I spent the weekend in Seville! CIEE organized a planned weekend trip to Seville, Spain. Sevilla is a part of the Andalusian region of Spain. It used to be populated by people mostly from the middle east and home to three of the country’s most practiced religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Today, you can see so many remnants of its past and the way in which those things are still a part of the culture today. For example, there used to be mostly Arabic speakers in this part of the country and that affected a lot of the town names, colloquial terms, and the accent. Andalucía was previously known as Al-Andalus to the former Arabic-speaking inhabitants. If you think is cool, you’re gonna flip when I tell you that I went to the royal palace of the famous Catholic King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Fun fact: it is still used as a palace for the Spanish monarchy when they make visits to this region. There’s a beautiful culture and history to unpack here in Andalusia and I’m going to tell you a little bit more about what I learned!
One of the classes I’m taking this semester is Religion and Society and we focus on the three main religions of Spain. It’s such a great class because we are able to not only learn about the religions, but how they were created, intertwined with society, and understand more about their structure. Often, classes on religion can become more preachy than teachy; however, this class gives us actual accounts of the facts, beliefs, and societal perceptions over time. I love it! What makes it better is that over the weekend I was able to visit some of the sites we discussed.
We left around 8:30 AM Friday morning for Sevilla. I slept most of the ride there. About 5 hours into our drive, we stopped for lunch. This was the first I had a traditional Spanish meal since the summer. Next, we made a stop in Cordoba. Ever heard of it? Well, if you were to ask any Muslim at the height of their expansion into the west, and specifically Spain, you would know that it held one of three important Mosques of its time. It was the central Mosque for Muslims in Spain. However, as I learned in my class and during our tour of the mosque, it did not remain a mosque. After many years of oppression, relentless efforts by the Pope and catholic rulers throughout Europe, all of these religious spaces, including Jewish synagogues, were “Christianized.”
To give you a clearer picture, let’s talk about the royal palace in Seville. It is almost entirely decorated in Arabic script and constructed in Islamic style architecture. When you go deeper into the palace and its many salas you would be suddenly struck with byzantine Christian imagery. I’m talking about all the stuff that Muslims would avoid to remain their founding principal of equality. You will see paintings that reach all four corners of a wall adorned with golden elaborately designed frames. Angels, Jesus, saints — if it’s Christian, then it is present in any of the Christianized religious buildings. In class, I learned that this kind of complete take over and hierarchical power structure that we find in Christianity is deeply rooted in the political and societal structure of Ancient Rome. For me, it cleared up all the conflicting ideas that were present in Christianity. I could honestly write a whole blog on just how much I’ve learned about these 3 religions’ fundamental and structural makeup. I’ll leave you here this time and pick it up in a later blog. Now it’s story time!
While in Cordoba and Sevilla, we visited some off site locations such as the medieval Jewish neighborhoods that once occupied so much of these cities. Upon walking away from the palace, we find ourselves in one of these beautiful and historical juderias (Jewish neighborhood). This isn’t any ordinary Jewish quarter because it is the actual location in which a story of star crossed lovers met their fate. I am really trying to make this interesting and suspenseful. Is it working? Okay, let’s keep going haha. There was a young Jewish girl and young Christian boy who shared a forbidden love for each other. One night, the young Jewish girl planned to meet her lover in the neighborhood square. She heard her father talking about planning an attack on the Christians who lived nearby. When the Christian boy got word of this, he decided to tell his comrades in order to prepare themselves for the events to take place that night. In the end, everyone is slain except the couple. It was such a deadly battle and it caused the Christian boy to want nothing to do with the young Jewish girl. She was then without parents, without a lover, and without any place to go. She goes to the church, and yes, I mean the catholic church, to ask for help. They tell her that they will help her, but only if she converts to Christianity and joins the convent as a nun. The young Jewish girl then lives the rest of her life as a Christian woman.
Everything I’ve told you to this point is an actual account of history in this neighborhood that happened thousands of years ago, if I remember correctly, it happened in the 15th or 16th century. However, the legend goes on to say that before she died, she asked that her head be separated from her body and placed in her childhood home as a lesson to young Jewish children not to disobey their elder or betray their people. Although the story is unfortunate, it has been kept alive for generations and the legend has taken the shape of a narrow street and a tile decorated with a skull. The street of the dead who were killed that night of the battle and a skull to remember the “wishes” of the young Jewish girl. This was all told to me in Spanish by the way. It was pretty amazing to be in this spot in which it all took place so long ago. Then, as we exited, I began to admittedly critique the character of the young Christian boy who abandoned his star-crossed lover. Que tonto era! He was such a jerk!
Before I get upset again about this 15th/16th century Justin Bieber wannabe…let’s just look at some pretty pictures in the video below haha.