LOCATION: Southern Spain
POPULATION: About 6.6 million
LANGUAGE: Castilian Spanish (Andalusian dialect)
RELIGION: Roman Catholicism
Andalusia is located in southern Spain. It has a distinctive culture influenced by its hot Mediterranean climate, its historical tolerance of diverse ethnic groups (including Jews and Gypsies), and, most important, its long period of rule by the Moors. (Moors are Muslims who invaded from North Africa and seized control of the region in the eighth century AD . )
The word "Andalusia" is derived from the Moorish name for Spain— Al-Andalus . The Moors ruled all of Spain for three centuries, and Andalusia until nearly 1500. This period was a time of both cultural and economic wealth for the region. Andalusia reaped the benefits of Islamic advances in philosophy, medicine, the arts, and other fields, as well as the religious tolerance practiced under Moorish rule. In addition, the Moors brought to the region sophisticated irrigation and cultivation techniques that made the land bloom.
When Christian forces based in Castile finally drove the Moors out of Granada (a province in Andalusia) in 1492, their religion (as well as that of the Jews) was suppressed. Consequently, the rich cultural life that had flourished in Andalusia was largely destroyed. Much of the region's wealth was confiscated, and a long period of economic decline began. The conquering Castilians—warriors rather than farmers—let the extensive irrigation systems of the Moors deteriorate, turning the fertile farms into pastureland. Large portions of land were placed under the control of absentee landlords, and the latifundio , or large landed estates, became a way of life. This situation has continued to the present day, leaving Andalusia one of Spain's poorest regions. In addition, Andalusia never built a strong industrial base and continued to rely on outmoded farming methods well into the twentieth century. However, since the end of the repressive Franco regime (1975) and Spain's entry into the European Community (EC) in 1986, Andalusia has seen some economic progress. The Spanish government designated it as an autonomous region in 1985.
Andalusia is located in the southernmost part of the Iberian peninsula, between the Sierra Morena Mountains and the Mediterranean Sea. It is bound by Portugal to the west; the Spanish provinces of Extremadura, Castile-La-Mancha, and Murcia to the north; the Mediterranean to the southeast; and the Gulf of Cádiz to the southwest. Andalusia is the largest region in Spain, and also the least densely populated. It is a land of contrasts, containing Spain's highest mountains (the Sierra Nevada chain), its hottest lowlands (the Andalusian Plains), the white beaches of the Costa del Sol, and the Las Marismas marshes—home of the Coto Dona, a national park.
According to the 1978 constitution, Castilian Spanish, the language of the central and southern parts of the country, is the national language of Spain. It is spoken by a majority of Spaniards and used in the schools and courts.
Andalusia also has its own regional dialect—Andalusian—that contains words derived from Arabic, reflecting the region's period of Moorish rule.
The development of bullfighting in Andalusia was preceded by bull rituals and cults. Bulls are found in stone carvings as well as in the prehistoric cave paintings of the region. The Catholicism of Andalusia has a strong element of belief in the miraculous. Some scholars believe it is possible to trace the region's devotion to the Virgin Mary to the mother goddesses of pre-Christian religions.
Like people in the other regions of Spain, Andalusians are overwhelmingly Catholic. They are particularly known for the colorful Holy Week (Semana Santa) celebrations held in their cities and towns. The Catholicism of Andalusians is distinguished by an especially strong belief in the power of intercession by saints and the Virgin Mary.
Andalusians celebrate the major holidays of the Christian calendar, as well as Spain's other national holidays. These include New Year's Day (January 1), St. Joseph's Day (March 19), the Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29), St. James's Day (July 25), and a National Day on October 12. Additional festivals and celebrations of many kinds take place in the region throughout the year. The most famous is Seville's Semana Santa, or Holy Week, celebration, which begins on Palm Sunday and ends on Easter Saturday. On each day, up to eleven processions of floats pass through town, organized by members of religious brotherhoods called cofradías . The nighttime processions by candlelight are especially beautiful.
Seville is also noted for its feria, a type of fair. Seville's feria takes place shortly after Easter and lasts an entire week. During this time the town is on holiday and almost all normal business shuts down. The Monday following the festival, which is also a public holiday, is popularly called Hangover Monday (Lunes de la Resaca).
Baptism, first communion, marriage, and military service are considered rites of passage for Andalusians, as they are for most Roman Catholic Spaniards. The first three of these events are the occasion, in most cases, for big and expensive social gatherings in which the family shows its generosity and economic status. Quintos are the young men from the same town or village going into military service in the same year. They form a closely knit group that collects money from neighbors to organize parties and serenade girls. In the mid-1990s, the government planned to replace required military service with a voluntary army.
In the cities, office hours begin at 9:00 AM and traditionally include an extended afternoon lunch break beginning at 2:00 PM . Workers then return to their offices from 4:00 to 7:00 PM . The day typically ends with a walk with friends or family or visits to neighborhood bars for drinks, tapas ( appetizers), and conversation. Dinner is often eaten as late as 10:30 PM .
In greetings, it is customary to shake hands, and in social settings women usually kiss their friends on both cheeks. Young groups formed by co-workers, fellow students, or people from the same town go together to discos, organize parties and excursions, and date among themselves. It is not unusual to have lifelong friends known since kindergarten.
Reflecting the Andalusians' Moorish heritage, houses in the region have traditionally been designed with the goal of protecting residents from the heat of the sun. Often built of stucco with thick walls and few windows, Andalusia's older houses may also be built of stone. Windows overlook patios filled with potted plants. The house is often built around a shady central court-yard—sometimes including a fountain—in which the family can relax and cool off. Houses in Seville often have intricately carved wrought-iron gates over their doors and windows.
Most Andalusian households consist of nuclear families (parents and children only). Sometimes one or more grandparents are included. Women have almost exclusive responsibility for child-rearing. Male participation in domestic life is sharply limited, and fathers generally maintain a more distant and formal role. As elsewhere in Spain, there is a strict standard of modesty and chastity for women before marriage. In the 1980s, high unemployment in Spain forced many young adults to continue living with their parents. This led to a rebirth of the traditional formalized courtship, or noviazgo.
Married women in Andalusia maintain close ties to their mothers. Common-law marriages among laborers are not unusual. Only church marriages were formally recognized in Spain until 1968, when civil ceremonies were first allowed by law. Divorce has been legal since the 1980s. The tradition of machismo —the public assertion of masculinity—continues to define much of men's behavior. Andalusian women have a high degree of economic independence, and compete favorably with men for the region's scarce jobs.
For everyday activities, both casual and formal, Andalusians wear modern Western-style clothing. However, traditional costumes can be seen at the region's many festivals and in flamenco dance performances. Women's attire consists of solid-colored or polka-dot dresses with tightly fitted bodices and flounced skirts and sleeves. These are worn with mantillas (lacy scarves worn over the hair and shoulders), long earrings, and hair ornaments such as combs or flowers. Male flamenco dancers wear white shirts with black suits and broad-brimmed black hats.
During the Holy Week (Semana Santa) festivals, members of religious fraternities called cofradías wear all-white costumes consisting of long robes, masks, and high-pointed hats. These are similar to those worn during the Spanish Inquisition of the fifteenth century and later adopted by the Ku Klux Klan in the United States.
Andalusians have a preference for extremely late meals. Lunch may be eaten as late as 5:00 in the afternoon, and dinner as late as midnight. Sometimes meals are skipped altogether in favor of tapas. These are snacks or appetizers eaten—with regional variations—throughout Spain. Tapas are, in fact, said to have originated in Andalusia. Popular tapas in all of Spain include shrimp-fried squid, cured ham, chorizo (spicy Spanish sausage), and potato omelettes (called tortillas ).
The most famous Andalusian dish is gazpacho , a cold soup made with tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, and olive oil. The other dish for which Andalusia is known is fish fried in batter, available at special shops called freidurías. A salad of lettuce and tomatoes is served with most dishes, but these are usually the only vegetables that accompany a meal. Andalusia's most popular drink is lager beer, served ice-cold.
Andalusian children, like other Spanish children, receive free, required schooling between the ages of six and fourteen. Following this, many students begin the three-year bachillerato (baccalaureate) course of study. They may then opt for either one year of college preparatory study or vocational training. The University of Seville is highly regarded throughout Spain.
The most important element of Andalusian culture is flamenco dancing. Flamenco dances, accompanied by a singer and guitarist, feature expressive hand and chest movements, clapping (tapoteo), and foot tapping (zapoteo). The greatest performances are said to be distinguished by a type of inspiration called duende. All performers strive for this quality. The authentic flamenco song, sung a cappella (without musical accompaniment), is the cante jondo, an anguished lament expressing love, sadness, and loss. The cante jondo has almost exclusively Arabic roots. When these songs are of a religious nature, they are called saetas. Another type of Andalusian folk song, and one which is very popular today, is the sevillana .
Andalusia is primarily an agricultural region. Important crops include various grains, sunflowers, and olives. Most of the region's farm laborers work on large estates ( latifundios ). Here they perform largely unskilled, repetitive tasks such as sowing and harvesting. Unemployment has always been high. In the mid-1980s, some 40 percent of the work force under the age of twenty-five was unemployed. Many people move to the cities to work in factories or they move to the coast to obtain jobs in the tourist industry. Such emigration is more common among men than among women.
The Andalusians share the rest of Spain's passion for soccer (called fútbol ). The Spanish national sport of bullfighting originated in Andalusia, where Spain's oldest bullrings are located (in Seville and Ronda). At the beginning of the bullfight, or corrida, the torero (bullfighter) sizes up the bull while performing certain ritualized motions with his cape. Next the picadores, mounted on horseback, gore the bull with lances to weaken him, and the banderilleros stick colored banners into his neck. Finally, the torero confronts the bull alone in the ring. Exceptionally good performances are rewarded by giving the torero one or both of the bull's ears. Andalusia's other sports include tennis, swimming, hunting, and horseback riding.
In a region with extremely hot weather much of the year, Andalusian life moves at a leisurely and casual pace. Much social life centers around the neighborhood bars where one can relax with a cold drink and a plate of tapas. People also enjoy staying home and watching television, which is found even in the smallest village.
In addition to their leather crafts, Andalusians are known for their ceramics, which are distinguished by the geometric designs that originated with the Moors. (Islamic culture prohibits the representation of living things in art.) The art of Andalusian builders and stone carvers has survived in such famous buildings as the Alhambra Palace in Granada, the Giralda Tower in Seville, and the mosque in the city of Córdoba.
Andalusia is a poor region with high rates of unemployment and emigration. Much of the land is concentrated in large holdings (latifundios) by wealthy (and often absentee) landowners. The wages of Andalusia's landless laborers, or braceros, are the lowest in Spain. They are subject to long, seasonal periods of unemployment, often adding up to half the year.
Cross, Esther, and Wilbur Cross. Spain. Chicago:Children's Press, 1994.
Jacobs, Michael. A Guide to Andalusia. London, England: Viking, 1990.
Schubert, Adrian. The Land and People of Spain. New York: HarperCollins, 1992.