Alexandra Fiedler is a second-year student at Florida International University who is majoring in Psychology and minoring in Spanish. After moving to Miami from Albuquerque, New Mexico, Alexandra is fascinated by the cultural, historical, and geographical differences between the place she grew up and the places she is experiencing for the first time. Alexandra passionately strives to learn and help others, while expanding her knowledge about the exciting cultural phenomena not just here in Miami, but also abroad in exciting, new places like España!
By Alexandra Fiedler of Florida International University on 30 June, 2022
Spain is a beautifully unique and historically rich country that offers so much in terms of art, culture, delicious food, and more. After thoroughly exploring many iconic cities and different destinations, there is so much that could be discussed. From its ancient start with different kingdoms and cultures, to its impressive churches (some of which remain under construction to this day), Spain has an abundance of fascinating things to offer.
Starting in the 700s CE, the Reconquista was a series of military campaigns that sought to claim land throughout Spain and Portugal’s territories from the Moors, which was formerly known as al-Andalus (World History Encyclopedia). The Reconquista continued through to the 13th century, by which point almost all land had been conquered from the Moors with the exception of Granada. Granada would remain under Moorish control until the year 1492. The Reconquista was led by various Christian leaders over the course of hundreds of years. They were determined to have everything under Christian control and did not want the Moors to be in charge or lay claim on anything. Granada, Cordoba, and Sevilla are three notable places that were once great Muslim strongholds that were conquered by the Christians throughout the 800 years that the Reconquista lasted. Although they were often brutal and deadly towards Muslim people, there were a few instances in which cohabitation between the two religions became necessary. For example, Ferdinand III at first attempted to expel all Muslim inhabitants from Andalusian cities such as Cordoba and Sevilla, but had to reform his policy when the economy began collapsing (Britannica). What ensued was a unique situation in which Muslims and Christians coexisted because they realized that both groups were necessary to maintain a functioning society.
The Spanish Inquisition
The marriage of Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile was one of the most politically and strategically significant decisions in European history for a multitude of reasons. The two cousins married in 1469, effectively unifying all of Spain (HISTORY). However, the two Christian monarchs determined that the best way to ensure political unification of the country would be through establishing religious unification as well. Therefore, in 1478, the Spanish Inquisition began under their rule. The Inquisition demanded that all Jews living in Spain must either convert to Christianity, be exiled from Spain, or face certain death. Jewish people were forced into segregated neighborhoods, and throughout Spain remnants of many Jewish quarters can still be seen today. Beginning right before the fateful 1492, the year that the last Moorish Alcazar and stronghold in Granada fell to Christianity and the year that Columbus discovered the Americas for the Spanish crown, the Inquisition was merely another piece of the greater puzzle for Spain’s conquests of the time. All of these variables led to Spain being established as one of the world’s greatest powers at the time. Keeping in accordance with their image as a powerfully united and dominating kingdom, they extended the Inquisition to Muslims living in Spain four years after it began for the Jewish population (HISTORY). The Jews and Muslims were put in an absolutely tragic situation; being forced to either lose everything they owned and the place they called home, have to give up deeply important religious beliefs and identities, or be tortured or killed in gruesome manners. Thousands of people fled, but many more were simply unable or unwilling to. It has been estimated that around possibly 160,000 Jews were forced to leave Spain after rejecting being baptized into the Christian Church (Britannica). While people would often ‘convert’ to Christianity, many would continue practicing their religion in private. But Isabella and Ferdinand grew wary of fake converts–deeming them more dangerous of a threat than those who refused to convert–and the Inquisition grew exceptionally harsh in Spain, with many innocent people being falsely accused of not truly converting, costing former Jews and Muslims their properties, jobs, or even their lives (HISTORY). The Inquisition continued for over 200 years, making Spain a very hostile place for anyone who was not devoutly Christian for a very long period of time. The remnants of this can still be felt today, as there is an almost nonexistent community of Jews and Muslims in Spain even today hundreds of years later.
It was disheartening to learn about and actually witness many places that were affected firsthand by the Spanish Inquisition. It reached from Toledo to Granada to Sevilla to Cordoba. It felt as if wherever we went, the Inquisition had gone too. In doing my research, I learned that of all the Inquisitions throughout Europe, Spain’s has long been regarded as one of the most horrific and bloody of the cultural purification attempts (Britannica). It was uncomfortable going through Toledo and seeing their former Jewish ghetto, where people were forced to stay, being regarded as second-class citizens. We even saw the Synagogue of Santa Maria la Blanca, a synagogue that had formerly been transformed into a Christian church, that was designed in Mudejar style. It was confusing to see how Christians despised the other religions and those who practiced them, but had no issue in using their styles of art, architecture, and design for their own places of worship. This hypocrisy was found yet again in Cordoba, where the great Mosque-Cathedral is located. It is an incredibly emotional tumultuous experience to go into that Cathedral, especially when the history of it is discussed. The mosque was originally built in 785 CE, when Moors controlled the area of Al-Andalus. However in 1236, as a part of the Reconquista, Christians took control of the area and seized the mosque (HISTORY). Contrary to the typical practice of burning down mosques in areas the Christians conquered, they decided to spare the great mosque and it is not hard to see why. The architecture is beyond breathtaking. It is an absolutely astounding experience to walk in and see these great arches and intricate art lining the walls, ceilings, and even decorating the floors. So instead of burning it to the ground, the conquerors determined that the mosque could survive if it was converted into a Christian church. They added the typical Christian altar and icons, and restructured the way the building was used. Now the former center of worship for the Muslims has been pushed to the side and is dimly lit, making it blatantly apparent that it is not intended to be the focus of the building any longer. Thus is the dichotomy of the Mosque-Cathedral. It is painful to see how the former mosque has been taken away from its former people, and can never again be used for its original intended purpose. It is uncomfortable to think of Muslim people going into the Mosque-Cathedral and not being able to openly practice their religion while any Christians that enter are free to light a candle, pray, and attend mass. However, if the mosque had not been transformed into the cathedral, it would not exist at all today. The Reqonquista was a violent and upsetting piece of Spain’s history and it is unfortunate that those were the only two options for the mosque at all: destruction or conversion. Destruction or conversion seems to be a highly prevalent theme throughout Spain’s history. Beginning with the Reconquista and continuing through the Inquisition, there have been long lasting periods of time where coexistence of religions and cultures was simply deemed not possible. It is a shame to see that because I know that when cultures and traditions blend and mesh together, they can create truly beautiful things to be shared and enjoyed by all.
One thing I grew to appreciate about Miami this summer that I sort of took for granted before is how generally accepting of a place it is. I know that right now we are in uncertain times politically, with legislation changing things that we have come to accept as norms. However, Miami is one of the most diverse places in the United States and I would not trade that for the world. Different races, ethnicities, sexualities, religions, and ways of life are accepted and celebrated, where they might not be in other places. For example, in Miami, around 64% of residents are Hispanic, 13% are Black, and 12% are White (DataUSA). Of the Hispanic populations that reside in Miami, some of the most populous groups are Cubans, Puerto Ricans and Dominicans. The most popular religions in Miami are Catholicism, Judaism, and Islam, while there are still others who practice Hinduism, Buddhism, and Santeria. While the Spain I got to know this summer was incredibly modernized, accepting, and kind, the country’s intolerant and destructive history simply cannot be overlooked. It is such a blessing that people are free to be who they want in Miami, and for the most part in the United States. It reminds me that I am lucky and blessed to live where I do when I do, and that it is okay for me to be whoever I want to be without fear of judgment, much less rigid persecution.
Expression and Acceptance
One of the ways that the similarities and differences between Miami and Spain were highlighted to me was in both places ideas of expression and acceptance. I mean this to include religions, sexualities, and ways of living. I grew up believing Miami was the most liberal, free-spirited place that you could ever find, but my time in Spain demonstrated to me that things that still would not be deemed socially okay or acceptable were perfectly normal in Spain. It taught me that nothing is black and white, that many things should not be determined before one has gained wider perspectives about a particular matter. Spain really opened my eyes to what it means to be expressive and open in ways that I had not previously considered.
Chueca y Barceloneta
Acceptance in Chueca
Chueca is a place where people from all walks of life can go to feel comfortable and accepted. Being an openly gay neighborhood, one can feel the change in atmosphere the second they step out of the metro. The normally monotonous gray walls are substituted for brightly colored rainbow bricks, acutely representative of the energy one is bound to encounter in Chueca. The neighborhood itself is incredibly progressive, supportive of alternative and marginalized lifestyles that have not always been welcomed or accepted in other places (Chueca Quarter). As we wandered through the streets we encountered many bars, clubs, and sex shops that openly displayed their merchandise. If we had been in any other location, there would have been an air of shame and secrecy as opposed to the blatant openness that seemed to be typical for Chueca. It was refreshing to see that people were unbothered by these traditionally taboo topics and that typically ‘shameful’ things like sex toys could be viewed as just another part of everyday life.
Expression in Barceloneta
Miami has always been pinpointed as an especially progressive city in the United States, known for pushing the envelope in what is acceptable behavior and attire (Stategistico). So it was doubly surprising when we ventured to the beach and immediately noticed a great majority of the women did not wear swimsuit tops. I was highly unaccustomed to seeing public nudity, even though I supposedly attend college in one of the most socially progressive places in the United States. Women in Spain just seemed so comfortable in their bodies without covering up and it forced me to consider why I personally felt so uncomfortable being around nudity. Perhaps it had to do with the fact that I was personally raised in a very religious household where nudity is discussed with a great degree of shame, making it awfully surprising to see everyday people being so casual about their own nudity. However, the more and more I went to the beach, the more accustomed I grew to seeing women completely bare chested. Personally, it was also almost funny to consider how when I was in the United States everyone seemed to make such a big deal about ‘Free the Nipple’ and women empowerment but no one usually ever did much to make the movements come to fruition in regards to nudity and acceptance. Yet in Spain, no one seemed to make a big deal out of anything at all; they just did as they pleased. Surely legislation has to play a role in the differences between the two countries as Spain has more lax laws surrounding nudity in public while the United States has strict rules in place (Living in Barcelona).
Visiting Spain was an incredible experience that I would not trade for the world. I learned so much about history, art, architecture, culture, and much more. The people I got the opportunity to travel with made the experience a thousand times more interesting. This summer challenged me in so many different ways; academically, physically, emotionally. But I got the chance to experience things that I would never have seen or done otherwise like climbing to the top of El Escorial or standing in front of Las Meninas. All the late nights, early mornings, and especially tapas made this a summer I truly will never forget. I would like to thank Professor Bailly for this opportunity and all my wonderful classmates and new friends that I can’t wait to see in Miami.
Alexandra Fiedler 2022
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Cartwright, Mark. “Reconquista.” World History Encyclopedia, 5 October, 2018, https://www.worldhistory.org/Reconquista/
“Chueca Quarter.” Spain Information, Espana Info, https://www.spain.info/en/places-of-interest/chueca-quarter/.
“Ferdinand of Aragon Marries Isabella of Castile.” This Day in History, HISTORY, https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ferdinand-and-isabella-marry.
“Inquisition.” HISTORY, 21 August, 2018, https://www.history.com/topics/religion/inquisition
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