Moorish Architecture in St Augustine

Flagler College in St Augustine
In addition to being the oldest city in the United States (founded in 1565),
St Augustine also has one of the most beautiful skylines in the world.

One of our recent history lessons was on Tariq bin Ziyad and the Islamic invasion of North Africa and Spain. It is a great story when it comes to capturing the imagination of a young child. Tariq was a Berber man in North Africa, born a slave. When the Islamic armies captured Tariq’s hometown, he converted to Islam and joined them. He made his way through the ranks of the military and became a general. He landed in Tangier in a very different position than he started out.

Spain, which had been settled by the Visigoths (the barbarian tribe that had caused Rome so much grief), was in turmoil after their king died in 710. The noble families invited Tariq to come help them oust his sons. Tariq did not turn down the invitation, but had other ideas… to conquer Spain for Allah. He loaded up his armies in ships and made the short trip to Spain. After his men had made it onto land, he ordered them to torch the ships they came over on. They would conquer the region or die trying. It was pretty much the Berber equivalent of the Spartans’ “come back with your shield or on it.” (This is also the origin of the rock of Gibraltar.)

Anyhow, as part of our studies, we listened to music influenced by Moorish Spain and looked at pictures of Moorish architecture. (See Meditation in Moorish Spanish Cathedral in Cordova and Moorish Cloac.) Fortunately, we live just outside of St Augustine, where almost the entire skyline (what was of Henry Flagler’s construction, anyway) was heavily influenced by Moorish architecture. So this afternoon, we went to St Augustine for tapas at the Columbia, a Spanish restaurant (the original is in Tampa) and to tour the Villa Zorayda Musuem.

The Villa Zorayda Museum in St Augustine is a built-to-scale replica of the Alhambra Palace in Granada. It started off as a private residence, was used as a gentlemen’s club and speakeasy during Prohibition, and then eventually was made into a museum.

The interior of the museum. A wonderful place to see Moorish architecture.
Sultan’s couch, made to fit around several pillars in the middle of the museum.
You can see the detail that went into the carved walls.

My favorite part of the museum’s collection is this “sacred cat rug” in their Egypt room. The rug was made by weaving the fur of cats that roamed around the Nile. (You know the Egyptians were rather fond of cats.) The cat rug is somewhere around 2,400 years old and supposed to curse anyone who steps on it. Kind of crazy to think that this cat fur is older than Jesus.

The sacred cat rug.
A table with a very ornate mother of pearl inlay of peacocks.
More of the Moorish architecture.

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