Alain Cartaya: Vuelta Project – A Journey Through History
Since the moment class started, I knew this trip would be somehow astonishing. I knew it would open my mind in so many different levels, mainly, because Spain, and Europe in general, have so much history. It has been involved in so many wars, famines, technological breakthroughs. The Spanish Empire conquered most of Andalusia, the hub of Muslim power in the peninsula. They were the first ones to conquer the Americas and had a considerable influence in Europe becoming one of the biggest empires the world has ever seen. However, Spain has been the protagonist of some of the most significant cultural segregation and massacres, just like every big empire. Spanish soil has seen the rise and fall of many civilizations; hence, many cultures interlaced and helped the development of the Spanish identity. Religion has deep roots in Spanish culture as well. Spanish people were one of the main precursors of Catholicism sometimes powering beautiful architectural developments and some others complete segregation.
Madrid, during the Reconquista, passed hands between Christians and Moorish more than once, even its name derives from a Moorish word. It became the capital as a result of a political move by the crown to create distance between them and the church. It also had a better strategic positioning in the region, and it was a city without social conflicts. As a result, Madrid experienced a rise in population and, in time, was the center of a period of cultural brilliance in Spain. Since the capitals are usually the center of any political disagreement and the main target of foreign and internal enemies, Madrid had many chaotic times. The representation in different parts of the city, in museums or streets of the peace and the conflict. However, what stroke me the most was the zero-kilometer mark that is the Sol neighborhood. I felt that it told me here is where your journey starts, but we are not only Madrid, we are Spain. The city was meant to be walked; the urbanism of the city prioritizes the pedestrians. The city asked you to see its bear with the strawberry tree, La Osa y el Madroño, which represents Madrid’s coat of arms.
The city tells you that it is there to be seen, something very different than most of the cities in the United States. In Madrid, bars, restaurants, and parks are in every corner of the city. Even public transportation helps to explore the city since trains have stations every few blocks, and Spain has the second biggest fast train system in the world . When someone gives a direction, estimates the time in the walking distance not in the driving distance because it is in their culture to walk everywhere; cars are not essential. In the States, this type of urbanization does not exist in most cities, definitely not in Miami where a car is as necessary as money; maybe even more. And in case someone wants to walk, there is nothing to be seen except closed houses and condominiums. Madrid’s urbanization allows for more social relationships. It helps to be more easygoing and contribute more to society in some way. I learned so much of the city in my way to the grocery store just sitting in a park midway talking to someone. I saw more kids playing in the parks over there than I have ever seen in the States.
One of the most outstanding cities of Spain, host of the biggest bullfighting arena in Spain, part of huge Andalusia. A city where heat is as predominant as happiness where you can see the most beautiful flamenco. That was the entry point of all the ships that came from the Americas. They all had to register in the Torre de Oro, pretty much like today’s customs. Hence, the city developed from it, and it became one of the most important cities of medieval Spain. The beautiful palace of Alcazar where queen Isabella lived and hosted Christopher Columbus the discoverer of the New World, and where she debriefed Columbus after his New World discoveries. One could say this city is one of the most related to the Americas.
So much of American resources pass to Spain and Europe through this city and are still there. It also has a beautiful mixture of ethnicities as a result of an obscure past. Since it was part of Andalusia, it held a big community of Muslims and Jews. Hence, it became one of the targets for the Spanish Inquisition. However, today, there is still a big community of those that were expelled in the past. The art and culture once created, was somehow preserved, even mixed with Christian art like the Mudejar style in the Alcazar, which means “those who stayed.” This mixture of ethnicities, I saw it, as the main reason for its success today. The happiness its people emanated was different than in other cities in Spain. They were always smiling, singing, or dancing, even in the markets. It is no coincidence that the cities in the States were people are more active and relate to each other are those were ethnicity is as mixed as in Sevilla, maybe even more. Cities like New York City, Los Angeles, or Miami emanate the same type of active life and happiness.
If there is a city in Spain that everyone would fall in love with that city is Barcelona. Just like every other city in Spain, history is abundant. It has a public transportation system as good as the one in Madrid and Gaudi’s masterpieces can be seen all around the city. Casa Milà is one of them. It is popularly referred to as La Pedrera because of its use of raw materials and its original design. The different works of modernisme, a Catalan authentic artistic movement, are in every corner of the city. Then, street signs are in Catalan; the language is spoken by the community everywhere even more than Spanish. Hence, it seems that you are transported to a different country; that is what Catalonians believe they are: an independent nation. This independent movement has its roots from long ago, but now is when it gained more traction. Catalonians flags can be seen from many balconies. It is not unusual that significant contributors to a country’s economy decide that it is better for them to become an independent country. In California, a movement called “Yes, California” advocates for the same. However, it is not as strong as the one in Barcelona.
The main reason is that California’s cultural identity is not as independent from the United States as Barcelona’s is from Spain. Artists in Barcelona have tried their best to reach that identity, especially with modernisme. The Catalonian shield with its four blood stripes is represented in almost every art piece of a Catalonian. Even if the shield is not in the artwork, some representation of Barcelona can be seen. Some of them also praise the independence movement or its representatives like Josep Maria Soberachs’ monument to Francesc Macià the first of the Generalitat de Catalunya. Another aspect that differentiates the Catalonian movement from others is that they also have their language. This movement, like everything else in Spain, was influenced by the Americas too. Mainly, by the Cuban independence movement in the nineteenth century. The Catalonian flag has a triangle with a star in the middle. The addition of that design to the regular blood stripes in the yellow background was made because of the admiration the Catalonian felt by the Cuban independence movement. Whether this movement is negative or positive for Barcelona is out of the scope of this paper. It is far more complicated than just the cultural identity of the movement itself but other economic and social aspects as well. Nonetheless, it is a perfect example of how art can help build a country’s or a city’s independent cultural identity and its influence in other aspects like politics.
Spain is a beautiful country. It is a journey through time — some of the best artists of all times that have influenced others are from Spain. Artists like Diego Velázquez, Goya or El Greco lived and gave their masterpieces to the crown of Spain. Architectural medieval masterpieces are still maintained in Spain. Hence, walking through any of its cities would open the mind of anyone. Furthermore, in all of its corners, every American will see a piece of themselves. Those that somehow are descendants of Spanish people or even ones that are natives from America, since most of the greatest masterpieces were fund with resources from the Americas. Most of the cathedrals’ gold came from the Americas and wood from the Palacio Real of Madrid comes directly from the Americas. If all of that is not enough to proof Spain’s relation to the Americas, go to Sevilla and see a whole city whose growth in medieval times was a direct result from America’s resources. Hence, I felt a connection to Spain. It completely opened my mind and helped me realized that humans are more related to each other than they know. Every culture is nothing but the union of many others.
“Casa Mila (La Pedrera): A total work of art.” [Online]. Available: https://www.lapedrera.com/en/la-pedrera. [Accessed: 2019].
R. Steves, “Spanish History Set in Stone.” [Online]. Available: https://www.ricksteves.com/watch-read-listen/read/articles/spanish-history-set-in-stone. [Accessed: 2019].
G. Migiro, “Countries With The Most High Speed Rail,” 19-Apr-2018. [Online]. Available: https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/countries-with-the-most-high-speed-rail.html. [Accessed: 20-Jul-2019].