Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Memories of a Moorish past

In the year 711 an Arab/Berber army from what is now Morocco invaded the Iberian Peninsula. The territory (now Portugal and Spain) was at the time occupied by the Visigoths, a Germanic people that had previously taken it from the Romans. The Moorish invaders assumed control of most of the Peninsula, but internal feuds ended up allowing for the local populations to rebel and slowly reconquer the land. Christian kingdoms were formed, constantly trying to push the Muslims further South. In 1249 Portuguese king Afonso III took over Algarve and thus established Portugal's Southern maritime border. Only in 1492 the last Moorish stronghold (in Granada, Spain) surrendered to Christian armies.

So for many centuries Muslims and Christians were neighbours and enemies in the Peninsula. In Portuguese folklore, legends abound involving powerful Christian/Moorish kings and enchanting Moorish/Christian young women. In most of them love triumphs over cultural antagonism. A lesson in tolerance in troubled times.

Allow me to reproduce below one one of such tales, for which I found a nice English translation here. I actually remember my mother telling this story when I was a toddler. 

Ruins of a Moorish tower in Algarve
Olympus E-P2 + Panasonic Lumix 14/2.5

Legend of the Blossom Almond Trees

"Many centuries ago, before Portugal existed as a country and when Al-Gharb belonged to the Moorish, there was a young and famous king in Chelb (nowadays known as Silves in the Algarve) who had never been defeated in a battle.

One day, among the prisoners of war, he saw the beautiful Gilda. She was a blonde princess with blue eyes and a proud behaviour. The Moorish king was so impressed by this beautiful princess that he set her free. He gradually won her trust and one day he claimed his love and asked her to marry him. They were happy for some time until the young princess got sick and nobody knew what the problem was.

An old prisoner from the same region as the princess, asked to visit the king. The old man said that the princess missed her faraway country full of snow. The king thought there was a solution for the princess’ sickness: he could plant almond trees all over his kingdom and when they flowered, the white buds would show the illusion of snow. So, the princess wouldn’t miss her country.

In the next spring, the king took Gilda to the balcony of the castle and when the princess looked at the white flowers she recovered from her illness.

The king and the princess lived happily for many years and they always waited anxiously for the next spring to look at the beautiful and flowering almond trees."

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