People travel for various reasons, mostly for pleasure or business. If you travel for business you get paid, so that should be pleasurable too. Yet the level of grumpy returning travelers dispels this premise. Overcrowded tourist sites and cities can erode your pleasure as well as your finances rapidly. If you seek true pleasurable travel you need a quest. Your quest will take you on journeys to strange places, many of them off the beaten paths. Most of my travels started with a quest, usually ignited by a simple experience.
I once read a book that briefly mentioned a door knocker on an old 14th century Catholic Church door in Spain. The interesting part was the door knocker was an Islamic symbol, in the shape of a hand called “Hand of Fatima”, Fatima being the daughter of the Islamic prophet, Muhammad. I found it intriguing to find an Islamic icon on a Christian church, especially in the 15th century at the height of the Spanish Inquisition and Islamic/Christian conflict. I decided to confirm this by seeking out the door in question, and this became my quest!
After traveling around southern Spain, venturing into older communities and speaking to local residents, I finally located a very old building with an aged wooden door that carried an old bronze Hand of Fatima door knocker. It was located in the Andalusia region in a tiny street, much like an alley way.
The building appeared abandoned but the door was sturdy and sealed shut. I was unable to open it to get inside but I was able to photograph the door; and no, I did not carve my initials on that relic! I learnt from the residents there that the Hand of Fatima door knockers were very prevalent at one time but disappeared over the years. Today, you may be able to obtain replicas from some tourist shops but the originals are exceedingly scarce as far as I know. The Hand of Fatima most likely has its origins from pre-Islamic time, but became an Islamic cultural icon during the 700 year Islamic presence in Spain. It was called khamsa in Arabic, meaning five fingers, and became popular as a talisman to ward off evil and fashioned into amulets and pendants.
It is interesting to note that after the end of the Islamic rule in Spain, the Hand of Fatima was so popular that Emperor Charles V convened an Episcopal committee to decree a ban on the Hand of Fatima in 1526. This is most likely the reason why this tradition disappeared in Spain, but the Hand of Fatima later migrated into Jewish communities and culture still retaining the Arabic name hamsa, but The Jews changed it to mean Hand of Miriam, sister of Moses. The hamsa pendants are very popular in Israel and some are made of gold and silver. Some golden hamsas sell for over a thousand U.S. dollars.
On the left is a Roberto Coin Gold Hamsa Pendant Necklace selling for $1,040 USD at Neiman and Marcus to bring luck to the rich and famous.
However if you are a budget trekker like me, there are much cheaper Hamsas on the market. I picked up the two souvenirs below in Tel Aviv, at a fraction of the cost. The hand crafted silver pendant on the left cost of $25 USD, and the pewter one on the right was a mere $2 USD.