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The Golden Age of Spain

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Joyce E. Salisbury is Professor Emerita of Humanistic Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Green Bay, where she taught history and served as associate dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences and director of International Education. She earned her Ph.D. in Medieval History at Rutgers University, specializing in religious and social history.

Professor Salisbury began her career performing research in Spain, and she has continued to travel there to conduct further research, lecture, and guide students and other travelers. She is currently working on a book about the history of early Christian martyrdom.

In addition to receiving the University of Wisconsin’s Outstanding Teaching award, she was named Professor of the Year in 1991 by the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. She has taught three times on Semester at Sea, a study-abroad program on a ship that circumnavigates the world with more than 500 students for a full semester.

Professor Salisbury is a prolific author whose books include the award-winning Perpetua’s Passion: Death and Memory of a Young Roman Woman; The Beast Within: Animals in the Middle Ages; Rome’s Christian Empress: Galla Placidia Rules at the Twilight of the Empire; and the widely used textbook The West in the World. She has been interviewed many times on National Public Radio on topics from religion to the books she has written, and she appeared on the PBS special The Road from Christ to Constantine.

View Itinerary Map


  • Visit architectural monuments that illustrate Spain’s intersecting cultures, including La Mezquita in Cordoba, the Real Alcázar in Sevilla, and the synagogues and churches of Toledo. â€‹

  • Admire a vast span of Spanish art, beginning with the prehistoric cave art of Altamira; continuing through the Spanish Golden Age with the works of El Greco and Velázquez; and ending with Picasso’s game-changing “Guernica,” which depicts the tragedy of the Spanish Civil War. 

  • View the windmills of La Mancha that inspired the attacks of a befuddled Don Quixote and enjoy wine tasting amid the vineyards of charming Valdepeñas. 

  • Attend a private concert of a historic children’s choir at the 16th-century Renaissance monastery of El Escorial, built by King Philip II at the height of the Golden Age. 


Starting at $5,995 per person

8 Days, 7 Nights | March 13-20, 2024

Joyce Salisbury

When King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella’s marriage united Spain in the 15th century, it set the stage for a great flourishing of art and literature now known as Spain’s Golden Age. This Golden Age was fueled by the stunning wealth from the New World that filled the coffers of the powerful King Philip II—money he spent on art to serve religion, and on buildings to reflect his power. Journey from Madrid and Toledo to the Moorish strongholds of Andalusia with medieval historian Professor Joyce Salisbury on an itinerary she developed based on her intimate knowledge of Spain and her course, The History of Spain: Land on a Crossroad

Witness world-renowned art at the Prado and the Reina Sofia Museum in Madrid and find masterpieces by El Greco in the churches of Toledo. Delve into the influence of the Moors on Spanish culture amid the mesmerizing archways of the Mezquita in Cordoba and Sevilla’s Alcázar. Trace the legacy of cultural greats such as Miguel Cervantes and Velázquez in the places that inspired them and soak up the vibrant energy of contemporary Spain in flamenco halls and local restaurants. Throughout the journey, Dr. Salisbury will share fascinating insights on Spanish history and culture and encourage you to think about the role of art, the power of money, and the nature of human longings. 


Arrive in Madrid on an overnight flight and transfer independently to our hotel in the city center. After time to get settled, meet your Wondrium expert Professor Salisbury, your fellow travelers, and a local guide for a panoramic tour of Madrid’s important sites, including its grand plazas and historic monuments. Dr. Salisbury will offer insights into the intersection of power, art, and money during Spain’s Golden Age during an introductory lecture before our welcome dinner tonight. 

Included Meals: Dinner 

Accommodations: NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado 

Begin the day with a guided visit to the National Archaeological Museum, venturing underground to view a replica of the Paleolithic cave paintings of Altamira, discussed by Dr. Salisbury in the first lecture of her course. Learn about the original cave art, painted in deep galleries in Spain’s Cantabria region some 14,000 years ago and only discovered in 1868. Gather for lunch at a local restaurant before a visit to the renowned Prado. Delve into the complex interplay of religion, art, and power in 16th- and 17th-century Spain as you admire works such as El Greco’s “The Nobleman with his Hand on his Chest” and a rich collection of royal portraits and religious paintings by Diego Velázquez. During an evening at leisure, discover Madrid’s flourishing restaurant scene. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Lunch 

Accommodations: NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado

Journey to Toledo, one of Spain’s most spectacular cities, where three world religions coexisted in relative harmony during the Middle Ages. As we approach the city, stop at a viewpoint said to have inspired El Greco’s painting, “View of Toledo.” The artist, originally from Crete, spent the latter half of his life in the city. Set off on a guided tour of Toledo’s historic center, a UNESCO World Heritage site where ancient streets bear evidence of the Roman and Visigoth eras as well the influence of Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. Our tour features the Gothic cathedral, built atop a mosque and home to works by El Greco and Goya; the 13th-century Santa Maria La Blanca synagogue, possibly Europe’s oldest; and Cristo de la Luz Mosque, originally built in 999. In Santo Tomé Church, known for its stunning Mudejar tower, see El Greco’s masterpiece, “The Burial of the Count of Orgaz.” After lunch together, enjoy the remainder of the day to explore Toledo on your own. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Lunch 

Accommodations: Posada de la Sillerîa

Continue south to the Andalusian city of Cordoba today. On the way, stop in the town of Consuegra, where 12 windmills dot the hilltops above the plains of La Mancha—reconstructions of those that Don Quixote battled in Miguel Cervantes’ 17th-century classic book. After lunch at a local restaurant, take a guided tour of Cordoba, tracing the city’s history from the Roman era to the Golden Age of Moorish Spain and beyond. Drawing on her lecture on Islamic Spain, Dr. Salisbury will share further insights into the evolution of this city and the literature, art, music, and science that flourished here under Moorish rule. Explore La Mezquita—a medieval mosque with a 16th-century cathedral at its heart—and stroll through the Jewish quarter, once home to Jewish philosopher Maimonides. Some of the highlights of the tour include Calahorra Tower, the Roman Theater, the royal stables of Caballerizas Reales, and the 17th-century Plaza de la Corredera. Head off the beaten path to a wonderful bakery Dr. Salisbury discovered while doing research in Cordoba and sample a traditional Spanish pastry. Tonight, soak up the rhythms of Andalusia at a flamenco show. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Lunch 

Accommodations: Las Casas de la Juderia

Set out on a full-day excursion to the Andalusian capital of Sevilla, beginning at the Port of Sevilla, where galleons filled with gold and silver bullion arrived from Spain’s New World colonies via the Guadalquivir River. Enjoy a guided tour of the city’s World Heritage sites, including La Giralda Tower; the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world and the burial site of Christopher Columbus; and the Real Alcázar, palace to Moorish rulers and Christian kings alike. The afternoon is yours to explore Sevilla at your own pace. Transfer back to Cordoba in time for dinner together tonight. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Dinner 

Accommodations: Las Casas de la Juderia  

Return to Madrid today by way of Valdepeñas, a town in the heart of La Mancha’s wine country. Stop to visit a winemaker, who Dr. Salisbury knows, for a tour and tasting before lunch in a local restaurant. Upon arrival in Madrid this afternoon, visit the Reina Sofia Museum to see Picasso’s revolutionary painting, “Guernica,” which ties Spain’s prehistoric cave art to its 20th-century civil war. Your evening is at leisure. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Lunch 

Accommodations: NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado 

Venture to El Escorial, an enormous Renaissance monastery and palace built by King Phillip II at the height of Spain’s Golden Age. Discover the historical significance of this World Heritage site and its influence on Spanish art and architecture. A highlight of the visit is a private performance by the Escolanía del Escorial, a children’s chorus originally founded by Phillip II in 1567. Next, visit the Valle de los Caídos, a monument to the victims of the Spanish Civil War, erected by Franco, who is also buried here. Return to Madrid and celebrate your journey into Spain’s Golden Age at a festive farewell dinner. 

Included Meals: Breakfast, Dinner

Accommodations: NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado 

After breakfast at the hotel, transfer to the airport independently for your flight home. 

Included Meals: Breakfast

Las Casas de la Juderia (Sevilla)

Las Casas de la Juderia boutique hotel is composed of five houses interconnected through patios and courts giving homage to its 16th-century architecture and history. The result is a uniquely charming hotel with all the services and facilities any guest could need, in a beautiful setting where visitors will enjoy peace and quiet. The rooms are comfortable with touches that honor Cordoban craftsmanship. 

Posada de la Sillería (Toledo) 

The Posada de la Sillería enjoys a prime location in the heart of Toledo’s World Heritage-designated old city. The contemporary rooms belie the posada’s many centuries as an inn and private residence. The intimate property, with only 24 rooms, includes the Manjares restaurant and a bodega situated in the vaulted cellar. 

NH Collection Madrid Paseo del Prado (Madrid) 

Set within a palace just across the street from the Prado and a few minutes’ walk from the leafy lanes of Buen Retiro Park, Paseo del Prado offers stylish rooms with modern amenities. Guests can work out in the rooftop gym, enjoy high tea in the elegant lobby, or sit down to a meal prepared by a MICHELIN-Starred chef at the restaurant. 


The information imparted to us and the cultural experiences were both exciting and eye-popping. On this trip, we were able to completely relax and enjoy each day because The Great Courses planned and executed this tour so well.

–Mark & Rachel H.

The Great Courses delivers. If you're looking for an educational adventure with like-minded people, then this is a go-to.

–Karyn A.

Due to the well-planned pacing and cultural aspects, it wasn't just a canned touristy event but really showed a lot of the localities. The Great Courses really went all out to make this a great tour.

–Teresa L.

Stuart Sutherland 

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