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Advanced Worldbuilding in Al-Andalus

In this post I will describe the study abroad program I am establishing at my university, RIT. The class is Advanced Topics in Creative Writing: Advanced Worldbuilding and is scheduled to run in spring 2023. The study abroad portion will happen around Jan 2 to Jan 13, two weeks prior to the start of the semester, during which we will visit Madrid, Toledo, Granada, Córdoba, and Seville.

How does this study abroad relate to the topic of advanced worldbuilding? The point is to step back in time and experience the world of Al-Andalus when the Moors ruled the majority of the Iberian peninsula for some 800 years before being ousted during the Christian Reconquista. Muslims, Christians, and Jews lived in (relative) peace during this time, and all three cultures left indelible traces on these Spanish cities. The questions we will ask: how did the world of Al-Andalus come into being? What are its hallmarks? What was life like in this era? Where did the cultures blend and where were they distinct? How was the world of Al-Andalus replaced?

Canadian author Guy Gavriel Kay used the world of Al-Andalus as his model for his historical fantasy novel The Lions of Al-Rassan, replacing the real-world Muslims, Christians, and Jews with analogous groups: Asharites, Jaddites, and Kindath. His three main characters also bear strong resemblances to historical figures, such as the protagonist Rodrigo Belmonte who is loosely based on El Cid.

Students will study how Kay uses the historical record and geography in his novel and then collaboratively create their own fictional world inspired by the historical reality of Al-Andalus.


Day 1: Madrid – Welcome to Spain

Day 2: Toledo – Guided tour of the old quarter and Toledo Cathedral

Day 3: Granada – Guided tour of the Alhambra and Generalife Gardens; tour of the Albaycin quarters and the Central Mosque

Day 4: Granada – Self-exploration

Day 5: Granada – Sierra Nevada and Alpujarra region excursion

Day 6: Córdoba – Guided tour of the Synagogue, Mosque-Cathedral, the Jewish quarter, and the Alcázar.

Day 7: Córdoba – Self-exploration

Day 8: Seville – Guided tour of Plaza de España, Torre del Oro, city center, Jewish quarter, Royal Alcázar and Cathedral

Day 9: Seville – Self-exploration

Day 10: Seville – Depart for Madrid

Day 11: Madrid departure

I need at least 8 students to sign up in order for the class to run, and it can accommodate up to 20. I am working with the tour group Visit Al-Andalus for transportation, lodging, and guided tours. If you’re interested in learning more, please email me at

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