"Alhambra Through the Trees" (Granada, Spain)

Languages come alive: Intersession in Spain and Portugal

We spent the morning running through the famous Alhambra palace [Granada, Spain] in order to keep up with our no-nonsense guide, Robert. While the group charged ahead, I’m glad I decided to stop for a split-second to take this photo, through a natural opening created by a few overhanging branches. You can see the palace almost in its entirety, populated by a number of Cyprus trees — not pine trees, as is commonly assumed. 

This intersession, Princeton juniors concentrating in Spanish and Portuguese took a week-long trip to Spain and Portugal. A capstone to the junior seminar "Spanish and Portuguese-Speaking Worlds," the trip is designed to give students a hands-on opportunity to explore the history, language and culture they will continue studying in the classroom. The trip took place between the end of the fall semester and the start of the spring semester. 

Led by Nicole Legnani, assistant professor of Spanish and Portuguese, and Christina Lee, research scholar and the departmental representative of Spanish and Portuguese, the group traveled to Granada, Seville and Córdoba, Spain; and Lisbon and Sintra, Portugal.

With photos, Legnani, Lee and their students captured the experience.

"The Cathedral and the Giralda Tower"

After a delicious meal of paella, we made our way to a few popular monuments in Seville [Spain]. In this photo, we are standing in front of the Seville Cathedral and the Giralda tower. The group enjoyed walking around the cathedral, absorbing years of history. In addition to holding the title of the largest Gothic church in the world, the Seville Cathedral is also home to the tomb of Christopher Columbus. Even though it was quite a climb to the top of the tower, the breathtaking view of the city was definitely worth it. From left to right: Melissa De Queredo, Jordan Salama, Christina Lee, Mira Gill, Nicole Legnani, Chitra Kumar, Alejandra Rincón, Tlaloc Ayala and Kathryn Phipps.

The great mosque, Córdoba

To walk through the Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba [Spain] is to walk through the past, with the artifacts of religious conflict plainly visible in its very structure. It was a pretty shocking experience to wander across centuries as we observed different parts of the mosque. In particular, we noted how the insertion of the cathedral within the structure of the mosque was such a strong demonstration of cultural and religious conquest. It definitely felt problematic to our modern understanding of religious tolerance, but as our tour guide pointed out, the decision to reuse and to build on top of a conquered city, instead of destroying the previous buildings, preserved both parts of the original mosque, as well as the history of conquest. 

from coast of Lisbon

We took a walk along the rocky shoreline of the Tagus River in Lisbon. Across the way, far in the distance, you can see the town of Casilhas. But in the foreground, just offshore, is a stone column propping up the Portugal flag. Over the years, people have begun balancing rocks atop the column, and others have painted them in Portugal’s national colors. Written on this rock are the words “paz", or "peace”; “amor,” or “love”; and “Papa Francisco,” a reference to Pope Francis. It's a powerful, communal reminder of the strength of the Portuguese national identity.


Ceiling in La Alhambra

It's hard to imagine something more breathtaking than the intricacies of this architecture, with the ceiling mimicking the stalactites of a cave. Yet throughout the Alhambra, you have to use your imagination to bring these rooms to life by mentally layering color, decorations and furniture to picture their original splendor. Still, with only the remnants of the bright blues, reds and yellows that once covered this ceiling, the sight was magnificent enough to produce an uncharacteristic silence in our group as we each gazed upwards, lost in our own musings and imaginations. 

  • street art in Lisbon

    In Lisbon, we saw this mural depicting an elderly lady, who seems to be critiquing the era of the selfie. Located in the area of Mouraria, the mural was drawn on two perpendicular walls, which created a kind of optical illusion: the entire mural looked as if it was painted on a flat surface. Many graffiti artists work under pseudonyms or tag names, so while we don't know the artists behind this mural, we understand the social commentary their work is making.

  • View from the Castle of the Moors (Sintra, Portugal)

    This stunning ninth-century castle in the coastal town of Sintra [Portugal] wasn’t originally on our itinerary. However, when the 17-kilometer “End of Europe,” or “Fim da Europa,” road race closed the roads to our initial destination, our guide Fran had to improvise. We hired a van to the entrance of the castle and made our way by foot to the highest tower and overlook, where I took this photo. On the way back down, engrossed in conversation with a family of Belgian tourists, a few of us students (and one professor) took a wrong turn and ended up alongside a windy road in the middle of the Portuguese forest. Have no fear — we were soon rescued by our trusted local driver, but we were ridiculed for the remainder of the day for our poor timing and sense of direction.

  • Hanging garden, Córdoba, Spain

    After spending the morning in the Great Mosque-Cathedral, we had the opportunity to tour the streets of Córdoba [Spain], where we saw the Hanging Garden. All over Córdoba, flowers and plants hang from balconies and walls as decoration, creating the effect of a vertical garden. The contrast of the white walls mixed with the splash of color that the flowers add is breathtaking.

  • Cooking Paella

    After a tour of the Triana Market in Seville, the group gathered together to learn about traditional Spanish food, paella in particular. We did so in the most exciting way possible — we cooked! Of course none of us actually knew how to make paella, or that the name “paella” actually refers to the large, round dish. But with hard work and a lot of help from the chef, we prepared our favorite meal of the trip! 

  • View from tallest tower of Granada’s Alhambra Palace

    We had exactly six minutes to scale the tallest tower of Granada’s Alhambra Palace — if we didn't make it back down in time, our guide Robert warned, we would miss our time slot to visit the most famous part of the site. Fortunately, I had just enough time to capture this magnificent view of the city of Granada [Spain], complete with the snowcapped mountains in the background.

  • "Ice cream at the Great Mosque"

    During our visit to Córdoba [Spain], we walked through the Great Mosque-Cathedral while our tour guide provided us with details about the fascinating history behind each column, which is engraved with the name of the person who made it and the graves of the men who paid to be buried inside the cathedral. After walking through the beautiful, narrow streets of Córdoba, we treated ourselves to some ice cream and enjoyed the view while leaning on the outer wall of the Mosque-Cathedral before continuing on with our journey. 

  • Lisbon, Portugal

    During our free time, a few of us decided to “make our own adventure.” We took a ferry across the Tagus River from Lisbon to a small town called Casilhas. After a quick uphill “tuk-tuk” ride to the town of Almada, we arrived at our destination: the Christ the King (Cristo Rei) statue overlooking the entire Lisbon metropolitan area. No, the bridge isn’t the Golden Gate — it’s the 25 de Abril Bridge. As the group’s designated photographer, I snapped this candid photo of the girls taking in the view.

  • Alcázar of Seville

    The Alcázar of Seville is one of the most beautiful palaces in of the world. It is built largely in what is known as the Mudéjar style, a Moorish style favored by Christian kings in the High Middle Ages. This photo was taken in the Alcázar’s gardens, which showcase the melding of Muslim and Spanish-Christian cultures. Here we see a gallery built on an old defense wall that was constructed by the Almohads, a Muslim dynasty. The gallery sits behind a fountain with the statue of Mercury.