On March 10th seven Ridley students accompanied by Mr. Nickerson departed on a 10 day journey to southern Spain to see and experience the distinctive cultural character of this ancient country. Here are some highlights from their time in Spain:
Our first trip after landing in Mandrid was a journey through the Castilla-La Mancha province featuring vineyards, groves of olive trees and windmill-crested hilltops that brought to mind the wanderings of Don Quixote in the early 17th century. We stopped at a 15th century vento, or medieval fortified hostel that housed travelers such as Cervantes as he made his way from the south of Spain to Madrid. After stretching our legs, we loaded up and made our way further south through the mountains to the province of Andalucia. The rows of olive trees grew larger and stretched to the horizon, and the windmills on hilltops transform from ancient relics into enormous, sleek power generators. By the early afternoon we reached Cordoba.
The bridge that took us across a swollen river to the renowned Mesquita was built by the Romans who founded the city in 152 BCE. The Mesquita (mosque) was built by the Muslims who invaded the south of Spain and established Cordoba as the capital of the Iberian peninsula in the 8th century CE. What makes this structure fascinating is the fact that the Christians arrived in the 15th century and did not destroy the mosque, but added a beautiful 16th century gothic-inspired cathedral to the middle of the enormous mosque interior. After a couple of hours spend wandering about the Mesquita and the surrounding market, we departed for Seville.
Seville, like most cities in Spain, has an old city that was once entirely surrounded with fortified walls, and our hotel was located near the ring road that runs outside the city walls. Also founded by the Romans, Seville was once the key city for trade with the American colonies in the 15th century. The old town centre features a beautiful alcazar built in the Moorish style and a gothic cathedral. We spent a rainy afternoon touring these sites, the town bull ring and wandering through the narrow streets of what was once the old Jewish centre, then we departed for the coast.
After a noisy night, we headed out for a day trip to Morocco via the Straight of Gibraltar. The ferry took us to the Spanish town of Cueta, then we crossed the border into the real Africa where cows and goats wandered the streets and average income dropped to developing world levels. Our destination was Tetouan, a hillside town that featured an old, crowded market where you could buy clothes, freshly plucked chickens and lime for painting your house. The first stop was a carpet emporium filled with traditional Moroccan and Bedouin floor coverings, then we had a traditional Moroccan meal in a restaurant brimming with clashing patterns. The final stop was a herbalist lecture/sales pitch for everything from acne cream to ginseng roots. The noise, smells and distinctive feel of the Moroccan market made a strong impression on many of the travelers who remarked that this excursion into Africa was the highlight of the trip!