Islamic Monuments and National Patrimony in Modern Spain

Islamic Monuments and National Patrimony in Modern Spain

Lecture by D. Fairchild Ruggles (University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign)

Given at Historians of Islamic Art Association Third Biennial Symposium: Looking Widely, Looking Closely, on October 19, 2012

Abstract: The present remembers the past in order to understand itself. But the selfknowledge that springs from history can require delicate negotiations when the archaeology and history of monuments from the past do not accord with present identities. As a result, architectural stewardship can be fraught with nationalist tension. In Spain, the Islamic past usefully differentiates Iberia from the rest of Europe, and its monuments — particularly the Great Mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra — are a source of pride. However, the Islamic past is treated as “distant.” The modern nation, which coalesced in the moment that the last Muslim stronghold of Granada was conquered and the expulsions begun, regards Islam as a fascinating chapter in a book that otherwise begins and ends with Christianity. In contrast, in modern Turkey it is the Christian past that is problematic for the present nation that either insists on secularism or publically claims Islam. Byzantine history is treated gingerly as a “distant” past that must be dealt with without being embraced. In both environments, Spain and Turkey, the current national identity has to find a careful balance between the celebration and repression of difference as emblematized in major national monuments.

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