Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Of mosques and chimneys in the Algarve

We spent last week in Albufeira on the Algarve.  Not the place to go, according to the Rough Guide, if you're looking for unspoilt Portugal, but it has an archaeological museum of which more below. The image on the left is an ornament in the garden of our apartment block. It's a typical Algarve chimney, and if you look closely at the image on the right, the view from our balcony, you'll see several more, all inspired by Moorish design. Probably not in use, as none of them are sooted. 

But used or not, a remark by our tour guide Carlos led me enquire into the history of Jews and Muslims under Christian rule in Portugal. Pointing out these distinctive Algarve chimneys, Carlos told us they are descended from minarets which Muslims erected on their houses after the Christian reconquest when all the mosques were abolished. And their Christian neighbours were so impressed with these domestic minarets that they copied them, and over the course of time the minarets became chimneys. This tale had a dubious ring to it, and I checked it out with the archaeologist at the local museum, a helpful lad called Luís, who flatly contradicted it. It's a story favoured by anthropologists he told me, for which there is no archaeological evidence.  These Moorish chimneys first appear in the 18th century.

Nonetheless, all this set me wondering about the lives of Muslims immediately following the reconquest. Reconquest by the way is a highly loaded term but it's the cornerstone of Iberian historiography and usually capitalised as “Reconquista”.

My reason for disbelieving the story about minarets and chimneys was the implausibility of Muslims wishing to advertise their presence when their religion was banned and inquisitors were prowling around. But since coming home I've done a bit of digging and discovered that my reasoning was quite mistaken.

Iberia in 1147 (Wikipedia). No-one in 1147 would have predicted that by the 16th century Muslim rule would be finished and all the Christian kingdoms except for Portugal would be merged and called Espania. In this map The Algarve is still part of Almohad territory. It was conquered by the king of Portugal in 1250.
Because for at least 250 years there were no inquisitors. Religious pluralism was the rule. After the reconquest, Jewish and Muslim minorities of various sizes cohabited more or less peacefully alongside a dominant Christian population. Jews and Muslims were permitted to practise their faiths and live in autonomous communities under royal protection, provided that they paid discriminatory taxes and did not challenge the Catholic religion. All this I got from Google Books: The persecution of the Jews and Muslims of Portugal: King Manuel I and the end of religious tolerance (1496-7) by François Soyer, 2007.

This history of religious toleration under Christian rule was quite new to me and it set me wondering, during this time, where did the Muslims pray? Because the way I've heard it, as soon as the Christians conquered a city they converted all the mosques to churches.  

I've had a long email from François dealing with that question, but as I've probably gone on long enough, I'm going to put all that in a separate file so you can follow it up if you're interested. Other questions I've looked at are: how did they view mosque to church conversions, what distinctions were made during the period of religious pluralism between Jews and Muslims, and how did the regime compare to Christians and Jews under the previous Muslim rulers?

A final note about those chimneys. I've heard that identical chimneys, though perhaps less elaborate, exist in North Africa and Spain. And by the way if despite the Rough Guide you decide on Albufeira I can highly recommend the apartment - we'll probably go back next year. Look up Apartamentos Rainha D. Leonor.