In Calle Judíos, very close to the Cordoba Synagogue, there is a place where it is possible to travel back in time. Specifically, this place takes us back to 12th century Cordoba, one of the main cultural centres of the time and a melting pot of cultures.
For this reason, the Casa Andalusí is not only a museum that shows the lifestyle of the time, with unique and symbolic aims, but also seeks to recover that cultural essence that once made Cordoba a world reference.
This space, which reflects the lifestyle of 12th century Al-Andalus with touches of the different cultures that coexisted, would not be possible without Salma Al Taji Al Farouki.
Al Farouki was born in Jerusalem, but in Palestinian territory, as the State of Israel did not yet exist at the time of her birth, a fact which she qualifies. She arrived in Córdoba in the 1980s after living in Egypt and Switzerland with her husband, the French philosopher Roger Garaudy.
First of all, the initiator of this project welcomes us in Arabic, the language spoken at the time. "Salam Aleikum", she says. "I like to welcome people because the word has its importance, it is like a pebble thrown into the water, it creates circles. "Salam means peace, so by saying 'salam' it is as if we are spreading peace around us," she adds.
Al Farouki, along with her husband, founded the Three Cultures Museum in the Calahorra Tower, and later opened their home to the public with the aim of raising awareness of this historical era. Al Faouki has also opened the Museum of Alchemy, next to La Casa Andalusi.
In addition to the courtyards, fountains, aroma and music, La Casa Andalusi also has a paper museum, which explains, step by step, how paper is made. "Cordoba was the first city in Europe to make paper," says Al Faouki.
Paper became popular in the Islamic world from the 8th century onwards, as the museum explains. In 794, the first paper mill was created in Baghdad, and in 900 this invention reached Europe, although it was in Al-Andalus where the most important paper industry of the continent and of the time was established. The Casa Andalusí shows the production process, from the preparation of the pulp to the coating of the sheets.
The museum also has a collection of coins from Al-Andalus and a mosaic in the underground part of the house.
What prompted you to create this museum?
For me, the Casa Andalusí is a symbol, a nucleus of Caliphate Cordoba. We have tried to put all our efforts into restoring this house, which dates back to the 12th century. Our first project in the city was the Calahorra Tower. When I was walking there, passing through the old city, I came across many houses where people would let me in to see them. For me, entering these houses was like a secret, something intimate, it was a very beautiful experience. But, little by little these houses are closing their doors and turning into modern flats, something that has caused pain in my heart. I told my husband that we need to react to this, so we have decided to open our house to the public. Casa Andalusi was the first private house open to the public.
This house has all the living elements. In addition to recovering an important legacy, as the old part of the city is considered a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this architecture reflects a whole art of living. In the houses of this period they always liked to create beauty, because God is beautiful and he likes us to create beauty because we get closer to the creator. When you are surrounded by beauty you can't be bad.
Cordoba, as well as being the capital of culture, was also the first city in Europe to manufacture paper. Paper helped greatly in the expansion of culture. Papermaking had its heyday under the caliph Alhaken II. The library of this caliph is said to have exceeded 500,000 manuscripts, while other leaders in Europe had no more than 200,000.
Cordoba was the centre of culture.
The Muslims who came here, the first thing they did was to benefit from all the indigenous culture. Then they introduced their Arab-Muslim culture. The Qur'an plays an important role here because one of the duties it presents is to seek wisdom. Apart from this, in order to unify the communities here, it is repeated many times in the Qur'an that "all the Prophets have been messengers of the same God", so all the people recognised each other in this common denominator and joined hands to help the welfare of mankind.
So, in addition to introducing their culture, they are open to others. Everything that can be a leaven for the wellbeing of man, for him to grow culturally, spiritually, all of this was welcome.
So the aim of La Casa Andalusí is to recover the legacy of Al-Andalus?
Yes, not everyone knows where Cordoba is, although everyone knows where Dubai is, this saddens me. You can't talk about Cordoba as a comma in history, we have to give Cordoba what it deserves. We have to take better care of this city. I was living in Geneva, and there the children, from a very young age, are taught not to throw any paper on the ground, that they must respect everything as if it were their home. Here it is not like that, they are not taking care of the city as they should.
How did you get all the objects in the museum?
I have always liked everything historical, such as manuscripts or ancient stones. In particular, I feel that the craftsmen used to work on ancient stones with their whole being. Nowadays, because there are so many manufacturing facilities, such as machines, the objects have no soul, whereas with old things I always feel that they have a soul. And that's why, as I travel often, every time I found something I bought it.
In addition to La Casa Andalusí, you also have the Museum of Alchemy, what does alchemy consist of?
Alchemy was also a very important science here because it is a chain of knowledge. You cannot be an alchemist without being, for example, a philosopher, theologian, doctor, botanist, astrologer. This is a chain of knowledge. But the real meaning of alchemy is that man has to discover his divine origin. In all the holy books it is said that God created man in his own image. In the Koran it is said that God created man as a caliph. Caliph is a responsible person, he has to be educated, wise, ethical. When God creates this caliph on Earth, He gives him the mission, besides reaching true knowledge, to discover the secret hidden in every created thing.The more knowledge you have, the more responsible you feel. In alchemy, one of the key elements is dew. Dew has quite unknown components.
Does anyone help you with these museums, do you receive support from institutions?
Everything has been a private initiative. I was able to carry out my first project in Cordoba thanks to Arab-Muslim institutions in various countries. The Calahorra Tower, where we have opened a museum, was given to my husband during Julio Anguita's time. There the visit can be in several languages, with light and sound. It explains the history of Cordoba from the 8th to the 13th century, so you can learn about the philosophers of the time, both Jewish and Muslim, whose common denominator was teaching.
For this reason, when we restored the house I decided to add a prayer in Arabic, "God increase science in me".
Man's first duty is to seek science. And at this time, they were more responsible because they always linked any scientific pursuit with wisdom and faith. There was also a science of letters, of numbers, of planets. Nowadays, before a child is born, parents are looking for a beautiful name. But in those days, through calculations to find out what day and time a child would be born, they would give him a name that would help him grow up.
You were born in Palestine.
I was born in Jerusalem, Palestine. I say Palestine because when I was born there was not yet the State of Israel, which was created in 1948. I remember very well that when I was a child, Palestine was like Cordoba, that is to say, there was no distinction between Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Everyone spoke Arabic and they were all people of the Book, so sometimes there were also mixed marriages. There were no problems.
In addition to Palestine, you have lived in Switzerland and Egypt. When did you decide to come to Córdoba?
It was following Julio Anguita's invitation to my husband. My husband proposed opening the Calahorra museum, when this whole project began. It is nice to see the fruit of love, and this was the fruit of love for Cordoba. Since 1987 we have managed to maintain the Calahorra Tower, a museum that is visited by all kinds of people, regardless of their religion and faith. When people leave there, they leave with an open heart and an open mind. Moreover, they get to know a new reality, because this culture has existed here in Al-Andalus, although for a long time it was buried. There can be no future in Cordoba without going back to the roots. History is like a tree, if you don't go back to the root, the tree won't grow.
People have to be aware of Cordoba's brilliant past.
At this time all the streets of Cordoba were lit by oil lamps, even Medina Azahara, when people in other places didn't even know how to read or write. It is said that the King of England at this time sent a letter to the Caliph of Cordoba asking him in all honesty to allow his daughters to study in the city. He wanted the best for his daughters, and the best was Cordoba.
Finally, I would like to touch a little on the political situation in the Middle East. It has recently been a year since the Abraham Accords, the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates. This agreement has been presented by the UAE as a project that could benefit the Palestinians. As a Palestinian, how do you assess this, do you think this agreement can help the Palestinians in any way?
I am not very convinced by this. In the Koran it says a very important thing: "God never changes the condition of a people until they themselves change". The Palestinians accepted to give half to the Jews after 1948, although they keep eating and eating, until now there is almost no Palestine. Therefore, until the rights of the Palestinians are recognised, there will never be peace and coexistence.
We must always remember that the planet is one, and we must work for the true unity of loving others as we love ourselves. The most important thing is that everyone begins to work on his or her heart. Instead of seeing the faults of others or criticising, each one must work on his or her heart to make it shine in all aspects. For the heart is like a diamond in the rough and we have to polish it. In this way there will not only be peace in Palestine and Israel, there will be peace in the whole world. This is what God wants from us: to always work for unity.