My life’s adventure is made through faith in God and the opportunities He has given me. My name is Adam Vignau and I’m a student at Florida International University’s Honors College. I’m currently majoring in International Business with future ambitions of achieving a Masters in Finance. The lessons and experience I gain through Professor Bailly’s class will be translated as best possible through this blog.
16 July 2022
In Spain I was able to experience great works of art and architecture with rich cultural backgrounds. The history spoken to us gave the cities life and new meaning as we learned about subjects such as religion and colonialism. But I did not just learn from the classes but rather from my classmates that were from all different kinds of countries and cultures. Through each place and person, I was able to learn about others and myself.
El Palacio Real and eating with friends. Photos taken by Adam Vignau and Isabella Garcia/CC by 4.0
Madrid was a dry metropolitan city with its artifacts looming all around you with tremendous detail. Every building seemed to be a masterpiece, either from the carefully carved concrete or the beautiful metal railings. When walking with Professor Bailly, I could imagine the event he described. Such as the large town squares that held the executions and trials of the inquisition. I did not understand how power and greed could have led the Catholic rulers to execute innocent Muslims and Jews. Especially when many of the early fortifications and architecture had been done by the Moors, a Muslim population in early Spain. Impressive structures such as El Palacio Real blew my mind at the size and decoration of its being. The number of rooms when walking through the palace seemed to never end, each one more impressive than the last. I could tell that the royals back then were fans of gold leaf and elaborate murals on the roofs of every room. The palace was initially constructed by the Moors in the 800s but renovated throughout many years to suit the royal families in Catholic Spain for many generations. I realize that Spain was a world power long ago, but it seems like most of its influence and wealth came from taking resources from other countries and people. Though despite all the horrors that came with colonialism some of the Spanish dishes and cultural tradition would not be the same without foreign influences. On the first day my class toured through Madrid we had dinner at a bar that served great beer and tapas, which are almost like small appetizers that accompany a drink. One of the classic tapas that we tried were the patatas bravas, which are potatoes covered in a bit of a spicy sauce. They were delicious and were enough to satisfy a large group of us. Though I believe it is important to recognize that potatoes themselves are not from Spain originally, but rather from South America. This traditional dish would not have been invented if it wasn’t for the Atlantic trade and “discovery” of the Americas in 1492.
Pictures in Chueca. Photos taken by Adam Vignau/CC by 4.0
One of the days we had off, my small group and I visited one of Madrid’s famous neighborhoods named Chueca. Best known for their social progressiveness, many people in Chueca have a strong pride towards LGBTQ and acceptance. Walking down the streets, there were countless apartments that have hung up a rainbow flag. Many of the stores in the neighborhood have some sort of correlation towards gay pride either by color or by a popular slogan that says, “together as ourselves.” I was surprised by how open the neighborhood was towards sexuality since in the United States there aren’t many neighborhoods that have made themselves purely a symbol of progression. Besides gender, sex in it of itself was publicized everywhere in Chueca. At the metro station the first advertisement had a man in his underwear, promoting a gay club. Being raised in a very conservative home, this seemed to be a culture shock for me as sex was seen as taboo. Sex shops and gay strip clubs lined up across the streets we visited, surprisingly everyone walked by casually. Close by there were also beautiful flower shops and clothing stores which seemed almost like a paradox in my mind. I learned to appreciate the art that Chueca was full of.
During my time in Madrid was when I began to learn more about my classmates, especially those that I hadn’t talked to all Spring semester. I learned that there was an enormous amount of cultural diversity in the group. We had people from Pakistan, Germany, Cuba, Dominican Republic etc. one of my favorite ways to connect with them was asking about their backgrounds. Being from a Hispanic and Germanic family that practices Christianity I quickly found that my classmates believed and held many traditions different from my own. On our last night in Madrid, a large group of my classmates and I went to a Pakistani restaurant that was recommended by one of my classmates that was from Pakistan. It was one of my most memorable experiences during the trip since I was able to bond over the amazing food and experiences from the past couple days. We even briefly talked about religion, which is typically a controversial subject, but even with a difference of beliefs we were able to learn from one another and get along just as well.
Pictures in Segovia including the Roman aqueduct and Catholic Cathedral . Photos taken by Adam Vignau and John Bailly/CC by 4.0
When visiting Segovia it seemed as though we were in a fairytale-esque region. One of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals, “El Catedral de Segovia” was there as it stood in one of the most central town squares. When inside I felt almost insignificant compared to the enormity and detail in decoration that surrounded me. I could not fathom how hard it must have been to create such perfectly designed and constructed buildings without modern machinery and 3D mapping. As a Christian, it was beautiful to see how much work people have put into honor God. This church seemed to be a relic of a different society that was unified by religion. Today, it seems as though there are large separations in the population between conservative and liberal radical denominations. Some of the middle ground we can find is in the appreciation of nature and art which I believe was captured by certain artists such as Picasso and Gaudi.
Similar to Segovia, when we visited Toledo, it was a city full of churches and people that fully emerged themselves in their religion. When we arrived in the city it was a day before the Corpus Christi festival so there were hundreds of people setting up and preparing for such a large event. Seeing the preparation was special since it showed how much work and dedication the whole city was willing to participate in to celebrate their old tradition. Even the young students would go to the church to place flowers in front to give their token to the event. In Miami, I only see such events happen at a very local level where certain private schools will create ties with the church. It would be great to see more people come together to celebrate certain religious holidays like in Toledo.
At Escorial I experienced one of the most strenuous and beautiful hikes I have ever done. As we hiked to the top of one of the great mountains the view was stunning. We were able to sit at the seat of Felipe II that overlooked Escorial. It was a clear view of the city and El Escorial, a large building that was created to protect the Catholic religion. El Escorial functioned as a monastery, palace, and library to name a few. The project was largely funded by the colonialist exploitation of the resources in the Americas. Though the building is still used today, it is sad to see that so many precious materials and innocent lives went into a building that did not become as much of a Catholic mecca as it was intended to be. One of the largest mistakes with the Spanish rule in my opinion was the misallocation of funds from colonialism. Instead of using the large influx of wealth to boost the local economy and expand its influence into other countries, Spanish rulers used the wealth to create impressive monuments and palaces to validate their rule. I can appreciate the architecture in some of Spain’s monuments but from a religious perspective, Jesus never lived a life of luxury, so I do not see the need. Though the love for nature and the landscape of mountains surrounding Escorial had a spiritual touch on my heart. Being at the peak of the mountain was empowering but also humbling as it showed just how great God is.
When we visited Cordoba I experienced one of the strangest mixes of religion I had ever seen. At the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, there is a Catholic church that has been built within an old mosque. Surprisingly, many of the Muslim art pieces and architecture remain within the church. Though, right in the middle is a large section full of Catholic saints and a place for the priest to teach. The artwork done in the mosque was intricate yet calming as it used many earth-tone colors. The tilework was also extremely intricate and beautiful as each piece of tile was done by hand and was geometrically calculated. The catholic part of the church was much more intense as the artwork did not blend in with the architecture, but rather pronounced itself. There was woodwork done in the pews and at the pulpit that was breathtaking. It was explained that the mahogany wood was taken from the Americas to make these structures. Some of my Muslim classmates had asked me how I felt about the church-mosque after stating that they felt offended by it. I truthfully felt uncomfortable about it as well, as it seemed as though the Catholic church had been prideful of their conquest back then. It was said by one of our guides that the Jews and Muslims had to hide their religion as they were persecuted by the Catholic church. In the Bible it speaks of Christians being persecuted for believing in Jesus, I couldn’t understand how Christians could do the same many years later. This city was truly an eye-opener to the religious power struggles of the 14th and 15th centuries.
Sevilla was an amazing display of Spain’s history of global influence. Visiting El Catedral de Sevilla, we were able to get a tour of the huge church that seemed to stand in the middle of everything. The cathedral’s architecture is mostly gothic, characterized by the intricate pyramid towers and ghoul statues. Being that it is the third biggest church in the world, I was once again amazed how such a large structure could have been built in the 1500s. Sevilla was once a major part of the global economy since its port had all the ships from the Americas and other countries come through it. Today, the city seems to be largely a tourist attraction where people can enjoy its beautiful parks, architecture, and live performances. Late into the night my friends and I were able to walk through the streets of Sevilla amongst other locals and tourists. The city was peaceful and a great place to visit for people of all ages.
When my group visited the Alhambra in Granada I experienced one of the most amazing Muslim buildings from the trip. The many rooms had intricate tile work that covered the walls completely. Many were symbolic to the different principles of the Koran such as the seven levels of heaven. One of my classmates that knew Arabic was able to teach me how to read some of the tile work, something I never thought I’d have the chance to learn. The religion was extremely interesting to learn about since I did not know much about it before the trip. The guide and my classmates were extremely insightful and open to explaining their way of life. Though many times the Christian and the Muslim religion clash, I believe we can appreciate the sacrifice and the beauty in one another’s religion. My Muslim friends and I were able to hold a mutual respect as we wanted to learn more about what we believed in, I couldn’t have been more grateful to them.
Barcelona was my favorite city out of all the others due to its communion with nature. Artists such as Gaudi took a strong influence in the city as shown by one of the great churches, La Sagrada Familia. The church was a tall structure full of color and natural design. Outside, there were numerous sculptures of animals and religious figures along the wall. Inside, there were tree-like pillars that held up the church with large stained-glass windows that brought the color of the outside world within the walls. This church felt alive which was not like any of the other gothic churches I had seen throughout the trip. I could imagine the choir stands filled and singing in unison praising God. The church made me emotional in appreciation of His creation. Barcelona held the same life day and night as the beach was full of people during “Sant Joan Night,” a festival full of fireworks and celebration. I believe I enjoyed Barcelona because it reminded me of Miami. If I ever wanted to escape life in the city, I could enjoy the peaceful beaches and aquarium in Barceloneta.
I could not have asked for a better learning and class experience than what I experienced on my trip to Spain. Every day was an adventure and the people that have become my close friends pushed me to never stop trying new things. Learning about architecture and art styles that I can identify all over Miami has proven that ideas can be shared. Much of the creative process comes not from your own imagination but rather what you take from others. I’ve been able to redefine my perception of religions and culture which has only led to a greater curiosity. I’m blessed to be able to go and share what I have learned.