The ISA JournalThe Sacred Architecture of Southern Spain

If I could go back, I would choose southern Spain for my study abroad a hundred times over.

This summer, I’m living in Sevilla and have traveled through Andalusia to the historical towns of Córdoba, Granada, Jerez, and Cádiz. The very age and detail of the architecture here make southern Spain so unique to me and unlike anything back home in the States. It towers above, telling rich history from centuries past.

The architecture serves more than a structural purpose; it tells stories of ancient kings and wars, of everyday life and royal extravagance, and of tolerance and persecution from differing streams of religion and culture.

The Iberian Peninsula boasts a long history of unique cultures and people groups, including the Phoenicians, Greeks, Iberians, Romans, Arabs, and Christian kingdoms. These societies did not simply come and evaporate. Remnants of their culture, language, and architecture have all survived, deeply influencing the modern vibrance of Spain.

The things I have seen here have given me pride and love for Spain, even in such a short time. So here are my top three favorite sites for seeing the rich history of religion through architecture! If you are studying abroad in Spain, these are all popular ISA excursion spots, but they are well worth the visit, whether they’re included in your program or not!

The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

The Mezquita-Catedral in Córdoba is an impressive mosque built with countless red and white arches between old Roman pillars. Yet, in the center of this mezquita lies something truly unique in the world. Right there, amidst the very center of Muslim worship, lies a complete Roman Catholic cathedral. And, just a few streets from the Mezquita-Catedral lies the Jewish corner and temple. There stands a statue of Maimonides, a famous Jewish philosopher and successful doctor, dressed as an Arab Muslim to avoid persecution. The temple is very unique, built largely in Moorish style, including Arabic inscriptions to Allah and also the imprint of the Christian cross.

The architecture tells the story of converging faiths in the city and the unique periods of both religious freedom and persecution.

The Mezquita-Catedral we toured in Córdoba

The Alhambra

At the top of the Sabika hill, amidst the lush Mediterranean landscape of Granada, lies the ancient Alhambra. Built in the 8th century by the Moors, the fortress includes 26 acres of courtyards, palaces, gardens, and forts. The intricately carved marble and painted tiles appear too complex and beautiful to be replicable even today.

The Court of Lions at the Alhambra

Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, later built upon the Alhambra, adding a Renaissance-style palace and gardens to the citadel. The very charm and grandeur of the Alhambra come from this unique combination of Moorish and Roman styles, combined with the beauty of the surrounding nature.

The Renaissance courtyards of Charles V at the Alhambra

The Catedral de Sevilla

Back in the 1100s, the Cathedral of Sevilla was actually a Muslim mosque. However, as the city came under Christian rule in the 13th century, the old minaret was converted into a bell tower, and the whole site began reconstruction. As trade and exploration began booming in Sevilla, the sudden increase in wealth and attention provided the resources to grow the cathedral. Today, it is the third-largest church in the world and displays breathtaking art, ornate carvings, and stunning Gothic architecture. Inside lie huge engravings depicting the life of Jesus plated in gold, vast choir chambers, and even the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

The Gothic Cathedral in Sevilla

The beauty and heritage of these sites is truly unique to Spain. The Mezquita-Catedral in Córdoba, Alhambra in Granada, and Catedral in Sevilla are just a taste of Europe’s unique architectural, historical, and spiritual beauty and vibrance. In your time here, don’t miss the opportunity to learn about the cultures and beliefs that shape the people here even today.

Anna Grawunder is a student at Liberty University and an ISA Featured Blogger. She is studying with ISA Veritas in Seville, Spain.

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