We were in the Alhambra when it started to rain. It doesn’t rain in Spain this time of the year, and in that way, the weather is a lot like Israel’s. Also, it is unbelievably hot most of the time, but that seemed not to bother me so much. But it is raining, which in and of itself would be remarkable, and then you take the location into account. The Alhambra, built over many centuries in the Spanish city of Grenada, is a tremendous symbol of the former Muslim glory built into the history of Modern Spain. It is full of intricate artwork at every step, and housed Moorish rulers all the way until the final victory of the Reconquista in the very beginning of  1492. Its name stemming from the Arabic word for red, the red bricks used throughout the building are once again the dominant color. But on top of the constant barrage of Muslim artwork, there are several later, Latin additions to the art, for instance the words “Plus Ultra” on the wall in the very first room you enter. We will be forever fortunate that the great army of Ferdinand the second did not destroy this palace in his conquest of Grenada. Seeing the building was amazing, and seeing it at night was really cool. But standing in front of a shallow fish pool watching the rain dance off the surface as the reflection bent and moved, all under a clear, sunny sky, that was probably the best, and most unexpected. It was a kind of  representative moment for the whole trip, for me at least. When I saw the overview of our time in Spain, I knew the trip would include a lot of nice sites, and I knew we would go to a lot of nice cities. But I never expected it would rain; I never expected the trip as a whole would be so amazing. It was so much more than the itinerary suggested, even though from what I saw it seemed it would be a great tour. (And for that, thanks go to those who ran the trip, Prof. Cwilich and Prof. Perelis, Ben and Rabbi Tesone, but that goes without saying) The little, unplanned things, the things that allowed us to cool off, relax and socialize, those were the things that made the trip so much greater than the sum of its parts. The rain in Spain made for a fantastic trip.

Josh F.

P.S. http://picasaweb.google.com/jfluss1226/AlAndalusiaGrenada#5490632180320286050 (because putting in the actual picture directly seems impossible, oh well.)


After Yitzchak delivered one of his entertaining and informative architectural speeches, I exclaimed to Dr Perelis: “Yes! Yitzchak has reminded us that buildings do something.” The immobile facades at which we stare, whether we are aware of it or not, vie for our attention. As I mentioned in my presentation of the Synagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, the structure’s Mudejar arches imbued the building not only with a sense of Islamic and Jewish unity but also bore traces of the Visigoths, who commonly employed such arches. If we are willing to notice our surroundings, to listen to the stories told by the art and architecture, we can begin to appreciate what we share in common with others.

I would like to thank everyone who made our trip to Spain such a wonderful success.

A sincere thank you to Professors Perelis and Cwilich for planning the trip, and leading us through Spain. Your deep understanding of Spanish history and culture gave us an insider’s view during the two weeks of our trip. Also, thank you to Rabbi Tessone and Ben Kohanim for bringing the yeshiva atmosphere with us to Spain.

And, finally, thank you to YU and President Joel for making such a valuable learning experience possible for YU students.


So, after a short hiatus we are all getting back to blogging and I thought that I would continue my first post on the architecture of the Puerta Del Sol neighborhood in Madrid. I had intended to upload pictures this week that would make my post clearer, but unfortunately, I did not bring my camera cable with me to Spain, so for now I will use pictures from the internet:(

Last post, I left off with the Baroque palaces of the seventeenth century. Madrid was made Spainś capital just as this trend was becoming established, and many of its great palaces and public spaces are in the Baroque style. Sol, however, was built long after this period, in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It participates in another worldwide artistic movement, the Beux Arts. The beginning of the nineteenth century was marked by rapid industrialization throughout most of Western Europe and North America, and as jobs on farms disappeared due to the confluence of advances in agricultural technology and as the higher birthrate made possible by new developments in the health sciences, cities expanded at a never before known rate. Migrants to cities filled jobs in the new factories and thriving ports. Buildings built to accommodate this boom as well as the industry that fostered it, however, were often very unattractive, unsanitary and dirty. An American example would be the tenement buildings of the Lower East Side, which often fit 20-30 apartments of one room each in 20 by 100 ft lots meant to hold townhouses, with only six windows on each floor. This spawned the City Beautiful movement, which sought to restore beauty to the city through smart planning that would take into account the modern needs and uses of urban space in designing artful, historically inspired buildings.

According to Professor Perelis, Sol was planned by the Bourbon Kings of Spain in the late nineteenth century, when the last vestiges of Spainś empire were crumbling. At this time, the collapse of the empire was contributing to a crisis in national confidence, art and culture, but it allowed the government to stop pouring money into the resource-depleted colonies and lead to an economic boom. Spain was the only country in Western Europe that did not experience significant industrialization during this period, but Solś planning is consistent with the philosophy of the Beux arts. the buildings on the neighborhoods boulevards are historically referential, yet they incorporate modern elements and amenities, comprising a beautiful yet modern city.

In America, the Beux Arts period saw an explosion in Neoclassical and Italianate Rennaissance revival building. Washington Heights was developed at this time, and the buildings that line St. Nicholas and Audobon Ave.s are a great example of the latter, while the old Penn Station and the Museums of Natural History and the Metropolitan Museum of Art of the former. Baroque architecture of any form is almost unseen in the States. In Paris and London, the second Empire and Neoclassical styles dominated respectively. The Historical style that Sol takes, however, is Baroque Revival. The National bank Building is a great example of this style in its tower, lavish brackets and capitals, and heavy proportions, as are the two other buildings depicted below.

More to come!

Yitzchak Schwartz

Our trip to Spain was seen as an experience that would enrich our knowledge of Spanish and our understanding of the history and heritage of Sephardic Jewry.

While we certainly accomplished our first goal, I wonder how much we actually did learn about Sephardic Jewry. After all, 21st century Spain, which is 94% Catholic, is hardly a Sephardic- indeed, hardly a Jewish- country. And while there is no doubt that Spain was the birthplace of the Sephardim and the home to some of the greatest rabbis in Jewish history, not much of that Golden Age is preserved today. Only three pre-Expulsion synagogues remain today in Spain; all three are museums, and one is run by a Christian group. While we did walk in the medieval Jewish streets of Cordoba, Seville, and Toledo, we mostly saw only subtle hints of Judaism, a ruin in Cordoba that was once possibly a synagogue, a street in Toledo named for the financier Shmuel Halevi, an occasional Jewish-themed giftshop: the ghosts of a bygone era that is five centuries past.

Should Spain, the birthplace of the Sephardim, really be important for Sephardim today? Indeed, since 1492, the Sephardic heritage has continued in countries far from its initial source, in places like the Netherlands, the Balkans, Turkey, and Israel. Even the Sephardic shul which we attended in Madrid, was influenced by Moroccan minhagim and was not purely Spanish. Sephardic Judaismś remarkable tenacity since 1492 only illustrates how Judaism is ultimately not bound to any country of the Diaspora.

Without a doubt, a trip to Spain provides the context which is valuable to begin a deep analysis of Sephardic heritage. But to learn more, we must move beyond the Sephardimś birthplace by studying post-expulsion Sephardic history. And, perhaps, to learn most, we must encounter the Sephardic heritage that is alive today in Sephardic shuls and communities, and, above all, in the timeless works of the Sephardic Rishonim.


Last wednesday we visited a sprawling archeological park in Granada known as the Alhambra. Literally ´the red one,´ the Alhambra refers to a collection of palaces, gardens, and defensive structures at the edge of the city of Granada which, due to the red brick used in most of its buildings, reflects a red hue when viewed from afar. The site was occupied throughout the Middle Ages by whomever happened to control Southern Spain at the time – and each occupier gradually expanded the Alhambra by adding structures that reflected his own architectural style. Today´s Alhmabra is the result of more than a thousand years of construction and renovation.

Many historians assume that some sort of Roman outpost existed at the site of the Alhambra (due to descriptions by later builders), but that is not entirely known. The first confirmed construction at the Alhambra was undertaken by Moors in the ninth century, and some Arabs took refuge inside the fortress around the turn of the tenth century; though contemporary accounts described the Alhambra as a small outpost incapable of defending against a significant invasion. The Alhambra then disappeared from written history for over hundred years.

In the eleventh century the Alhambra resurfaced in the unlikeliest of hands. Samuel Ibn Naghrela, more commonly known as Shmuel HaNagid, the famous Jewish vizier, renovated some ruins (by his own description) located at the site of the Alhambra. In his poetry he describes the Alhambra quite vividly, leading some historians to suspect that he even built himself a house inside the fortress. Once again, however, the scope of the construction was limited and the Alhambra was razed soon after.

Most of the ruins that have survived until today are from construction by Muslim rulers between the 13th and 15th centuries. The Alhambra first became a complex fortress under the Muslim king Ibn Nasr in the 13th century. At the turn of the 14th century, Muhammad III built the Partal Palace, the oldest surviving palace. Around three or four decades later, Muhammad V contructed the so-called Palace of the Lions, the architectural pinnacle of the Alhambra. During our visit last week, we spent a great deal of time admiring the beautiful fountains and pools and marveled at the complex water system which somehow gushed water out of the many fountains without using any pumping equipment. Unfortunately, the main fountain supported by matching stone lions (for which the palace is named) was under construction, so we did not have the oppurtunity to see it for ourselves. Instead, we explored the Generalife, a magnificient garden designed in the Moorish style.

In 1491, King Ferdinand of Castille conquered Granada and the Alhambra reverted to Christian control. The last major addition to the site was a palace in a Neo-Roman style begun by Charles V in 1526. Unlike the Alhambra´s previous owners, King Charles did not use the fortress as his center of operations, but as a kind of vacation home: the palace was one of nearly a dozen he built throughout his empire.

The construction of this particular palace has a rather uninspiring history. As I mentioned, contruction commenced in 1526, but by 1550 only most of the facades of the building had actually been completed. Beginning in 1568, Moorish rebellions stalled construction for around 15 years and work continued sluggishly under Charles´ successors. With most of the palace and courtyard completed, the entire project was abandoned in 163 with the roof unfinished. A year later, King Philip IV visited the Alhambra but did not reside at the palace because the roof was unfinished.

The entire complex (palaces, gardens, and fortresses) as seen today is the result of a massive reconstruction project which began in the 1920s. Personally, the knowledge that the standing structures are not original detracted from my experience: I flew over the Atlantic to get up close to real history, not tour a modern copy (this is part of a general quibble I have with the liberties Spain takes in restoring ancient sites in an attempt to attract tourists). Nevertheless, the reconstruction was undertaken with incredible attention to detail and respect for authenticity, and the Alhambra is a site to behold.

Mordecai Segall


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