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Macalester College

Publication Date

Fall 2004

Program Name

Spain: Cultural Landscapes and the Arts


I jump in the lake, moving through crisp liquid, opening my eyes to the clarity of sunrays dancing on the sandy bottom that expands itself to an indefinite line between shore and water; my hair flows softly behind me as I glide away from the surface of reality, releasing all tension within and absorbing the surrounding purity. I float towards the surface, leaving the silent world beneath, taking a breath: I am renewed. It is this sensation, swimming on the shores of Lake Superior, that inpsired my utter infatuation with water. Having grown up on an island, I have lived near water my entire life: it has played a strong role in my ability to release all negativety, to calm myself, to renew myself. The power it contains fascinates me: its capability to cleanse, to create a surface on which we islanders create a road to the mainland, to enchant us with its relfections and its colorful refraction of light, to calm us with its sounds, and to wet our parched lips. Such qualities have amazed cultures throughout the world. Upon arrival in al-Andalus, it took no time for me to recognize the important role water plays in the lives of all here, and that its legacy was left by a culture which truly valued the power of water as I do. To create such a strong presence of water in areas away from the coast provoked much curiousity within me. I wondered: can that strong sense of renewal, relaxation, and purity be recreated inland? With that said, the decision to create a body of work pertaining to the importance of water in the ancient Moorish culture, and how such importance was infliltrated into the daily lives and practices of its people, was not a difficult one. I was determined to know the roots of water’s value to Islam, to understand its diffusion throughout al-Andalus, and from there connect this history with the strong presence of water I had witnessed throughout the region. My methodology was fairly simple. I paid close attention to each comment pertaining to water in our guided visits to precious places where water was present, such as Preigo de Córdoba, the Albaicín of Granada, and the Alhrambra, and from these experiences formed a base upon which I could investigate thoroughly all I wanted to know about water and the development of its legacy in al-Andalus. I read of the references to water in the Koran, the book of Islam. I interviewed professors whose specialties were in the history of Islamic art, a representative of the organization in charge of all water systems in Granada today, and the owner of an ancient home in the Albaicín of Granada. I visited Islamic gardens, from Generalife, to the carmenes of the Albaicin. I experienced the Hammam, baños árabes, in an effort to better understand the role in which the large bath houses played in ancient Moorish society. I traced the narrow streets of Albaicín, observing the placement and construction of the aljibes, public wells provided with fresh water from the Sierra Nevada mountains, and imagined the ingenious convenience they provided for a population so concerned with the cleanliness water gives. After all investigations, I set up camp in my room and wrote. Using the notes from my visits and readings, it was a joyous task. With great help from Ana Ruiz Gutiérrez, PhD., my project director, I organized my findings by first explaining the properties water posseses that Islam considers sacred, defining the methods in which water was used throughout the Moorish civilizations in al-Andalus, dwelling on its incorporation as a fundamental in Islamic gardens and architecture in reference to the the carmenes of the Albaicín and the Alhambra, respectively, and concluding with relfections on water’s role in society in Granada today. The entire process was undoubtedly one of the most rewarding academic experiences I have ever had, and a true test to myself that “yes, I can perform field work, and yes, I can write a lengthy paper on my findings, and yes, it is all in Spanish.” Upon completion of the my work, I believe that it is possible to recreate the sensations water gives without being in a coastal location. I am left with a deeper understanding of the culture in al-Andalus, of the history in Spain, of the religion of Islam, of the Spanish language, and, perhaps most importantly, of myself.


Anthropology | Social and Cultural Anthropology


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