The heartland of Andalucía is the fertile valley of the mighty Río Guadalquivir, flowing across the region from its source in the Cazorla mountains in the northeast through the magnificent cities of Córdoba and Sevilla, before draining into the marshes and wetlands of the Doñana national park and the Gulf of Cádiz. North of this great artery rise the undulating hills of the Sierra Morena, from where was gouged the mineral wealth - silver, lead and tin - sought by successive waves of invaders from Phoenicians to Romans. The Moors, who arrived in the eighth century, were more interested in harvesting Andalucía's natural wealth and turned the region into an orchard rich in olives, citrus fruits, almonds, saffron, figs and vines - still the major products of the land today. In 1492 the Christian reconquest, after centuries of struggle, finally succeeded in wresting Spain from its Moorish occupiers, the victors symbolically planting their flags on the towers of the Alhambra, the emblematic monument of Andalucía.
The Moorish legacy is the most striking feature of Andalucía today, not only in the dazzling historical monuments such as those of Sevilla, Córdoba and Granada but also in the whitewashed houses of many of its smaller medieval towns such as Ronda or the flat-roofed villages of Las Alpujarras. The Moorish love of water is to be seen in the pleasure gardens of the Alhambra, and the typical Andalucian patio - tiled plant-bedecked courtyards often with a central fountain - is another Arab legacy as are the ubiquitous wrought-iron window grilles which lend character to any village street. The dances and music of flamenco, whilst probably not of Moorish origin, display the soul of Andalucía and can be an electrifying spectacle when dancers in brilliantly coloured dresses drill their heels into the floorboards in a frenzy of emotion or, in cante jondo (deep song), turn the art form into a blues-style lament. The Muslim influence on speech and vocabulary, a stoical fatalism in the face of adversity, and an obsession with the drama of death - publicly displayed in the spectacle of the bullfight - are also facets of the modern Andalucian character. Contrastingly, the andaluzes also love nothing more than a party, and the colour and sheer energy of the region's countless and legendary fiestas - always in traditional flamenco costume worn with pride - make them among the most exciting in the world. The romerías, wild and semi-religious pilgrimages to honour local saints at country shrines, are yet another excuse for a jamboree.
Despite the region's abundant natural wealth poverty is widespread, a legacy of the repressive latifundia landholding system of large estates with absentee landlords. The Christian monarchs who ousted the Moorish farmers doled out the conquered land to the Church, the military orders and individual nobles. These new proprietors often had little interest in the land nor personal contact with those who worked their estates, often leaving an overseer in charge, and an atmosphere of resentment built up towards the wretched pay and miserable conditions that this system entailed. It is perhaps not surprising that many inhabitants emigrated to find work in northern Spain or abroad or that anarchism found many converts among the desperate braceros (farmhands) of Andalucía before the Spanish Civil War. Two percent of the landowners still possess fifty percent of the land today, and in the 1960s alone a million Andalucians left their native region to seek a better life elsewhere.
Whilst life for many in the countryside remains hard, new industries, particularly tourism, have had a major impact on the region's economy. Apart from the petrochemical industry around Algeciras, mining in Huelva and aircraft manufacture in Sevilla, Andalucía has little heavy industry and those not employed in agriculture are usually working in fishing or tourism. One growth industry of recent years is servicing the population of mainly northern European emigrants who have come to the south of Spain to live, retire or do business. Now numbering a third of a million these expatriates have funded much building and development particularly along the coastal strip of the Costa del Sol, earning this zone its new nickname, the "California of Spain"....Continua