Over the centuries Andalucia has been a cultural melting pot. Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs and others have traded, invaded and settled in this massive region of southern Spain, each one bringing elements of their native lifestyle to Spain’s shores. Their time may have come and gone, but nowhere is their legacy more evident than in Andalucian architecture.
Since the arrival of the Moors, Andalucian architecture has experienced some key moments, and they in particular introduced architectural features that are present in the Andalucian homes of today. The horseshoe shaped arches that are the central feature of the Great Mosque in Córdoba have found their way into the secular world in the form of interior arches and entrances to family residences.
Stone patios and courtyards
Although these are more evident in cities, such as Granada, Córdoba and Sevilla, the stone patio is an elegant solution to living in a hot country. Typically, they are central open spaces within the house, typically decorated with plants and floors and water features, such as fountains, where possible. The entire aim of the patio is to create an oasis of coolness. In Córdoba, the patios are so exceptional that there is an annual Festival de los Patios, when visitors can view them and in 2019 this lively event will be held on 6-19 May.
This historical feature can be given a modern look, as current Andalucian architects, such as Alejandro Giménez has demonstrated in some of his designs for Marbella residences, which have featured in Architectural Digest.
In one project where he redesigned a property built in the 1960s, he drew on Spanish traditions by creating a series of courtyards that gives the house a maze-like air of mystery and there are fountains, ponds and aromatic plants to complete the recreation of tradition, but in a completely contemporary manner, proving that architectural legacies can be redesigned for the modern style.
Ceramic tiles, or azulejos, are one of the most prevalent legacies of the Moors and you will find tiled elements in almost every home. The multi-coloured tiles with geometric, or floral, patterns are amongst the greatest examples of Islamic art. Many of the tiles that we see today are based on the Mudejar designs that emerged after the reconquest of Moorish Spain by Ferdinand and Isabella. The Mudejars were a minority group of Muslims who were permitted to stay in Spain and many of them were highly skilled craftsmen. Córdoba, Sevilla and Granada are the best places to see the Moorish and Mudejar tiles in situ on the historic buildings there, and it is also possible to see today’s tile makers in action in Sevilla’s Triana district, where they have workshops to this day. Furthermore, don’t miss the Alácazar Palace, which is renowned for its decorative tiling and is one of the oldest European Royal Palaces still in use.
As with other features, there are many contemporary tiles available now that have a heritage in the Mudejar and Moorish past, but have been given a modern twist. Fired Earth is one company specialising in high quality modern tiles that bring a contemporary feel while respecting history, and its Andalucia range is hand decorated in North Africa. In Marbella, G Vega specialises in bespoke ceramic art and decorative wall tiles. Founded in 1998 by three international designers (Spanish, Swiss and Scottish) it provides a bespoke service for architects, interior designers and private clients who want exclusive ceramic tiles made from the highest quality earthenware.
Fountains, ponds and reflecting pools are the other legacy of the Arabs, who sought to recreate Paradise on earth in their homes. Whether you favour a traditional look, or prefer to use traditional elements in a contemporary way, the patio, tiles and water features are the three key ingredients of the classical Andalucian residence: add some orange and lemon trees and you will have a combination of features that have been an integral part of a winning lifestyle in Andalucia for more than a thousand years.