Vuelta: In the Midst of the Greenery and Sandy Beaches by Daniella Stalingovskis España 2019
Throughout my life in the United States, it was always enforced and believed that our country was a melting pot of different cultures and ethnicities congregating to reach the same goal of freedom and democracy. However, after I traveled to Spain for a month, I realized that cultures are never pure, or factors of it solely belong to one group; cultures pick and choose from other cultures and can expand or improve on other’s values or discoveries. In other words, for cultures to thrive, they need to interact with other differing cultures to flourish. Spain represents as a product of dynamic and multicultural influences through numerous ways whether it be through art, architecture, or even landscaping. This is due to Spain’s history of being part of the Roman Empire, then the Visigoths, then being conquered by Islamic Moors, and then the Christians ruling in 1492. My Vuelta aspect for this project will pertain to multiculturalism but in the eyes of nature, specifically parks, gardens, beaches, and some architectural buildings. Whether it be for religious purposes or for leisure, nature has been a central theme and core of Spain’s landmarks where they maintain and help flourish to give the people open spaces for relaxation and reflection.
Buen Retiro Park:
When entering in El Retiro and seeing all the sculptures, gardens, and monuments, I was reminded of my time when I visited Central Park in New York. A chunk of greenery surrounded in a busy and bustling city with both tourists and locals walking in the park or having a picnic to enjoy the environment and relax. Its atmosphere speaks of grandeur when looking at its luxurious rose gardens flourished with varying species, the Fountain of the Fallen Angel which ironically is the only public monument depicting the devil, the crystal palace that showcases modern art pieces, and an artificial pond with another monument showcasing King Alfonso XII. Originally, the park was not open to the public but belonged to the royalty until 1868. It was also mostly directed by an Italian landscape designer named Cosmio Lotti who also worked on fountains and water systems in the Boboli Gardens. He also was responsible for developing the artificial pond as well. The Roseleda or rose garden, was a relatively more recent addition to the park in 1915 by a gardener named Cecilio Rodríguez where he took inspiration from different European gardens but specifically the Bois de Boulogne in Paris. The Palacio de Cristal was built in 1887 to originally showcase exotic flowers and currently houses contemporary art exhibitions. What is also interesting is how in front of the Palacio de Cristal, series of trees are growing from the artificial pond called Taxodium Distichum which comes from southeastern United States. The park also flaunts having one of the oldest trees in Madrid which is named Taxodium mucronatum which is also known as the Montezuma bald cypress which is from Mexico and is apparently over 400 years old. This park exemplifies how multiculturalism can be seen through simple areas such as public parks where French, Italian, and American influences are at hand.
In the La Latina barrio, I went to visit the Basilica of San Francisco El Grande, which has the largest dome in Spain and the third largest in Christianity. The basilica is also flourished by many decorative paintings from famous artists such as Francisco de Goya. One site that I happened to stumble upon was a modest garden right next to the basilica and I immediately wanted to check out the flora and main statue that centralizes the park. The garden is known as Dalieda de San Francisco because it is known for being a botanical garden which houses the dahlia flowers. Dahlias are unique because they are originated from Mexico and were used as crops and as a source of water by Aztecs because of their tubular stems. They were discovered by the Spaniards during their conquest in the Americas in 1525, but detailed descriptions of the flower were found in 1570 by Francisco Hernández who was a physician to King Philip II. An employee of the Royal Gardens of Madrid named Antonio Jose Cavarilles had received dahlias in 1789 by a director of the Botanical Garden in Mexico City and he developed three different forms of the dahlia which were the Dahlia rosea, pinnata, and coccinea as well as named the flower after a Swedish botanist named Andreas Dahl. In the past, this garden used to be part of an old Arab defense wall and later as a convent of San Francisco in the 13th century. The garden was established in 2007 to house various species of the flower but over time, it has been difficult to sustain the flowers in Madrid’s dry climate and now they vary different assortments of flowers such as roses and some dahlias. Overall, it is intriguing how a small park such as this one has origins from Islamic and Christian rule and resulted with a park dedicated to flowers that came from across the seas from Mexico.
Out of all the cities I went to with our class, Sevilla truly embodies more of the Mudéjar style in its public areas than Madrid or Barcelona. One of the prime examples of merging cultures is the Real Alcázar and its numerous gardens that has features in almost every western European country. The origins of the palace used to be a fortification from Roman era, then the Visigoths, then the Moors in A.D 711 and then the Christian monarchy in 1248. In 1364, Pedro I of Castile built the palace and appreciated the Mudéjar style and employed Jewish and Moorish workers to build it with Christian symbolisms. The result of this was a mix of Islamic and Christian designs and symbols meshed together into this entire building such as the front façade of the building where the design is Islamic, but the symbol is the Christian cross. Another multicultural factor is the Real Alcazar’s numerous gardens which has various legends and different inspirations from different cultures. For instance, there is the English garden which is obviously inspired from the British Isles and there is the Gallery of the Grotesque which was an old Islamic wall that was redesigned by an Italian named Vermondo Resta and it is filled with frescos painted by Diego de Esquivel and features the Greek god called Mercury in the center of the fountain sculpted by Bartolomé Morel in 1576. Vermondo Resta was mainly responsible for adding Italian features including mannerist and baroque styles within the gardens. There is also the Garden of Poets which was created in 1956 and combines features of gardening from the Islamic, Renaissance and Romantic styles and was designed by Javier Winthuysen who was inspired by the Villandry garden in France. The park also flaunts having about 187 different plant and tree species throughout its gardens of which 48 of them are from the Americas such as pecan trees, bald cypresses, marigolds, poinsettias, and magnolias. Sevilla was the portal of trade and commerce to the Americas and the Real Alcázar was the central hub of interacting with different cultures, making it a superior nation at its peak during the colonization period.
Parque de Maria Luisa:
In Parque de Maria Luisa, the Mudéjar style appears once again and is embraced fully in Plaza de España, Plaza de América, and many other various gardens that make up the entire park. It was originally given to the city in 1893 by duchess Maria Louisa. In 1909, Spain planned on launching a Hispanic-American exhibition for the World’s Fair and choose a well-known French engineer and gardener named Jean-Claude Nicolás Forestier. In Plaza de España, the architecture is heavily inspired based on Mudéjar style with its red brick designs, tileworks showcasing various cities in Spain, and decorative arches that span throughout the plaza. Inside the gardens, I witnessed varying plants and trees that originated from the Americas to this landscape such as marigolds, liana trees from South America, and more bald cypresses from the southeastern United States. Another site that evoked different styles from the Renaissance, Gothic, and Mudéjar style was the Plaza de América. The plaza was directed and designed by Aníbal González Álvarez-Ossorio and completed in 1916 and he showcased these different styles by building the Palace of Fine Arts in the Renaissance style, the Royal Pavilion in Gothic style, and the Mudéjar Pavilion. Currently, the Mudéjar Pavilion is now established as a museum of Popular Arts and Customs, where I got to see some antique jewelry, pottery, and tileworks from different eras. They also dedicate many forums and information regarding the process of tileworks and different methods as to how they accomplished different styles with tiles. It is intriguing to witness and learn how this park had evolved and merges different styles of architecture as well as embrace the Islamic past of Spain through the lens of Mudéjar styles.
When arriving inside the entrance of Alhambra, I was mesmerized by all the flora assortments in the garden square, the geometric patterns in the ceilings of the rooms that signify the divinity and admiration for God, and the history of the Moorish and Nasrid rule to the fall of Granada and Christian rule in 1492. So rich in beauty and history in this one area that I could not help but wonder why this palace was abandoned and how did it become neglected and then revived into one of the world’s greatest tourist sites. Back in the 18th century, it was in an abandoned state filled with squatters and vagabonds occupying the area. It was until an American writer named Washington Irving who saw the magic and beauty that Alhambra offered and wrote one of his most famous novels, Tales of the Alhambra. He even occupied in a room himself in the palace and wrote his stories based on folklore and tales about the palace. His novel was successful, and Irving had resurrected the spirit and life of the Alhambra and he was also assigned as an U.S. minister to Spain. He played a big role into giving the Alhambra its deserved recognition and appreciation where people all around the world come to visit this grandeur palace. The Alhambra and Irving’s stories had also inspired some people back in the Americas. One American man named Franklin Webster Smith developed his winter home in St. Augustine called the Villa Zorayda which was named after one of the characters in Irving’s Tales of the Alhambra. The structure of the interior and the horseshoe arches were directly inspired from the palace as well. It is intriguing how an American writer can revive such a historically rich place through his stories and bring tourism in massive waves afterwards.
One of the areas in the Alhambra that struck me was the Placio de Generalife which translates to “Architect’s Garden” in Arabic. It would be the area of contemplation and relaxation for the leaders of the Nasrid rule from their political and diplomatic responsibilities. I was amazed by the architecture, the flower assortments, and the fountains but it did not appear to be authentically Islamic due to the exuberant amount of greenery and the rising fountains. This was because it was rearranged by an Italian director named Francisco Prieto-Morino from 1931 to 1951 which gave the gardens more Italian influences and had a lack of knowledge of Moorish gardening. Some of the features that remain true to the Nasrid design was the long and wide pool in the Court of Myrtles and the compactness of the gardens in general. Although it does not remain entirely true to its Islamic past, like culture, many things go through changes and it is difficult to attempt to recreate something from the far past, but I still appreciate visiting the grand palace and its gardens even if it was altered or changed.
Barceloneta and La Vila Olímpica:
What has expensive food and drinks, appeals to a young, energetic, and lively demographic, and showcases a large promenade of shops alongside to its sandy beaches? If you guessed Miami, then you are right but in this case, I’m referring to Barceloneta. This tourist beach city is a perfect reflection as to how Miami functions as a tourist city, especially in South Beach and in Hollywood Beach. However, Barceloneta was not always a popular tourist site just like Miami was not always one either. It used to be filled with fisherman, sailors, and many evicted people from a neighborhood called Ribera in the 18th century because King Philip V wanted to establish the Ciutadella. Over time, the population increased and made a booming city filled with expensive boats, nightlife, restaurants, bars, and shops spanning throughout Barceloneta, Port Vell, and La Vila Olímpica. The beach resort area has a more modern style to it, especially La Vila Olímpica since it was landscaped specifically for hosting the 1992 Olympics. In a way, these relatively modern landscapes alongside with the beaches distinguishes Barcelona and Catalonia in general from Spain’s other cities and their designs. When I went to the barrio for the annual Nit de Foc celebration where dancing with the devil is encouraged and fireworks and sparklers are aflame and singed clothes and hair are common. The large hoards of people by the beach and lighting up fireworks by the ocean takes me back to Miami during the 4th of July where different people from varying backgrounds congregate together and enjoy the show of lights illuminating the sky. It is welcoming to visit a district from Barcelona that feels like home despite being thousands of miles away.
Overall, it is evident to see that Spain has acquired its gardening and landscape uses and designs based on inspirations of French, Italian, and Islamic styles. Spain crafted its own identity based on its multicultural past and exposed those merges in cultural aesthetics and designs by showcasing its gardens and landscapes and flourishing it with variety of plant and tree species that span all over the world including the Americas. This trip has made me reconsider about how fluid culture can be and how it is always evolving over time. It is apparent that cultures do thrive when interacting with other varying ones and appreciate different aspects or values that the culture offers. It is important to accept change and to stray away from isolation and not be fearful of the unknown but rather delve deeper to understand it.
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