Flamenco. Technique. Duende. Soul

Written by: Avery Byrne (Session 1)

After several tiring yet thrilling days of traveling from Córdoba to Seville, we spent three exciting days in Granada, the second of which was one of my favorite days of this maymester so far. We started the afternoon by piling on the bus and instantly discussing our excitement for the flamenco show we were heading to. We quickly arrived at a small building with “Los Tarantos Zambra” written over a bright red flamenco dancer’s silhouette. As we walked into the building, my curiosity was instantly piqued. We were surrounded by different colored lights, hanging plates with eye-catching details, and various paintings. 

Our group was ushered through a red door into a very narrow room that resembled a cave. We were seated in a line on the left side of the room with a flamenco floor, five chairs, and a microphone in front of us. I found myself intently looking around the room at the paintings, fans, and what looked like kitchen ladles on the walls. After patiently waiting, the lights finally dimmed as the first flamenco group entered the room. The group consisted of three dancers, one singer, and one guitarist. I did not know what to expect from the live show, but I was pleasantly surprised and inspired. The show began with a powerful belt from the singer accompanied by the passion of the guitarist. After several measures, the first female dancer stood up to perform her solo pieces. At first, I was attentively paying attention to the detail that she added to every movement and the intricacy of each step she made. I was quickly captivated by her ability to emote as she was performing such a technically difficult piece. I noticed that each of the three dancers expressed what I observed to be a level of hurt, pain, and passion which I later learned in class was an expression of duende. Throughout the duration of the group’s performance, I continued to focus on each of the dancer’s facial expressions and the way in which their passion matched each movement. I tried to also listen to the palmas patterns that the other group members were doing as one dancer was performing as it was interesting to me how these also helped guide the dancer. I found it so impressive how the dancer’s emotions not only matched their movements, but also the palmas, expression of the guitarist, the expression of the singer, and the changing speeds of the music.


Flamenco Group 1                                    Flamenco Group 2

The second flamenco group was different than the first, though the performance structure was similar. It was easy to see the similarities in tradition, but I thought it was fascinating to see how each dancer distinguished themselves through their personal expression. In the second performance, the singer emoted himself in a very powerful way and would sing while the dancer was performing, whereas in the first, the singer would stop during the performance. In the second performance, an older woman performed with the inclusion of castanets, which was an aspect of flamenco that we had not yet seen. I was completely entranced as I was trying to comprehend how she was putting meticulous detail into her dance technique, her passionate emotion, matching her movements to the other group members, and playing castanets all at once. 

Throughout both performances, I was unable to not focus on the emotions of each dancer as they expressed themselves and their souls. The experience of attending this flamenco show was extremely special to me in order to understand how flamenco music and performance plays a large part in the national identity of Spain and it was an amazing experience to share with the group. 

Journey Through Time: An Encounter with the Mosque of Córdoba

Written by: Marie James (Session 1)

Stepping foot into the Mosque of Córdoba, I was immediately transported through time. From Mosque to Cathedral in the thirteenth century, the dimly lit space evokes reflection and awe. My eyes took time to adjust, but soon I was able to fully appreciate the renowned red and white arches supported by Visigothic columns. These columns, once part of a basilica that stood here, feature exquisitely detailed capiteles, showcasing the brilliance of Visigothic architecture. Harmoniously integrated Christian developments such as chapels and altars surround the Mosque in a blend of religion and history. The arches overlap with each other in what looks like an entanglement, and they seem to go on infinitely, emphasizing the sublime beauty of the Mosque. 

Arches and Visigothic Column

After a brief discussion as a group with our professors about the transition from basilica to Mosque to Cathedral, I took time by myself to wander and take it all in. I found my way over to the Mihrab. Traditionally, the Mihrab indicates the qibla, the direction of Mecca towards which Muslims should face during prayer. It is an ornately decorated niche in the wall that instantly attracts every visitor’s gaze. Outlined in kufic, a style of Arabic writing, the Mihrab highlights the stunning Islamic architecture within the Mosque.


Near the Mihrab is the custodia, a Christian addition when the Cathedral was built, which had been placed in front of the stunning Islamic architecture away from where it typically is. This juxtaposition of religious elements fascinated me. This sacred structure emphasizes the coexistence of diverse faiths and serves as a tangible relic of history. As I finally walked into the cathedral, it was as if I entered an entirely new space, as if the mosque had entirely disappeared. There, I found myself captivated by the magnificent ceiling and the melodic resonance of the organ, immersing myself in an entirely distinct experience. I had literally stepped foot into a new part of history. Leaving the mosque I carried with me an appreciation for the contrasting influences of Christianity and Islam, a perspective that would continue to shape my outlook throughout the remainder of our Maymester.

Custodia surrounded by Islamic architecture and Cathedral ceiling

The Reconquest (Spanish)

Written by: Sara Terrien (Session 1)

¿Qué es la identidad? Esta pregunta es una que mis compañeros de clase y yo hemos estado preguntando durante nuestro tiempo en España. Una de las maneras en que la identidad podría ser afectada es por la religión. Hemos estado estudiando específicamente el rol de las tres religiones monoteístas: el judaísmo, el Islam, y el cristianismo. Profesor Juan Iso nos enseñó sobre la historia de la dinámica del poder en España en relación a estas religiones, específicamente el Islam y el cristianismo con la Conquista Musulmana y la Reconquista. A partir del 711 AD, acordando al Profe Juan, España estaba cambiando de un país de mayoría cristiana a uno con prominente influencia musulmana como soldados musulmanes empezó entrar el territorio. Sin embargo, esta Conquista Musulmana no fue permanente. Conflicto entre dos sectas de musulmanes – Sunni y Shi’a – y el colapso del Califato de Córdoba debilitaron el poder del imperio musulmán, y proporcionaron una apertura para que los cristianos comenzaran la Reconquista. La Reconquista reintrodujo la cultura y las costumbres cristianas. 

Una pregunta que tuve mientras viajamos por el sur de España – Córdoba, Sevilla, y Granada – fue si la Reconquista completamente borró a los musulmanes de la región. En nuestros viajes, vi como la religión y la cultura musulmana puede influir en una sociedad cristiana. Nuestro primer día en Córdoba, visitamos el Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, un lugar muy bonito y lleno de historia. Aquí, vi como aunque el espacio fue un espacio cristiano, todavía tenía influencia musulmana. Lo que es más obvio es el nombre. “Alcázar,” como aprendí, es una palabra árabe para un palacio real. Otra cosa que noté era la presencia de agua en los jardines en el Alcázar. Como los profesores me dijeron, los cristianos típicamente no se bañaban mucho. Por lo tanto, los musulamanes, cuando llegaron a España, introdujeron agua, y los reyes cristianos guardaron esta tradición y la adaptaron a su cultura. En nuestro segundo día, vimos patios cristianos que eran muy hermosos. Las flores eran brillantes; el agua brillaba con luz trémula. El olor de naranjas maduras colgaba en el aire. Aprendí que todos estos aspectos – los patios, la presencia de las flores y las frutas cítricas – son intrínsecamente musulmanes. Una vez más, vi cómo los cristianos adaptaron otra cultura en la suya. 

Otros lugares que tenían esta mezcla de culturas fueron la mezquita de Córdoba y la Alhambra en Granada. Ahora en día, la mezquita es una catedral, pero todavía hay elementos de la mezquita original. Por ejemplo, los arcos de rojo y blanco son un elemento musulmán. Hay espacios en la mezquita/la catedral donde los elementos de las dos casas de adoración se cruzan. Para mí, esto muestra cómo hay espacio para más de una religión o una cultura, y cómo todos podemos vivir juntos. Finalmente, quiero hablar un poco sobre la Alhambra, que está en Granada, la última ciudad que cayó a los cristianos durante la Reconquista. Una vez más, este lugar es una mezcla de las dos culturas. Un aspecto que fue interesante para mí es que las viñas son una característica musulmana. 

Para terminar mi blog, quiero regresar a mi primera cuestión: ¿Qué es la identidad? Mis viajes por el sur de España han demostrado que la identidad no necesariamente es una religión o una cultura. La identidad puede ser una mezcla, y esto es algo muy bonito. 

The Reconquest (English)

Written by: Sara Terrien (Session 1)

What is identity? This question is one my classmates and I have been asking during our time in Spain. One of the ways in which identity could be affected is by religion. We have been specifically studying the role of the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Professor Juan Iso has taught the class about the history of the dynamics of power in Spain in relation to these religions, specifically Islam and Christianity with the Muslim Conquest and the Reconquista. As of 711 AD, according to Profe Juan, Spain was changing from a majority Christian country to one with prominent Muslim influence as Muslim soldiers began to enter the territory. However, this Muslim conquest was not permanent. Conflict between two Muslim sects – Sunni and Shi’a – and the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba weakened the power of the Muslim empire, and provided an opening for Christians to begin the Reconquista. The Reconquista reintroduced Christian culture and customs.

One question I had as we traveled through southern Spain – Córdoba, Sevilla, and Granada – was whether the Reconquista completely wiped out the Muslims of the region. In our travels, I saw how Muslim religion and culture can influence a Christian society. Our first day in Córdoba, we visited the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a very beautiful place full of history. Here, I saw how although the space was aChristian space, it still had Muslim influence. What is most obvious is the name. “Alcázar,” as I learned, is an Arabic word for a royal palace. Another thing I noticed was the presence of water in the gardens in the Alcázar. As the professors told me, Christians typically didn’t bathe much. Therefore, the Muslims, when they arrived in Spain, introduced water, and the Christian kings kept this tradition and adapted it to their culture. On our second day, we saw Christian patios that were very beautiful. The flowers were bright; the water glimmered. The smell of ripe oranges hung in the air. I learned that all these aspects – the courtyards, the presence of flowers and citrus fruits – are intrinsically Muslim. Once again, I saw how Christians adapted another culture into their own.

Other places that had this mixture of cultures were the mosque of Córdoba and the Alhambra in Granada. Today, the mosque is a cathedral, but there are still elements of the original mosque. For example, the arches of red and white are a Muslim element. There are spaces in the mosque/cathedral where the elements of the two houses of worship intersect. For me, this shows how there is room for more than one religion or culture, and how we can all live together. Finally, I want to talk a little about the Alhambra, which is in Granada, the last city that fell to the Christians during the Reconquista. Again, this place is a mixture of the two cultures. One aspect that was interesting for me is that vineyards are a Muslim characteristic.

To end my blog, I want to return to my first question: What is identity? My travels through southern Spain have shown that identity is not necessarily a religion or a culture. Identity can be a mix, and this is a beautiful thing.


Valencia and the Mediterranean Sea

Written by: Quin Perry (Session 1)

We started off our trip to Valencia by going to the downtown area to see the Lonja de la Seda. In the mid 1500s, Valencia was known worldwide for their production of silk on the silk road and this was the center of exchange for the area. When you first walk into the castle-like structure with gothic-style architecture, you enter a breathtaking yet peaceful courtyard filled with orange trees and a fountain in the center. Then, as we continued through the structure we saw the La Sala de Contratacion where contract and trade negotiation took place in a magnificent room with very elaborate ceilings and twisted columns. There was also the Pavilion of the Consulate where tables were set up. They served as a form of the first banking systems, and we learned that if a banker mishandled the money or exchange then they would physically break the table that they were working on as a symbol of their mistake.

The next stop we made was to the Cathedral in Valencia. The Cathedral was built in the 13th and 14th century after the reconquest. It is the home to many different architecture styles including Roman, the Visigothic arch, and Spanish Baroque that are present through the entire building along with art by Goya and others. You can also climb up a massive set of spiraling stairs that bring you all the way to the bell tower where you get the most amazing 360 degree view of the city. You can see a wide variety of landscapes from large buildings to more traditional red tops, to the Mediterranean ocean and mountain ranges.

At the end of day, we decided to get dinner by the Mediterranean Sea which we were all excited to get to see. A traditional dish in Valencia is Paella. Specifically, they have Valencian paella which includes the usual rice and then chicken and rabbit. The dish is served in a large pan family-style. We all found the paella to be delicious and even were able to catch a gorgeous sunset which was a perfect way to end a perfect day of exploring a new city.


 The following morning we made our way over to the biggest aquarium in Europe which is in Valencia, the Oceanográfic. The aquarium displayed an extremely wide array of animals ranging all the way from the Mediterranean to the Arctic waters. My personal favorite there was that they had a tank that was full of massive sharks and stingrays that had a walk-through tunnel which allowed them to swim right over your head. They also put on an amazing dolphin show that was very informative on ways to protect our waters along with putting on a spectacular presentation of how intelligent dolphins really are. The trainers were able to get the dolphins to do flips on command, dance with them, jump in unison, and even play fetch.


We ended off our trip to Valencia with a trip to the beach. We went to Playa Cabanal where I was able to get my first experience in the Mediterranean Sea. It was the most beautiful beach I have ever experienced with soft sand, not a rock in sight, and very warm water. It was a very fun and relaxing way to round-off the trip and we all had such amazing experiences on our first trip out of Madrid. We are all even more excited on the trips we have in the weeks ahead.


Madrid: Capital and Development


Written by: Katelyn Tobey (Session 1)

One of the few things that struck me when I first stepped foot onto the streets was the intricate and seamless blending of old architecture from hundreds of years ago with modern applications. Sights such as gorgeous, ornate marble buildings converted into an Apple store, or ancient cobble streets illuminated by flashy neon signs. While that may sound unfortunate it is quite beautiful, in its own unique way. Everything about Madrid is unique, its history, people, and the atmosphere itself. Although it was not always the capital of Spain, today it has distinguished itself as just that. Renowned sites root Madrid as the true center of Spain, such as Museo Nacional del Prado and the Plaza Mayor. Seeing the heartbeat of Spain flow through the streets in music, art pieces, and light is nothing less than a magnificent sight. Slow realizations creep in throughout the days that hundreds of years ago someone stood in the same market that I  wander through still today. The historical influence of all the different peoples who came before me is made evident in the food aromas floating in the streets and the little clues left behind as street names. They mark important people and events with little painted ceramic tiles as street signs. All around, the way of life here fills a hole inside of me that I was unaware of before being exposed to such a fulfilling lifestyle. The people here take their time leisurely talking over lunch, or catching up with their butcher. It is a cultural trait that has lasted through the ages and is still apparent. While I am sure there were not trendy gelato places when Francisco Rizi painted the Plaza Mayor, it is still as striking as it was then. Undoubtedly, Madrid is a spectacular place, and one cannot help but yearn to immerse in its inviting personality. For if not anything else, Madrid is alive. From the spirit of the people before to the pulsating energy today, this city is full of light, love, and life. 

My City, My Art

Written by: Brad Donegan (Session 1)

Apollo in the Forge of Vulcan by Diego de Velázquez is an incredibly famous painting from 1630 after Velázquez first visited Italy. The painting depicts Apollo, the god of the sun, coming to Vulcan’s forge to inform him of his wife’s infidelity. Vulcan, the god of fire, is the man closest to Apollo and can be characterized by the wild look of shock and anger in his eyes as he receives the news. The brilliant and otherworldly presence of Apollo is emphasized by the bright lines radiating from his head, which indicate the aura of light and truth that Apollo carries. Apollo’s crown of leaves and bright orange clothing further accentuate his status as the god of light and confirm the validity of the news of Venus’s adultery. Apollo’s radiance mainly lights Vulcan, and the shadows around the back of Vulcan’s torso represent his fury from hearing of his wife’s adultery. His hands are shrouded in shadows as he clutches his forging tools, implying that he may seek violent revenge on whoever is responsible for sleeping with his wife; the manic look in his eyes greatly indicates that he is both furious at the news and astonished at the appearance of Apollo. The other men in the forge share looks of disbelief; their mouths hang open and their eyes are wide at the sight of Apollo’s bright figure. There is a fifth man who stands in a darkened room in the background of the painting. This man is different from the rest not just because of his location; he stares at Apollo with a look of disdainful disinterest, and his location in the shadows may imply that he had something to do with the destruction of Vulcan’s marriage. All of the men in the forge are wearing very minimalistic clothing, using drab rags to cover their lower halves. This greatly juxtaposes Apollo’s bright and regal-looking clothing. The laborious and dirty work of constructing armor in the forge further juxtaposes the positions of Apollo and the men in the forge. This painting makes me feel the fantastical status of Apollo’s figure while simultaneously accentuating Vulcan’s fury towards the news. The way that the painting uses shadows and light to represent the turmoil of the characters is fascinating and I think effectively tells the story of Venus’s infidelity.


Velázquez & Las Meninas: Innovations in Art

Written by: Rory Hess (Session 1)

Today I studied a painting called Las Meninas by Diego Velaquez. Velaquez, who made the painting in 1656, was commissioned by King Phillip IV for all royal portraits. While this painting was not commissioned by the King directly, the subject matter is the royal family. The artwork is centered around the Infanta Margaret Theresa, who Valequez illuminates with natural light and by putting Thersa in a white dress. She is surrounded by two ladies-in-waiting or las meninas. 

At first glance, I thought it to be a fairly straightforward painting of the princess, but as I took a closer look the irregularities jumped out at me. First on the right side of the painting, positioned in front of the princess, are two jesters. For jesters to get this type of attention in a painting is very untraditional, especially their location. Another irregularity that left me with a feeling of uneasiness is the direction every subject is looking in the painting. Except for three figures, everyone painting is looking straight at me or really the viewer of the painting. This includes a figure which is the artist Velaquez himself. Velaquez appears on the left side of the painting tucked behind a large canvas holding a paintbrush and palette.

Finally, on a mirror hung up on the wall in the back of the painting, there is a blurry image of the King and Queen posing for a portrait. This depiction of the King and Queen is very unusual at the time. Typically when they were painted, they would only be shown in a very clear portrait, dressed up in their best clothing and posing in powerful stances. Although it may not appear to be the most flattering image of the King and Queen, to me, the light surrounding the Princess highlights both Spain’s hope and her purity as a leader. 

This mirror also implies that the King and Queen are the ones being looked at by the figures in the painting so in a way whoever is in the audience is essentially the King and Queen. Although this painting is a very indirect way to comment about royalty at the time, it is still a very bold move. 

Ultimately, I was very impressed with how well Velaquez used light and especially perspective, to create a very untraditional and powerful representation of the state of Spain at the time. Years later, Velaquez’s cleverness still resonates with the country of Spain and gives tons of insight into the spirit of the time. This painting is a must-see in person as images can not capture its intricate details, massive scale, and deliberate brush strokes. Definitely one of the most impressive pieces of art I have ever seen in person due to its historical and artistic value.


Madrid in Medieval Times (English)

Written by: Emma Coonan (Session 1)

Abu Bakr mosque en Madrid

Throughout the Middle Ages, many developments and changes occurred in Spain. Faith was a main theme of the time period and three main religions were present: Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. Today, if you ask many people in Spain about the history during the time period of Christopher Columbus, they do not know about the presence of the Jews and Muslims in Spain. Nevertheless, they both had an important influence due to the many technological, scientific, and literature advances.

Many important events took place during this time, especially in 1492: the fall of Granada, the expulsion of Jews (along with the presence of Muslims), and the expedition of Christopher Columbus. The cultures of the Jews and Muslims had a great effect on the development of Spain as a country. For example, the Jews worked as carpenters, shoemakers, and merchants that assisted with everyday necessities. In addition to these useful occupations, they created astronomical tables that showed information about the stars to help with navigation at sea, which had a lasting impact and is still relevant today. Additionally, the Muslims greatly impacted scientific, literature, and philosophical advances resulting in the rise of intellectual literature in Spain. However, conflicts of religion occurred and the Muslims were expelled to the north of Africa, but the Jews stayed and because they were not allowed to practice their religion, they had to do so in secret, resulting in them being called “marrones,” or pigs. Why a country would want to expel a group of people who greatly contributed to society remains a mystery, and was pointed out by the Ottoman Empire, who happily welcomed them, saying “How can anyone call Ferdinand wise when he impoverishes his own kingdom to enrich mine” (Fintz). 

Unfortunately, those who practiced in secret were sometimes discovered and then executed, tainting their family name for the rest of history. As seen in class, the Jewish slums, where the Jews were forced to live, still exist today in Spain. The mosques where the Muslims practiced still exist; for example, the Abu Bakr, which is seen in the included photo. These landmarks in Spain show the lasting impact and influence of the Jews, Muslims, and Christians in the Middle Ages.

Madrid in Medieval Times (Spanish)

Written by: Emma Coonan (Session 1)

Abu Bakr mosque en Madrid

En los tiempos medievales, habían muchos desarrollos y cambios en España. La fe fue el tema principal en este tiempo y habían tres religiones diferentes: cristianismo, judaísmo, y islam. Ahora, si preguntas a mucha gente sobre la historia durante el tiempo de Cristóbal Colón, no conocen la presencia de los judíos y los mulsumanes en España. Sin embargo, los dos tenían una importante influencia porque hicieron muchos avances tecnológicos, científicos, y literaturas.

Muchos eventos importantes ocurrieron durante esta edad, especialmente en 1492: la caída de Granada, la expulsión de los judiós (y la presencia de los mulsumanes), y la expedición de Cristóbal Colón. Las culturas de los judiós y los mulsumanes tenían un gran efecto en el desarrollo de España como un país. Por ejemplo, los judiós trabajaron como carpinteros, zapateros, y comerciantes que ayudaron con las cosas diarias. Además de estos trabajos útiles, hicieron tablas astronómicas que mostraron información sobre las estrellas para ayudar con la navegación en el mar que tenían un impacto significativo y todavía es relevante hoy. Los musulmanes trajeron avances en los científicos, literaturas, y filosofía que resultó en el aumento de la literatura intelectual en España. Sin embargo, los conflictos de religión ocurrieron y los mulusumanes se expulsaron al norte de África, pero los judiós se quedaron, pero, porque no podían practicar su religión, tenían hacerlo en secreto y se llabaman “marrones.” Es un misterio porque un país querría expulsar un grupo de personas que añaden muchos elementos positivos a la sociedad y el imperio ottoman se dio cuenta de esto y les invitó diciendo, “Cómo alguien puede llama a Ferdinand es sabio mientras empobrece su reino para ayudar mio” (Fintz).

Desafortunadamente, a veces, ellos que practicaban en secreto, fueron descubiertos y ejecutados y el nombre de su familia se arruinó para siempre. En clase, vimos los barrios bajos  donde los judíos tenían que vivir, que todavía existen en España. Para los mulsumanes, las mezquitas, como el Abu Bakr en Madrid en la foto, todavía existen. Estos lugares demuestran la influencia de los judiós, musulmanes, y los cristianos en la edad media.