Travel-study course explores the Muslim heritage of the Iberian Peninsula.
Professor Michael Morony embarked on his 15th sojourn in Spain and Morocco on June 29, accompanied by 30 students and a teaching assistant. They would spend the next month exploring the Muslim heritage of the Iberian Peninsula, culminating in a visit to Morocco. The overseas adventure is an outgrowth of Morony's course on North African history and his search for visual resources to supplement instruction. The intellectual objective is to offer students the experience of cultural interrelations and the Arab-Islamic legacy of modern Spain, particularly in the south, notably in its lifestyles and architecture. "There's no substitute for walking through places you're studying," says Morony, a sentiment echoed by his students. The coursework consists of morning field trips and afternoon lectures. Participants must be in good physical shape because the experience can be strenuous. For many who are in their teens and 20s, this transformative journey confirms the value of early overseas exposure for their education, personal growth, and career aspirations.
The tour begins in Madrid and continues in Toledo where students explore a 10th-century mosque (Cristo de la Luz, the oldest building in Toledo), a 14th-century Mudejar mosque, a 14th-century church (San Roman), two synagogues from the 13th and 14th centuries (Santa Maria la Blanca and El Transito), and the 15th-century cathedral. Then on to Granada and the Arab Baths, the Archaeological Museum, and Alhambra, the last stronghold of Moorish Spain. "Alhambra was the epitome of Islamic architecture in all its splendor, a kind of 1001 nights palace," said Islamic Studies student Marina Apaydin. "What impressed me the most was its combination of the 'Orient' with a European accent."
Optional weekend excursions can be taken to Cordoba, which boasts La Mesquita, one of the finest mosques ever built in Spain, and La Juderia (Jewish quarter) with its statue of the philosopher Maimonides; and to Sevilla which hosts the Alcazar (a 14th-century palace built for a Christian king in the style of Alhambra), the Cathedral of Sevilla which incorporates La Giralda, the minaret of the former Great Mosque of the Almohads, and the Roman ruins of Italica.
Finally, the group departs for Morocco, destination Fez or Marrakesh. The five-day visit offers students the experience of Arab and Berber culture and the Andalusian heritage abroad. In both countries, participants have personal time to explore the terrain by themselves and enjoy cultural activities and entertainment, including bullfights, theater, music, cuisine, and nightlife.
The primary requirement of the 8-unit course is a term paper on a topic selected while overseas. Students may earn another 4 units by completing a guided project such as a photo-essay or a series of interviews. "Professor Morony's lectures were very useful for putting things in context," said Apaydin. "The primary texts and the secondary readings were perfectly apropos." She also complimented the professor on his selection of the best restaurants in town.
In addition to the travel-study course on Spain and Morocco: The Moorish Influence, sponsored by UCLA Summer Sessions and the History Department, students can study in Egypt and Turkey and earn academic credits via the UC Education Abroad Program.
Published: Friday, July 13, 2007
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