National Geographic : 1988 Jul
office I talked about the isolation with Jon Searle, then editor of the Gibraltar Chronicle. "We are 29,000 people perched together on two and a half square miles of cliffs and beaches," Searle said. "The blockage deepened our siege mentality. We developed more ties with Tangier across the strait." And of Spain's oft voiced claims to the Rock? "The British Empire is history now. In the age of the missile, Gibraltar's strategic value has dropped," Searle said. "Britain just might be happy to let Spain have it. But how can it, really? We Gibral tarians are bilingual, our culture tied to both Spain and England. But we prefer to remain under the Union Jack. In a recent referendum only 44 voters cast their lot with Spain." STILLMARVELING at the vagaries of history, I followed the con quering footsteps of Tariq ibn Ziyad northward. After the victory at the Rio Barbate he had moved swiftly. One by one the Spanish cities fell to him, often betrayed by their own citi zens long chafing under the Visigoths. Early in 712, after a perfunc tory siege, his Muslims galloped through the gates of the Visigoth capital, Toledo. The Christian armies, those left, were pinned in the northernmost mountains of Spain. Hemmed by walls, moated by a loop of the Rio Tajo, Toledo remained for nearly 400 years a stronghold of the Moors, who spun its tangled web of steep streets and narrow plazas. Its role as a bor der fortress is today recalled by the huge military school that sits atop an adjoining bluff. In 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile and Le6n wrested the city from the Moors; the Reconquista, or Reconquest of Spain by the Christians, had begun in earnest. But for several centuries after Toledo's recap ture, the city remained bilingual, tolerant. Alfonso X patronized an important 13th-century translation school where Christian, Muslim, and Jewish scholars collaborated to render Arabic manuscripts into Latin - masterpieces like the commentaries on Aristotle by Ibn Rushd (Averroes); works on algebra and mathematics by al-Khwarizmi (from whose name comes our term "logarithm"); and the Canon of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), which remained Europe's standard medical textbook for 500 years. Christians raised a cathedral befitting a capital of Castile and doz ens of churches and convents. Toledo remains the country's religious capital; its archbishop still reigns as primate of Spain. Today syna gogues and mosques have been restored and splendid palaces opened to the public-museums to display Toledo's abundant heritage. The whole city has been officially declared a national monument. Artists and artisans, plying old Moorish crafts, still prosper. On Calle Santo Tome a shopwindow sparkling with gold drew me inside to the friendly workbench of master craftsman Modesto Aguado Martin. With a jeweler's hammer and steel point he deftly laid 24 carat thread into delicate patterns scored on a black iron platter. "We turn out Madonnas, Bible scenes, and Star of David motifs, all popular with tourists who day-trip down from Madrid," Sefor Aguado said, tapping away. "But, as you see, we specialize in ara besque designs. "The art of damascene, as its name implies, came here from Da mascus," he continued, the tiny hammer never missing a beat. "This When the Moors Ruled Spain STYLIZED3-INCH-HIGH BRONZESTAG. MUSEO ARQUEOLOGICO,CORDOBA, SPAIN. BOTHBYVICTOR R. BOSWELL,JR.