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A guide to discovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this fall

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As the leaves begin to fall and European landscapes take on the hues of autumn, a captivating expedition awaits travelers. It’s a journey that invites you to retrace the steps of the Arab-Muslim pioneers who left an indelible mark on this continent, from the bustling bazaars of Sarajevo to the elegant Alhambra palace of Granada, Spain.

Day 1: Arrival in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina

As the first light of dawn appears on the horizon, your journey begins in the heart of Sarajevo, the capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina. This city, where East meets West, is an emblem of resilience and cross-cultural heritage. Echoes of its Ottoman past resonate in the labyrinthine streets of Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s Old Bazaar and the city’s historical and cultural center built in the 15th century. The air is infused with the fragrant aroma of spices and the calls of merchants create a symphony of languages ​​as diverse as the products they offer.

The 500-year-old, multi-domed Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque is a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, a silent witness to the history that took place within its walls. The intricate details of the mosque’s façade tell stories of faith, culture and the interweaving of civilizations.

The interior of the 16th century Ottoman-style Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque. (Shutterstock)

Day 2: Exploring Sarajevo

The sun rises over Sarajevo, casting a warm glow over the city’s rich history. Today, you will embark on an exploration that will delve deeper into the different facets of this dynamic city. Svrzo’s house presents itself as a living museum, offering a glimpse into the daily life of an Ottoman-era family. The Sarajevo War Tunnel, built between March and June 1993 during the siege of Sarajevo in the midst of the Bosnian War, is a stark reminder of the city’s recent past and a testament to its enduring spirit and resilience.

The Sarajevo tunnel which provided a lifeline for the survival of Bosnian citizens during the siege of Sarajevo from 1992 to 1995. (Shutterstock)

Day 3: Travel to Skopje, North Macedonia

It’s time to travel to the captivating city of Skopje in North Macedonia. A short flight takes you and upon landing, you are greeted by the majestic Vardar River, witnessing the ebb and flow of history.

One of the oldest and largest markets in the Balkans is Skopje’s Old Bazaar, a maze of cobbled streets and artisan shops. It attracts with its Ottoman era charm. Here you will find hidden courtyards and intricately designed facades reminiscent of a bygone era. Built on Roman foundations under the patronage of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, the stone bridge, the city’s iconic symbol, spans the river, connecting the past to the present.

The old bazaar of Skopje. (Shutterstock)

Day 4: Skopje and its surroundings

Today you will delve deeper into Skopje’s rich history and venture beyond its borders. A day trip to Tetovo offers insight into the Arab-Muslim influence in the region. The 600-year-old painted mosque, decorated with vibrant frescoes and intricate designs, is a testament to the enduring cultural exchanges that have shaped North Macedonia.

Back in Skopje, the architectural wonders of the city continue to be revealed. Situated on the highest point of the city overlooking the Vardar River, Kale Fortress, whose foundations date back to the early 6th century, offers panoramic views of the cityscape. As the sun sets, you’ll find yourself immersed in the enchanting mix of cultures that defines Skopje.

Day 5: Travel to Granada, Spain

Your trip takes a new twist when you bid farewell to Skopje and set your sights on the sunny landscapes of Granada, Spain. A flight transports you to a land where Moorish architecture and European charm intertwine harmoniously. As you check into your accommodation, the Alhambra Palace looms in the distance, promising a glimpse into a world of architectural wonder.

Dating from 1238, the Alhambra, a masterpiece of Islamic art and culture, is your gateway to centuries past. The Nasrid palaces, with their intricate stuccowork and delicate mosaics, showcase the craftsmen’s dedication to perfection. The Generalife Gardens, a tranquil oasis of fountains and greenery, offer respite as you wander through this living testament to history.

The Alhambra fortress and palace complex. (Shutterstock)

Day 6: Albaicín and Albayzín from Granada

Granada’s charm extends beyond the walls of the Alhambra. The Albaicín and Albayzín neighborhoods, with their narrow, winding streets and whitewashed houses, transport you to another era. Granada’s Mesquite Mayor, a former mosque, reflects the city’s multicultural history and spiritual significance.

Day 7: Travel to Lisbon, Portugal

Leaving the enchanting views of Granada behind, you board a flight to Lisbon, Portugal, a city that resonates with the tales of explorers, poets and a rich mosaic of cultures. Settle into your accommodation and venture into the Alfama district.

Strolling through the tangled streets of Alfama, the Moorish influence is palpable. It’s in the graceful archways that frame your path and in the ornate tiles that adorn the buildings, each tile whispering stories of centuries past.

The soulful tunes of fado music fill the air, evoking a deep sense of longing and longing. This genre of music, with its roots in Portuguese-Arabic poetry, encapsulates the complex emotions of saudade – a deep, melancholic longing for something lost.

The essence of Alfama bears witness to the enduring legacy of the Moors and Arabs who once inhabited this neighborhood. Their architectural marvels and cultural contributions continue to shape Lisbon’s identity and remind us of the rich tapestry of influences that have shaped European heritage.

Alfama in Lisbon. (Shutterstock)

Day 8: Adventure in the Algarve

Your journey takes you south to the Algarve, where golden beaches and rugged cliffs meet the azure waters of the Atlantic. Silves, a town with a rich history, features vestiges of Arab-Muslim influence in its red sandstone castle and archaeological sites. In Faro, the capital of the Algarve, the Arco da Vila Gate serves as a gateway to the past and invites you to explore its charming streets.

As your eight-day journey draws to a close, take a moment to reflect on the threads of history you’ve traced through these remarkable destinations. Cherish memories of Sarajevo’s bustling bazaars, Skopje’s Ottoman architecture, Granada’s Alhambra, Lisbon’s Alfama and the coastal splendor of the Algarve.

From bustling markets to serene courtyards, from opulent palaces to humble neighborhoods, every step you took was a step back in time.

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