by Lauren C. Batista of FIU
Spain is magical. It has an immense amount of history filled with both glorious and gruesome moments. The buildings are breathtaking, the people are one of a kind, and the cities are a prime example of the manifestation of Spain and the Americas within each other. Throughout the trip, I felt like I was returning to my motherland. However, I also had to ask myself challenging questions and reflect on moments of Spanish history and aspects of Spanish culture that ultimately have affected who I am since 1492. The three main cities I want to focus on are: Madrid, Sevilla, and Barcelona and the big ideas are Culture, Conquest, and Religion and Architecture.
Madrid – A Passion For Culture
Bull fighting in Madrid is a significant aspect of Spanish culture. I decided to watch a bull fighting match despite my disagreement on the way the bulls are treated and viciously murdered. This was an experience that gave me goosebumps. It was an unfair fight, life or death, and extremely torturous and violent towards the bull. However, the Spanish love the gore of bull fighting. The Matador is considered an admired athlete. This is part of their culture; it is their version of the Colosseum in Rome with the gladiators. 6/7 bulls died a horrific death and one Matador was severely injured. I can see aspects of bull fighting with America’s passion for boxing or football. The emotions are intense, there is money on the line, and these athletes are known nationwide for their work in professional sports. For a matador to be considered excellent and receive a large applause and approval from the audience depends on how close he gets to the horns of the bull, how calm he remains despite the life-threatening dangers present, and his eloquence and rare leg movements when swinging the cape in front of the angry, hurt, and powerful bull.
Another aspect of Spanish culture is the popularity of tobacco. More than 9,605,000 adults use tobacco daily. 27.6% more men smoke tobacco in Spain than on average in very high-HDI countries. However, tobacco is not native to Spain, but rather comes from the Americas since the time of the Columbian Exchange. The Columbian Exchange is known as the exchange of food, crops, people, and diseases between the Old Word and the New World after Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic to the Americas. Tobacco is a plant native to tropical America, whose leaves are nicotine-rich which are dried and fermented so that they may be placed in tobacco products for chewing, smoking, and sniffing. Cigarettes are the most common form of tobacco. The nicotine in the tobacco can lead to addiction and can become a strong risk factor for heart disease as well as lung cancer and other chronic illnesses. This is a prime example of a Vuelta aspect from the Americas to Spain, where the use of tobacco strongly influences and has evolved as part of Spanish culture.
Madrid loves to brag about the fact that they have the only public statue dedicated to the Devil. The statue is located in the Parque del Buen Retiro among its elusive and beautiful gardens. The sculptor was Ricardo Bellver, who created this piece for the third World’s Fair in Paris. The statue is located 666 meters above sea level. The use of the number 6 adds more symbolism to the monument because 6 is associated with Satan and the manifestation of sin and evil. The Fallen Angel, Lucifer, is on a marble pillar with demonic creatures such as gargoyles and reptiles surrounding it. The moment depicted is that of when Lucifer is cast out of Heaven. I found it interesting that the Church has not protested against it and I learned that it is because the city claims that it is a faithful representation of a biblical story. I am not sure that response is convincing enough, but I find it interesting how Madrid highlights this monument as part of their culture and perhaps maybe as a sign of a city who seems to abide by old Spanish traditions of Catholicism but has adopted a new modern way of thinking by having a monument to arguably the most disliked character of the Bible and of Christianity. In the Americas, the Devil is very common in popular culture. There are films, television shows, music, animations, and literature that frequently portray the Devil as a character in their work. However, there has been no huge statement as that of a monument to him despite America being more progressive and liberal compared to the strict and dominant traditions and superstitions of Catholic Spain.
Sevilla – A Passion For Conquest
The Hearing Room of the Royal Alcazar of Sevilla is where Christopher Columbus arrived and told his first accounts from his expeditions of the Americas. The Royal Alcazar was built in the 14th century and ordered by Pedro I also known as Pedro The Cruel. The Hearing Room was used as a place where potential navigators/voyagers asked the King and Queen for permission to make their trip. The interesting and controversial aspect of this room is the image of the virgin and the navigators in the painting. This symbolized that their journey to the Americas was protected by the Virgin Mary and that the reason for their voyage was for religious purposes to fulfill biblical principles of spreading the Good News (Christian message) to everyone across the world. This can be seen in the shadow of Mary’s wide-open arms where indigenous people who have converted to the faith are portrayed and are now under her protection as well. This painting is a romanization of what occurred in the Americas and a depiction of the way the Spanish see the conquest of the Americas. The Spanish forcefully made indigenous people convert to Christianity, enslaved, and committed genocide to this group of people who were already settled in their land with cultural and religious traditions of their own. It seems as if the Spanish neglect important aspects of their history and only portray it in a way that allows them to look as the humble victor. I think from an educational and humanitarian point of view; these buildings should have some form of contextualization of the artwork in order to provide an accurate account of what happened in history. The same can be said of the Museo de las Americas in Madrid. The paintings and depictions of the Native Americans offer no contextualization of what occurred. The Spanish portray the conquest as heroic despite evidence of their actions being the exact opposite.
In addition, Sevilla was an essential city of Spain for trade. Due to its proximity to water, it served as a renowned port, especially for slave trading. The Atlantic Slave trade which forced the movement of 12 million Africans during the 16th and 19th century was due to a demand for labor in plantations in the Americas because of the devastation of native populations from disease. The slaves would travel from Africa to Lisbon to Sevilla and then to America. On the very steps of La Cathedral de Sevilla slaves were sold. Once again, there was no recognition of such an act anywhere near the Cathedral or the area. The lack of contextualization omits the negative aspects of Spanish history and of Christian ignorance to this violation of human rights. Churches are supposed to stand as beacons of hope. Churches are meant to be places where people feel welcome to come in and bring their sorrows, burdens, and joys to a God and a Christian people who are eager to help them and listen to them. Instead, the opposite occurred, and slave trading was conducted on church steps and most tourists walk by not knowing this occurred. The Spanish colonies were one of the last ones to make slavery illegal in the entire world; 1873 in Puerto Rico and 1886 in Cuba. Sevilla profited from slave trade because through their successful and busy ports they taxed goods from the Americas that were made through the hard and painful labor of slaves. America has its own horrific history with slavery. It ended officially on December 6, 1865. Similar to Spain’s history with slavery, our admired founding fathers were owners of many slaves and even had relations with some of them. Once again, the idea that those whom we trust with our most important values and liberties behave in ways that contradict the same ideals they fight against.
Barcelona – A Passion For Religion and Architecture
La Sagradra Familia is one of the most beautiful churches in the world. The main architect, Antoni Gaudi is a proud and devout Catholic who wants to develop Catalan identity in Barcelona, primarily through architecture and the Catholic religion. He always celebrates religion and nature in his work and is using his gain of popularity in his industry to combat the rise of secularism. La Sagrada Familia is part of the revival and social movement against secular governments which are proving to be a huge threat to the church in the late 19th century. Although the church embodies aspects of modernisme, it does not conform to many of the ideals of the time, but rather uses the aesthetic aspects of the movement which Gaudi embodies. The church has 3 main doors: door of charity because of Jesus, door of hope because of Joseph, and door of faith because of Mary; they are the three members of the holy family. Throughout the outside of the church, there are many biblical stories portrayed such as Adam and Eve with the serpent and the apple as well as the genealogy of Jesus. There are domes inside inspired by those of the Alhambra which create stars and circles depicting the divine perfection created by God. The Murano glass of the windows are exquisite. The color green and blue depict the side of the church that is for the Nativity and the red depicts the Passion. The nativity side was worked on during Gaudi’s lifetime, but the church remains unfinished. The intended design is supposed to included 18 spires: 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, 1 for the Virgin Mary, and the greatest of all is the one for Jesus. Only 8 spires have been built thus far. The marvelous architecture of this church has inspired many around the world, especially my church, the Immaculate Conception. The stain glass windows paint pictures of the 7 holy sacraments and the sculptures inside the church portray biblical scenes as does the Sagrada Familia. The grandeur and beauty of La Sagrada Familia is one a of kind; however, above all, its physical beauty and religious meaning behind every design serves as a model for other Catholic churches around the world.
All in all, Spain has a complex history and relationship with culture, colonization and religion and architecture. Studying abroad in Spain has taught me many important lessons about the country, its people, the landmarks, and their history, but above all, I have learned more about myself. I have become a more educated person by challenging, embodying, and learning about my ties as a Cuban-American to Spain and how Spain and the Americas share and differ in their manifestation within each other through the three major areas: governmental, cultural, and religious. I have decided to continue exploring and learning about different cultures, people, and countries because in the end, I find more of myself and the person I want to become when I travel and learn from the history of people and places all around the world. In the end, I cannot say I am fully American, fully Cuban, or fully Spanish; I am a mixing and culmination of these three cultures within each other.
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