An open letter to Ferdinand and Isabella

Dear Ferdinand and Isabella,

Even 500 years after your physical demise, your memory is still very much alive in this part of Granada.

Go most anywhere around the Plaza Nueva and the Alhambra and the many museums, monuments, sculptures, La Cathedral etc., are a collective testament to your living legacy.

What a formidable and dynamic couple you were!

In the many representations in this part of Granada, the likenesses of Isabella tend to project regal grace, an inner beauty, and a certain human empathy often substantiated by literary accounts (e.g. Washington Irving).

And you Ferdinand – very handsome and self-assured – projecting a shrewd intuition which adroitly enhanced Spanish interests at home and abroad.

Your list of military and diplomatic successes is legion.

Did you know that Machiavelli chose you as the archetype of a shrewd effective leader in his classic The Prince?

Together your marriage united Isabella’s Castilla and Ferdinand’s Aragon resulting in an Iberian Peninsula both united and Catholic.

Blessed with numerous progeny, you were able to manipulate their marriages notably ushering Spain into a Golden Age which would continue for the next century or so.

And who can forget the impactful year of 1492 when;

(a) Columbus discovered America, (b) Isabella decreed that all Jews in her kingdom must either convert to Christianity or go into exile and (c) the Moors were defeated in their last stronghold of Granada.

It is to the latter two events which compel me to write to you today.

Please consider… Inscribed on your marble tombs inside the Cathedral’s Capilla Real is the Latin eulogy lauding you as ‘subjugators of Islam and extinguishers of obstinate heresy’; clear references to the victory over the Moors and the expulsion of the Jews.

Historically, the quest for racial and ideological purity was not unique to your era. The Crusades for example, was fueled by religious zeal.

The disastrous results of the Second World War are proof positive that these same processes continue in the modern eras of today.

I understand too that it is a mistake to project “backwards in time” present day value judgments into past political and historical situations.

Ergo, my question to you is quite simple; did you consider, or were there voices of advisors that urged you to contemplate some sort of cultural integration?

During the four centuries prior to 1492, Spain had shown herself, for the most part, more hospitable to varied cultures, religions, and ethnic groups than any other major power.

Granted, this was by no means seamless but the contributions of the Moors and Jews could not have escaped your attention.

Intricate Moorish irrigation and agricultural systems transformed southern Spain into an area historians have labeled “an earthly paradise.”

The fertile region in and around Valencia for example, was transformed from a desert during Roman times into Europe’s breadbasket by 1492.

Many agricultural and fruit growing processes, crops such as sugar, rice, citrus, fruits, apricots, cotton, artichokes, etc. were all Moorish introductions.

Moorish silks were the envy of the world.

Muslim physicians from Andalucia had contributed significantly to such areas as surgical techniques, disease prevention, herbal drug therapy, neuroscience and psychology.

Additionally, optics, astronomy, architectural engineering and an unequalled university system were all Moorish contributions prior to 1492.

Certainly you must have realized that a forced expulsion or non-heartfelt conversion upon Spain’s Jewish population would diminish a stable and wealthy class.

This community produced a disproportionate numbers of scholars, doctors, tradesmen, lawyers, artists, entrepreneurs, administrators and banking professionals.

Did you not anticipate this demographic blood-letting exercise as a societal brain-drain of sorts?

Did you consider that when these groups were expelled, so were their ideas? I write this letter not to praise or condemn.

I can only imagine the political momentum and diplomatic maize that confronted you in 1492.

You two had previously displayed too much sound judgment and leadership prowess not to have considered these possibilities.

Hindsight, as they say is 20/20 but the question nonetheless needs to be asked: at what point did ideology trump pragmatism?

The historical silence on this point is deafening.

Yours Truly, Jack Gaioni

US citizen Jack is spending the first years of his retirement in Almeria.

His articles have been published in Spain and the US.

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