Peace Through Strength by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Madrid, Spain
I landed in Madrid a few days before the program commenced, confident with my packed Osprey and extremely limited, broken Spanish in my arsenal. A desire to get away, learn about the ancient history of España and not-so-ancient mishmash of my own identity propelled me to leave all I’ve known for the last 21 years of my life. Madrid is a city foreign to me, one I’ve only experienced through class lectures, family stories and sparing Google searches. The steadily sustained microcosm of Miami pushed me to a point where I felt exhausted of the city and not what is going to propel the next phase of my life after graduation-so I ran.
Museo del Prado, arguably the crown jewel among Madrid’s art collections houses masterpieces from the Classical age through the dawn of Modern art. A carousel of Greek-inspired Roman sculptures welcome you to the museum, one of which is a marble representation of Antinous. A young Grecian of Bithynian decent, a poor boy turned God by the will of Hadrian greets you.
Hadrian ruled during the 2nd century AD during and was part of a legacy of Emperors that maintained peace and growth for the empire. He grew up native to the lands that would become Spain, and once he gained power he spent most of his reign traveling, checking on his administrations, living among his soldiers and living in common spaces; a habit that would ultimately introduce him to his forever love, Antinous.
The two continue Hadrians travels, the world is their oyster until one day on the Nile Hadrian had a close encounter with death. Hadrian began to drown, Antinous dives in to save him, and Hadrian’s soldiers follow. While Hadrian’s soldiers save their emperor Antinous is swept away by the river and drowns.
Hadrian deifies Antinous, an honor reserved for Emperors after death. He names cities after his lost love to keep his memory alive. Hadrian defies tradition set out before him by elevating his poor foreign lover into a God to be covered, l living life far form his capital and living as a peer to his constituents. All these actions reveal and authenticity to his humanism.
Madrid is nothing as I anticipated. The hustle and bustle of the city swept away my shallow confidence and replaced it with a wash of anxiety, confusion, and disorientation. What am I doing here and why would I put myself in this position, all by my own choosing?
Rome was not built in a day. Greatness and growth take time, and both occur in the face of adversity. While the Madrid presented itself as a metropolitan rip-current, the desire one feels to broaden ones perspective should not be stifled.
Hadrian accomplished all he had through his exploration and understanding of himself and his people. An expansive empire rich with culture and peace are a result of this awareness, and sweet the stage for the development of modern Western history thousands of years later. While Antinous met a tragic end his divine status and plethora of namesake cities keep his legend of love and truth alive. The Roman Spaniard and his Grecian lover live on in Museo del Prado and the city of Madrid. Madrid, the capital of the country where my journey for inner peace will continue through the strength I gain, and will continue to gain in Hadrian’s native land.
God almighty, all Mercy, in Toledo by Sofía Guerra of FIU in Toledo, España
Fungia– (n). fOOn-ja. An intense frown where both corners of the mouth almost reach the chin. Often accompanied by crossed arms, the evil eye, and a tantrum.
The thought of a building bringing one to tears may sound strange in concept, but when standing inside Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo it becomes much easier to grasp.
When I hear the term “going to church” my thoughts take a time machine back to my childhood. I think of being no more than nine years old, and seeing every Easter morning, Good Friday, Noche Buena, and speckled Sundays of fights with my father, crossed arms and the hardest fungia I can muster plastered on my face.
Waking up before even the sky is fully awake, frilly dresses with matching ribbons, and tight french braids slicked to my scalp were not on my child-minded To-Do list. As soon as I got a say, or protested just enough, the silent visits with God in our neighborhood church stopped.
More than a decade later, with a few years of college-level Religion and Art History classes under my belt, I gained a deep founded appreciation for the Italian and French masterpieces of Catholic paintings, altarpieces, and cathedrals. I also gained the opportunity to stand inside the massively elaborate Cathedral of Santa Maria de Toledo, built in a Gothic style.
Building of this masterpiece in the heart of Toledo began in the 13th century and took nearly 300 years to complete. The architects and artists were outsourced from Italian, French, and even Flemish craftsmen to assemble a group skilled enough to build a structure so large, and visually powerful to reflect the importance of Toledo as the Catholic center of the Western world in its era of conception. In a town ruled by the Bishop it exudes spiritual dominance, precisely what the role of Catholicism was during the reign of Felipe II.
On a chilly Wednesday morning I stand inside el Catedral at the west end. Tears stream down my face, my arms are crossed to constrain my chills, fungia-less, and with a full heart. The beauty and radiance of the gold-gilded altarpiece depict the passions and life of Christ in full sculptural relief, topped with a crucified Christ whose pain is so tangible my heart drops. I begin to understand how religion was such an immense force so many centuries ago, and still today.
In a time when literacy was so rare, these sites are more than enough to guide someone silently, not only through the Cathedral but to a place of utter spiritual transcendence.
Juderia Wrought by the Holy Cross by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Sevilla, España
Barrio Santa Cruz, covered in bougainvillea vines, intricate wrought iron work, boutique shops and tapas bars. The humble abodes that line the streets are quaint and close knit due to the kissing streets that take you through el barrio. The street get their name because they’re so close knit that if you walk side by side, you’d be kissing your company.
“Juderia” spelled out on painted tiles in the Barrio Santa Cruz naming the yellow wall that separated the jewish community from the rest of Sevilla 600 years ago. Houses packed on top of each other, trying to make the most of every square inch, the street so narrow that you must walk single file if walking with company. The walkways open up to small plazas, the site of the Acts of Faith, torture tactics and tests of faith given before execution of jews, instilled by the Fernando and Isabela in 1481. The humble abodes are locked by jewish families, holding tight to their keys hoping one day they can return home from the violent persecution sparked by monk Ferdinand Martínez.
The whitewash city of Sevilla is punctuated with strokes of yellow, and barred with wrought iron. It’s welcoming, homey, and offers a place to land, but it’s blood runs deeper than the vines on historically segregating walls, and is tangled with secrets of human atrocities that cannot be painted over with whitewash and yellow paint.
North African Paradise by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Granada, España.
La Alhambra sits atop a hill, overlooking a whitewashed town in the mountainous valley it reigned over for nearly 800 years. However when walking into the ancient city one actually walks into paradise.
Throughout Spain there are remnants of the Moorish occupation through the mudejàr style of tiling and calligraphy-a seemingly Islamic decorative style that is vacant of its true spiritual purposes. It developed by the will of Catholic monarchs who coveted the beauty, spirituality, and harmony accomplished by true Islamic craftsmen. However, these craftsman acted to please their patrons, violent enemies. Today La Alhambra is among the only places in Spain where you can still see the natural harmonious style of Islamic architecture and design used for its true intentions, communication with God.
Shapes that a child becomes familiar with before they can even speak act as the building blocks to the entire palace and paradise of La Alhambra. One on top of the other, the square foundation of the building is spiraled to create circular tents, the original dwellings of the Moores who made their home in Spain after their landing in 711 AD.
Shapes visible in the plants that build a natural agricultural paradise construct the architectural beauty that stands as a true testament to the Muslim power that held the land longer than the Catholics did after their violent conquest of 1492. Catholics monarchs appropriated the natural, symmetrical, and harmonious style of tile decoration present in Islamic art to communicate to the heavens, just as they did with each consecutive conquest of Islamic land on the Iberian peninsula. Luckily when they conquered Alhambra they did not destroy it-they stole it. The messages inscribed in the red stones monument to divinity in nature can not be silenced, it is alive in the walls and domes of La Alhambra.
Moonlit Coasts: Miami to Barcelona by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Barcelona, España. Region of Catalonia
The dewy beach in the moonlight feels undeniably like the Miami shore lines past sunset. The Palmetto Expressway isn’t a 3-lane highway connecting Broward and Miami-Dade, it’s a pious man’s catholic masterpiece that has been under construction since 1882. The empanadas are incredible, the festivals are zesty and seductive, the city tempts you to become Catalonian. It brings out a need for rebellion and independence, self-searching and a strong spirit.
Annually on the 23rd night of June, the festival of San Joan light up the dark streets of Catalonia. As the sun starts to set a bonfire is ignited in a town square. The blaze is fueled by the ragdoll version of King Felipe IV, and the crowd erupts. Barcelona belongs to Catalonia, not Spain. A statement that sets the tone for the rest of the night- A flame-fueled night that honors an ancient tradition in worship of the summer solstice. A night of whimsy that caps of the year’s longest day. Reverence to San Joan is a mask. This 23rd night of June has been celebrated before Catholicism dominated the region, as a pagan tradition honoring the giving sun and all it has to offer.
As the night progressed, I found myself to be more and more separated from who I am, or who I thought I was and being surprised at how much I truly enjoyed it. To top it all off, a 3 AM subway scuffle created the perfect opportunity for petty theft as a stranger slipped my phone out of my pocket, truly forcing me to disconnect. taking me away from any connection to home.
The Catalonian spirit transcends its history, folklore, and present-day politics. A region represented by a blood-soaked shield is not to be taken lightly. The passion, determination, and vivacity of the land lingers, infects its inhabitants and drives them to become the core of themselves-their freest selves. Just as one comes to the capital, Barcelona, riddled with the trials and tribulations of life and leaves cleansed by the fire of the little devils running through the town. Change, identity, and truth are undeniable. Strong as a bull, but free as the capital’s bat, no one can clip the wings of Catalonia.
Sea-Salted heart of Charles by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Sitges, España. Region of Catalonia.
How one man’s whim took heart and soul of Catalan art away from its roots.
How one man’s carelessness used the Marciel treasure to quench his debts
How one man’s project lacked vision.
How one man’s life brought us El Greco’s to the US.
From 4Gats in a narrow side street down Portal de l’Angel, to a waterfront home in Sitges, Charles Deering was living life like a turn of the century Modernisme artist. He passed time in cafes bumping elbows with Picasso and Casas before traveling throughout Europe with Ramon Casas.
Destination: Cau Ferrat, Santiago Rusiñol’s home and masterpiece. Artist and art collector Rusiñol left his own mark in the churning culture wars of the 1900s with his “House of Iron,” a Temple of Modernisme.
Sitges blue and hand painted dishes cover the walls of Rusiñol’s Iron-clad heart. His collection holds medieval Italian treasures used as commonplace furniture, El Greco’s welcomed with a procession modeled after those for Corpus Christi, and masterpieces of his own hand. Rusiñol’s artistic eye dives deeper and is driven by his heart and soul. Piece by piece he created his own corner of the world along the Mediterranean coast, with a view of the sea that fades into his ultramarine walls and into his heart.
Deering saw this artist’s life work come together on the coast of Sitges. He placed an offer on the Cau Ferrat, but Rusiñol refused to sell his heart’s collection. Deering took his money for Cau Ferrat and settled on being neighbor to Rusiñol’s ultramarine beauty. Rusiñol’s Iron masterpiece was dwarfed by the massive palace, Palau de Marciel- of the sea and sky.
Such a palace became a dwelling for what would be referenced as Marciel’s Treasure, a nearly encyclopedic collection of Spanish art and artifacts. An American man, rich with family money gained access and ownership to some of the most treasured Spanish artifacts, some artworks in themselves. After setting out on this mission to create such an extensive, culturally rich place, personal circumstances him to pack up his treasure and move it across the Atlantic.
Charles Deering’s heart did not lie in Sitges the say Rusiñol’s did. He saw everything he experienced in that quaint beach town with his eyes and wallet. He didn’t let the salty air, thick with Catalan penetrate his comfort zone and slow him down, and settle roots in Sitges. His vision did not end in Sitges because it never belonged to Sitges to begin with.
Off of 152nd street in Miami, the nature preserve and the Chinese bridge lead you to the Deering Estate: the ultimate fruition of his vision. The waterfront home is inspired by Cau Ferrat, overlooking Biscayne Bay. From the back porch all of Biscayne Bay spills into Charles Deering’s heart.