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2 posts from August 2011


Like Stepping Back in Time

C) Mezquita Student and staff member chat during a visit to La Mezquita in Córdoba, Spain

Like Stepping Back in Time

By: Tevia Pollard (Princeton University)

Stepping into the mosque in Cordoba was like stepping back in time. You could instantly feel the presence of two distinct peoples working to construct and beautify the structure over a period of many years. You could imagine the amount of religious ceremonies and daily prayers that had taken place in that vast building. When you first walk onto the premises of the place of worship, you are first struck by the sheer size of the property. Cordoba is not a big city, and the mosque seems to take over the available land area. We were given directions to our hotel from the mosque because it is such a focal point in the town. There is never a point when it is completely out of view.

After the initial shock of the size of the building in relation to the town has left, visitors can begin to appreciate the beautiful architecture constructed in the Islamic tradition. The gardens are gorgeous and vast, arches and geometric shapes feature heavily and a minaret is always in view. It is not until you step inside that you realize that this building is now a functioning cathedral and Catholic church. Inside the Muslim architecture continues and even the mihrab, the focal point of prayer in the direction of Mecca, has been preserved. However, once you reach the center of the structure, you begin to note the opulence and grandioseness of the Catholic church. Before reaching the altar, signals of a change in culture become apparent, such as the use of the cross, the presence of saints, and sculptures of cherubs. The Catholic church sits directly in the center of the remaining structure of the mosque, and the coexistence of the two cultures is truly breathtaking.

It is important to remember that this coexistence is in fact an indicator of historical significance, providing evidence of the Reconquista. The Catholics reclaimed this structure from the Muslims, and as it was customary during this period, converted their house of worship. Although this practice is a common feature of history, I could not lose a feeling of bitterness towards the Catholic church, especially as this practice seemed to happen disproportionately and repeatedly to Muslims in Spain.

Nevertheless, there is still a coexistence of cultures that needs to be noted. The Catholics could have chosen to destroy all remnants of the Muslim tradition, but instead decided to preserve as much as possible. The Cathedral still functions today as a place of worship, with people of all religions respecting the way the two cultures have found a way to create a unique structure. The beauty of this religious fusion of these two worlds makes me wonder if it is possible in the larger realm of the political and diplomatic spheres.


Aranjuez: who would have known?

KrystalParrish_Collage from Aranjuez_smallCollage submitted by CIEE Spring 2011 student Krystal Parrish

Aranjuez: Who Would Have Known?

By: Krystal Parrish (Yale University)

    To be honest, when I first heard that there was a CIEE hosted trip to Aranjuez my first thoughts were, “what is that and why would anyone want to go there?” Fortunately for me, a couple days before the trip I received a text from Mariah, one of our program directors, asking me to come along. Honestly touched by her endearing effort to include me, I was persuaded to go. When I received her text I happened to be eating lunch with some other buddies from the CIEE program and luckily enough, Carlos, a Spanish friend of ours who also attends Universidad Carlos III. I asked Carlos, “What’s in Aranjuez? Is it worth going?” And he said, “Yes! Definitely. They have a Palacio Real and beautiful gardens…it’s really beautiful. You should definitely go if you can.” So, Friday morning comes, the sun’s out, and greeted by all of the warm faces of CIEE—fellow students from the program, Spanish La Red students, and the every cheerful Mariah—I figure, no matter what I at least have good company. From the start of the train ride I knew it didn’t matter where I was going because they were bound to make it a good day regardless. Fortunately for us all, when we arrived in Aranjuez the weather was gorgeous! We walked from the train station down this obscure looking dirt path that led us into town where the Palace was. Coming from the busy streets of Madrid I pleasantly surprised by the rustic, small town feel and ready to welcome a pseudo day in the country. 

    Eventually we came across El Palacio Real, the “spring” palace for the royal family. From the moment I heard that I thought, “Well if Aranjuez is good enough for a royal family it’s certainly good enough for me!” After taking a tour of the palace with it’s hand-painted porcelain rooms and silk draped walls we ended up at the end of the tour in what was my favorite room—what I affectionately call: The Wedding Dress Room. Yes, very original. It was pretty amazing though. The last 4 royal wedding dresses were encased in this huge glass tank that climbed floor to ceiling, and dresses clad with ornate lace and elaborate beading were stand-alone figures; shaped as if invisible people were standing wearing them.

    After the palace tour we had our picnic lunch. Everyone adorably took out their sack lunches and munched on sandwiches in the shade of a tree in a plaza overlooking the town, talking and enjoying the first warm glimpses of spring. Afterwards we walked through the gardens. Jardín Princípe was my favorite. It was huge! And as Mariah informed us, it was originally a personal recreational park for the men of the royal family where they practiced activities like fox hunting. A personal park: what a life. After about a mile of walking off our lunches through the park we returned to the center of Aranjuez, a cute little town, in search of a café to chat, rest, and refresh ourselves before heading back to the train station. After settling on a patio café we all sat for a while, talking, laughing, sipping our perspective refreshments until it was time to head back. On the train ride everyone was in a great mood, slightly sun-kissed and rosy cheeked. I have to say…a little ‘ol trip to Aranjuez happened to turn into one of the best days I’ve spent here in Spain. I guess it’s just proof that you shouldn’t underestimate anything in Spain, especially when you have wonderful company; it’s bound to surprise you with little hidden treasures.