Spain, Portugal, Morocco

Faculty: Laurie Koehler and Kelly Chang
Class meeting time: Tuesdays from 6:30 to 9 p.m.
Trip Dates: May, 2024

A view of a tree and the ocean


From the “Convivencia” of the 8th century (when Muslims, Jews, and Christians coexisted in relative peace) to the Muslim occupation of Spain and their subsequent expulsion in 1492, Portugal, Spain, and Morocco have had quite a storied history with numerous encounters. Moorish influence remains apparent and visible especially in southern cities in Spain (El Albayzín – markets in Granada – for instance). This trip aims at exposing students to the rich interplay between these three cultures as we travel through and navigate various cultural centers, paying close attention to the relationship between each country. We begin in Madrid where we will visit a number of museums, travel through Lisbon to the southern part of Portugal (The Algarve), back into Spain to visit beautiful Sevilla and, finally, cross the Strait of Gibraltar to experience the unique Moroccan culture in such cities as Marrakech, Rabat, and Casablanca. Additionally, we will camp out in the Sahara Desert and ride camels in the early morning hours to view the sunrise!

Tentative Itinerary

Day 1 Travel from Portland to Madrid
Day 2-4 We begin our amazing excursion in the city of Madrid where ancient and old meet modern and cosmopolitan. Madrid is the capital of Spain and its largest city. While possessing a modern infrastructure, Madrid has not lost its historic charm with cobblestone streets and antique neighborhoods. Top landmarks include the Royal Palace of Madrid, the Royal Theater with its restored 1850 Opera House, the Buen Retiro park (founded in 1631), the 19th-century National Library building containing some of Spain's historical archives, and a number of National museums located along the Paseo del Prado.
Day 4-6 The co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures are the historical theme of Toledo.  A charming city known as the "Imperial City" for having been the main venue of the court of Charles I, and as the "City of the Three Cultures", having been influenced by a historical co-existence of Christians, Muslims and Jews. Toledo has a history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now popular souvenirs of the city.
Day 6-8 We travel to Portugal and the city of Lisbon. As the capital and the largest city of Portugal, Lisbon is known as a lively city filled with restaurants, shops, and historical sites. As the oldest city in Western Europe, Lisbon predates other modern European capitals such as London, Paris and Rome by centuries. Ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, it was captured by the Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders reconquered the city and since then it has been the major political, economic and cultural centre of Portugal. A 16th century Romanesque-Gothic towner – originally built as a lighthouse, the 5th century De Sao Jorge castle, and the Palace of the Marquises is a 17th century palace that was used as a hunting pavilion and has a 16th century chapel will be top on our list of things to see.
Day 8-11 Let the adventure begin! Lagos is a popular resort town known for its beaches, boating and a very charming old town. Lagos is one of the most visited cities in Portugal because of it’s family friendly beaches, great restaurants, and exciting tours in and around the water. TripAdvisor calls Lagos the #1 travel destination on a list of “15 destinations on the rise” worldwide. Be ready to get your feet wet as we take a breathe from travel and look to increase the adrenaline. 
Day 11-13 The capital of Andalusia, Seville is steeped in its history. It is situated on the River Guadalquivir and its Old Town is the third largest in Europe, with three UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Alcazar palace complex, the Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies. The St. Mary of the See Cathedral was built from 1401–1519 after the Reconquista on the former site of the city's mosque. It is among the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals, in terms of both area and volume. The Alcazar facing the cathedral was developed from a previous Moorish Palace. Construction started in 1181 and continued for over 500 years. Seville also has a rich Jewish past which is something worth exploring.
Day 13-15 Granada is nothing short of spectacular, with its Moorish history and culture beautifully preserved. Granada is located in the independent community of Andalusia, Spain. The Moorish history continues here as well with the Alhambra – a Moorish fortress and palace and one of the most renowned buildings of the Andalusian Islamic legacy. The Albaicín neighborhood was originally an Arab district and now the remains are great examples of Moorish and Morisco construction as you wander through narrow, hilly paths with amazing views.
Day 15-17 We now head to Tarifa, the southern tip of Spain. This popular vacation destination has stunning beaches and is famous for being located in the Strait of Gibraltar, where the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea meet. This makes for a perfect location for water sports, including windsurfing and kiteboarding, as well as the perfect spot for some sunny relaxation. This is also our jumping off point for us to cross the Mediterranean to Morocco. 

By the way, in our travel to Tarifa, we will stop and have lunch in RondaOnce a home to bandits on its imposing cliffs, Ronda offers an array of historic buildings and monuments, as well as great views. Ronda is a city in the Spanish province of Malaga. American writers Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles spent summers here as part-time residents of Ronda's old town quarter called La Ciudad. We will have the chance to visit the famous bullfighting museum, a 14th century Mondragon Palace, a fascinating neighborhood built into a cliff with a street that is entirely inside a tunnel, and the 18th century Puente Nuevo monumental bridge.

Day 17-18 We enter the country of Morocco by visiting Fes, a northeastern Moroccan city known for its architecture – including elaborate cedar carvings and ornate tile work – and old-world atmosphere. Over 1,200 years old, Fes is full of palaces, museums, mosques, fountains, habitations, and tiny alleyways. Fez will give your senses plenty of exercise with markets, food stalls, bartering, and a general feeling of chaos.
Day 18-19 On to the small Moroccan town of Merzouga in the Sahara Desert, near the Algerian border. This is the gateway to Erg Chebbi, a huge expanse of sand dunes described as “a desert theme park.” We will camp in the desert as well as hike up sand dunes, ride camels, and see the expanse of stars at night like no other location in the world. For any birders in the group, we will have a chance to see a wide range of migratory desert birds – desert warblers, Egyptian nightjars, and flamingos – if the seasonal salt lake, Dayet Srji, isn’t dry.
Day 19-20 In addition to being on the edge of the Sahara Desert, Ouarzazate is famous for its film studios and guided tour. Made famous for film productions including The Mummy, Gladiator, and The Pope, the rugged landscape includes rocky red-earth and lush palm groves make this desert area something not to miss.
Day 20-21 Marrakech, a former imperial city in Western Morocco, is a major economic center and home to mosques, palaces, and gardens. The city center is densely packed with a walled medieval city and maze-like alleys thriving with marketplaces. Come ready to barter for textiles, pottery, and jewelry. A symbol of Marrakech and visible for miles, is the Moorish 12-century Koutoubia Mosque. Marrakech is also known as the “city of luxury” with the famous Namaskar Palace, 5-star restaurants, and luxury hammams spas.
Day 21-22 Casablanca was colonized by the French in the early 20th century and remained under French rule until Morocco’s independence in 1956. Whether you like history, culture or are just looking for an experience like no other, Casablanca is worth a visit. Casablanca is a port city and commercial hub bordering the Atlantic Ocean. The architecture is a combination of Moorish style and European art deco. Standing partly over the water, the enormous Hassan II Mosque, completed in 1993, has a 210m minaret topped with lasers directed toward Mecca.
Day 22 Today we head home and reward ourselves with a well-earned long nap on the plane.