Living in Sevilla, I am constantly in awe that the foundations of centuries past lie beneath my feet – indeed, sometimes make up the very ground I walk on – and it is a feeling I never tire of.
I have the great privilege of being able to study the history of Spain at La Universidad de Sevilla, and then being able to step right out of the university’s doors and straight into the very streets where that history took place. Never in my life have I been in such close quarters with real, tangible history that I am able to learn so fully and so vividly.
For first portion of this semester, my classes have focused primarily on the Islamic presence in the Iberian Peninsula (especially in Andalucía) starting in the year 711. I was excited to start these courses because Islamic history is not something that is covered much, if at all, in history classes in the U.S.
Islam was a religion that was vastly influential in shaping what we know as Spain today. Save for the Arabian Peninsula itself, the religion’s birthplace, I believe that there is no better place to learn its history than right here, in Andalucía, and specifically, Sevilla, which used to one of the most powerful cities in al-Andalus (the name for the Iberian Peninsula under Islamic rule, and where Andalucía gets its name). The very symbol of Sevilla, La Giralda, is an old Muslim minaret.
Buildings in Sevilla are decorated in the beautiful mudéjar style (meaning they were built or designed by Muslims in Spain who lived under the later Christian rule). The Alcázar, of course, is the most well-known example of mudéjar art in Sevilla, which I greatly enjoyed visiting. I also ventured to La Palacio de Las Dueñas, one of the most beautiful hidden gems of the city, which also boasted stunning examples of mudéjar architecture. Even some normal, everyday residential buildings still retain hallmarks of Islamic architecture, like central patios, often with a fountain, or decorated archways and columns.
Much of the food that I enjoy here I learned were introduced by the Muslims and even have Arabic roots to their names. Rice, or arroz, comes from the Arabic “al-rus.” Sugar, or azúcar, comes from the Arabic “al-sukkar.” Muslims also introduced citrus fruits to the Iberian Peninsula, and without them, Sevilla would not have its signature 40,000 orange trees that are on virtually every street corner today.
It is fascinating to me that I can see, every day, almost everywhere, real remnants of history. I can walk the same streets people did 1,300 years ago when the city was young and newly built. I get to go to school every day in a building that is 300 years old. I use Spanish daily, a language that has its own unique and blended history.
In the twenty-first century, Sevilla has naturally adapted with the times, but luckily, has also never lost the richness that has come from centuries of various cultures making their mark on the city. And the novelty of being able to experience that richness firsthand as a student here has never been lost on me.
Through my classes here so far, I have been able to learn just a bit of the vast and elaborate history of Spain. I feel I have learned so much already, and it excites me to know that there are still a thousand histories, a thousand untold stories of this place I’ve yet to discover.
In Sevilla, I discover anew every day that history is not some two-dimensional idea on a page.
It is not dates and facts and paragraphs in a textbook.
In Sevilla, history is alive, and vivid, and colorful.
It leaves its footprint in more places than one might realize.
And I need only to walk out my front door to witness it.