History Students on Field Trip to Córdoba, Spain
27th March 2017
This post comes from second year undergraduate Jenna Pateman.
As part of the level 5 module HM5050: Field Trip, I and 36 other Humanities students travelled to the city of Cordoba in Spain, staying within the UNESCO World Heritage Site of the old city’s walls at Hotel Los Patios, just a stone’s throw from the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba.
As we arrived on Sunday, the sight of the old town with the Mezquita in the skyline was stunning as we crossed the Roman bridge. After getting to the hotel, unpacking, setting myself up for the week, I quickly (and excitedly) headed to the Mezquita’s garden to enjoy the site and the sun, just relaxing. It wasn’t until Monday that we visited the incredible interior, after a tour of the old city with a very interesting tour guide. The interior of the Mezquita was amazing. The size and amount of columns, which evoke the feelings of a forest, makes it a unique space. There was such a contrast between the mosque and the Catholic cathedral that was built within the old Islamic space. The mosque was simple and nice, kind of dark with very little decoration to help point towards Mecca when Islam was still practised within the site. Then, in comparison, the Catholic parts were full of light, decoration and so much gold with many of the side rooms and chapels filled with paintings, treasures and tickets dedicated to many of the saints that make up a huge part of the Roman Catholic Faith.
We went our own ways for lunch, with a bad attempt at trying to order a pizza in Spanish, and a slow walk around Cordoba, taking more photos. I met up with my group again ready to go to Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba’s museum dedicated to the Jewish experience in the city during ‘the golden age’, the Reconquista, the Spanish Inquisition, and finally the exile of the Jewish from the city and the country. Our guide, Alex, was very informative, and helped bring the story of the Jewish people of the city to life. He sang 3 songs for us at the end of the tour, which was quite moving. Then a quick walk through the old city, back across the Roman bridge to the Cordoba tower, Torre de la Calahorra. The medieval tower currently serves as the city’s museum depicting what life was like during ‘the golden age’ of peaceful coexistence of Jews, Muslims and Christians over centuries. The museum uses scale models, artefacts and an audio tour to promote this idea, but because we had come straight from the Casa de Sefarad we found it easy to question whether ‘the golden age’ was as harmonious as it is being sold to tourists. However, the scale models were excellently made, and if it hadn’t been for the terrible weather we seemed to bring with us from England, the roof, with its view across the river and overlooking the old city would have been stunning. I was mostly worried about slipping on the wet wood, getting a couple of photos, and getting back inside before I got too wet.
Next day, as it was still raining, our trip to the Alcazar was postponed until Thursday, so we headed to the Archaeological Museum, which had been built over the excavated remains of a Roman amphitheatre, with many objects that had been found around the area. It was great to find out more about the history of Cordoba beyond the Islamic period, going right back to prehistory and up to the Roman period. After lunch, it was straight back to the Islamic era, with a visit to the Bathhouse of the Caliphs. This museum was built into the actual bathhouse. A video explaining how it was used and its history helped as I walked around able to understand the important of this building.
We now had some more free time, so as we are History students, we decided to go to another museum, which was the Galeria de la Inquisicion-Europa Siglos XIII al XIX. This is pretty much a gallery of torture devices, and although it was not very informative, it was fun, and a bit of a laugh. Historians can be a weird bunch!
On Wednesday we went to nearby Seville, and its stunning Real Alcazar. Here, I decided to have a day just chilling out by myself, and enjoy the Alcazar at my own pace. After purchasing an audio guide, I walked, sat and just enjoyed the place, sitting back and watching the other tourists rush around the palaces as I just listened, took some notes and took far too many photos of the stunning Islamic tiles. I got caught up with many of the huge tour groups around the site, which was a bit annoying, especially when the audio guide told you to ‘listen to the relaxing sounds of the floor level fountain’, but you couldn’t even see the fountain due to amount of people. Enjoying lunch in the spectacular gardens, sharing many photos on Facebook and making friends in the UK jealous, I only left the Alcazar at 4:30, about 3 hours after everyone else, and managed to find dinner in a lovely square, watching downloaded iPlayer documentaries, talking to some Americans, and then walking back to meet the group to head back to Cordoba.
On Thursday, after catching a coach, we visited the museum and former ruins of the Medina Azahara, a former fortified Muslim palace-city overlooking Cordoba. We first watched an ‘interesting’ video with some really ‘wonderful’ animation, showing life in the Medina Azahara and a quick overview of the museum, with discoveries from the area explained in different sections about the life at the Medina Azahara. After dashing around the museum, we had to rush to catch the shuttle bus to the ruins (before a huge group of Spanish teenagers) then rush around those to catch the bus back down to the museum to then catch our coach back to Cordoba. It was a shame we had such little time there because the views across to Cordoba were stunning, and I would have liked to look around the ruins some more. Once we were back in Cordoba, we finally got to visit the Alcazar, which was a little disappointing, but I think that was because I was spoilt by the majestic Seville Alcazar. However, the water gardens were still beautiful and relaxing and I could easily have just sat back and relaxed again. I did have a few things I still wanted to do before we went home, which included visiting the Mosque again, walking around at my own pace, exploring (and photographing) the entire building, and paying the extra 2 euros to climb the Bell tower. Lots of stairs, but the views of the city were incredible. I felt proud of myself for climbing all those stairs, especially as I’m slightly scared of heights, and not keen on old wobbly stone steps.
That night, we met up at the hotel for the big group meal, where awards were given out, including a few for History students! One for Josh for the amount of ‘Instgramming’ he was doing, one for Emma for getting hurt by a glass door, and one for myself for the number of photos I took (only 3500….).
With Friday 6am looming, it was time to say goodbye to Cordoba, and to fly back to the UK. It was sad to leave, although I was seriously looking forward to seeing my husband and daughter again. The trip was one of the most fun weeks I’ve had in my life. The sites were stunning, and I learnt a lot about a country’s history. However, the thing that made the trip the most amazing was the people I shared it with, and to all of the students and staff on HM5050, thank you so much for making the trip so memorable, especially to my fellow Historians. Turbo!