Spain’s Complex History Seen Through its Architecture: From Islam to Christianity

For the past three weeks, I have had the opportunity to be engulfed in the origins of Spain and explore areas outside of Málaga through ISA. These experiences include the many facets of Spanish life, the origins of three major religions in the western hemisphere, and awe-inspiring architecture filled with breathtaking artwork. I was fortunate enough to experience three amazing trips these past couple of weeks and I would love to tell you all about them, so let’s see what I have been learning these past couple of weeks.

My Current Studies

While I am not going out and exploring Málaga and other areas of Europe, I have been learning about Spanish art and the importance of the three major western religions: Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. Although these classes may seem as if they would be required classes for two unrelated majors at your local college, they couldn’t be more similar. Many of the Spanish art that can be seen in museums such as the Prada Museum in Madrid, El Museo de Bellas Artes in Málaga, and Guggenheim in Bilbao can be traced back to one major theme: religion. In my own experiences, prior to these classes, I was exposed to mostly art from the United States that could only be traced back a handful of centuries; much of the art that I experienced that was created outside the United States did not include the proper context to understand its significant meaning. Since I have been in Spain, I have been able to experience art over hundreds of years before the United States was even a country and learn about its importance in history within a classroom setting. Before coming to Spain, I had a preconceived idea about the culture of Spain and the importance of Christianity within it; I believed Spain was just like any other European country and I can tell you now, I was very wrong. There are many illustrations of Muslim, Jewish, and Christian life throughout the country’s history, art, and architecture.

Exploring Granada, Seville, and Córdoba

While I visited Granada, we were able to tour the Alhambra, one of the most iconic locations in all of Spain. The palace and the surrounding areas were once home to the Muslim kingdom that once occupied much of Spain, and is evident through the architecture. Detailed panels of Arabic calligraphy fill its walls and vibrant geometric shapes line the palace. On the other hand, large pillars and Christian iconography were encountered during my tour, showcasing the Christian influence that started as Christian kingdoms took over in the 15th century. This drastic change of architectural styles was surprising at first, but with the help of our personal tour guide, he was able to tell us the long, evolving past of religion in the south of Spain. Starting as a palace for Muslim royalty to a palace of Christian kingdoms. A truly amazing piece of history with an even greater view of the city below.

The amazing view of the city from the Alhambra while on my excursion to Granada.
Beautiful Arabic calligraphy and geometric designs I found within the Alhambra.
A picture-perfect view of one of the many outside gardens within the Alhambra.

While on my second week of excursions, I was able to see the Alcazár in Seville and Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba. Like the Alhambra, both religious structures showcased the evolution from Muslim to Christian occupation. Large ornate geometric shapes alongside iconography showing the Virgin Mary and her son Jesus were seen in both structures. One of the most memorable moments during our guided tour in Seville was when our guide revealed that Game of Thrones had been filmed within the structure’s walls!

Beautiful detailing and horseshoe arches found within the Alcazár while on our excursion to Seville.
Looking up at the stunning artwork found within the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba.

During each of these excursions, it felt like walking into the past and being able to experience the Spain of the past and the beauty that was created from it. Being able to have these experiences and doing it with an amazing group of new friends, ignites a sense of adventure within me and I can’t wait to see what the rest of the month has in store!

Emma Knutty is a student at University of Pittsburgh and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA in Malaga, Spain.

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