Andalusia! – It Happened Today, January 6, 2017

St James the Great, depicted as Santiago Matamoros (Santiago the Moor-slayer) (Wikipedia) If you’d lived in Spain in 1492 you would have considered January 6 a very big deal indeed. For on this date Ferdinand and Isabella of Aragon and Castile respectively, who ruled a semi-unified Spain, entered Grenada and completed the “Reconquista” of Spain from Muslim invaders after a mere seven and three quarters centuries.

You would have been much less likely to get excited at the sailing on August 3 of that same year of three modest ships from Palos de la Frontera under the command of a deluded Genoan explorer who thought Eurasia was way bigger, the Earth considerably smaller and Japan a lot further east than any of them actually were. Yet that’s the date we still remember: "In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue." Or maybe they don’t do that bit in schools or homes any more because Yes, it’s Christopher Columbus, once much celebrated, now much reviled, who never even admitted he’d found a new continent but did.

Looking back, which matters more? To be sure, the Reconquista was part of the recovery of European confidence and integrity without which the dynamic outward turn from the late 15th century on might not have been possible. But the Turks had only battered down the walls of Constantinople 39 years earlier and would go on trying to conquer Europe for several centuries before taking a break. And they didn’t prevent Spain, Portugal, France and most happily England from embarking on an age of colonization that transformed the world, not always in happy ways, but ultimately surely in very positive ones.

We are so reluctant to talk that way nowadays that, I am informed, some significant scholars and intellectuals including apparently Ortega y Gasset actually deny the Reconquista happened. And soon no doubt Columbus’s voyages will be so thoroughly deconstructed as not to have happened either. But in fact there is a kind of closing of one era and opening of another when by superficial coincidence the Reconquista is completed in the same year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue.