Sebastian Calonge: Vuelta España 2022

Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0


Spain was a never-ending opportunity to learn, grow, and understand. Many preconceived notions were eliminated at the start of the course as I was traveling with 19 other individuals all from different backgrounds. Using our differences to experience the program made it especially unique as we were able to share various perspectives. Having a Basque-Cuban background made the experience that much more enriching and rewarding as I was able to understand and learn more about how Spain played a role in the exchange of culture and traditions between America and Europe.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Miamian or Spaniard?

Growing up, I frequently traveled to Spain to visit my family from my mother’s side. Simultaneously, I was always reminded of my Cuban family and the sacrifices my grandparents and great-grandparents made coming to the United States. Therefore, I always felt comfortable in my identity in terms of knowing about my ancestry, background, and family relations. However, the program made me realize I am Spanish more than I am Cuban, Miamian, and Latino. All that I know can be traced back to Spain as Florida was once under Spanish rule. From the 16th to 19th century, Florida was under control of the Spanish government. Therefore, many customs and traditions were enforced on the people that inhabited the land at the time. Although I do consider myself from Miami, as I was born and raised here, part of me has come to understand that my identity is much more complex and that there were many different historical and personal journeys that led me to be the person I am today.

Madrid: Ciudad de Diversidad

Entrance to the Museum of the History of Madrid
Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0


On that note, identity is something that I have grown to learn about over the past years. More specifically, personal and self-identity. Madrid, capital of Spain, full of great ancient artifacts such as El Museo Del Prado and La Reina Sofía, can be seen as a very primeval city. With such devotion to religious commemorations and gothic personifications, one would assume that the atmosphere and its people follow the same rhythm of their city. On the contrary, Madrid presents a very vibrant, young, and progressive environment. Growing up in the Catholic Church, I was not able to express my identity as freely as others did. Arriving in Chueca, my group’s neighborhood, it was so interesting to see the juxtaposition of conservative and progressive ideals. Known as the gay neighborhood in Madrid, Chueca was decorated with pride flags, balloons, and murals like I had never seen before. There was such an expressive vibe within the neighborhood that embraced sexuality rather than deny or shun it. Many restaurants, shops, and apartments supported the movement that is gay rights to create a unified population that gives Chueca its infamous title of Madrid’s gay neighborhood. At the same time, Chueca presented a historic offering with the Museum of Romanticism, the Museum of the History of Madrid, and The Longoria Palace. The duality of the space was astounding as it did not focus on solely one thing.

Conde Duque 

Our group’s other neighborhoods were Conde Duque and Malasaña. In Conde Duque, we visited El Centro de Cultura Contemporánea which is a large building that houses all sorts of people and activities. In one part of the center, there is a museum that exhibits contemporary art through a unique layout. Another part of the center was a hall for people to gather for performances or events such as the ballet show we witnessed during our visit. The concept of having multiple arts demonstrated in one building was truly clever. The people of the neighborhood simply have to travel to the center and they can see a multitude of artistic exhibitions. 

Perception v.s. Reality

Visiting Cordoba was an eye-opening experience. Prior to my program abroad, I truly did not know anything besides the Catholic religion I was born and raised with. Traveling with other students of different religions such as Islam and non-denominational Christians, my perspective was extremely broadened. Around the year 711, Muslims crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and gained control of Spain. The country had always been a collection of small cities without unification. Therefore the Visigoth Christian towns that the Moors encountered took a small force to take over and conquer Spain. However, under Isabel and Ferdinand’s rule in 1492, the Reconquista began. People were told to convert to Christianity or they would be expelled from the country. Many faced persecution for claiming they converted when in reality they would practice their religion behind closed doors. Arriving at the Mezquita and Cathedral of Cordoba was an experience mixed with great awe and guilt. Once a mosque, the building was converted into a cathedral for Christians to practice Catholicism. For this reason, the building is named the Great Mosque of Cordoba as the areas surrounding the cathedral remain intact. The combination of gothic and Islamic architecture is something that only exists there. It was cumbersome however, to walk into a space that once belonged to other people that was then robbed by people whom I identify with. 


Although contradicting, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was a great example of a concept we learned called “convivencia.” The exact translation of the word is coexistence. If there is one thing I walk away with from the program it is to live with this attitude of coexistence. Nowadays, we often try to point out our differences and allow that to impact the manner in which we interact with people. Some allow differences to hinder conversations and even relationships. In Cordoba and Madrid, I was able to experience this sense of coexistence first hand. Traces of Jews, Catholics, and Muslims all exist within this region. They were able to respect each other’s beliefs and live harmoniously. People have the capacity of living among one another without feeling the need to disrespect or mistreat others based on religion, sex, or race. It is something I hope can be implemented in other countries as well and something I will begin implementing in my own lifestyle and interactions.

La Alhambra

One day did not seem to be enough for the palace of Granada. Built by King Yusuf I and Muhammed V, La Alhambra’s construction traces back to the 14th century. During the Reconquista, however, the Catholic Church gained control of the palace and exiled the Isalmic kings. Now considered a United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site, the architecture of the palace is quite striking and unique. Due to its pigmented walls, the palace was named Alhambra which translates to “The Red” in Arabic. Aside from its amusing design, the palace also has a magnificent garden called Generalife that was created for Muslim royals to enjoy in their pasttime. Apart from the palace, we were able to visit the neighborhood of Albaicín. Here, we encountered street musicians that took an interesting twist on flamenco. They began by singing, “La Alhambra, La Alhambra, mira que bonita es!” and slowly transitioned to modern pop music by singing one of Rosalia’s songs. It was so refreshing to see how classic flamenco has the possibility of being modernized and is not something that can simply be categorized. It reminded me how entities can coexist with one another and that convivencia does not only apply to people; it too can be in the perspective of music, culture, and language.

La Barceloneta

Our assigned neighborhood in Barcelona was an absolute spectacle. Arriving on June 23rd in the city, our class was able to attend Las Fiestas de San Joan, the patron saint of Catalonia. As it lands on the summer solstice, the parties focus on giving more energy and strength to the sun. Citizens go outside and begin creating fires and performing firework shows. For this reason, the Feast of San Joan takes the name “Night of Fire.” Our group watched the fireworks from the Barceloneta Beach which was extremely dense as all the people made their way down to the shore to get the best view. The night was full of neighborhood gatherings, dancing, and celebration. 

On our exploration day, we got a taste for the rest of Barceloneta which encompasses The Catalonia History Museum, L’Aquàrium Barcelona, and its infamous seafood paella. Conquered by Muslims in 735, the city was under Islamic rule for almost 200 years. Eventually, they were expelled by King Ferninand and Queen Isabella during the Reconquista. After some time, in the late 1800’s, Barcelona encountered a new era known as “Catalan Art Nouveau.” This period gave birth to new mannerisms of art, architecture, and literature, beginning with the modernist movement. Notable leaders of the movement include Antoni Gaudí, Lluís Domènech i Montaner, and Josep Puig i Cadafalch. The hub for all things moderniz was 4GATS. After the explosion of art in Paris, Pere Romeu wanted to recreate the same atmosphere in Barcelona. Inspired by the Perisian cafe style, he believed the center of the artistic world was in these cafes. The movement quickly spread its way around the city with creations such as El Palau de la Música, La Sagrada Familia, and Park Güell. 

Among all the works during this period, Gaudi’s were the ones that captured my attention the most. The anecdote behind his great masterpiece, La Sagrada Familia, truly captivated me. Spending approximately 43 years of his life on this building, the basilica was beyond impressive. His vision to personify nature and the Bible can be seen all throughout the structure. The basilica is most easily recognized by its eight towers which each represent a monumental biblical figure. In addition, the basilica has three facades: The Nativity Facade, The Passion Facade, and The Glory Facade. The details in these facades are so unique to the modernist movement and more importantly Gaudi’s work. The Passion facade and Nativity facade are complete opposites. The Nativity facade is highly decorated with intricate details and complex images whereas the Passion facade takes a form of cubism as the structures implement straight lines. Even the altar takes an unusual form where one can see the crucifix hanging from the baldachin, a canopy-like structure that is a representation of the Holy Spirit. In the same manner, Park Güell takes an inventive approach. Decorated with mosaic tiles, the park provides a great deal of sitting areas for visitors to enjoy the outdoors. The style of broken glass and tile is named “Trencadís” and is seen all throughout the park. All in all Barcelona possesses a unique style of art due to the influence of the modernist movement.


Studying abroad was truly an enlightening experience. The program shone light upon my identity in a way I had never considered before. Prior to abroad, I did not consider the thousands of people that have come before me. I found myself exploring the question, “How did I end up in Miami?” With great pleasure, I explored new areas of the country that I had not seen before. Arriving in Andalucia was as if I had entered another country. Between the flamenco and Islamic architecture, I was transported to a different kind of España. After having this great opportunity, I hope to continue traveling the world with this frame of mind. Considering how other countries have influenced my own country, similarities or differences between the various regions of the country, and the willingness to experience new things is something I learned to do from this program. I noted that the moment I discarded expectations and my typical way of living, the experience was truly enhanced. Our program was not an easy one. Challenged at many moments, I had to realize for myself what Bailly asked us during our last hike: “What does this program mean to you?” For me it meant overcoming fears, finding my roots, exploring new territories, and discovering the purpose behind exploration. To explore means to cherish moments, meet new people that can provide a new perspective, and to learn from experiences. I finish this course knowing that there is so much more to explore and endless opportunities to continue growing. 


Alhambra Valparaiso Ocio y Cultura SL. “” La Alhambra De Granada, 

Baleària. “La Barcelona Modernista: Blog Entreolas.” Baleària, 

Crowley, Thompson. “4 Gats, One of Picasso’s Favorite Restaurants.” ShBarcelona, 25 Nov. 2020,,modernist%20building%20on%20Carrer%20Montsi%C3%B3. 

Familia, Sagrada. “The Baldachin on the Main Altar.” Blog Sagrada Família, 18 May 2018, 

“Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona, Spain - 23 June – 24 June 2022 Celebrations.” Festival of Sant Joan in Barcelona 2022, Editors. “Alhambra.”, A&E Television Networks, 12 Mar. 2018,,as%20Boabdil%20to%20Spanish%20historians). 

“Modernist Architecture Barcelona.” Barcelona 2022, 

Rajan, Jamshed V. “View from Passion Facade Tower at Sagrada Familia.”, 23 Apr. 2022,,you%20will%20find%20straight%20lines. 

“Sagrada Familia – Most Famous Monument in Barcelona.” Barcelona by CIVITATIS,

Sebastian Calonge: Ida España 2022

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Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0

Meet the Author

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. This upcoming summer, he will be traveling to Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

Architectura De La Patria

From the dawn of history, mankind has sought to find solutions for its commonly encountered problems. Whether it be through the creation of language, clothing, or transportation, obstacles have never been a deterrent for innovation opportunities particularly in the arts. “Architecture is the triumph of human imagination over materials, methods, and men to put man into possession of his own earth”, says Frank Lloyd Wright, from the Architectural Forum, May 1930. The invention of architecture defies the concept of art and transcends the understanding of art in one’s daily life. As this explosion of mathematics, science, and art conquers Italy in the Renaissance era, other nations begin to analyze and value its importance. In this age of rebirth, mastery in architecture is the ultimate profession. Located relatively near Italy, Spain adopted many of its practices to begin constructing their own religious, government, and cultural masterpieces. With the ever-rising integration of church and state, the country fixated many of its financial resources toward religious glorification. As a result, Europe encountered the birth of Spanish architecture and the extension of Spanish influence across the world.

Photo by CC by 2.0

To understand the origins of Spanish design and architecture, it would be inaccurate to merely view Italy as an inspiration and to claim that the Europeans were solely responsible for the beauty that is the architecture of Spain. From around 700 A.D. to 1492, the Muslims controlled the southern hemisphere of Iberian Peninsula and heavily influenced the architecture and culture of the country, specifically Andalucia. Many well-known Islamic leaders such as Muhammad I and Yusuf I were instrumental contributors to the era of Nasrid architecture in Spain, Muhammad I being the founder of Alhambra. Due to this period of Islamic rule of Granada, Spainiards have a great obligation to thank the Muslims for their significant contributions such as The Great Mosque of Córdoba (The Cathedral of Córdoba), The Aljafería Palace, Ermita “Mezquita” del Cristo de la Luz, and Madinat al-Zahra. 

Photo Credit: SBA73 via Wikimedia Commons under CC BY-SA 2.0

With the fabrication of magnificent cathedrals and palaces, Spain quickly rose to the top as an architecturally astounding spot with wonders such as The Basílica i Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família in Barcelona. It should be no surprise, then, that these incredible architects implemented their own styles upon their arrival in the Americas. In his conquest of Florida in 1513, Juan Ponce de León began this true exchange of culture, art, and religion whereas Columbus was more responsible for the exchange of foods and diseases in his Columbian Exchange. Under control of the Spanish monarchy from the 16th to 18th century, Florida was heavily influenced by the existing architecture in Spain. A prime example of this influence is demonstrated in the City of Coral Gables. 

Photo Credit: Left by City of Coral Gables, Right by Deborah Boza Valledor

Established in 1925 by George E. Merrick, a wealthy real estate developer, Coral Gables practically mimics a traditional Spanish city. In the public setting, the city contains various elements that are clear architectural contributions from Spain. Firstly, the streets of the city are named after several towns located throughout Spain: Majorca Avenue, Alhambra Circle, Marabella Avenue, Valencia Avenue, and Sevilla Avenue. Secondly, many of the public structures are directly inspired by architectural features throughout Spain. Public parks such as Salvador Park, Matheson Hammock, and the Country Club Prado Parkway all incorporate decorative elements of public spaces in Spain whether it be through layout, design details, or inclusion of nature. Overall, this city captures the essence of España in the Americas as it is a physical representation of the heavy influence the Spanish had when building the New World. 

Photograph provided by Professor J.W. Bailly / CC by 2.0

A classic example that collates the similar architectural features between Miami and Spain is the Freedom Tower, the Biltmore Hotel, and La Giralda Tower. Built in the early 1920’s the Freedom Tower and Biltmore Hotel both have a striking resemblance with La Giralda Tower located in Sevilla, Spain. Previously a mosque, the Cathedral of Sevilla speaks true to the history of Spanish architecture as it embodies the Islamic past of Spain. The three buildings all contain a resembling tower structure in the center which incorporates the rule of thirds through the placement of windows and columns. Additionally, they share common structure features in the lower facade area. Through their Mediterranean revival style, the Miami buildings channel the historic remnants of their past. When interviewing Amanda Marie Arrizabalaga, Associate Architect at Yellow House Architects, PLLC., she stated, “Good architecture speaks for itself, tells a story about the place it is located, and gives clues to the ways the people there live.” Coral Gables does not only tell a story, but it delineates its Spanish, Moorish roots.

Photo by Archdiocese of Miami (ADOM) / CC by 2.0

Aside from the manner in which this sector of Miami mirrors Spain, it too creates and fosters a life where residents and visitors imitate a European lifestyle. Arrizabalaga explained the impact that growing up in Coral Gables, and South Florida, had in her own design style. “Going to elementary school at Saint Theresa Catholic School, a Mediterranean revival building from Coral Gables’ inception in 1925, shaped my taste and lifestyle.” Those who interact with these spaces throughout the city almost always elaborate on the impact the architecture has in their own lives as the majority of the population have some form of Spanish background. Given that Miami is a primarily Cuban community, and many of their ancestors come from Spain, seeing the embodiment of their past is a particularly unique experience.

From wooden ceilings and ironwork to terracotta tiles and terrazzo flooring, numerous Spanish architectural artifacts have withstood the past centuries of immigration in and out of South Florida. Currently known as a cultural melting pot, Miami is home to a wide genre of nationalities who have all significantly contributed to the mixture of foods, languages, and cultural festivities. It is then when one can begin to question how the migration of other cultures and design styles have not had a profound impact upon the city compared to those of Spain and how they have remained over all these years. Arrizabalaga claims:

“Spanish architecture and urbanism survived due to its innate permanence. The built environment survives generations and can be learned from, interpreted, and improved upon even when its architects are long gone. The colonizers brought their local architectural style wherever they went, because it was all they knew and it made them feel at home in these unfamiliar places. The coral house of Christopher Columbus still stands in the center of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic as do the shaker style houses of the English settlers in the northeast.”

This sense of familiarity that was created upon Spanish colonization withstood because of its ability to interact and bring purpose to those who inhabited the area. Working simultaneously, colonizers and architecture manufactured a space for permanence. In their minds, this was an extension of the Motherland and its eminent beauty. By having this frame of mind in which España is the source of greatness and all that is imperial, the idea of this great empire was the foundation for an era of prosperity and new life in the Americas. 

Photo by The Miami Herald / CC by 2.0

Other examples of public architecture in Miami that contain striking affinity to that of Spain include the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens and the Coral Gables City Hall. As Merrick undertook the project of designing this city, along with Phineas Paist and Denman Fink, he envisioned the very definition of Mediterranean Revival. With plans to develop a municipality that fused Spanish, Moorish, and Italian architecture, he needed the civic center to properly demonstrate this ideal, and so he did. Vizcaya, on the other hand, was a more advanced, complex project taken on by the infamous American industrialist, James Deering. The Mediterranean-inspired villa took approximately eight years to build and is stapled as one of the most historic structures in Miami. Built in the early 20th century, Deering was inspired by the Spanish settlers who arrived on Biscayne Bay during the 1500’s and found his idea for the villa known today. Aside from its Mediterranean elements, Deering implements a characteristic similar to that of various palaces in Europe which is the grand entrance. Guests travel along a far-stretched road enclosed by parallel fountains which create an exceptional experience to arrive at the main entrance of the villa. This kind of grand entrance is also seen at the Prado entrance where visitors can walk down pergola structures wrapped in bougainvilleas, a typical flower of Spain. Both Vizcaya and the City Hall illustrate the fusion of Spanish architecture and Miami culture. 

However, Spain was not the only European country to impact architecture in South Florida. Also located in Coral Gables, the Venetian Pool is comparable to many structures in Venice, Italy. Just like the Italian city, the recreational pool hosts an arched bridge above the body of water. For this reason, it is re-emphasized that Spanish architecture is not the sole creation of the Spaniards. Many other countries, including Italy and Morocco, heavily contributed to the perception of Spanish architecture. The preservation of these country’s designs is what allowed Spain to build their own style of architecture to share with the rest of the world.

As the City of Miami, as well as the state of Florida, are modernized, it is crucial to preserve and protect these public architectural structures for the importance they carry in their respective community. Architecture is not solely the design and mathematical details of a building, rather a bridge for the exchange of culture, conversation, and diversity. The design that an architect creates determines the types of experiences that will be held in the particular space. If an area is poorly designed and constructed, it will influence the kind of people who enter the space and the kind of exchange that will occur between individuals. To optimize the provided room, an architect must recognize the purpose of the project and the objective goal that is to be reached. Arrizabalaga elaborates:

“Urban design, in particular, shapes the way people live and interact with one another. In cities around the world where people live in tiny apartments, public spaces allow for them to unite and give life to the community. For example, Spanish culture has a tight knit sense of community and it is all due to the plaza atmosphere where children play soccer while their parents grab a drink with some friends.”

Photo Credit: Left- The Plaza Mayor in Madrid | © Madrid Destino Cultura Turismo y Negocio. Right- The Plaza Mayor in Madrid. Photo credit: Fantasía II via photopin (license)

The plazas that exist all throughout Spain are exemplary cases of successful architectural design and planning as they account for the objective of its people which is to meet and enjoy one another’s company in a space relatively close to home. Although lacking these traditional plaza spaces, Florida’s environment similarly allows for this social encounter through its outdoor architecture. Many buildings incorporate breezeways, patio areas, and open halls to provide a feeling of the Spanish lifestyle. These spaces are exquisitely designed, therefore attracting the public and encouraging them to converse and have a sense of home away from home. 

The direct inspiration, resemblance, and embodiment of Spanish architecture in the Americas is indisputable. Among the copious individuals who shaped the state of Florida, as well as the City of Miami, the main similarity was their inert desire to follow the astonishing architecture of Spain. Whether it be George Merrick in his creation of “The City Beautiful” or James Deering and his fabrication of the Villa Vizcaya, these Americans sought to implement the Spanish lifestyle through their architectural plans. Without a doubt, Spanish architecture influenced the creation of Miami, Florida. It is because of this architectural influence that people experience Miami in the way that they do. From the parks to the hotels, almost all architectural elements can be traced back to some sort of Spanish or Islamic structure. The intention behind creating these spaces exemplifies the mannerism of a true architect as architecture is the practice of producing a design which encompasses all aspects of its location and critically considers those around it. Spain, and the countries that contributed to its development, will continue to live within the City of Miami for generations to come and directly affect the people who interact with its surroundings in the future. 

Works Cited

Bailly, John William. “Vizcaya Walking Tour.” Bailly Lectures, 1 Sept. 2021,

Craven, Jackie. “Is Architecture an Idea or a Thing?” ThoughtCo, ThoughtCo, 19 Aug. 2019, “Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks.” City of Coral Gables – Nationally Recognized Historical Landmarks,

“Imagining the Mediterranean in Historic Coral Gables.” Home | Historic Coral Gables,

“Islamic Architecture in Spain.” City Tours Spain,

“Spanish Influence on Miami’s Architecture.” Miamivibes,

Sebastian Calonge: España as Text 2022

Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0

Meet the Author

Sebastian Calonge is a second-year student of the Honors College at Florida International University working toward a Bachelors of Business Administration in Marketing. Born and raised in Miami, he enjoys travel, photography, and design. He is currently traveling around Spain as part of the Honors College Study Abroad program. Given his Spanish background, specifically from Pais Vasco which is located in the northern part of Spain, he is hoping to further immerse himself in the culture, language, and life of the beautiful country.

Madrid as Text

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

“The City of Nothing but Everything”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Madrid, Spain 13 June 2022.

Having visited this city of several accounts, I assured myself there was not much more to learn from the capital of España. I was quickly corrected as I journeyed through its historic wonders and cultural diversions. Named capital of Spain in 1561, Madrid is quite the marvel.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

El Parque del Retiro, the largest public park in Madrid, is a visually astounding spot that offers residents and travelers a space to unwind and enjoy nature while still being in the city.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge / CC by 4.0

Mostly recognized by the Monument to Alfonso XII and El Palacio Cristal (The Crystal Palace), the park is filled with various activities such as kayaking in the lake or visiting exhibitions on display at the Palacio de Velazquez put on show by The Museum of Reina Sofia. Currently, the Crystal Palace houses Carlos Bunga’s Against the Extravagance of Desire. The cardboard piece is a representation of the impermanence he experienced within his own life and his lack of belonging as he never had a concrete place to call home. It is moving to see how the museum is able to integrate personal experiences into a public space.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

On March 11, 2004, 192 lives were lost in the Madrid train bombings. This terrorist attack orchestrated by Al-Queda targeted innocent civilians and injured more than 1,800 persons. As an act of revenge for Spain’s participation in the Iraq War, this became the deadliest attack since 1988. As a commemoration to the lives lost in the bombings, there are various memorials located around the city such as the monument in the Atocha Train Station as well as El Retiro. I was taken aback to see the dedication the city had to remembering what happened and displaying it in public hotspots.

Las Meninas by Diego Velázquez / CC by 2.0

The impact of studying abroad truly hit me when visiting El Museo Del Prado. Having studied the artistic importance of Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas, I was in complete awe while seeing it for the first time. The feeling of interacting with material that has been studied in the classroom is so rewarding. The juxtaposition of elements in the painting is mind-boggling. Velázquez’s clever perspective set a cultural precedent for other artists such as Picasso and Goya. I found myself trapped in understanding the way he played with time and space in the piece.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The most impressive sight, in my opinion, would have to be El Palacio Real. With over 3,000 rooms, the palace is an absolute spectacle. Designed by Filippo Juvara, the palace construction dates back to 1738. In efforts to avoid the architect from making any sketch greater than that of the Royal Palace of Spain, King Carlos III cut his tongue, ripped his eyes out, and severed both of his arms. It was incredible to see the work which Juvara was responsible for creating. Walking the halls of the building gave a very accurate personification of the country’s wealth during the 18th century.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

By far, the most memorable part of the tour was standing in the room where Spain entered the European Union. The experience was brought together through the intricate designs of chandeliers, columns, and wall art.

It is for this, and many other reasons Madrid is “The City of Nothing but Everything.” There is no particular monument that represents Madrid or attracts tourists. Rather, the city is a gold mine of history waiting to be explored. The closer one looks, the more one can learn about the rich background and narratives of the country.

Toledo as Text

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0


By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Toledo, Spain 15 June 2022.

Coming back to Toledo after five years was a cultural revelation and tremendous moment of growth. During my adolescence, traveling through Europe I was able to visit and see so many places. However, I did not understand the cultural and historic significance of these locations until I studied abroad.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Learning about the medieval traditions and style of the city was spectacular. Seeing the Visigothic ruins mixed with Islamic architectural characteristics was an insane combination. One can easily see that Spaniards were not the only people who inhabited this land for centuries.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The absolute best part of Toledo was experiencing the celebration of Corpus Christi. I was moved by the perseverance, dedication, and passion that the community has toward their religion is incredible. Every building was cloaked with banners, flags, tapestries, and flowers to honor the celebration of the Eucharist: The Body of Christ. The manner in which the people gather together and help each other prepare for the occasion is truly impressive and humbling as a visitor. Knowing the hard work and extensive time that it took to prepare everything made the opening parade that much more amazing to watch. The unification amongst the people was unreal.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Not only watching, but participating in the parade, was an experience like no other. As the parade began a few classmates and I joined Professor Bailly to watch the celebrations. With several bands and intricately-designed figures, the parade attracts all residents out of their homes and onto the streets. After the end of the procession, we jumped right in and became a part of the parade. Following these people through their beloved town as they celebrate the Body of Jesus Christ was an insane cultural experience and far from anything that I would encounter in the United States. It was a true cultural immersion and I was extremely blessed to have been a part of it.


By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Cordoba, Spain 18 June 2022.

Arriving in Andalucía felt as if we were in a different country. Around 200 BCE, Romans settled in the Spanish town of Corduba. Under Muslim rule for approximately 800 years, the city carries a striking architectural design. Its Moorish influence remains and exists all throughout the city walls. Buildings such as Casa Andalusí, La Sinagoga De Córdoba, Mezquita – Catedral de Córdoba and La Capilla Mudéjar de San Bartolomé are preserved Islamic and Jewish spaces that date back to the 12th century.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

It was alarmingly interesting to learn about the true history of Spain and the persecution the Moors faced. As Ferdinand and Isabelle began the Inquisition, non-Christians were forced to leave the country or convert to Catholicism. In order to remain in Spain, many people practiced their religion in private. La Sinagoga De Córdoba, built in 1315, was discreetly situated in the city so that no one would know the building welcomed practicing Jews.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Although there were efforts to remain in Iberia, the Spanish ultimately wiped out all those who did not follow the Catholic Church. In efforts to expand the Kingdom of God, Spain destroyed many existing mosques, synagogues, and foreign places of worship. However, when they went to build a cathedral in Cordoba, Ferdinand II fell in love with the beautiful architecture of The Great Mosque. Therefore, he constructed the cathedral in the center of the mosque while preserving the monumental arches and worship spaces.

Now, visitors are able to experience what is called “convivencia” which translates to coexistence. Within the city, one can find elements of Judaism, Islam, and Catholicism. The beauty of several religions existing within the same space was very touching to see. Nowadays, it is rare to see harmony amongst people who are different from one another. The Islamic rule of Andalusia gives us a spectacular example and way of life to follow.

“Ida y Vuelta”

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Seville, Spain 22 June 2022.

Home to La Plaza de España, Sevilla is most notably one of the most important cities throughout all of Spain. Founded by the Romans, the city has influences from several places throughout the Western world. Sevilla stores many historic treasures such as the tomb of Christopher Columbus, the Giralda Tower, and the Metropol Parasol (the world’s largest wooden structure). 

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Standing at the top of the cathedral was a full circle moment. Having researched and studied the public architecture of Spain in the spring semester, I was familiar with the Giralda Tower. Seeing it in person was astounding as I felt like I was standing in front of the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables, Florida. Our course’s title, “Ida y Vuelta” has truly followed us throughout Spain. From the striking similarities between Miami and Spanish architecture, to even being the name of a flamenco group we happened to watch on the sidewalk. 

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The city had a unique charm that set it apart from the other places we visited. An example of a culture shift that I experienced was the performances of live flamenco. Sitting in the Plaza of España and watching the dancers perform was spectacular. From the movement of their feet to the beat created by clapping their hands, I was completely mesmerized.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The more time that passes, the more I feel connected to this country. Being a Cuban, Basque American, I have come to realize the importance of studying the history and origins of traditions, cultures, and art as they are very interconnected.

Miami + Sitges

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Sitges, Spain 26 June 2022.

Sitges, the town where Charles Deering built his villa, was a pleasant experience. Traveling with Professor Bailly, who is an artist in residence at the Deering Estate in Miami, granted us an exclusive tour of Museu de Sitges. Deering was an honorable character as he funded programming for women education as well as medical services particularly those in conjunction with the Hospital of Sitges. He worked closely with Santiago Ruiseñor, one of the founders of 4GATS, the art hub of the Moderniz movement, in Barcelona. The Museum of Cau Ferrat, once the home of Mr. Ruiseñor, is now open for the public to see his impressive artworks.

In his mission to build a residence in Sitges, Deering revolutionized the exchange of culture and goods between the United States, particularly South Florida, and Southern Spain. As guests from Miami, we were able to taste the local wine of Sitges called Malvasia.

While speaking with the guides and locals of the town, the concept of “Ida y Vuelta” re-presented itself. The exchange of these entities such as culture and art, are not a point frozen in time. Rather, they are ongoing influences between communities that seek to advance and progress themselves. Witnessing the relationship of the leaders of Miami and Sitges reinforced the idea that there is a constant conversation between our city and its place of origin. At the end of the day, I was moved by our toast which was “to Miami and Sitges.” I was so proud to be a part of the moment and even more honored to attend a university which is so deeply rooted in educating its students of their cultural history and background.

Not Far From Home

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU in Barcelona, Spain 23 June 2022.

Barcelona was most definitely the highlight of my adventure abroad. Having explored most of the country, Catalunya was a completely new territory for me. The city carries a special charm through its atmosphere and architecture. As an avid lover of design, I was left in complete awe after visiting Gaudi’s masterpieces: La Sagrada Familia and Park Güell.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

The manner in which he was able to execute such precise vision and create it into a reality is spectacular. One can clearly see the prominent theme of nature and God’s creation in his works. At the basilica, one is able to travel through the creation story through the depictions on the outside and the decor on the inside. There were various elements throughout the city that truly made me feel like I had never been to a place so unique in my entire life.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

In a way, however, I felt as if I were back home in Basque Country. As a city under the province of Catalonia, the people speak both Spanish and Catalan. They have their own unique culture, language, and lifestyle that reminded me of the experience I had visiting País Vasco as a kid.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

After the program finished, I traveled back to Basque Country and found a particularly interesting image. Pictured above is an image of the Catalonian and Basque flag together. It symbolizes the friendship between the two provinces as they both experienced the same persecution under Franco’s rule. As he attempted to unify Spain and force the Castellano language, these provinces shared many similarities. It was so beautiful to experience another area that shares a commonality with the people of my background.

Sebastian Calonge: Miami as Text 2022

Pictured: Sebastian Calonge. Photograph taken by Ricardo Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) /
CC by 4.0

Meet the Author

Deering as Text

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Situated off Biscayne Bay, The Deering Estate is one of the oldest Floridian landmarks with geological footprints tracing back to the Tequesta.

The Unknown Miami

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU at Deering Estate, 28 January 2022.

As our first excursion, our Honors class visited the Deering Estate located in Palmetto Bay, Florida. For many local residents, this tour was extremely impressive and insightful as we were unaware of the historical site. Established in the early 1920’s, the estate was built by Bohemian slaves upon the request of Charles Deering. As a wealthy industrialist from Chicago, he sought to settle down in Miami during the latter years of his lifetime. He lived there until his very last moments as he passed in 1927.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Home to eight different ecosystems, our class was able to experience the diversity of the property hands on. From interacting with ancient Tequesta remains to the manatees in the Boat Basin, the experience was one of a kind. Visiting the burial grounds and remains site was extremely interesting because we were able to visualize the extent of the history that exists in our very own backyards. Analyzing tools such as the ones pictured below was incredible.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Along with the nature aspect of the estate, we also encountered the marvelous architectural influence Deering included in the construction of his Spanish villa. With different arches and details, it was astonishing to see the resemblance that the Floridian property had with those in Spain.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

All in all the experience was unmatched. Having been our first excursion together as a group, we were able to observe history, interact and engage with our environment, and explore parts of Miami I did not even knew existed.

Vizcaya as Text

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU at Deering Estate, 18 February 2022.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Miami, home to many historical amusements, recognized for its beautiful mangroves and historic towns. However, one of its most important landmarks is often overlooked. Vizcaya, built in the early 1910’s, is the villa that belonged to James Deering, brother of Charles Deering. This architectural gem was a symbol of extreme wealth as they arrived in the New World since no one had established this kind of luxury in the Americas at this point in time. His decision to situate this villa in the heart of several ecosystems was not coincidental. The land’s exclusivity allowed for entrance only by boat as means to prevent peasants from entering.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Upon arrival, guests are met with a long-stretched road leading to the villa. On both sides there are narrow gardens with large vase-like fountains which have a deeper meaning than one’s initial glance. In Islamic culture, these jet features are used for pondering and meditation with oneself. They are meant to strike thought and reflection. Deering’s implementation of these fountains just goes to show the kind of Western influence he so dearly wished to include in his villa.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

As one enters the main room, they are presented with a statue of Bacchus the Roman God of wine and ecstasy. This statue of Bacchus holding a jar of grapes and indulging in his possessions is almost inviting the guests to do the same. In this manner, Deering was very ahead of his time as Miami is now one of the American staples of social gatherings and relaxation. By including this statue, he makes sure that his guests know they are at home and can enjoy themselves just like they would in Europe.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Photographed above is Professor Bailly with our Honors Study Abroad class as we discuss the history of the museum and its cultural impact on Miami. Do you know where Pope John Paul II met with President Ronald Reagan when he visited Miami in the late 1980’s? Officials were thinking about where they should hold the meeting and ended up choosing Vizcaya as the place to host this historic moment because of the importance the villa (now museum) had in the past and continues to hold till this day.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (Canon EOS Rebel T3i) / CC by 4.0

Walking through the villa, I was amused by the depictions on the ceiling and their resemblance to those of mansions and estates in Europe. Deering made sure he brought these kinds of European influences to his home as to emulate the ambiance he knew his entire life.

Downtown Miami as Text

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU at Downtown Miami, 11 March 2022.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

Miami is an almost fully modernized city with the exception of certain historic pockets located throughout downtown. Fort Dallas, pictured on the right, is a oolite souvenir of the pioneer era. Built in 1844, this structure housed the hardworking slaves who constructed the very first parts of the city we know today.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

Walking around the area where some of the first buildings of the city exist was an incredibly humbling and surreal experience. Lummus Park is now a recognized spot in the National Register of Historic Places.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

At first glance, this circular area appears just as any other park would. Reality is this spot is considerably one of the most historic places in Florida. The Miami Circle was home to one of the first Tequesta villages in the 18th century. Due to its sacredness, this circle has been guarded by rails and is protected from future construction.

Photograph provided by Professor J.W. Bailly / CC by 4.0

The photo above was truly shocking to view as an individual born and raised in Miami. As part of the Spain Study Abroad class, I was already made aware of the similarities between Miami and the country of Spain, however, seeing this image truly spoke to the influence of Spanish architecture in Miami’s development. I am thrilled to have the opportunity to see this building in Spain this summer.

South Beach as Text

By Sebastian Calonge of FIU at Miami Beach, 1 April 2022.

Photograph taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

During our walking lecture in South Beach, I came to learn a great deal about the roots of the Miami we know today. This historic area was once known as Ocean Beach for its location and subsequent contrast from Downtown Miami and Key Biscayne. With its unique architecture, style, and culture, this neighborhood of Miami attracts thousands of tourists year-round.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

Throughout the lecture, one recurring theme that caught my interest was South Beach’s marvelous architecture. Not only does the city excel in demonstrating beautiful design, but it cohesively mixes various kinds of styles. Throughout SoBe, we encountered three different styles of architecture: Art Deco, MiMo, and Mediterranean revival. To see these unique buildings working together in the same space was extremely interesting and speaks volumes of the diversity Miami has to offer.

Photographs taken by Sebastian Calonge (iPhone 11) / CC by 4.0

On the picture to the right, our class is situated in front of the Barbara Baer Capitman Memorial, which is a commemoration to the woman who built and lead the very beginnings of Miami. Overall, we found great pleasure in learning South Beach and its rich history. Our class ended by walking back to South Pointe Pier and enjoying the cool water!

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