Every year I plan a photography trip and this year I will make a journey I have wanted to do for many years to Marrakesh, in Morocco, then through the Atlas mountains to the Oasis of the northern Sahara desert. The trip will start in Paris France then head south through Spain across the Straits of Gibraltar into North Africa.
In the 1960‘s the Hippies made Morocco “cool” and Marrakech was the magical oasis in the desert where Hippie culture blossomed. The heady mixture of Hashish in the exotic surroundings of the Marrakech Kasbah is a potent iconic symbol of the 1960’s. My journey is not though a Hippy pilgrimage, it is a journey to photograph much older and more diverse histories that shaped Europe and Northern Africa.
Initially I will follow in the footsteps of the medieval Pilgrims that made their way from Northern France towards Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain. Roman Catholic Christians believe their soul will go to Purgatory after death to be cleansed of its sins by hideous torments before being fit to enter heaven. Medieval man was so terrified of this prospect that he undertook great pilgrimages to cleanse his soul of sins. The Catholic church grew very rich on pilgrims and all the great Cathedrals of Medieval Christian Europe had important relics to entice them to visit. My journey is not though a Christian pilgrimage either even though the prospect of photographing the great Gothic buildings of Chrisendom is very exciting. It is a journey that will explore the co-existence of Islam & Christianity in Western Europe that lasted for nearly 700 years, a history that was buried by the Renaissance.
France has been a major player in European politics since the fall of the Roman Empire. By 476 the western Roman Empire had been taken over by Barbarian tribes who tried to maintain the Empire as the Romans had but failed and it split into many parts. From 410- 415 the Vandals moved into the Iberian Peninsular, their name became corrupted into Andulasia. From the fifth to the eight century the Visigoths expanded from the south of France to rule the Iberian peninsular to be replaced from 711 by the Islamic Berbers from Morocco in North Africa. Muslim forces raided as far north as Tours in 732 but were halted and defeated by the Franks under the leadership of Charles Martel whose son Pepin The Short was to become the first Carolingian King of the Franks in 752.
Pepin was a clever and ambitious King who expanded his kingdom into Italy by siding with the beleaguered Pope Stephen II against the Lombards. He conquered Lombard land in Italy then gave several Lombard cities to Pope Stephen as a gift. Known as the “Donation of Pepin” these lands became the corner stone of the Papal States. Pope Stephen II realised he needed a devout Christian ally so he made Pepin a Patrician. Pepin's son, Charlemagne became king in 768 and took the Franks to the ultimate heights of power when he was crowned Holy Roman Emperor in 800 by Pope Leo III in Rome. Although Charlemagne's Empire fell apart after his death, when his sons fought each other to take control the Frankish Empire, Charlemagne shaped what was to become Western Europe.
So Paris is the perfect place to satrt this journey at the tomb of Pepin the Short which is in the great Cathedral of Saint Dennis along with nearly every other French King’s tomb. From Saint Dennis the journey heads south through Christian France into present day Spain. Famous for its great Christian Spanish Empire and the feared Spanish Inquisition Spain is less famed for the great Islamic culture left by its Muslim rulers who administered Iberia from 711 to 1492. The journey will then explore the great cities of Berber Morocco and the Kasbah towns that run along the edge of the Sahara desert at the foot of the Atlas Mountains.
My journey will explore the links between Islam and Christianity in Europe, a history that was ignored by the Renaissance humanists who invented the so called barbaric “Dark Ages”, glossed over the importance of the Eastern Roman Empire and buried the scientific and mathematic contributions Islam made in Europe during its long rule of Sicily and Spain. So first to Saint Dennis to visit Pepin the Short and then...........time will tell.