For a variety of reasons (semester projects, family visits and eventually final exams), I realized early on in the semester that the month of October would be my opportunity to go see the non-Madrid parts of Europe that I was hoping to see. I followed through with that plan, and, thus, here I am at the beginning of November not having written about my experience for over a month. I hope that my memory will forgive me and that I will be able to do all of these trips justice, along with the different experiences I’ve had in Madrid.
The last week of September, all of the SMU students and about half of the San Diego students, with whom we are attending the Fundacion Jose Ortega y Gasset, ventured down to the southernmost comunidad autonoma (the Spanish version of the state or province) in Spain. It is the region home to the former Muslim Moorish empire that has shaped much of Spanish culture over the last 1,300 years. The Moors were formally expelled from Spain more than 500 years ago by the King and Queen Ferdinand and Isabella, but their influence remains to this day.
We started our trip with a 4-hour bus ride from Madrid to Cordoba. Immediately after departing the bus I realized that this was a very different place from Madrid, and it felt as if I actually was in Morocco or one of the other Moorish homelands (not that I’ve visited those places yet, but I’ve seen the pictures).
The buildings were all white, the streets were narrow, and instead of high-rise apartments and grandiose plazas, the city was filled with clusters of one- and two-story buildings that typically seemed to surround some sort of green area for leisure. The main site of historical significance there was the Mezquita (Mosque) de Cordoba. There began the trend, which held steady for the rest of our visit to Andalucia, of sites that held great Muslim importance before being converted by the Christian kings of Spain into Catholic holy places.
Later that day we hopped back on the bus and went to Seville, where we stayed the night and had the opportunity to enjoy many of the city’s famous tapas bars to celebrate a our friend’s 21st birthday.
The next morning we got to tour Sevilla, Andalucia’s most populous city and the fourth largest in all of Spain. We visited the Reales Alcazares (Moorish term for Royal Castles), which were a series of breathtaking gardens and ornate buildings
The true gem of our visit to Sevilla was the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of Sevilla, which is the third-largest cathedral in the whole world. Like the Mezquita, it was also built on the site of a former mosque, and when it was completed in the 16th century, it was the largest cathedral in the world and was a sign of the new Christian dominance of the region. Located within the Cathedral is the tomb, which has long been disputed to hold the remains of Christopher Columbus. Whether or not the claims are true, it is more than a little surreal to stare at the tomb of possibly the most impactful person in our history.
After another night in Sevilla, we made our way to the last Moorish stronghold of Granada. As we arrived at probably the most famous Moorish monument remaining in Spain, the gigantic palace called the Alhambra, my camera decided to break, thus losing all of my pictures of my trip for the rest of time, I’m afraid.
Oh well, I trekked onward (with a slightly worse attitude admittedly) and ended up enjoying Granada probably the most of all of the cities we visited on that trip. It was highlighted by a nighttime flamenco dance performance in a bar located in a cave on the side of one of the many Sierra Nevada mountains. A group of six of us ended up staying in Granada an extra night.
Our original plan had been to rent a van and make our way back to Madrid and enjoy some of the parts of Spain (notably Valencia) that we had not yet seen. However, there was a lapse of communication on the part of the rental car company and, long story short, we found out that we would not be getting back to Madrid via minivan.
The extra night and day of seeing the city and enjoying its many tapas proved to be just as fun, and I was truly happy to be home the next day and still have a full day of rest before the start of the next week.