The Christian reconquest
When Ferdinand and Isabella captured the last Muslim
stronghold of Granada in 1492, Jews had three choices:
conversion, exile or the Inquisition. Their history in the
peninsular was a long history of persecution. Enough was
enough already. The 20,000 or so Jews in Granada at the
time did the wise thing and left Spain for good.
The "capitulation" of the Catholic Kings, which took the
form of the "Treaty of Granada" and outlined 69 articles of
religious tolerance, was enough to woo the Moslems into
surrendering peacefully. For a few short years there was a
tense calm in the province but the inquisitors were never
happy with the deal. The Church advisors, using religious
justifications, convinced Ferdinand and Isabella to break
the treaty and force the Moslems to become Christians or
get the hell out of Spain.
Moslems and Gypsies head for the hills
There are those who
believe that the Gypsies brought
the flamenco style with them from
Hindustan. This argument is supported by
the strong resemblance found in the
ragas, the nuances of the Indian dance
and similar arm and hand movements.
In 1499, 50,000 or so Moslems were coerced into
taking part in a mass baptism. It didn't work. During the
uprising that followed, those who refused the choices of
baptism or officially sanctioned deportation to Africa,
were systematically and brutally "eliminated", to put it
mildly. The bulk of the Arabs had already packed up their
bags and left for greener pastures during the previous few
Not surprisingly, the 300,000 remaining Muslims fled the
populated towns and villages and headed for the hills. In
the same year, Gypsies were treated to a royal decree
designed to make them leave the country or face terrible
penalties. Again, it comes as no surprise that many Gypsies
joined the fleeing Muslims and took refuge in the mountain
regions and caves.
The birth of flamenco
These cultures had little in common with each other but
they found themselves united against a common enemy.
Christian dissidents who had little stomach for what was
going on also joined them. The various folkloric traditions
would have already experienced some cross-pollination
before the fall of Granada. It was in this underground
environment of forced exile however, that the first
flamenco forms were most likely created and developed.
The Gypsies did not invent flamenco as we know it, but
they certainly played a significant role in its distilling
Although they borrowed the bits they liked from the various
cultures around them and adapted them to suit their
purposes, it would be stretching credibility to say that
everything was borrowed.
It is reasonable to assume that Gypsies already possessed
music and dance traditions of their own when they entered
Spain. Centuries of wandering through strange lands would
have infused their psyche with dance and musical echoes
which reach back all the way to India. The early songs and
dances of flamenco, many of which were used in rituals
connected with Gypsy customs such as wedding ceremonies or
the forging of iron, continued to be modified and refined
over time. Flamenco is that collection of songs and dances,
Gypsy and non-Gypsy, which made it into the 20th century.