Gabriel Marrero: España as Text 2022

Monsterrat. Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

Gabriel Marrero is a 20-year old Junior at FIU working towards a double major in Accounting and Business Analytics. Born and raised in Miami, he is proud of his hometown and has a deep desire to explore the culture and history of one of the most diverse cities in America.

Madrid as Text

” A New Appreciation”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Madrid, Spain, June 14, 2022

Cibeles Statue. Photo by the General Directorate of Tourism of the Community of Madrid

As I stepped out of the train station to get my first sight of Madrid, the most noticeable aspect of the city screamed at me: it was very hot. The power of the sun and the arid environment was something that caught me very off guard, yet this dry, hot city was named the capital of the most powerful country at the time in 1561. Founded by Muslims as a city to defend southern Spain from northern invaders, the city was far from what it is today. King Carlos III had the most significant role in turning the city from a small and arid town into a thriving and modern metropolis. Now at the center of Madrid stands a statue of Cibeles, the goddess of fertility and life, reminding all that the capital of Spain is no longer what it used to be, but instead a city overflowing with life. I loved this story and transformation of Madrid, but what surprisingly  impressed me the most was the art.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso – Photo by Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia

My interest has always been playing music, not painting, and as a result, I never had the right kind of appreciation for artworks we studied in class. But then we took a trip to “El Prado.” Seeing the massive paintings of all the artists we learned about in class felt incredible. De Goya, Velazquez, and Caravaggio were the three painters that never ceased to amaze me as we made our way through the most important art museum in Spain. Yet, what had the biggest impression on me was a Picasso painting. If I am being honest, prior to this trip, I thought Picasso and modern art was a bit silly. The paintings looked odd and meant nothing to me, but as we made our way to the Guernica, my whole view would change. The painting was a whopping eleven and a half feet, but I was still confused and didn’t see why this painting was raved about so much. However, as Bailly explained the meaning behind certain characters in the painting, I was left in awe. The detail that struck me the most was Picasso’s implementation of a Madonna and a Pieta in the same painting, truly embodying the pain and horrors of the bombing of Guernica. This painting is the work of art that changed my entire view of art, and it made me understand why it is considered the greatest painting of the 20th century.

Toledo as Text

“A Merging of Culture”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Toledo, Spain, June 15, 2022

Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

As we approached the city, I knew there was going to be great historical significance beyond the walls. Toledo, the former capital of Spain, has been kept largely the same for the past 400 years; the narrow streets and old wooden doors are clear indicators of the city’s old age. Nonetheless, the city looked absolutely spectacular. I felt as if I had entered a whole new world. However, despite the beauty of the town, it is the history that truly amazed me the most. Toledo is one of the few places in history that can say it was home to Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in harmony centuries ago. The three main religions have been in constant bloody battles with each other for centuries, yet you can see the influence of all three religions everywhere in Toledo. The most glaring example of this was “La Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca.”

La Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca. Photos by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

The synagogue, built in the 12th century, was a place of worship for the Jewish people in the area. However, the building is embellished with elegant arches all throughout, topped off with a wooden ceiling, indicating the building was designed by Moors, the group of Muslims that ruled southern Spain at the time. Lastly, there was a cross representing the crucifixion of Christ in the center of the building, a very important symbol of the Christian faith. This synagogue is one of the few buildings in the world in which there is a clear presence of each of the three Abrahamic religions – a truly remarkable thing to witness. Unfortunately, the harmony between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam would not last long, as the Spanish Inquisition would result in the persecution, expulsion, and execution of thousands of Jews and Muslims. However, this early history in Toledo should serve as an example and show us that despite differences in religion, race, or culture, we can be accepting and tolerant of others. 

Cordoba as Text

“A Philosopher’s Lesson”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Cordoba, Spain, June 18, 2022

Mosque – Catedral de Cordoba. Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

Out of all the cities we had visited up to this point, Cordoba was by far my favorite. The white-washed buildings, Islamic architecture, and beautiful greenery made me fall in love with the town instantly. To top it all off, we visited the Cathedral of Cordoba, but it is quite misleading to simply call it a cathedral because the structure was initially a mosque. With about 80% of the original Islamic architecture intact, this building is one of a kind. You can see the seemingly infinite red and white arches of the old mosque in one moment and see the grand gothic architecture of the cathedral the next, a somewhat strange sight if I’m being honest. However, what really intrigued me more than anything else in Cordoba was a monument we spent no longer than 5 minutes looking at. It was in the middle of narrow streets with no special architecture around it: a statue of the Sephardic Jewish philosopher Maimonides.

Statue of Maimonides. Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

The reason why it’s so amazing to see the remains of a mosque in Spain is because most of them had been destroyed by the Christians centuries ago through war and conquest. The only reason these wars were possible was because power hungry individuals would distort the truth and manipulate ignorant people to push their agenda, claiming the wars weren’t for them, but for God. Maimonides was aware of this manipulation and ignorance of the crowds, advising people to live in peace rather than be fighting meaningless wars for corrupted rulers. I see a lot of this same distortion of truth and ignorance in people today in our country. So many people believe the first thing they see on social media or the internet and are misinformed about important issues much in the same manner people were ignorant back then. Maimonides knew that an ignorant society was a weak society, susceptible to being lied to and torn down, so rather than perhaps face a similar fate of people of the past, we should do our best to be free thinkers, constantly researching and learning. However, although I try to be optimistic, history unfortunately always repeats itself.

Sevilla as Text

“A New Beginning”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Sevilla, Spain, June 23, 2022

View of Sevilla from La Giralda. Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

The next stop on our journey through Spain was Sevilla, another historically rich city in southern Spain. Capital of the province of Andalusia, Sevilla was initially founded by the Romans and then conquered by the Moors in 711. The city remained under Muslim rule for 500 years, and as a result, the Islamic architecture is still apparent in many different buildings to this day, most notably, the Real Alcazar. In 1248, Catholic Spaniards took possession of the city and it has remained that way since. However, it is during the exploration of the Americas that Sevilla reaches its height of significance, both historically and personally to me as well. After the Americas were discovered, Sevilla became the “gateway to the Spanish Indies.” No ships left to the Americas or returned to Spain without passing through Sevilla. The ships would pass through the Guadalquivir River and stop at the Torre de Oro, an old Islamic tower near the river. 

El Torre de Oro. Photo by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

As I stood by this checkpoint on the river, Professor Bailly made a remark that gave me a whole new perspective. As a Cuban, it is safe to assume that most of my ancestors are Spanish, and if everyone had to pass through the Torre de Oro to travel to the New World, then that meant I was standing exactly where my ancestors were when they embarked on their journey to the Americas centuries ago. The thought brought a new level of appreciation to the city that I didn’t think was possible. The cherry on top to this experience was our visit to the Archive of the Indies. Stored in this building were all the journals, travel logs, and diaries pertaining to the exploration and colonization of the Americas. To think that my ancestors’ experiences were documented in this building was absolutely remarkable. Sevilla is important to me not only because of its beautiful scenery and extensive history, but because it is the city where my ancestors began their journey for a new beginning.

Barcelona as Text

“A Misplacement of Wealth”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Barcelona, Spain, June 28, 2022

La Sagrada Familia. Photos by Gabriel Marrero/ CC by 4.0

I still remember one of our last days of class in the Spring in which we all named the one place we were most excited for in Spain. My answer? La Sagrada Familia, and here I was, standing in front of the most spectacular building I had ever seen with my own two eyes. The grandeur and size of the cathedral was quite overwhelming, yet, the most beautiful part was awaiting inside. Designed by the architectural genius Gaudi, the interior was filled with an immense explosion of colors, as the sunlight flooded through the stained glass windows on every side of the church. Large columns that branched into a beautiful ceiling gave the image of tall forest trees rising high into the sky. La Sagrada Familia lived up to the name it had made for itself and was, in my opinion, the most amazing cathedral in all of Spain. However, being a Christian, something always tugged on my heart every time we visited one of these massive churches. Was this not just an absolute waste of resources? I don’t mean to be insensitive to those that feel the presence of God in these buildings, but I would always wonder if God would have really wanted for these immense amounts of resources to go into large, overly-embellished buildings rather than to people who needed it. The Bible does not condone materialism and earthly possessions, rather, it advises to be generous and store treasures in heaven instead. Yet, the Catholic church decided to ignore the poor, the hungry, the orphans, and the widows, along with many others, just to create a building. The amount of wealth put into cathedrals could have impacted people in a way that has never been seen before, but as history has always shown, when a person, government, or group of people possess wealth and power, greed always arises.

Sitges as Text

“Music Speaks”

by Gabriel Marrero of FIU at Sitges, Spain, June 26, 2022

Photos by Gabriel Marrero / CC by 4.0

Sitges was a beautiful, small, beach town. As we neared the beginning of our walking tour, I couldn’t help but be mesmerized by the tranquil, blue waters. Our first stop was the Rusiñol collection. Rusiñol was an artist viewed as one of the leaders of the Catalan modernisme style, and his collection of art was, if I’m being honest, quite excessive. It was difficult to find a spot on the wall that didn’t have something on it, as everywhere you looked there was bound to be a painting there. Still, it is difficult not to appreciate the art, as Rusiñol had collections from great painters like El Greco and even 6 paintings from a young Picasso. However, what caught my attention more than anything was a small, upright piano sitting in the corner of a little room. If there was one thing I had missed throughout my month in Europe, it was definitely playing the piano. I felt an urge to leap towards the keys and begin playing, but obviously, touching is strictly prohibited. This piano was no ordinary piano though; there was history in it. I had learned of many famous Spanish artists, but up to this point, I had never learned of any Spanish musicians. Manuel de Falla was a musician and composer, considered one of the most important of Spain in the 20th century, and on this seemingly unimportant piano, he finished writing one his most famous pieces: Noches en los jardines de España. I grew an immediate appreciation for the instrument standing before me. Over the past few months I had gained a new found appreciation for the piano and classical music in general, and this experience was one that I’ll never forget. After class I listened to the song he wrote and that moment became even more impactful to me. The music was beautiful, and I’m considering even learning a portion of it on the piano. The art and history we have learned in Spain has given me so much knowledge and understanding of my ancestors that will always be important to me, but music speaks to me in a way nothing else can.

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