Monday, April 1, 2013

A - Z Challenge: ANDALUCÍA

Andalusia in red.

Like most countries, Spain is far from uniform.  Rather, it is divided into seventeen different autonomous communities (and two independent cities located in North Africa), which work kind of like states.  (Though it's a little more complicated than that; these communities don't have as much independence as U.S. states).  Many of these autonomies used to be kingdoms before Spain became a unified nation in 1492.

I'm staying in the community of Andalusia (spelled Andalucía in Spanish), in southern Spain, the capital of which is beautiful Seville (where I live).

So what makes Andalusia unique?  Well, a lot.  I'm just going to cover the basics because otherwise, we'd get into novel territory, as far as length goes.
Seville's bullfighting stadium.  Yes, it's still in action.

When you think stereotypical Spain, you think Andalusia, whether you realize it or not.  Here is where you'll come across flamenco, bullfighting, and typical Spanish architecture.  It's also a place of immense historical importance, where you'll find:

  • Archivo de Indias - the home of the paperwork regarding the conquest of the Americas.  It's lined with images and sculptures of conquistador Hernán Cortés.
  • Cádiz - where revolutionaries wrote the Constitution of 1812, the first Spanish constitution.
  • Ronda - Hemingway set part of his Spanish Civil War novel For Whom the Bell Tolls in this city.
  • Granada - The last city to expel the Moors from Spain in 1492 during the Reconquista.  For this reason, a symbol of Ferdinand and Isabella is the granada, or the pomegranate.

The Andalusian countryside viewed from Ronda.


For those of you who don't know, my blog is mostly about finding inspiration in real life, then applying that inspiration to my fantasy world.  That is, my writing.  In a way, living in Andalusia has been one big research project.  Mostly, in terms of setting.

I'm a sucker for cool settings.  Though, I admit, I've set many a story in places like New York, Washington, D.C., and London, I much prefer more exotic places (usually within the real world).  I'd love to see more books set in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East, and especially Latin America.

Spain is a cool setting (at least in my opinion).  It's warm, it's colorful, and it has a very distinct culture that screams "¡VIVA ESPAÑA!"  But as far as books in English go, it generally takes a backseat to the U.S., U.K., France, Australia, and many other countries.  Which is actually kind of sad, considering it's the birthplace of the novel as we know it today.  Unfortunately, we English-speakers tend to forget that.
A courtyard in the Alcazar, a palace in Seville.

So for your next project, consider setting it in Spain.  If you're not sure about setting, ask yourself how important the setting is:  Does it make a difference if it's set in L.A. or Barcelona?  If your character is American or Spanish?  Obviously, it does, but that difference could be what makes your story stand out in the slushpile.  Personally, if I were an agent looking at two similar urban fantasies, both with strong characters and plots, and one was set in New York and the other in Seville, I'd choose the one in Seville, just because it's unique.  (Though I'm not an agent, so what do I know?)

Andalusia would also be a great place from which to draw inspiration for high fantasy.  Unfortunately, high fantasy is usually pretty predictable when it comes to setting.  Most of the time it's based on medieval Northern Europe, so the kingdoms that made up what is now France, Germany, and the U.K.  Stone castles, fairytale-esque villages, dense evergreen forests.

Andalusia also has castles.  Andalusia also has villages.  Andalusia also has forests--and mountains, and deserts, and beaches, and cliffs.

Only it's castles are often inspired by Islamic architecture, like the Alcazar in Seville.  Those villages, like Ronda, are sometimes situated hundreds of meters high.  And while you'll find "regular" forests, you'll also come across a ton of palm trees and oranges.  So why not pick the former kingdom of Al-Andalus as the basis for a fantasy world?  Star Wars did it.  The Plaza de España in Seville was used for scenes shot on the planet Naboo.

The list goes on.  Long story short, Andalusia is important to Spanish history and culture, despite being primarily an agricultural autonomy.  It's significantly less industrial than the rest of Spain.  Rather than huge metropolises, you'll find a sprawling countryside adorned with sunflowers, oats, barley, wheat, olives, and especially oranges.  In fact, orange trees line the streets of many Andalusian cities, including Seville
The Plaza de España, which was featured in Star Wars:  Episode I.

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