Medieval Spain Tour
We are excited to announce our newest educational excursion in which we will explore the Middle Ages in the Christian kingdoms of Spain, a period beginning in the early 6th century with the Iberian Kingdom of the Visigoths, who soon after converted to Catholicism, and culminating in 1492 with the final acts of the Spanish Reconquista.
Our fascinating adventure will take us along a carefully-planned route that will focus on many different aspects of this historic period, including the medieval society, feudalism, the cities that once hosted the Christian kingdoms and their people. Through guided tours students will get an up-close view of medieval castles and cathedrals; experience both the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles; and learn about knights, the Spanish Reconquista and the relevance of religion in the Middle Ages.
On the first day of our tour we will visit the historic city of Toledo, where we will explore the medieval period of Spain, beginning with the Visigoths in the 6th century to the discovery of the Americas in the late 15th century. Led by a professional guide, our tour will wind through the various neighborhoods of Toledo, surveying the structures, history and culture of the three main religious groups that once called this city home during the Middle Ages: the Christians, Muslims and Jews, who lived in relative peace and harmony with one another considering the period. Students will also be introduced to the School of Translators of Toledo, a multicultural group of scholars who worked cooperatively in the city during the 12th and 13th centuries to translate a great number of philosophical and scientific works from classical Arabic, Greek and ancient Hebrew.
While in Toledo, our group will lodge at the famous San Servando’s Castle, which is now equipped to host and accommodate large school groups. Once a Visigoth monastery and Arabic fortress, the castle again changed hands in 1085, when the Christian armies, led by King Alfonso VI, retook the city of Toledo and converted the fortress into a Christian monastery. The castle is named after Saint Servando, who the king credited for saving his life in the 1086 Battle of Sagrajas against the Moors. San Servando’s Castle was rebuilt in 1959 and has since served as a private school, university residence, headquarters for the Parliament of Castilla la Mancha and a now a popular youth hostel.
Days Two & Three—Oropesa
The second and third days of our journey will find us in the medieval city of Oropesa, where we will stay at the Parador de Oropesa, a fabulous 14th century castle-palace and 4-Star hotel. The former home of the Alvarez Toledo family, counts of Oropesa, the castle is bursting with history and boasts an interesting design of columns, arcades and function rooms, an impressive courtyard and expertly-manicured gardens. It was the first of what is now a network of very majestic and multifunctional castle lodgings in Spain, offering breathtaking views of the Sierra de Gredos mountains and world-class Spanish cuisine.
In addition to our grand accommodations, our visit to Oropesa will also coincide with the city’s annual medieval fair celebrations, where students can explore medieval society and the feudal system through any number of reenactments, activities and exhibits. Locals and visitors alike come from miles to take part in these entertaining festivities, which include a medieval market, theater performances, falconry, street parades, horseback tournaments—including jousting—and much, much more.
As we explore the fortified city of Avila, students will learn about the intricate defense system of this medieval city as well as its historical significance as a Christian kingdom. Once a stronghold of the Visigoths (and later the Moors), Avila was repeatedly attacked by the northern Iberian Christian kingdoms, leaving the city in ruins and mostly uninhabitable. In the 11th century, however, the region was conquered and repopulated by Raymond of Burgundy, the son-in-law of Alfonso VI of Leon and Castile, who essentially transformed the town into a Christian fortress and created walls and city gates that still stand today. The Walls of Avila and its city gates are just some of the many magnificent sites to behold as we make our way through this ancient city. Students will also have the opportunity to visit the Cathedral of Avila, a Gothic-style masterpiece that is half-church, half fortress; the Basilica of San Vicente, a 12th century church designed by the French master Giral Fruchel; and the Church of San Pedro, with construction that began in the year 1100. Other attractions include the Convent of San Jose, the Hermitage of San Segundo, the Palace of Don Diego del Aguila, the Royal Monastery of Saint Tomas; and a number of interesting market squares scattered throughout the various neighborhoods.
Day Five—Zamora and Miranda do Douro
Once known locally as bien cercada, or “excellently walled,” Zamora is a fortified city and home to some of the finest examples of Romanesque art and architecture. During our visit to this fascinating city we will explore the arts in the Middle Ages, specifically the Romanesque style, with visits to the historic center and some of the town’s most iconic structures, including the Zamora Cathedral. Built between 1151 and 1174, the Cathedral is one of the most important examples of Romanesque architecture in Spain, and its massive dome, supported by sixteen arches, is what truly sets it apart from other cathedrals. Inside the Zamora Cathedral students will find a whole host of beautiful and interesting art work to behold, including the finely-detailed choir stalls, a sculpture of Christ of the Insults, and an image of the Virgin Mary.
In the afternoon we will make our way to Miranda do Douro, a Portuguese town nestled on the border between Spain and Portugal. From there our group we will board a catamaran that will take us along the spectacular Douro River through a National Park known as Las Arribes del Duero, a protected area in western Spain covering roughly 249 acres in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon. Well-known for its biodiversity and range of water courses, Las Arribes del Duero features deeply eroded valleys, vertiginous precipices and a wide range of plant and animal life. All throughout this area are hints and reminiscences of the many different cultures that once inhabited this picturesque region, including the Celts, Visigoths, Romans, Moors and Christians.
One of Spain’s most appropriate settings for celebrating the Middle Ages, the city of Ponferrada offers students a firsthand look at some of the most noteworthy medieval traditions. Located in the Province of Leon in the autonomous community of Castile and Leon, the scenic town is situated along the Sil River in the Bierzo valley, completely surrounded by mountains. Ponferrada is the last major town along the Camino de Santiago (Way of Saint James) before the route reaches its final destination in Santiago Compostela.
While in the city, our group will visit the renowned Ponferrada Castle, also known as the Castilla de los Templarios, a Templar castle encompassing roughly 52,500 square feet (16,000 square meters). In the late 12th century, Ferdinand II of Leon donated the castle to the Knights Templar for protecting the Christian pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago, who passed through the Bierzo valley on their trek to Santiago de Compostela. While there students will have the opportunity to study the various aspects of the castle, including the wall, moat, drawbridge, courtyard, towers and keep.
To commemorate our visit to the Castilla de los Ponferrada, at the hotel our group will perform a brief theatrical reenactment of an actual Knighting ceremony, in which students and teachers will take on the roles of king and queen, courtiers, squires and other knights, all leading up to one of the performers being dubbed a new knight, “defender of the weak, the orphaned, the widowed and oppressed.” Immediately following the performance, our group will participate in an authentic knighthood celebration in the “great hall of the fortress”—a themed room of the hotel—including a feast of delicious Tapas accompanied by traditional medieval music.
During the Covadonga leg of our journey students will become acquainted with the mountains of Asturias Province, the region in which the Spanish Reconquista was born as well as the nobleman who initiated the movement, the illustrious Spaniard Don Pelayo. Covadonga is a small village situated in the spectacular hills of the Picos de Europa mountain range, offering some of the most breathtaking views of northwestern Spain. Our guided tour will include a hike through the region known as the Lakes of Covadonga, two glacial lakes which were once at the center of the Picos de Europa National Park. On a clear day, the two beautiful lakes—Lake Enol and Lake Ercina—reflect the dazzling blues and whites of the sun and sky, while the greens of the forests and pastures seem to melt effortlessly with the grays and whites of the rocky mountain terrain. Once we have finished exploring this natural Spanish paradise, we will travel to Burgos late that afternoon to prepare for the final day of our medieval sojourn.
Religion played an extremely important role in Spain’s medieval Christian kingdoms, and nowhere in present-day Spain is this more evident than in the city of Burgos, the historic capital of Castile. Burgos forms the principal crossroad of northern Spain along the Camino de Santiago, or Way of Saint James, which runs parallel to the River Arlanzón. During medieval times, this route was of particular significance to the war-torn Christian kingdoms, as it helped connect them with the rest of Europe in their collective fight against Islam.
Although what is now Burgos was briefly inhabited by the Moors during the 8th century, today there remains little to no trace of their occupation. What does remain in the city, however, are several medieval castles and churches—structures built for the defense of Christendom by Alfonso III the Great, King of Leon, after he retook the region from the Arabs in the middle of the 9th century. In a guided tour of one such medieval masterpiece, the Burgos Cathedral, participants will discover the architectural style known as Gothic and its importance as an art form during the Middle Ages. In 1984, the Burgos Cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site for its architectural beauty and historical importance. That afternoon, we will travel to Madrid.
Perhaps the saddest day of all, day nine marks the conclusion of the tour, with students heading back to the United States. Hope to see you again soon.
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