Discovering Spain: An Axis of Faiths, Cultures and Empires

Discovering Spain

Discovering Spain:

An Axis of Faiths, Cultures and Empires


In June 2018, Classrooms Without Borders plans to launch its first educational seminar in Spain in order to examine Spain's long history as a major player both on the European and global stages (read: the Age of Discovery) and its role as a "living laboratory" in the "conversation" between two great monotheistic faiths – Christianity and Islam – with a third – Judaism a major participant.

Located at the "South-Western Edge" of Europe and facing the "North-Western Edge of Africa, Spain has historically constituted an axis around which Empires, cultures and faiths turned. An early conquest of the Roman Empire, Spain began to adopt Christianity in the First Century AD. Some scholars believe that there was a Jewish presence in the Iberian Peninsula at this time, although concrete evidence of significant communities comes from anti-Semitic edicts in the 4th century. By the time Muslims crossed over the Straits of Gibraltar and conquered Spain in the beginning of the 8th century, the entire country was Catholic. For the next 800 years a complicated political, social, economic and religious interaction would create a so-called "Golden Age" in Spain before the Catholic re-conquest was completed at the second half of the 15th century. This would herald a new age of "intolerance" as the Jews were either forcibly converted to Christianity or expelled from the country. Muslims would suffer a similar fate. This was also the time of the "Age of Discovery", with Western European maritime powers – led by Spain – carving out empires in the New World. From the 15th-17th centuries Spain was the wealthiest kingdom in Europe, with the largest territorial holdings in the newly discovered lands across the ocean. In modern times, Spain suffered the upheaval of a vicious civil war (1936-1939), a military dictatorship, ostracism from the Western World and the creation of a genuine democracy. Today, at the beginning of the Twenty-First century, Spain is slowly emerging once again as an axis around which some of the central challenges facing Europe are playing out.

In the twentieth century upheavals in Spain inspired the best and the worst of modern political movements. World famous writers such as Hemingway, Neruda, Koestler, Orwell and others were deeply impacted by the Spanish Civil War and many actually participated as volunteers. For literature and history teachers, an examination of this phenomenon first hand will be extremely beneficial.

Finally, given the pervasive uncertainty regarding the future of the EU and its Liberal values, Spain is an important player worth learning about as it grapples with economic instability, a large influx of immigrants and its policy regarding the refugee crisis.

The goals of the Educator's Seminar to Spain include:

  • To enable participants to embark on an intellectual and physical journey into one of the core origins and elements of Western Civilization; its uniqueness, its growth and development over time and space.
  • To examine the characteristics of Jewish-Christian and Islamic culture their cross-fertilization and interaction in Spain for close to 700 years.
  • To learn about Spain's political struggle between liberal & fascist ideas and how the latter triumphed in the early 20th century.
  • To learn about how Spain has dealt with some of the big international challenges of the 20th century – WWII, Jewish Refugees, the influx of Muslim immigrants from North Africa and the current refugee crisis.
  • To facilitate the ability of the educators to create techniques to bring back the knowledge and experience to their students in the classroom.

Questions we mean to raise and answer on the trip in Spain include the following:

  1. To what extent were Jewish-Christian-Muslim relations in medieval Spain characterised by a spirit of tolerance? Were non-Muslims living under 700 years of Islamic rule in Spain really allowed to be equal, to be partners? Was there a "shared society" that could be a source of inspiration in modern times?
  2. Can it be argued that medieval Islamic-Jewish relations, though not perfect, were less confrontational and violent than those between Christians and Jews in the West?
  3. In a world which has been characterised as being dominated by a "clash of civilisations," what lessons can be gleaned from our encounter with the world of medieval Spain?
  4. How did Spain become the most powerful empire in the world in the 16th century and what caused its decline and ultimate demise?
  5. What can we learn about our own American identities through our interaction with the modern challenges facing Spain?
  6. Where are Spain's stances on the major questions facing modern Europe?

Tour highlights:

  • Step back in time in Cordoba and learn why this city was once rightly regarded as the "Jewel of the Mediterranean."
  • Wander the narrow winding streets of the Juderia, Cordoba's former Jewish Quarter
  • Discover Medinat Azahara, the magnificent palace city of Abd al-Rahman III, located a short distance from Cordoba. Inside the complex see the breathtaking Mezquita or grand mosque which was seamlessly converted into a Cathedral after the Christian reconquest of Spain.
  • Visit the stunning 13th century Moorish palace complex of the Alhambra that became the Royal Court of Ferdinand and Isabella and where Christopher Columbus received royal endorsement for his expedition.
  • Retrace the footprints of Jewish history in Seville, where the Jews experienced the best and worst of times.
  • Tour Seville's historic quarter, and visit its huge Cathedral, where Christopher Columbus is buried;
  • Marvel the splendid Alcazar, a royal palace originally developed by Moorish kings and renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain.
  • Enjoy a truly authentic and heart-thumping display of traditional Flamenco dance and song
  • Tour Madrid's two world famous art museums, the Prado, widely considered to have one of the world's best collections of European art; and the Reina Sofia, which notably houses Picasso's iconic La Guernica.
  • See one of the world's best preserved example of an elevated Roman aqueduct in the magical city of Segovia, as well as the evocative medieval Jewish Quarter
  • Tour the old city of Toledo, a UNESCO World Heritage site, famous for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths.
  • Soak up the non-stop fun filled atmosphere of Barcelona's La Rambla and view Gaudi's highly individualized works of architecture and art throughout the city.
  • Explore the thriving Jewish history and culture of Catalonia in the 12th and 13th centuries when visiting the stunning medieval towns of Girona and Besalu

In addition to this very rich cultural and educational program, you will also experience some authentic culinary delights of Spain, as well as its exciting and enchanting night life.



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