The 2015 Field Trip to Cordoba: A Personal Reflection from Professor Melissa Raphael

Bristol Airport at 5am..

Going to Cordoba this last spring yielded at least two new experiences: my first field trip abroad with the staff and students of the University of Gloucestershire and, on a more personal note, my first trip to the region of Spain my Sephardi Jewish ancestors were expelled from in 1492, travelling on first to Portugal, then Amsterdam and then, in the seventeenth-century, to London, at the invitation of Oliver Cromwell, where the family have remained.
At Medina Azahara, waiting for bus..
The Jewish trace, in Cordoba, is just that.  The Jewish presence-in-absence is yet more elusive than that of Islam or Catholicism, whose monuments, as in most urban topographies of power, occupy the grand central spaces of the city.  If you want Jewish ghosts, you have to turn into the winding alleyways and small squares, and preferably at night.  True, we visited the remains of an exquisite synagogue and a small but vivid museum; I also spotted a restaurant serving traditional Sephardi dishes which, if I could find it again, I’d visit next time.  And there was the famous statue of Maimonides – he wouldn’t have approved of it as full-body statues would generally be regarded as contrary to Jewish laws relating to idolatry – which nonetheless situated his work in a very particular historical time and space that had previously felt as abstract as much of his thought.  But, if you’re interested in pursuing the Jewish heritage of Cordoba you need to have done some research beforehand and know what you’re looking for.   A talk by one of our guides was a great help, but you also need to use your imagination which, in this complex, mysterious city, where the sediment of Jewish history is so rich in achievement and pathos, is not difficult to do. 
Another philosophical debate
But, back in 2015, a pleasure of the trip that I should have anticipated, but didn’t, were the impromptu open-air, on-foot religion and philosophy seminars.  This lent fresh meaning to the word ‘pedagogy’! – students and staff enjoying theoretical discussions that were more fluid, heated, and perhaps more creative, exchanges than many held in the classroom.  There must have been something in the air…and the unseasonable heat; the golden light and the dramatic shadows cast by perhaps the most spectacular architecture I have ever seen.
Our tour of the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba
Thanks for making my experience on the trip so rewarding must go to Dave for his meticulous planning and totally unfazed approach to any mishaps – but also to the students: all of them, but especially Ally, Caroline, Kathryne, Tom and Bingying.
[For previous trips see HERE]
Most of the group on top of the Torre de la Calahorra Museum

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