ISA Faculty Seminar 2013
Meknès and Granada




Our journey begins in Meknès and then Fez, which may be taken as points of departure and return for an even broader consideration of the Moorish legacy, Al-Andalus—”the West” as the Maghreb imagined it, longed for it, and indeed for a time possessed it. We begin with a focus on the challenges facing Moroccans in the 21st century, and later tracing the illustrious history of medieval Muslims, Christians and Jews in Granada. Some of these challenges we will recognize as similar to those of their forebears, while others are uniquely modern.


Our next stop, Tangier and the Strait of Gibraltar, have been a hive of international commerce and intrigue from Phoenician and Roman times and was even designated as an “international zone” for part of the 20th century. It remains a quintessentially multicultural outpost, gateway to a continent and port of departure and arrival for European and African dreams alike. We will have occasion to consider a multiplicity of migratory movements that have etched themselves on this unique city, with its feet firmly in Africa but its heart undeniably divided between two continents.


Finally, Granada, last bastion of the Nasrid Dynasty and home of the fabled Alhambra. The Nasrids special cultural imprint on Spain is still perceptible today throughout much of the peninsula, but their medieval mountain redoubt, which has fascinated visitors from the Romantic era to the present day, retains something of the essence Moorish Spain and still informs the identity of modern Spaniards. Having famously bewitched Washington Irving, whose Tales of the Alhambra made it a household word, Al-hamra, or the red fortress, still dazzles anyone willing to get lost for a few hours in its labyrinth of palaces and gardens. Granada’s claims to symbolic status in the legacy of Spain go beyond the Nasrid palaces and include the Albaicin neighborhood, a uniquely multiethnic community throughout the centuries, as well as Santa Fe, arguably the birthplace of la Hispanidad, and the only Andalusian village to have been founded and named by Christians, in the final phase of the Reconquista.



Two hundred and fifty million years ago, the collision of the African and European plates formed the orography of Andalusia. What was merely a physical union established itself into an intangible union that since the period of Moorish Iberia until today has forged itself between two shores of a common sea. How do Morocco and the Maghreb consider themselves vis à vis the artistic-cultural fusion of Moorish Spain? How do they value the contributions of the Almorávides and Almohades? What still discernible influence can be traces to these civilizations’ departure and subsequent return to North Africa from the Peninsula? How to characterize this legacy of fusion and cross-pollenation, and the field it opens up for complex cultural identifications.



A walking tour likely to induce the paradoxical sensation of “returning” to a place one is visiting for the first time, since Faculty Seminar participants will have been amply prepared with historical background and context. Attention will be given to aspects of art and life on both sides of the Strait, from the medieval era to the present day. Initiation into Moroccan mysteries such as the medieval street plan (or lack thereof), the role of the guilds, and the distinctive rhythms, sounds and customs of the Medina as a living, breathing diachrony, a kind of interactive museum of history. An introduction to the Jewish quarter and a discussion of the influence that spread out from the beloved homeland of Sepharad to the far corners of the Mediterranean make up the remaining chapters of this living book that constitutes the city of Fez.



From the Arab Spring to the Israeli social justice protests, from the 15-M protests in Spain to Occupy Wall Street, the first social global movement of our time has demonstrated that out of a diversity of countries and religions, it may be possible to identify a set of “universal” causes, needs and objectives.



From the East to the West. What unites us versus what does not. A physical journey that lets us come to terms with Spain’s role as a bridge between civilizations, as we travel from the Iberian Peninsula to the opposite shore of the Mediterranean. Yet also a trip through “time” in which we can feel the proximity, distance and interpenetration of cultures inescapably connected through many centuries.


This lecture will offer a kaleidoscopic tour of the cultural influence exerted by the Islamic culture on the Península, its legacy here as well as the influence Al Andalus wrought, in its turn, on Africa and Europe. Attention will be given to the notion of a dual vision of Spain, on one hand taking its cue from Enlightenment Europe’s quest for Reason and on the other hand, in its special role as gateway to the East, embodying all that is Romantic, exotic and mysterious.



The challenges of multicultural and multiethnic society. Discussion will focus on the economic, political, social and legal impact of the migratory movements between Africa and Europe, not only in the countries of origin but also in the countries of destination. Routes, borders and identities of human flux will be outlined and mapped. Consideration will also be given to the process of social integration within the framework of national and supranational politics, and the perception and reception of immigrants from the host society’s perspective.



A journey through the architectural complex of the Alhambra, the most paramount example of Islamic art in the West. The citadel stands as if it were a ship whose prow, facing the city at the start of a metaphoric journey, announces the Moorish arrival, the wake of whose influence would be felt from Berber Africa to the Pyrenees and would affect all areas of life, especially the arts and sciences. The Alhambra combines, in its elaborate architecture and landscaping, feats of engineering that, though once novel, do not fail to impress the modern visitors as practical and, indeed, still functional. And the palaces, patios and gardens form a harmonic unity on more levels than the merely aesthetic: in the words of Professor José Javier León Sillero, they give the well-informed tourist a vivid portrait of life in Moorish Spain: the halls and fountains, inscriptions and arabesques, offer insights into a coherent artistic-intellectual environment, an urban agricultural ecosystem, a bureacratic administrative society with its hierarchies and ceremonies, and indeed a multifaith convivencia.

Who were the creators of this timeless gem? They were the sons and grandsons of those who were born as the result of the fusion of cultures and religions.