In March the successor to Nigel Scotland’s long-standing Rome trip took place. This involved Roy, Shelley and myself taking 21 students (5 of them 2nd years, the rest level 1 – all RPE students) to Cordoba in Andalucía, Spain. This trip was to explore the period of Islamic rule, the philosophers who emerged from it, the relation of faiths in that period (and the claims of a Golden age of religious tolerance that surround the period), the route of Greek ideas (such as those of Aristotle) into Europe, and the Christian re-conquest of the area.
Wednesday – a mid afternoon coach whisks us to Birmingham airport for a glamorous, jet-set flight with RyanAir to Malaga.. We are (much to my relief) met at the airport by another coach and driven to Cordoba, where we are dropped only a 5 minute walk from the hotel.
We arrive at Los Patios (http://www.lospatios.net/ ) around midnight – relieved that despite only having one star the hotel is friendly, clean and incredibly well-situated (it turns out to be a great place – with nice staff, night porters to let late students in, good food, and more – we hope to use it again next year).
Thursday – after a lie in – we have an orientation walk to Plaza de las Tendillas, so that students can find non-tourist shops, supermarkets, and the like. We then have lunch and cross the newly restored Roman Bridge to the new Torre de la Calahorra museum: this tower features a history of Andalucian life in the Islamic period – with models, speaking statues, and wireless headphones.
Here we began to understand the situation that prevailed in Cordoba during the Andalusian Umayyad dynasty, which lasted from 756 to 1031: often referred to as a ‘Golden Age’ of religious tolerance. While this is a simplification, the idea of an accommodation that allowed Muslim, Jews and Christians to live in relative peace, within part of Europe, is a compelling area to study – and this proved a good place to start.
More at http://www.torrecalahorra.com/
Some felt the museum might be a rather smoothed out account of the history – but it was good as an introduction to the relationship between Judaism, Christianity and Islam in the region. Many of us were glad to get out onto the roof terrace of the museum..
This museum also had a model of the large Mosque in Cordoba – now a Cathedral – which we were to visit the next day – as it would have been in its heyday, rather than as it is now (where there is now a huge Cathedral sticking out the middle of it – a very striking image if you are able to view it from above).
Following this we went to Cordoba’s archaeological museum – where much of the city’s Roman heritage is on show – which is significant and very visible around the city. There is also material here from the Visigoth period that came before the arrival and dominance of Moorish culture.
Friday was a busy day – dominated, as is the city, by the Mezquita – the grand Mosque that is now a Cathedral. Our guide, Imma, took us round the Jewish quarter and a Synagogue before we entered the hugely impressive Cathedral/Mosque.
The building still inspires strong feelings, and there was a lot to reflect on after and during this visit. The Catholic Church offers a very particular view in the leaflet that you collect as you enter – which implies that the place was a Christian place of worship (due to the presence of a Basilica prior to the Mosque) and that the re-conquest and consequent building of the Cathedral was merely a reclaiming. This seems, at the least, a simplification.
The building itself left us all with some sense of awe, but also perhaps with more troubling feelings regarding its history and claims made about it. We were also told that Muslims have often requested that Catholic authorities allow them to pray in the Mezquita/Cathedral – but that they are always turned down.
Some info HERE might be of interest..
On Friday evening we all went to the Plaza de la Corredera for a drink, followed by a meal at the Hotel – and an early night before Saturday.
Saturday began with a 6.30am alarm call… As is that was not enough of a shock for students, we then walked 25 minutes to Cordoba train station for the early morning train to Seville. Arriving at 8.30, and after a breakfast, we set off to find the Alcazar (Alcázares Reales de Sevilla) – which is a fortress with the most amazing, extensive gardens.
The place looks Moorish in style, and was mostly made by Moorish workers, but despite smaller earlier buildings, much of this Alcazar was built in the 1360s for King Pedro (the Cruel). Some argue that the Islamic buildings here were even built on the site of Visigoth buildings. However, this mix of claim and confusion over historical buildings seems not uncommon in a region where what may seem a matter of dusty history still has the power to cause passionate disagreement and dispute.
This was followed by the Cathedral in Seville – also on the site of a Mosque – the spire contains much that was a minaret and there are small parts of the arches of the mosque still intact if you look hard enough. You can climb the spire to get stunning views of the city – as we did, but this was another to chance to reflect on the purpose of the trip, in coming to an understanding of the way in which religions in this region have interacted.
Some students (and staff) also managed to find Flaherty’s bar and catch a Liverpool victory over Man Utd….
After a late night back, Sunday began with the Cordoba Alcazar – the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Spanish for "Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs"), – with huge Roman mosaics, and yet more elaborate gardens, – and then coach-plane-coach journey to Cheltenham, arriving at FCH in the early hours of Monday morning….
While formal student evaluations are a matter for exciting places like Course Boards – early informal reports suggest that this was a great way for students to learn, to get to know each other and to acquire more general life-skills and confidence. We hope to repeat it next year – and hope that more Humanities students will opt for the module (to be known as RPE136 in future) – or to attend as part of an Independent Study module.
Oh- a prize (coffee from the refectory?) for anyone (not on the trip) who can tell me what these fine gentlemen are doing… (and yes, it is religious)