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As part of my FANtastic Fiesta, running until 14 August, I’m giving away three lovely wooden Spanish hand fans, as featured on the covers of my Andalucían Nights trilogy:


No doubt you know that the hand fan is a classic object that blends both fashion and function. But how much do you know about the history of the fan? In this article I will share what I’ve learned through my research. I hope you find it interesting background, and you feel inspired to enter my FANtastic giveaway at http://hannahfielding.net/fan-tastic-fiesta/ and have your own beautiful fan.

The first recorded hand fans date back to Ancient Greece, but they were not widely used until the 17th century: Japan and China led the way in developing fans, and once traders introduced them to Europe, they were widely adopted as objects of beauty and practicality. Fans were soon deemed the accessory to have, especially for noblewomen and royalty; they feature in several portraits of Queen Elizabeth I, for example.

Many of the fans at this time were rigid, and ladies would hang them from their skirt belt, but soon the more practical and enchanting folding fan came into favour. What was painted on your fan when extended was of great interest, and it became quite the art form to design the leaves: challenging, because at that time the sticks of the fan, made from ivory or tortoiseshell, were closely spaced.

By the 18th century, specialist fan makers existed, and they used a broad range of materials for their art, including silk, while the painting on each fan was more intricate and artistic. The fan really had become an object d’art.

The handheld fan was now an integral part of a lady’s attire for dedicated followers of fashion, but it was not only used to impress and beautify. The fan served other core purposes: to cool, to conceal and to communicate. In the 18th century, pallor was considered beautiful in a woman, thus at the fireside they would use a fan to conceal flushed cheeks and to protect heavy makeup. At the same time, in regal courts fans were used to communicate non-verbally. At the end of the century, print designer Charles Francis Badini created the ‘Fanology, or Ladies Conversation Fan’, which featured instructions for how to use the fan to spell out messages. Here is the fan, as featured by Christies of London:


Of all the European countries, Spain is most associated with the hand fan to this day. The Spanish embraced the fan, and it would become an integral part of the emotional, sensual flamenco dance that evolved in Andalucía. An entire ‘language of the fan’, the abanico, evolved. For example, holding your fan open and covering one cheek meant ‘I like you’; holding your closed fan over your heart meant ‘I love you’; waving your open fan quickly at your side meant ‘Keep a distance; we’re being watched’.

There are some spectacular hand fans on display at the Museum of Costume in Madrid. This one, for example, dates from 1880–1890 and has beautiful peacock detailing:


Here is another, painted in 1829 to commemorate the marriage of King Ferdinand VII with Maria Cristina of Naples:

abanico 2

Beautiful, don’t you think? If you’re interested in fans and you’re based in the UK, you can visit a museum dedicated to these items of beauty, practicality and communication: the Fan Museum at Greenwich: https://www.thefanmuseum.org.uk/. There you can see fans from all over the world, such as this one by the iconic Spanish artist Salvador Dali, inspired by Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes.

dali fan

There is so much that drew me to the Spanish region of Andalucía when it came time to choose a setting for my romantic trilogy. But given that core themes in the trilogy are roots and legacies, the rich history of the Andalucía was a big attraction.

Andalucía is steeped in history. I have written before about the Moors who ruled ‘Al-Andalus’, modern-day Andalucía, from 711 to 1492 (see my blog post http://hannahfielding.net/the-moorish-legacy-in-andalucia/), and today I want to focus on another important people who took control of Andalucía and helped to shape its history: the Romans.

The Roman occupation of Andalucía dates back to the sixth century AD. They conquered the region, which was controlled by the Carthaginians, and bought it into their empire, naming it Baetica (part of Spania). It became an important part of the Roman Empire: emperors Trajan and Hadrian hailed from here, and in mythology Hercules was said to have founded the city of Cadiz.

The Romans lost Andalucía to the Moors many centuries ago, and yet their influence is felt still, most especially in the distinctive architecture of the region. The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (the Mezquita) is a beautiful example of Roman-inspired Moorish architecture. It was in fact constructed using materials from Roman buildings, including a temple dedicated to Janus that had stood on the site and the Amphitheatre of Mérida.


For me, original Roman buildings are even more interesting. When I visited Andalucía, I spent some time touring archaeological sites. I especially loved the Roman amphitheatres: the Acinipo, near Ronda; the Italica, Seville; and the Malaga theatre.


[Picture credits: Apinicio Falconaumanni; Malaga Andy Nash; Italica Diego Delso.]

Baleo Claudia, in the Cadiz province, is really stunning. There, archaeologists have uncovered an ancient town, complete with basilica, theatre, market, and the temple of Isis – all at a spectacular stretch of coastline.


I found stepping back into the Roman Empire in Andalucía fascinating – and inspirational. When you read my Andalucían Nights trilogy, you will find echoes of the distant Roman past interspersed in these modern-era stories.

For example, in Indiscretion Salvador considers what makes the Andalucían horses the family breed so special:

‘Look at our cartujanos. Over the centuries, their bloodline lost its purity and was injected with new strains that have made it stronger. Today, not only does the blood of their Moorish ancestors run in them, but also that of the Nubian horse, which the Romans used in their chariot races.’

Also in Indiscretion, the heroine Alexandra visits Ronda, and feels a sense of the past when she steps into the bullring:

The following afternoon, La Plaza de Toros in Ronda was drenched with the blinding white glare of a fierce sun. The huge, tragic amphitheatre with its floor of red sand, reminiscent of the Roman arenas of old, had been the scene of many bloody and barbarous combats between man and beast since the end of the eighteenth century.

I could not resist drawing on the Roman influence in my characterisation as well. In Legacy, for example, the heroine finds herself likening Ruy to a Roman god.

He was coming towards her, bare-chested, his eyes shining. He looked like a primitive Roman god and the sexual stir she felt in her belly was instant, confusing her thoughts.

Of course, beyond Andalucía itself, another Roman influence can be found in all my writing – that of the great Roman philosophers, Marcus Aurelius in particular. I will leave you with one of my favourite Aurelius quotations from Meditations, whose sentiment guides my writing hand:

‘Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.’ 


Andalucían culture features prominently in my recent novels, Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy, especially in relation to music and dance, which is characterised by a single emotion: passion. As Salvador tells Alexandra in Indiscretion:

‘Spanish flamenco is the embodiment of passion. Some people say that music is at its best when wild and unleashed. Flamenco is often like that, heels stamping, castanets clicking, skirts of the dancers whirling.’

He goes on to explain that not all flamenco music is performed in this way – it can be still and poignant – but of course Salvador has described here the vision of flamenco that most people conjure up, of which castanets is an integral part.

In fact, while castanets are used in some flamenco dances, they are not traditional to all flamenco. They are more commonly played as part of other folkloric dances, like the Sevillana and the balletic Escuela Bolera. Here is an example from my novel Masquerade; a raw, spirited performance by my character Marujita:

‘The older gitana took up her castanets and stalked into the space, twirling her hands like proud birds. Now the true queen had taken the stage for all to see. With mesmerizing nobility the gypsy danced, her head held high, hands and arms moving with a power and beauty that were breathtaking. Every movement, while exaggerated in its twists and turns, was fluidly graceful; then she dipped and twirled aggressively like an Amazon warrior, her castanets clattering like gunfire. Marujita’s black eyes shone like some terrifying goddess as her arms swooped up like wings about to take flight.’

‘Castanets’ is derived from the Spanish word for chestnut (castana), but in Andalucía the instrument is known as palillos, which translates to saucers. The instrument isn’t, in fact, Spanish in origin. In various forms, it can be traced back more than 10,000 years, beginning with the Phoenicians and then being taken up by the Iberians, who brought it to Spain.

The simplicity of the instrument and the ease with which it can be played to create a rhythmic percussive sound has helped it to stand the test of time. Modern castanets are formed from two shell-shaped clackers held together by a string or leather tie. Hardwood produces the best sound: granadillo, rosewood, ebony, pomegranate or oak.

Don’t let the simplicity of castanets fool you, though, that they are easy to play! It takes years of practice to play with speed and mastery. Remember, the castanets player is not merely a dancer or musician, but must be both at once. Accomplished players can coax from the castanets a range of sounds. The right hand holds the hembra (the higher-pitched ‘female’ of the pair) while the left holds the macho (the lower-pitched ‘male’ set). This video shows a skilled castanets player in action, accompanying the Berlin Opera Chamber Orchestra as they play Georges Bizet’s Carmen:

When it comes to castanets playing, the most important artist is Antonia Mercé y Luque. Born in 1890 to professional Spanish dancers, she was destined for the stage, but she grew up to have strong opinions on what she performed there. Essentially, she developed her own dance style, based on Spanish folkloric dancing, which would prove hugely influential, and castanets playing was an important element of that. La Argentina, as she came to be known, laid the foundations of all modern castanets playing: her way of playing become the definitive way of playing.

La Argentina took castanets beyond the borders of Spain, notably to the US, which she toured six times, and to France, where she was especially popular in Paris. There, Pierre-Auguste Renoir painted a work he considered one of his most important, called ‘Dancing Girl with Castanets’ (1909). I will leave you with this artwork, which I think perfectly encapsulates the emotion and intensity of the castanets player.


Each of the Spanish regions has its own unique culture and history; but for me, the most beautiful and fascinating of them all is Andalucía. This southernmost region has a distinctive look and feel influenced by a history of Moorish occupation. It is a place characterised by legacy, and thus was the ideal setting for my recent romance trilogy: Indiscretion, Masquerade and Legacy.

The Moors were descended from Berber and Arab tribes of North Africa, and they ruled ‘Al-Andalus’, modern-day Andalucía, from 711 to 1492. More than 500 years later, their presence is still felt. Here are three important legacies the Moors left in Andalucía:


Under Moorish rule, sophisticated irrigation systems were developed, which greatly improved agricultural output. Not only this, but the Moors brought with them crops which were then integrated into Andalucían farming – and, subsequently, into the cuisine. Orange, grapefruit, lemon, peach, apricot, fig, pomegranate, artichoke, almonds, carrot, coriander, saffron, sugar cane, rice… these were all brand-new flavours to be explored. Consider paella, for example, that staple of Spanish cuisine, and the almond taste in so many Andalucían desserts and pastries; it is thanks to the Moors’ introduction of rice and saffron and almonds that such recipes were ever conceived.


Cooking methods that are still in use today were also taught: fish coated in flour and then fried, for example. The Moors favoured salt and vinegar for food preservation; their influence can be seen today in the tapas dish boquerones en vinagre, anchovies marinated in vinegar.


No doubt you know that Spanish is a Romance language: like French and Italian, it evolved from Latin between the sixth and ninth centuries. But did you know that in fact as many as 4,000 words Spanish words have Arabic roots, thanks to the Moorish rule? Most words that begin with ‘al’ are derived from Arabic, as does that most famous of Spanish expressions, ‘¡Ole!’

Hundreds of place names in Andalucía are derived from Arabic, such as Almería City (from Al-Meraya, the watchtower), Jaén City (from Jayyan, crossroads of caravans) and Sanlúcar de Barrameda (from shaluqa, meaning the Levant wind, and bar-am-ma’ida, water well of the plateau). Plenty of geographical features also have Arabic names, such as the River Guadalquivir (derived from Al-Wādĩ Al-Kabir, the big river).

Given names like Almudena, Fátima and Guadalupe can also be traced back to Arabic origins, as can Omar, Soraya, Zaida and Zahira. (Surnames are less commonly related to Arabic, because in the 15th and 16th centuries Muslims were persecuted and forced to adopt Christian family names.)


Last but by no means least, the most striking of all the legacies…

Out in the countryside of Andalucia, through the north of Cádiz and Málaga provinces, you find the pueblos blancos. Literally translated, they are the ‘white villages’, so-called because the villagers whitewash their homes. The result is luminous buildings that stand out in the landscape, reflecting the light – a contrast of brilliant white against the azure sky that is beautiful and unforgettable. The whitewashing tradition was begun by the Moors, who knew, from their African heritage, that it reflected the blazing sunrays and cooled the buildings.


Within and beyond these villages, you will find Moorish influence in so much of the architecture, in the colours, the materials, the symmetry, the domes, the elegant arches. The two most striking examples of Moorish architecture that have endured in Andalucía are the Alhambra palace in Granada and the Alcázar in Seville. You can read all about them in these articles from my blog: http://hannahfielding.net/the-alcazar-seville-a-setting-for-indiscretion/; http://hannahfielding.net/tales-of-the-alhambra/; and http://hannahfielding.net/the-hall-of-the-abencerrages/.


The Moors, then, have left a lasting legacy in Andalucía, and it is one that inspired me greatly as I wrote my Andalucían Nights novels. You will find references to the Moors throughout the books, with regard to everything from art to legends.

But what of the great spirit of Andalucía, the fiery passion of its people – does that come from Moorish ancestors? I will let you decide, and in the meantime I will leave you smiling, I hope, with a little joke from Salvador in Indiscretion:

‘Didn’t you know that in Andalucia, love is as inconstant as it is passionate and jealous? A liking for the harem has been handed down to us by centuries of Moorish civilisation.’

The city of Cádiz features in each of the novels in my Andalucían Nights trilogy. It’s such a vibrant, luminous city, it was an easy decision to set scenes there; this a thriving and beautiful place with a rich history and culture.

Here’s a glimpse of the city from the perspective of Alexandra, heroine of Indiscretion:

Not quite an island, it was a city of dazzling white houses set on a rocky peninsula, jutting into the sea with the sapphire-blue waters wrapped around it. A jewel that towered over the Atlantic, she well deserved her name. Brilliant and sparkling like a diamond in the sunshine, Alexandra found her beauty was just as arresting at night, under a velvet sky studded with stars, when the city was reflected in the almost unearthly phosphorescence of the ocean.

For me, travelling is all about the vistas: my memory is like a photo album packed with colourful, striking, beautiful scenes. Today I’m sharing with you ten unforgettable vistas in Cádiz city which, I hope, will make you want to travel there, whether in person or via one of my books:

1. Gran Teatro Falla


This theatre is one of the notable monuments of Andalucía, a lovely example of the neo-Mudéjar style. It stands in the Plaza Fragela, in the north-west quarter of the Old Town, a grand and historic theatre. Within, you find a handsome marble staircase, antiquated gold and claret décor, and ornate Moorish revival arches. The theatre is so-named in honour of Manuel de Falla, who is buried in the Cathedral.

2. Cathedral


The Cathedral de Santa Cruz dates back to the eighteenth century and is prominent in the Cádiz cityscape. It was built painstakingly, over more than a century, to exemplify all that is great about Cádiz and to put it on the spiritual map. It has an iconic gold-tiled dome roof, which gives it an exotic Moorish look. One of the towers is open to the public, and the views from there are spectacular, but quite honestly I find beauty enough in gazing at the cathedral’s façade.

3. San Sebastián Castle

san seb

On a little islet jutting out from the Caleta beach, the fortress dates back to the early 1700s and affords amazing views over the ocean and back towards the city. The tall tower within is a lighthouse, built a century ago. To reach the castle, you walk along the zig-zagging causeway, the Paseo Fernando Quiñones, and through magnificent old archways.

4. Roman theatre


The ancient theatre dates all the way back to the first century BC. One of the biggest Roman theatres ever discovered, it could hold an audience of 20,000. It was found in 1980, and is only partially excavated. On the steps, it’s impossible not to be swept away by the thought of who stood there before you.

5. Tavira Tower


The tower itself is quite beautiful, dating back to the eighteenth century when Cádiz was ‘a city of watchtowers’, with no fewer than 160 from which men would watch for merchant ships. But it is the view from the tower that is really special, a panoramic vista of the city in the cámaraoscura, a room in which the view is projected via a convex lens.

6. Monument to the Constitution of 1812


This monument is completely breath-taking, entirely dominating the Plaza de España. It is the combined work of architect Modesto Lopez Otero and sculptor Aniceto Marinas. It was commissioned in 1912 to mark the centenary of the Constitution of 1812, the country’s very first constitution, which established important principles, among them universal male suffrage, national sovereignty and freedom of the press.

7. Plaza San Antonio

San Antonio

The neo-classical and Castilian late Gothic architecture of the buildings on each side of this square is striking. Once, this was the place to live for the upper classes of Cádiz. San Antonio Church in the square dates back to 1669.

8. Genovés Park

G park cadiz

With so many stunning buildings to admire, and bedazzled by the blue sky and even bluer sea all around, it is easy to forget that Cádiz also offers lush, verdant vistas. The Genovés Park is beautifully maintained, with many different trees and plants, plus a lake with a spectacular waterfall.

9. Centre for Subaquatic Archaeology


Not a place to visit, but to admire from the outside. The iconic white building is on Caleta beach, and was created in the 1920s. For some thirty years it was a spa, El Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, but these days it’s used by the university. Caleta is the smallest beach in Cádiz, but the most popular, and the houses behind give it a colourful backdrop.

10. The sea

Cadiz sea

Last, but by no means least, the sea. Wherever you go in Cádiz, you are quickly reunited with the ocean – the city is, as the Moors put it, a ‘dish of silver in a bowl of blue’. Whether you find a sea view soothing or stirring, you’re bound to be drawn to the waves lapping someplace nearby in their age-old rhythm.

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