A guide to uncovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this autumn

A guide to uncovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this autumn
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Updated 27 September 2023

A guide to uncovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this autumn

A guide to uncovering Europe’s Islamic heritage this autumn

As the leaves begin to fall and Europe’s landscapes are painted in autumnal hues, a captivating expedition awaits travelers. It is a voyage that invites you to retrace the steps of Arab-Muslim pioneers who left an indelible mark on this continent, from the bustling bazaars of Sarajevo to the elegant Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain.

Day 1: Arrival in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina 

As the first light of dawn breaks over 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. The echoes of its Ottoman past resound through the labyrinthine streets of the Baščaršija, Sarajevo’s old bazaar and the historical and cultural center of the city 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 goods they offer. 

The 500-year-old multi-domed Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque stands as a masterpiece of Ottoman architecture, a silent witness to the history that unfolded within its walls. The intricate details of the mosque’s facade tell stories of faith, culture, and the intertwining of civilizations.

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

Day 2: Sarajevo Exploration 

The sun rises over Sarajevo, casting a warm glow on the city’s rich history. Today, you will embark on an exploration that delves deeper into the layers of this dynamic city. Svrzo’s House stands as a living museum, offering a glimpse into the daily life of an Ottoman-era family. The Sarajevo War Tunnel, constructed 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 speaks to its enduring spirit and resilience. 

The Sarajevo Tunnel which provided a lifeline for Bosnian citizens' survival during the Siege of Sarajevo from 1992-1995. (Shutterstock) 

Day 3: Travel to Skopje, North Macedonia 

It is time to journey to the captivating city of Skopje in North Macedonia. A short flight whisks you away and as you land, you’re greeted by the majestic Vardar River, which has witnessed the ebb and flow of history. 

One of the oldest and largest marketplaces in the Balkans is Skopje’s Old Bazaar, a labyrinth of cobblestone streets and artisan shops. It beckons with its Ottoman-era charm. Here, you’ll find hidden courtyards and intricately designed facades that harken back to a bygone era. Built on Roman foundations under the patronage of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror, the Stone Bridge, an iconic symbol of the city, spans the river, connecting the past with the present. 

Skopje’s Old Bazaar. (Shutterstock) 

Day 4: Skopje and its surroundings 

Today, you’ll delve further into Skopje’s rich history and venture beyond its borders. A day trip to Tetovo offers a glimpse of the Arab-Muslim influence in the region. The 600-year-old Painted Mosque, adorned with vibrant frescoes and intricate designs, is a testament to the enduring cultural exchanges that have shaped North Macedonia. 

Returning to Skopje, the city’s architectural wonders continue to unfold. Situated on the highest point in the city overlooking the Vardar River, the Kale Fortress with foundations dating back to the early 6th century offers panoramic views of the cityscape. As the sun sets, you’ll find yourself immersed in the enchanting blend of cultures that defines Skopje. 

Day 5: Journey to Granada, Spain 

Your journey takes a new turn as you bid farewell to Skopje and set your sights on the sun-drenched landscapes of Granada, Spain. A flight transports you to a land where Moorish architecture and European charm intertwine harmoniously. As you check in to your accommodation, the Alhambra Palace looms in the distance, promising a glimpse into a world of architectural marvels. 

Dating back to 1238, Alhambra, a masterpiece of Islamic art and culture, is your gateway to centuries past. The Nasrid Palaces with their intricate stucco work and delicate mosaics showcase the artisans’ dedication to perfection. The Generalife Gardens, a tranquil oasis of fountains and greenery, provide respite as you traverse this living testament to history. 

The fortress and palace complex Alhambra. (Shutterstock)

Day 6: Granada’s Albaicín and Albayzín 

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

Day 7: Travel to Lisbon, Portugal 

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

As you wander through the tangled alleys of Alfama, the Moorish influence is palpable. It’s in the graceful archways that frame your path and the ornate tilework that adorns the buildings, each tile whispering stories of centuries past.

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

Alfama’s essence is a testament to the enduring legacy of the Moors and Arabs who once called this district home. Their architectural marvels and cultural contributions continue to shape the identity of Lisbon and remind us of the rich tapestry of influences that have shaped Europe’s heritage.

Alfama in Lisbon. (Shutterstock)

Day 8: Algarve Adventure 

Your journey takes you south to the Algarve, where the golden beaches and rugged cliffs meet the azure waters of the Atlantic. Silves, a town with a rich history, showcases remnants of Arab-Muslim influence in its red sandstone castle and archaeological sites. In Faro, the Algarve’s capital, the Arco da Vila gate serves as a gateway to the past, inviting 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 the memories of Sarajevo’s bustling bazaars, Skopje’s Ottoman architecture, Granada’s Alhambra, Lisbon’s Alfama, and the Algarve’s coastal splendor. 

From the bustling markets to the serene courtyards, from the opulent palaces to the humble neighborhoods, each step you’ve taken has been a step through time.

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
Updated 26 February 2024

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US

Meghan Markle filmed cooking with Afghan female refugees in US
  • Footage released on Archewell Foundation website at ‘evening of cooking and storytelling’
  • Event held with Mina’s List, which helped evacuate over 2,000 Afghans to US after Taliban takeover

LONDON: Footage has emerged of Meghan Markle, duchess of Sussex, cooking with a group of Afghan female refugees in the US.

The video, published on the website of her Archewell Foundation, shows her making traditional Afghan cuisine, including dumplings, with the 15 women.

The meeting, described as an “evening of cooking and storytelling,” took place on Feb. 10 in partnership with the Southern California Welcome Project, set up by the duchess in 2023, and Mina’s List, a New York-based organization that has worked with female Afghan activists and politicians since 2014.

Archewell said in a press release that the women shared “their personal stories” and discussed “the support they find from this intergenerational group of women.”

It added that in 2021, Mina’s List helped secure the evacuation of more than 2,000 Afghan women and their families from the country after it fell to the Taliban.

Subsequently, Mina’s List and Archewell “joined forces to provide community and support to these remarkable women as they begin to rebuild their lives in the US.”

Archewell said the Southern California Welcome Project is “a safe haven and inclusive environment for women who have recently resettled in the US from Afghanistan.”

It added that there are currently 11 Welcome Projects operating across the US, “designed to foster a sense of belonging through activities including sewing, art, hiking, swimming, photography, storytelling, and cooking.”

The foundation added: “By facilitating women-based programming, The Welcome Project also brings access to critical resources and opportunities that not only supports the women participating in The Welcome Project, but also improves the lives of those around them — their families and their communities.”

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet
Updated 26 February 2024

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

Film Independent Spirit Awards sees Arab wins, Mideast fashion on the red carpet

DUBAI: US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab as she scooped up the award for best first feature for her movie “A Thousand and One.”

Rockwell’s green-hued gown hailed from the fashion label’s Resort 2024 collection and featured a dark-to-light green gradient color palette, a plunging neckline and a cape that was attached at the shoulders.

US director A.V. Rockwell hit the Film Independent Spirit Awards’ red carpet in a look by Lebanese designer Elie Saab. (Getty Images)

Rockwell’s film stars Teyana Taylor as a mother who kidnaps her six-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. The film had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and won the Grand Jury Prize.

Meanwhile, Celine Song’s quiet romance “Past Lives” won two of the biggest awards at the Film Independent Spirit Awards, including best feature and best director. Other big winners were Cord Jefferson’s comedic satire “American Fiction,” with Jeffrey Wright winning for lead performer; and Alexander Payne’s “The Holdovers,” which won prizes for Da'Vine Joy Randolph and Dominic Sessa, the Associated Press reported.

The 39th edition of the show was held Sunday in a beachside tent in Santa Monica, California, and streamed live on IMDb and Film Independent’s YouTube channels and X accounts.

“Thank you so much for letting me share what it feels like to be human, to love and be loved, and thank you for loving our film," Song said in accepting the directing prize, according to the Associated Press.

Her film was among the top nominated at the show, alongside “May December,” which won only one award (for Samy Burch's first screenplay) and “American Fiction,” which fared better.

Wright won for playing a frustrated author who becomes wildly successful by writing something he hates in “American Fiction.”

The Spirit Awards sit firmly within the larger Hollywood awards season, which culminates with the Oscars on March 10. But with a budget cap of $20 million for nominees, the show celebrates films that sometimes go unheralded, or at least under-nominated, at the bigger shows.

Last year, “Everything Everywhere All At Once” swept the Spirit Awards before going on to do the same at the Oscars. But this year, many top Oscar contenders — including “Oppenheimer,” “Barbie” and “Killers of the Flower Moon” — would not have qualified.

Kaouther Ben Hania’s film “Four Daughters,” which is nominated for the corresponding Oscar, won best documentary. And Justine Triet’s “Anatomy of a Fall,” also nominated for best picture at the Oscars, won best international feature over “The Zone of Interest.”

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert
Updated 26 February 2024

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert

Charlotte Church denies antisemitism claims after singing pro-Palestinian song at concert
  • Welsh singer-songwriter led a 100-strong choir singing “From the River to the Sea” during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert in Caerphilly, South Wales, on Saturday
  • Critics say the song calls for the destruction of Israel but pro-Palestine campaigners say it asserts “the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice”

LONDON: Welsh singer-songwriter Charlotte Church on Monday denied allegations of antisemitism after she was criticized for leading a choir singing “From the River to the Sea.”

Church led the 100-strong choir during a pro-Palestine fundraising concert at a village hall in Caerphilly, South Wales, on Saturday. The song refers to the land between the River Jordan, bordering the occupied West Bank and Israel in the east, to the Mediterranean Sea in the west.

The Campaign Against Antisemitism has labeled the song and its central message “antisemitic,” saying it calls for the destruction of the state of Israel.

However, the Palestinian Solidarity Campaign and other activists say the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” refers to “the right of all Palestinians to freedom, equality and justice.”

Church addressed what she described as the “alarmist” reports about Saturday’s event live on Instagram on Monday, in a message in which she explained she was “fighting for the liberation of all people.”

She said: “Just to clarify my intentions there, I am in no way antisemitic. I am fighting for the liberation of all people. I have a deep heart for all religions and all difference.

“It was a beautiful, beautiful event. But unfortunately the powers that be can’t have that. (They) can’t have such a powerful symbol of resistance as what we worked towards on Saturday.”

Church confirmed the event ended with a chant of the phrase “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.”

She said: “Clearly, if you know the history of it all, (it is) not an antisemitic chant calling for the obliteration of Israel. It is not that in any way, shape or form. It is calling for the peaceful coexistence of Israelis and Palestinians.”

Church added that “lots of other beautiful songs … of liberation and freedom” were performed during the event, including Arabic songs, Welsh songs and South African songs associated with the anti-Apartheid movement, “the lyrics of which were adapted to the situation in Palestine.”

In video footage from the concert, Church is seen standing behind a banner that reads “Let Palestine Live.” She and the members of the choir are wearing keffiyeh scarves, a symbol of solidarity among supporters of Palestine.

In November, Church posted a video message on Instagram in which she expressed support for the Palestinian cause. She urged her followers to watch footage from Gaza and the West Bank, and to amplify Palestinian voices during “this genocide that is happening in front of all of our eyes.”

The 37-year-old singer told her fans, “Do not look away,” and expressed concern about the children “caught in this geopolitical insanity.”

In the same video she said that starting on Nov. 20 she would be offering weekly singing sessions “for the liberation of Palestine and the liberation of the Palestinian people.”

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit
Updated 26 February 2024

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit

‘The future of culture is local,’ RCU’s Vice President of Culture Jason Harborow writes during AlUla Future Culture Summit
  • The AlUla Future Culture Summit from Feb. 25 to 27 is part of attempts to develop an authentic local offering that also contributes to the nation’s economy, writes Jason Harborow, vice president of culture for the Royal Commission for AlUla

ALULA: There is an inherent tension in culture-sector development between global and local dynamics. In Saudi Arabia, we are in the midst of an unprecedented renaissance in the culture sector — with significant investment in arts, music, film, heritage and other areas to showcase the Kingdom’s history and identity to the region and the world. As we develop this culture offer, there is a need to understand global best-practice by engaging with leading cultural institutions with a longer history of this type of development and promotion. Whilst this engagement is important, there can be a temptation to become overly reliant on these leading — and often Western — organizations and to confuse Saudi Arabia’s culture development with importation and/or adopting an external interpretation.

The culture leaders of today must manage external engagement wisely — ensuring that we deliver world-class experiences that are true to local community values, traditions and heritage. At the Royal Commission for AlUla, we have found a way through this challenge by focusing our global culture engagement and partnerships on knowledge exchange and learning. Like others, the RCU is engaged with leading museums, conservation organizations and archives based in China, France, Italy and the UK to help us deliver a world-class culture offer. Our global partners play an important role in sharing learnings and knowledge, serving as a thinking partner and helping us to develop local, distinctive cultural assets that are true to the AlUla community.

Beyond cultural asset development, the RCU also works with international partners to develop our people. Global culture partnerships have helped us to deliver job and skills creation locally — ensuring that Saudi Arabia’s talent has access to the best trainers, accelerator programs and other learning mechanisms to learn about archaeology, exhibition management, acquisition, and other core culture competencies. At the RCU, we are proud to be building a strong, skilled generation of domestic talent that understand the global cultural landscape and is using this knowledge to build a progressive and original local cultural offering.

The Kingdom has welcomed 150 of the world’s cultural leaders, artists, tech entrepreneurs and policymakers for the inaugural AlUla Future Culture Summit that is running from Feb. 25 to 27. Given AlUla’s position as a leading entity driving the Kingdom’s cultural development, it is a great honor for us to host this summit, in partnership with the Kingdom’s Ministry of Culture. The summit aims to convene a high-level conversation about the future of culture in the Kingdom and beyond, looking at trends and opportunities to help the community to drive forward world-class sector development. The AlUla Future Culture Summit has been hosting a series of panel discussions, immersive performances, workshops, and guided explorations of AlUla’s outstanding cultural and natural landscapes.

The discussions will focus on several key themes that are important in the discourse on culture, both within the Kingdom and globally — one of which is the need to balance global and local dynamics. The growth of the culture sector is not just a social opportunity, it is also an economic one. Research shows that Saudi Arabia’s culture and arts sector has the potential to contribute up to 5 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product. In Saudi Arabia, the sector only contributed 1.7 percent to the country’s GDP in 2022, representing substantial opportunity for growth.

The RCU was founded in 2017 to drive the development of AlUla County and we have learned many lessons over the last seven years of operations, development and governance. Whilst the RCU has experimented with different approaches to, and profiles of, cultural activations during this period, we have remained laser-focused in our work to understand, cultivate, and celebrate authentic, local culture and to build the offering and visitor experience around it. Our Winter at Tantora, the AlUla Arts Festival, and the recent launch of Design Space AlUla are just a few examples of how we are delivering a culture sector anchored in our local community.

We are proud of our achievements at the RCU, but we can do more if we collaborate across the culture sector more closely. There is an opportunity for more of the Kingdom’s cultural institutions to work together more closely to share learnings, deliver more training, capacity building and skills to our people; while also thinking about how we can help the Kingdom to be an exporter to the world of the rich cultural assets that we are building.

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler
Updated 26 February 2024

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

Review: ‘Mario vs. Donkey Kong’ is an expensive remake of 2004 puzzler

LONDON: Almost two decades after “Mario vs. Donkey Kong” originally landed on the Gameboy Advance, comes a more polished – but almost full priced – remake of the action/puzzle title for the Nintendo Switch.

Widely considered a classic at the time, much has changed in those two decades but for the enmity between Nintendo’s superstar Mario and Donkey Kong. In this instance, Donkey Kong has stolen a bunch of suitable cute “Mini-Mario toys” and has done a runner leaving our erstwhile plumber hero to save the day by setting them free.

To do this, Mario, along with the usual assortment of allies from his gaming universe, must conquer 130 levels of puzzle fun across a variety of worlds. These range from dark volcanic arenas, spooky haunted houses, slippery ice lands, dangerous jungles and more, all presented in the polished colorful graphics you’d expect from a Nintendo platform.

The game advertises itself as suitable for gamers aged three and above but has a choice of “casual” or “classic” style to guide you into a choice of difficulty.

“Observe and act,” advises the game’s marketing team as each puzzle challenges you to think about which switches to hit at the right time to be successful. A generous timer counts down in the top right corner, but it doesn’t feel like there is a huge amount of pressure on you to rush through the arenas. Indeed, when you add in the languid jazzy background music, you get a sense of the game trying to operate at a more relaxed pace than other Mario titles. A nice feature of moving throughout the game is Mario’s gymnastic skills; backflips and walking on his hands to avoid falling hazards from above.

In addition to finding mini-Marios, the game has another nice feature whereby you have to shepherd a gaggle of the tiny red and blue fellows around hazards to get to their toybox. This brings back memories of the famous Lemmings game although far more bite-sized in nature.

Where the game is significantly different from the original is the addition of a two-player local co-op mode. This has been done with considerably thought encouraging genuine challenge for a pair of gamers as opposed to offering the same puzzles with double the human capacity to overcome them.

The format of the game is strong and offers the warm blanket familiarity of iconic characters along with their familiar phrases. There is plenty of quality family fun to be had here, although the cost of the game feels somewhat steep for what is largely a remake rather than a genuinely original.