The title of this programme sounded very “1492 and all that”, but that’s next week: this first episode, focusing on the southern part of what we now know about Spain, was about the earlier stuff. It was very interesting – despite the distraction caused by Simon Sebag Montefiore’s silly hat – but I found some of a little bit negative. Oh well.
It started off with the Carthaginians. Now, we all know all about the Carthaginians in Spain, don’t we? Hamilcar Barca, father of Hannibal (he of elephants fame), founded the city of Barcelona, and that’s why FC Barcelona are known as Barca. Er, actually, no. It’s a nice story, but it isn’t true. The Carthaginians in Spain hung around in Cartagena (“New Carthage”) and Cadiz, and Barcelona gets its name from an Iberian settlement called Barkeno. Simon Sebag Montefiore stuck to the facts and didn’t even mention the Barca story, which was probably a sensible approach but was rather boring of him!
Anyway, he spoke about the Carthaginians in Cadiz, spent a worrying amount of time going on about castration, and then moved on to the Romans, showing us some very nice shots of the remains of Italica, just outside Seville, which I was fortunate enough to visit a couple of years ago, and making the important point that several of Rome’s most successful emperors came from Hispania. Then on through the Vandals, the Byzantines and the Visigoths, reminding us just how complex the history of southern Spain is, and then on to the coming of the Umayyads.
Talk of caliphates centred on Syria has unfortunate connotations at the moment, but obviously none of what’s going on at the moment has or had anything to do with Spain. And the general view of the Caliphate of Cordoba is quite a positive one, but I found Simon’s presentation of it to be rather negative. All right, he showed us the wonderful Mezquita, one of my favourite buildings anywhere in the world, and he spoke about what a beautiful city Cordoba is, and went on at rather considerable length about the development of toilet hygiene, but I was expecting him to talk about the “Golden Age” of Cordoba, how Muslims, Jews and Christians all lived together in relative peace and how culture flourished there as a result … but he didn’t, really. Instead, he emphasised how some of the rulers were tyrannical, how many concubines they had, the slave trade and the resentment of some Christians about Islamic rule. None of it was untrue, but I was disappointed that he chose to focus on the negative aspects of the period and give so little attention to the more positive aspects.
He then moved on to Granada, where, to be fair, he spoke a lot more about the flourishing of Jewish culture under Islamic rule, and how there were two Jewish Grand Viziers there … before ending with the 1066 Granada Massacre.
Next week, I assume he’ll be focusing on the north and the Reconquista, and then all the many aspects of “1492 and all that”, and then the establishment of the Spanish Empire in the Americas, the war in the Netherlands and the sending of the Armada against England. That is where I would have expected negativity. The Black Legend casts a long shadow, and there is a fair amount of truth in it, but I did think he might have been more positive about the Caliphate of Cordoba. Oh well, we all have our own views on things. The programme was interesting, as I’ve said … it just didn’t show things quite as I’d expected, but maybe that’s just me.