A cool aspect about our language school is that it plans trips every weekend to different parts of Spain or even other countries like Morocco. These are nice because we don't just see the sites but also learn about the history as the guides (the cultural director at CLIC and usually a CLIC teacher) explain the historical background and relevance of the monuments we see. It is also an opportunity to get to know students who are not in my classes or in CIEE. Our second weekend in Seville, there was a two-day trip to Granada, and CIEE kind of took over the trip as all the new spring semester gap year students went. Many times while I was there, I had to remind myself that we were still in Spain as the Arabic influence on the city is very prominent in certain areas. Even while in Sevilla, I have felt I was in another country sometimes just due to the architecture on certain streets or during cultural activities, especially during our visit to Alcazar.
Our trip to Granada started Saturday morning with a bus ride that got us there just in time to take advantage of the city's great tapas system for lunch. There, with every drink you order, a tapa is included. These included tapas are not just olives or potato chips like in many other parts of Spain, but typical dishes like migas, chorizo al Jerez, morcilla, patatas bravas, and a variety of other things depending on the bar.
We then met up at the main plaza to make our way to the cathedral and the Capilla Real. I've seen a bunch of cathedrals and chapels this year, but this one was different, not because of the architecture but because of who was buried there: Reina Isabel la Catolica and King Ferdinand, as well as their daughter Juana la Loca (the crazy) and her husband Felipe el Hermoso (the handsome). Last semester in my film class, we learned about the Catholic kings' crazy daughter Juana. This was just another example of one of my favorite aspects of this year: history that I have learned about through my culture classes last semester being brought to life. I also love having the historical context to fully appreciate the sites I am seeing. I don't just have to listen to a lecture about the Moorish influence on Andalusia. I get to see it in the architecture, the shops, the food, and the language, especially in Granada. Afterwards, we walked along the river and then up to the Mirador de San Nicolas for a view of the Alhambra. The Alhambra lit up at night, the snowcapped Sierra Nevada in the background, and the view of the entire city was absolutely breathtaking!
I couldn't wait to see the gorgeous palace up close the next day, and it definitely did not disappoint. The Alhambra is huge, and no detail was left to chance, from the perfectly manicured gardens to the intricate plaster moldings and mosaic patterns that decorate every wall and horseshoe arch. However, the beauty does not stop with the architecture as all around there are clear views of the city below. It was also interesting listening to our guides talk about the different legends of this fortress throughout our tour.
It is hard for me to believe this, but even as much as we saw, a lot of the Alhambra is not open to the public. Every month, however, they open up a different part to the public that is usually closed. While we were there, we were able to go up to a tower from which we saw a field of trees closely associated to the city: pomegranate trees (Granada=Pomegranate in Spanish).
After all the walking, we were obviously very hungry and went for a another tapas lunch before heading back to Sevilla.
Our group also visited another very famous example of the Arabic architectural influence in Andalusia: Alcazar, which literally translates to "the castle." Before going I heard it described as a smaller version of the Alhambra, but after visiting, I can say that that does not mean less amazing. It also has the peaceful gardens, this time including orange trees and peacocks, and the detailed plasterwork decorating just about every surface. Alcazar is the place where King Juan Carlos and his family stay when visiting Sevilla, so it is still currently a palace.
After our interesting tour with our fun tour guide, Angel, we had the option to stay and explore the gardens some more. During my extra time, I found the peacocks (pavos reales / royal turkeys) that we had heard about and then just relaxed in the gardens until closing time.
Even though I have been in Spain since September, as I was in the northern and central parts of the country before, the sights and architecture of Andalucía and the history associated with them are all new and exciting for me. Even though the Moors were forced to leave Spain several centuries ago, it is almost impossible to forget that they did in fact have power over this area for a long period of time just while walking around certain parts of Sevilla or Granada. The main monuments of both cities trace their roots back to the time of Al-Andalus, as even the cathedral of Sevilla is built on the foundations of a mosque and the Giralda (the cathedral’s tower that can be seen from just about every part of the city) was originally a minaret. It has been truly amazing to see firsthand how the seemingly distant history of a region or city can still have such an impact on the look and modern-day life of the area.