superficial part for the whole, allowing the shallowest synecdoche as proof of what he came seeking in the first place. And many Spaniards, embarrassed by the “exotic” image of their country, and ashamed at their lack of “progress,” ignore or deny the complex cultural heritage—-the oldest in the Western world—that lies beneath the glittering exterior, and thus do nothing to explain it or understand it themselves. Worse yet, they often package that glittering exterior and sell it to tourists, thereby perpetuating the worst in themselves by turning their culture into an article for consumption and indirectly insulting the misguided tourists, who remain unaware of the insult and quite happy with gay Spain, especially Andalucia. Yet how many tourists leave Córdoba aware that St. Thomas of Aquinas could probably never have worked out the eternally vexing problem of faith and reason without the work of two of her sons, Maimonides, a Jew, and Averroes, a Moslem? And how many understand that the so-called Renaissance began in Andalucía long before it did in Italy? If we look at all the layers of Oriental culture in Andalucía, we can begin to understand why it is so different, and once we understand that, we may be able better to understand why it has been so misunderstood or misinterpreted.

The Moslems were in fact the last important Orientalizing group in Andalucía, although they are usually thought of as the only one. Actually the Moslems reintroduced, so to speak, an Arabic, that is Semitic, tongue into the Iberian peninsula, just as they reintroduced the influence of the Near East into a culture that had already been partially Orientalized for some two millennia, perhaps more. The Iberians are a “Mediterranean” type of uncertain origin, and although there is some reason to believe they may have come, at least in part, from the East, no evidence exists which allows us to be certain. On the other hand, Eastern contacts during the second millennium are certain, and Professor Maluquer asserts that early Aegean sailors were arriving at Almeria during the fourth or fifth millennium. There are definite parallels between early Andalusian cultures and Minoan and Mycenean cultures. Professor Colin Renfrew has recently redated the Los Millares culture to before Crete or Mycenae (c. 3100 B. C. ); Gale Sieveking of the British Museum dates a megalithic culture at Huelva at around 3400 B. C. ; and Professor J. A. S. Evans pushes back the date of the megaliths to 4000 B. C. But regardless of which culture has precedence, it is evident that trade between the Aegean and Andalucía was occurring on a primitive level by at least the third millennium. During the Bronze Age of the second millennium the trade undoubtedly strengthened since Andalucía was—and is—very rich in copper, a scarce commodity, especially in the eastern Mediterranean, which was the basis for the making of bronze. Professors Maluquer and Carriazo (and others), now believe that Tartessos, the Greek name for the Biblical Tarshish, was a tribal kingdom stretching from the Algarve in the south of Portugal to Almería in eastern Andalucía. The parallels in jewelry, swords, daggers, and other pieces bear out their theory and establish beyond doubt strong contacts between Andalucía and the early Aegean cultures.

The mineral wealth of Andalucía not only attracted the attention of the early Aegeans; it also drew from further away the Phoenicians and the Israelites of Solomon who had established a bond with Hiram, king of Tyre. The Phoenicians established at least a trading post at Gadir, today Cádiz, before 1000 B. C. , and may have been trading long before that, as a cylinder seal found near Malaga and dated about 1400 B. C. suggests. The historical date of the founding of the city is about 1100 B. C. , and although substantial archaeological evidence is lacking until the 7th century, the date 1100 B. C. is generally believed to be accurate. From the 7th century, in any case, the archaeological evidence shows a number of Phoenician and Greek settlements on the Atlantic and on the Mediterranean coasts of Spain. Archaeological evidence also shows that Andalucía, although probably not the rest of Spain, was greatly influenced by these Semitic traders and colonizers, as well as to a lesser extent by the Greeks, particularly the Phocaeans and others from Asia Minor who traded in Andalucía until the Carthaginians forced them out around 535 B. C.

The Phoenicians, especially the Tyrians and their colonists, the Carthaginians, settled and traded in Andalucía until the Romans finally took Andalucía from Carthage in 206 B. C. Such was their influence that by Roman times little was left of the indigenous tongues, and, as Maluquer points out, from Cadiz to Almería the inhabitants spoke a Semitic language, at first Canaanitic or Phoenician followed by a Carthaginian dialect. Semitic writing was used up into Roman times as coins from the area demonstrate.

The Carthaginian Empire across the north of Africa, which connected Egypt and the East with the western Mediterranean, also introduced another Semitic element into Spain. By 370 B. C. , according to Professor Martin Gilbert of Oxford, the Jews, already well dispersed in their earliest Diaspora, were firmly established as traders throughout the Carthaginian territory including Gadir and the Mediterranean coast of Spain. Under the Romans a large Jewish colony of wine and olive dealers flourished in Andalucía. In time they became, especially under the more tolerant Moslems, one of the most important Jewish populations of Europe.

During Roman times the Oriental and African nature of Andalucía, which the Romans called Baetica, was often evident. Gadir, the Punic city, became Gades, Roman in name but retaining much of her Eastern identity. As Ford wrote, “It is quite clear that Cadiz was the eldest daughter of Tyre.” While Gades became thoroughly Romanized, she became no mere copy of Rome. Ford waxes eloquent as he gives away the Roman propensity for the Hispanophile Imperative: “Gades was the great lie and lion of antiquity; nothing was too absurd for the classical handbooks. It was their Venice, or Paris, the centre of sensual civilization, the purveyor of gastronomy, etc. Italy imported from it those improbae gaditanae, whose lascivious dances were of Oriental origin, and still exist in the Romalis of the Andalusian gypsies.” The Roman poet, Avienus, writing in his Ora Maritima around 400 A. D. , tells of still seeing the yearly rites of Hercules performed there, an allusion to the famous temple near Cádiz dedicated to the Phoenician Herakles, often called Melkart. There were also temples to Astarte, the Phoenician fertility goddess, known as Tanit by the Carthaginians, and Baal-Hammon, named Kronos by the Greeks and Saturn by the Romans. All over Andalucía existed shrines and temples to Eastern divinities, as Professor Blazquez has so well documented, including among many others the Egyptian Isis, the Asian Earth Mother Cybele, and Mithra, the great Persian god whose cult rivaled the popularity of Christianity in the late years of the Empire.


By the beginning of Christian times, Andalucía was a land of diversity: as Julio Caro Baroja, the great Spanish ethnologist has pointed out, it was comprised of Africans, Phoenicians, Romans, Greeks, and indigenous tribes, including Celts. He makes the important point that while ethnically Andalucía has long been a mixture of European, African, and Asian elements, both the historical sources and the archaeological finds reflect the higher cultures of the latter groups. In his fundamental ethnological essay, Los pueblos de Espana, he also insists on two points which concern us and which are in fundamental agreement with Ortega’s thesis. He points out how little the Andalucía of our times differs in many regards from the Andalucía of antiquity, and he stresses the power of absorption of the original culture of Andalucia. Thus constant contact with later “barbarian” cultures did not cause the diminution of the older, higher culture but rather its diffusion in such a way that the original culture was continued and amplified. (As Caro Baroja eloquently expresses it, an Andalusian village is a living museum stretching from the Neolithic to the present.)

Andalucía suffered rather less than most of Europe during the invasions of Germanic barbarians. Although the Vandals and the Alans passed through on their way to North Africa, none of the tribes remained in Andalucía for long. The Visigoths, who were the most Romanized—the least uncivilized—of all the Germanic tribes, took over most of Spain. But they did not penetrate Andalucía to any degree until 571, when they took Córdoba, and did not complete their conquest—if indeed it could be called a conquest—until about 616, less than a century before the Moslem invasion.

In the meantime, Roman Andalucía continued to survive, and the Byzantines used parts of Andalucía as a base to try to recapture the Western Empire from 554 until the Visigoths finally expelled them in 631. During this period, Andalucía remained one of the most civilized parts of Western Europe, maintaining trade and close association with North Africa and the Eastern Empire. As usual, the Andalusians looked not to the north but to Africa and Asia for commerce and culture. Although the old Roman structure of governance collapsed and the populace found itself huddling around the great surviving Roman latifundia for protection, the Andalusians cannot be said to have suffered the ravages of the barbarians, nor to have mixed with them to any appreciable degree.

From 711 to 714 the Moslems conquered Spain and threatened Europe; finally in 732 at Poitiers the Franks delivered the Moslems a decisive defeat. Within Spain the Visigothic superstructure collapsed at once, and in Andalucía the Romanized population and the Hispanic Jews openly welcomed and collaborated with the new invaders. All over Spain much of the population converted to the Moslem religion, but, as we might expect, the highest number of conversions—the majority of the population—occurred in Andalucía. There the Moslems set about creating—or recreating—the highest culture in the West, the only high culture in Europe at the time and one which rivaled those of Constantinople, Damascus, and Bagdad. In al-Andalus, which included Toledo, Zaragoza, and Valencia among its cities, there was no “Dark Ages,” and Córdoba, the new Moslem capital, became one of the most splendid and enlightened cities in the world. From the beginning of the 8th century until the end of the 15th, the Moslem culture of al-Andalus introduced into Europe major advances in philosophy and theology, astronomy, mathematics and economics, agriculture, architecture, and medicine and science that became standards for European culture. Al-Andalus—especially in the 10th, llth, and 12th centuries—was no mere western extremity of Islam; rather it was the western core of the main high culture of its time.

The power of Islam reached from Cádiz to the Ganges, from the dawn to the place where the ancients thought the sun sank h issing into the ocean. Of all that land why was alAndalus so favored? Richard Ford knew and expressed it in his characteristic style, an inimitable mixture of classical erudition and Romantic charm:

. . . the land overflows with oil and wine. The vines of Xerez, the olives of Seville, and the fruits of Málaga are unequalled. The yellow plains, girdled by the green sea, bask in the sunshine, like a topaz set around with emeralds. Strabo could find no better panegyric for the Elysian fields of Andalucía, than by quoting the charming description of the father of poetry [Od. IV, 565]: and here the classics, following his example, placed the Gardens of the Blessed, and these afterwards became the real paradise, the new and favored world of the Oriental. Here the children of Damascus rioted in a European Arabia Felix. On the fame of the conquest reaching the East, many tribes abandoned Syria to settle in Andalucia, just as the Spaniards afterwards emigrated to the golden S. America. . . .it was here, in a congenial soil, that the Oriental took the deepest root. Here he has left the noblest traces of power, taste, and intelligence—here he made his last desperate struggle.

From an historical and Andalusian point of view, the splendid Oriental society stretching from the time of Tartessos to that of the Nasrids and bridging nearly three millennia, ended in 1492 when the Catholic Kings, Fernando and Isabel, took Granada and began, under the guidance of Cardinal Cisneros, to force the population to become Christian. But the point is not the persecution, which must be understood, and is understood today largely due to the heroic scholarship of Américo Castro. Rather it is the concurrent lack of esteem which all things, Eastern, Semitic, Arabic, Moorish, or anything remotely similar, suffered and which ultimately contributed substantially to the wrecking of the Spanish Empire and the downfall of the first nationalistic power in Europe. Widespread Jewish persecutions and the rise of the Turks—a new Eastern menace—helped extend the prejudice all across Europe. The peculiar animosity between the British and the Spanish aggravated the situation, and accusations about Spanish cruelty, which grew into a kind of Hispanophobia known as the “Black Legend,” made the Spaniards even more determined to demonstrate their purity—that is, non-Eastern taint—of blood.

There are many intriguing ironies which render the intolerable side of this ghastly story much more tolerable, not the least amusing of which is the probability, explored brilliantly by Gerald Brenan in his study St. John of the Cross, that both St. John and St. Teresa, the great Spanish mystics, were of Jewish origin. Yet surely the greatest irony is the one that Américo Castro proposed in all of his work, which radically re-oriented Spanish historical and cultural studies. Spain, as a nation, cannot be understood properly, Castro believed, either in Medieval times or today without taking fully into account precisely those elements which the Spanish nation began systematically purging in 1492. Since 1492, Christian Spain had vainly attempted to explain itself without those non-Christian elements, as though they had existed only for conquering and purging. Castro showed, intuitively at times, and tenaciously, over his long and distinguished career, that Christian Spain, all Spain, owed its character, its definition as a nation and as a people to all three “peoples of the Book”: Christians, Moslems, and Jews. What makes Spain so radically different from the rest of Europe is precisely that extra element of Orientalism that held sway in the southern part for so long. Foreign writers recognized at once what was different, although they often did not understand why: thus Dumas” “Africa begins at the Pyrenees.” Richard Ford, on the other hand, was able to understand, sometimes with amazing lucidity, what nationalism and conservative Catholicism kept many Spaniards blind to for centuries: Franco’s goal, in the long run, was nothing less than a return of the glories of the Catholic Kings.

Castro did not, and I do not, make the point that all Spanish civilization is due to Oriental influence. But I do believe that the decisive Oriental influence in Andalucía, still largely misunderstood or overlooked, especially as that Oriental influence can be interpreted as conservative and syncretistic, needs a great deal more attention. The main point about Moslem culture—and Castro does not make this point—is not that it was the major Oriental influence in Andalucía: the main point for our purposes is that, since it was an Oriental culture superimposed on an old civilization already extensively Orientalized, it did not in the process of that superimposition eradicate the culture which was already established there. Andalucía, alluring, absorptive, already old, passive as Ortega says, absorbed and enriched the new culture even when that culture—as in the case of the African invasions by the Almoravids and Almohads in the llth and 12th centuries—became at times violent, puritanical, and ruthless.

One reason for the brilliance of al-Andalus was surely the implantation of a dynamic society on an old and sophisticated culture. Al-Andalus did not destroy that existing culture; it revitalized it in a synergistic process which was responsible for a civilization that was unique in its time. When the seeds of Islam fell on the sands of the desert, they grew because they were hardy, young, and dynamic; but when they fell on the already fertile ground of Andalucía, they created the anomaly of an autochthonous flowering in the West of an Eastern culture.

The final layer of Oriental influence has caused much controversy and more misunderstanding, yet in some ways it proves the perseverance of the previous layers. Sometime in the late 1400’s caravans of Gypsies, dark-eyed and darkskinned nomads of uncertain but most likely Hindu provenance, speaking a primitive and still pure form of Sanskrit, wandered into Spain. Eventually thousands of them ended their mysterious and still unexplained Volkerwanderung— from India and the dawn to Andalucía—by forgetting their own tongue and settling down, anathema to their nomadic race, in the caves of Granada and Guadix and the Gypsy quarters of Sevilla, Jerez, and Cádiz. The Gypsies spread over Europe and eventually over the globe, yet the Andalusian Gypsies became more sedentary than the rest and subsequently famous as flamenco artists.

Obviously consideration of the Gypsies brings us back—full circle—to the pandereta: what is difficult to ascertain is to what extent the Gypsy has become “Andalusianized” and to what extent the Andalusian has become “Gypsified.” Ricardo Molina, the late poet and erudite student of Andalucía, Gypsies, and flamenco, believed the peculiar style the Andalusians developed, particularly in the 19th century, took on a Gypsy cast. The Gypsies, he wrote, identified so thoroughly with Andalucía and with the Andalusian way of life that they became more Andalusian than the Andalusians. In other words, they stylized and externalized, particularly in flamenco, the ancient and atavic sense of life latent, or dormant, in Andalusian culture from its beginning. This idea fits Ortega’s theory perfectly. Yet he failed to see that, just as he had believed that popular theater in the 18th and 19th centuries, along with bullfighting, had created the superbly popular majo sense of style in the people of Madrid, so flamenco and bullfighting in Andalucía created the Andalusian sense of style.

This quintessentialized style lies at the core of the Hispanic sense of popular art: its misinterpretation or misunderstanding, which is so frequently the case, produces endless variations of the pandereta. But its rare proper interpretation produces in toreo and in flamenco the possibility for a kind of catharsis, probably the only catharsis left in modern Western culture.

Substantial socio-historical reasons for this aesthetic phenomenon exist, the major reason being precisely the stagnant nature of Andalusian culture from the 1500’s on. We have seen already the extent to which Andalusian culture from its beginnings up to 1492 was influenced from the East. After 1492, it was Christianized and Westernized, at least in theory. In fact, little happened, especially in rural regions, and in the mountainous zones called the Serranía de Cádiz and the Serrania de Ronda and in the high mountains of the Alpujarra on the south flank of the Sierra Nevada, the highest mountains in Spain, clandestine groups formed and hid out, living their lives in a kind of hybrid underground culture. Some of them were Gypsies who refused to settle down from their nomadic ways and tried to escape the constant persecutions against them; some were moriscos who went underground after 1609 when they had all been ordered deported; some were New Christians, Jews who had converted but were suspected of being secret Judaizers; others were mere adventurers or bandits, even—according to some of the promulgations against them—monks and nuns who had abandoned their religious callings to take up the unorthodox life of these renegades. Out of this underground culture of Gypsies, bandits, smugglers, and adventurers and out of the Gypsy quarters of Sevilla, Jerez, and Cádiz, grew the popular music—the ageless folk music of the Andalusians ranging back to the time of Gadir and Tartessos, especially as interpreted and modified by the Gypsies—known as flamenco.


From the Middle Ages to the 20th century, there was probably less material progress per capita in Andalucía than anywhere in Europe. When Fernando III, and other Castilian kings, had taken large areas from the Moslems, they had tended to give away province-sized estates to their ablest knights. Much of Andalucía, as a result, was colonized rather than settled by Castilla, and the resulting latifundia, passed along by a system of primogeniture, remained a constant factor in the life of the Andalusian peasants, keeping them in continual, and sometimes devastating, poverty. The lower classes in Andalucía, the great majority of Andalusians, remained more or less alienated from their Castilian conquerors and the subsequent laws which the Church-State (as unified in the Castilian mind as they are separate in the Anglo-Saxon) placed upon them: neither the landowners, the Church, or the government elicited any sympathy, and quite frequently they elicited hatred and opposition. Thus the whole substructure of Andalucía was suggestible to, amenable to, and often openly—or covertly when necessary—sympathetic to the culture of the bandits, smugglers, Gypsies, and adventurers who, particularly in the 18th and 19th centuries, became famous as the Romantics flocked to Spain to observe them and spread their often misunderstood and usually superficial image abroad in the rest of Europe. The one thing many Andalusians had in common aside from their ancient cultural heritage was poverty, the lack of material well-being, often accompanied by persecution. But what they lacked in material goods they seem to have made up for in a peculiarly tenacious sense of personal worth and individualism which made them especially “noble” or “dignified.” Ford does not hesitate in describing the Spanish peasantry as a “gay, good-humored, temperate peasantry, the finest in the world, free, manly, and independent,” while at the same time maintaining that Andalucía is the seat of all matters in popular culture: “Andalucía is the headquarters of all this, and the cradle of the most eminent professors, who in the other provinces become stars, patterns, models, the observed of all observers, and the envy and admiration of their applauding countrymen.”

The kind of class war and purgation that occurred in France never took place in Spain. The French Revolution frightened the Spanish monarchy and aristocracy badly, and instead of reform the Spaniards got political persecution and occupation by the armies of the Holy Alliance to wipe out opposition. Nor did Spain undergo the Industrial Revolution. The collapse of the Empire bankrupted the country, and virtually no middle class emerged, especially outside the largest cities. Even agrarian reform usually backfired, especially in Andalucía where it was needed most, serving to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. No progress came to Andalucía, and the land of Santa Maria remained much as it had always been, a pristine paradise owned and ruled by an often absent handful of landed aristocrats.

As a result of all these factors, centuries of Eastern influence culturally and ethnologically, persecutions and poverty, and the lack of any material progress, Andalucía became a kind of continuum for a way of life that had ceased to exist in the modern world. Little wonder then that the Romantics were so attracted to it, so compelled to write about it, correctly or incorrectly, so fascinated by its charm, its paradoxes and its delights. And little wonder that the Andalusians themselves created their own popular culture. As Europe moved from the Enlightenment into the modern age, Spain remained constant, and Andalucía seemed—perhaps only by contrast, but perhaps by some collective cultural instinct—almost to move backward. As Europe, and the United States, developed material societies and notions of progress, inventing machinery, revolutionizing agriculture, building opera houses, writing grand novels for the new and prospering bourgeoisie, Spain stood still, and the Andalusian people created or recreated out of the atavistic recesses of their cultural consciousness a new ritual slaying of the bull-god and the cathartic liturgy of cante jondo, creations which in time would affect the whole country and fix a particular image of Spain in the mind of the rest of the world.

Historically Andalucía’s higher culture has produced an understandably higher proportion of great artists in the past than the other regions of Spain. But the same holds true in our time: the great poet Antonio Machado came from Sevilla; Juan Ramón Jiménez, who was awarded a Nobel prize in 1956, was from the province of Huelva; Picasso came from Malaga as did Vicente Aleixandre, Spain’s newest Nobel laureate; and Federico García Lorca, who is gradually becoming appreciated as one of the consummate artists of our time, was from Granada.

Lorca’s sense of art was priestly, sensual, and mythic, and his work, including several superb essays on flamenco and the Andalusian sense of art, is the finest embodiment of the entire Andalusian phenomenon we have. His exaggerated and exquisitely attuned sense of life and death enabled him to stylize brilliantly the Andalusian sense of high art, of poetry, of music, and of theater; and it was precisely the popular arts of Andalucía, with which he was also perfectly attuned, that became his most characteristic subjects. Risking criticism, and risking the pandereta, he turned Andalucía into a mythical and magic world that reverberated with all the ancient and atavic echoes his poetic genius could encompass: toreo became an “authentic religious drama”; cante jondo was folksong submerged in an ancient people’s “river of voice” which he likened to a “blind nightingale” plainting in the infinite “blue night of the Andalusian countryside”; the Gypsies, elevated to their highest artistic abstraction by his mythical touch, became the most profound and aristocratic element of Andalucía, the most representative of the Andalusian way of being, the guardians of “the embers, the blood and the alphabet of universal and Andalusian truth.”

Pedro Salinas, a poet and critic of Lorca’s and Aleixandre’s group, has written an excellent description of that peculiar reality on which Lorca drew so heavily for his creations. Although Salinas intentionally and correctly refers to Spain in his essay, called “Lorca and the Poetry of Death,” it is clear enough that he did not consider the capital of this special culture to be Madrid. In comparing the matter of death in the poetry of Rilke and of Lorca, he writes:

But Lorca, who expresses the same feeling for death with an undoubted originality and personal accent, has not had to search for it through processes of intellectual speculation along the innermost galleries of the soul. He discovers it all around him, in the native air that gives his breath, in the singing of the servants in his house, in books written in his tongue, in the churches of his city; he finds it in all his individual personality that has to do with people, with the inheritance of the past. Lorca was born in a country that for centuries has been living out a special kind of culture that I call the “culture of death.”

Salinas has in mind no cult of death, nor denial of life. Quite the contrary, it is precisely the positive and constant awareness of death that creates the awareness of life and gives it its fullest meaning. In discussing this culture of death he cites as the best examples of its popular spirit Holy Week and the Fair as celebrated in Sevilla:

The first is a religious festival of extraordinary pomp and beauty. The images . . .that are kept in the churches go forth into the city in processions, carried on litters, and at a slow pace they pass through the streets, where they are admired by a large crowd. And one of those images, one of those splendid seventeenth-century wood carvings, is of Christ on the cross. It is impressive to see, over the heads of the people, the naked body of the dying Christ, proceeding step by step in the night. Anyone who might regard this spectacle as indelicate morbidity, as pleasure taken in the funereal symbol of a dying body, would be wrong. No, as far as the people are concerned, in the death of that God-man, everlasting life is actually being achieved.

Holy Friday is, in fact, the most important feast of the year— Easter morning, by contrast, is quiet and somber. But that same afternoon the clarities sound the ancient ritual sacrifice of the bull-god. A week later the Feria begins with bullfights every day, yet Easter Sunday’s corrida is always considered the first of the celebration of that special culture of death. Lorca himself had written that “the innumerable rites of Holy Friday along with the most cultured fiesta of the bulls form the popular triumph of Spanish death.”

If we keep in mind that the culture of death is, as Salinas and Lorca remind us, essentially popular, then I believe we can take it as the phrase that best defines the culture of Andaluc´ia, that best calls to mind all the qualities that I have attempted to bring together to arrive at the essence of that culture: the essential paradox that a culture of death is actually a culture of life fits the Andalusian and Spanish character perfectly; that the consciousness of death is very Spanish and Hispanic as well, indicates the extent to which Andalusian culture is central rather than peripheral in Spanish and Hispanic culture; the use of the word, death, the utterance or discussion of which seems nearly anathema in our own culture, reminds us to what an extent this historical culture of Andalucía has been un-Western, non-modern, anti-rational, non-violent, and anti-materialistic, and instead Eastern, consciously stylized, radically conservative, spiritual often in a somewhat Dionysian manner, atavistic, aesthetic, and visionary; and, finally, the mortality implied by the phrase confronts us with the fact that our own materialistic and dehumanizing culture is quickly consuming and digesting everything we have examined. Andalucía survived and assimilated into a strikingly homogeneous culture a whole series of invaders from at least the Phoenicians on down, but she is not surviving the invasion of the lethal, however well-meaning, advances of our culture. In particular, when the generation of rural Andalusians born before the Civil War, to pick a not altogether arbitrary period, dies out, all the unbroken concatenation of civilizations stretching back to the Tarshish of Solomon’s time will have snapped. Perhaps some explanation of that culture of death— that culture of life—can delay the damage to which it is being subjected; it is also the least and most humble homage we can pay her living museum.


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