The Memory Burns – Confronting Intolerance through Poetry and Music in Granada

(ESPAÑOL ABAJO): Arde la Memoria – Confrontar la Intolerancia a través de la Poesía y la Música en Granada

In February 2019, I wrote a short piece for the University of Cambridge about the Día de la Toma [Day of the Taking] in Granada, a controversial festival held annually on the 2nd January that marks the final surrender of the Alhambra fortress in 1492 by Granada’s last Muslim ruler, Abū ‘Abdi-llāh Muhammad XII (also known as Boabdil) following a truce with the Catholic monarchs Isabella of Castile and Ferdinand of Aragon. I followed the group Granada Abierta [Open Granada], which vehemently opposes the festival aiming to transform it into a celebration of tolerance and social integration; a festival that would recognise Granada’s pluri-religious past during the Nasrid Kingdom rather than the imposition of one religion over another. But Granada Abierta’s platform of protest extends even further, as I recently experienced at an event called Arde la Memoria [The Memory Burns]. Held in Spring to coincide with the Granada’s annual Feria del Libro [book fair], this event commemorates through poetry and music attempts to destroy the written memory of defeated peoples in Spain and around the world, drawing energy from Granada’s past and present legacies of cultural exchange.

Andalusian Flag in the Plaza Bib-Rambla

On the morning of the event, I left my hotel and stepped out into the scorching May heat, heading towards the Plaza de Bib-Rambla where Arde la Memoria was to be held. The plaza itself is a significant location, given its former life as a commercial hub during the Nasrid era. I knew that I was in the right place when I saw an Andalusian flag emblazoned with Arde la Memoria tied to the plaza’s fountain. Granada Abierta is closely aligned with Andalusian regionalism and so the flag stands as an important reminder of the platform’s ideological foundations. I took some time to walk around the square, nosing at the various stalls selling a range of books on Granada’s Muslim and Jewish past, children’s books and various paintings, photographs and crafts from local artists. It was significant that an event commemorating the destruction of written knowledge should take place in the heart of a book fair that celebrates the written word, art and culture.

At around 12pm, the director of Granada Abierta, Francisco Vigueras Roldán, took to the stage to introduce the event [Full video of the event can be found here]. For Francisco the key purpose of Arde la Memoria is simple: it serves as “a homage to the books that we can no longer read” referring to the number of moments throughout human history where “defeated” or subjugated peoples have had their written culture and memory destroyed through acts of colonialism, intolerance and racism. More specifically, the event commemorates the burning of more than 5,000 books in the plaza itself in 1499 following the Catholic reconquest of 1492, books that had been held in the Madraza Library during the Muslim Nasrid kingdom. This act left in ashes knowledge and culture that had been cultivated during the Muslim occupation of southern Spain. Skipping forward in time, Arde la Memoria also commemorates the burning of thousands of Republican texts by the Franco regime following its victory in the Spanish Civil War (1939). These commemorations mark out the key ideological foundations of Granada Abierta: the promotion of Granada as a space of interculturalism and the advancement of leftwing, republican politics. And, as Francisco noted, the best way to do this is through the union of poetry and music.

Francisco Vigueras Roldán Spe