While the entire Iberian Peninsula is peppered with some of the most intriguing cultural and historical sites found anywhere, the true UNESCO gems lie in Spain’s sunny, southernmost region. The lavish history of Andalusia reflects the history of its three most influential cultures and defining religions: Judaism, Islam and Christianity. This vast region has some of the oldest cities in Europe, established in excess of 3,000 years ago. Fortunately, Andalusia’s three cultures and many of the essential World Heritage sites can best be explored in and around just three of its capital cities: Granada, Cordoba and Seville.
The Islamic Moors ruled the region of Al-Andaluz from around the 8th century BC, while most of the European continent languished in the dark ages. Their rule endured the medieval period and the capitals in Cordoba and Granada represented the height of civilization, as the Three Cultures lived in relative harmony. Though many cultural sites were lost during the disunity of the long wars of the Christian conquest, the enduring legacies of all three cultures remain and can be explored with even a brief tour of Andalusia.
In Seville, the 15th century cathedral is one of the most impressive in all of Spain and the largest Gothic church in the world, third largest by any measure, built to demonstrate the city’s wealth and grandeur. The cathedral claims the final resting place of both Ferdinand III and Christopher Columbus. The adjacent royal palace, the Alcazar, has an even more illustrious history having been developed earlier by the Moorish caliphs and renowned as one of the most beautiful palaces in Spain. It is today the oldest royal palace in Europe still in official use by a ruling monarchy. A third UNESCO listed site within this central complex is the Archivo de Indias, housing the greatest collection of documents relating to the discovery of the New World and subsequent relations, a testament to the city’s virtual monopoly on trade there for some 200 years.