Quick History of Al-Andalus
Recently students from all of the Humanities courses went on a trip to Cordoba to learn about the rich heritage of the three main Monotheistic religions in the Iberian peninsula. The trip was mainly focused on the Muslim Umayyad Dynasty that ruled most of the Iberian Peninsula between 756 and 1031. What is so interesting about Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) is the fact that the Muslim leaders usually allowed both Christians and Jews a degree of tolerance when it came to practicing their religion and actually allowed scholars from both great religions to contribute to their culture. The capital of the Umayyad Dynasty was Cordoba. It became the envy of the world due to its rich culture, its almost unmatched wealth and by the 10th century, it had a population of over half a million inhabitants.
The Trip itself
I was one of the three History students who attended the trip and I originally had relatively low expectations for the trip. I was tentative about hanging around with 40 students I didn’t know very well. However, the 5 days I spent in the south of sunny Spain turned out to be more enjoyable than I could have possibly imagined. The trip started on Sunday at 3 am, when everyone met at Francis Close Hall, just outside the refectory. Snowy (the Campus Cat) came to say goodbye to everyone which proved to be a good omen for the trip. The next 10 hours or so were spent travelling either in a coach or plane. Our Supreme Leader, David Webster, unfortunately couldn’t be on the plane with us as one of our students fractured her foot (but fortunately both joined us a day later). We finally arrived in Cordoba at about 4pm and I was just ready to have a chilled night in preparation for the proper start of the trip on Monday. We stayed at a lovely little hotel called Los Patios, conveniently located across the street to the gorgeous Mosque-Cathedral (and right next door to Burger King).
Monday for me was when the trip really began to come into full flow. We began the morning by having a tour around the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba and learning about the great scholars that flourished in Al Andalus, such as Maimonides. The highlight of Monday though was definitely visiting the Mosque-Cathedral right opposite the hotel. The building was originally designed as a mezquita (Mosque) and had the most awe inspiring and seemingly never ending arches inside. What makes the Mosque so unique is that after the Christian recapture of the area in 1236, the Christians simply just built a Cathedral in the middle of it. Another fascinating part of the day was the visit to the Jewish Museum where we learnt about how the Jewish population after the expulsion in 1492 and the subsequent inquisition often tried to practice their faith privately by becoming what is known as a ‘crytpo-jew’. We were then serenaded by a supremely talented man called Alex.
On Monday night the vast majority of us met up at a lovely rooftop bar. It was a fantastic evening and one where I began to get to know all the other great Humanities students outside of the History course. My memory of Monday night though admittedly is slightly hazy as I drank a lot of Cerveza (Beer) and Jager. On Tuesday morning, I personally wanted to stay in bed due to a pounding headache but ended up forcing myself to join everyone in a trip to the Córdoba Alcazar (Palace and Gardens). This turned out to be an excellent idea. The Gardens in Cordoba were absolutely phenomenal. At the time I thought it was the most picturesque place on earth; it was only topped later in the week by the Alcazar in Seville. After staying in the Alcazar for an hour or two we went to an interesting museum and were then left to our own devices for the rest of the night. Many of us met up and found a lovely little international food market in the newer part of Cordoba.
The most enjoyable day of the trip for me was in Seville on Wednesday. We left for Seville at 7:55 and by 10:30am (after I enjoyed an authentic Spanish breakfast at McDonald’s) we as a group found ourselves visiting the Seville Alcazar. It was the most beautiful and vast location I have ever visited, and will probably ever visit. It’s hard fully to appreciate how nice it is without actually visiting it. A scene from Game of Thrones was actually filmed there. After spending hours in a small group at the Alcazar, everyone was left to their own devices to explore Seville in their own way. I personally thought the best way truly to get to know the city was by visiting every bar and ordering a variety of Spanish drinks, becoming slightly drunk in the process (really – only slightly?) At 8pm everyone met up and I stumbled my way onto the train back to Cordoba. When I arrived back in Cordoba, I went to the rooftop club again with a few other brave souls and dazzled everyone with my drunken daddy dancing.
Thursday morning for me and few others was rather difficult to start with but still turned out to be a really enjoyable day. We visited the Medina Azahara which is the ruins of a former fortified Muslim palace-city built during the reign of Al-Abd Raham III. The ruins were absolutely fascinating; the only shame was that we only had half an hour to walk around the ruins meaning that we could not see it all. David Webster, of course, used the time wisely by taking a selfie from the top of the ruins. After the day out at the Medina Azahara we took a 10 bus minute ride home and were told to meet at the courtyard at the hotel in the evening for a sit down meal and an awards ceremony.
The sit down meal with everyone was a really nice and chilled way to end a fantastic week. There were a variety of awards given out by the lecturers for the well behaved students and the more troublesome ones. For example, joint RPE and History student Alex Griffiths deservedly won an award for being friendly for the entire week. I personally won the ‘friend in need’ award for my drunken antics whilst my History comrade, Rhys Gregory, won the ‘friend indeed’ award for putting up with me. After the meal most of us went back to our rooms in preparation for the long journey home the next day.
Overall, the trip was legitimately one of the best weeks of my life. I met loads of new fantastic people and got to visit some of the most fascinating and picturesque places in the whole of Western Europe. I even learnt a thing or two about the history of the place.