Lourdes G. Madrigal in Palacio Real (Photo by Sofia Scotti of FIU)
Lourdes Gabriela Madrigal is entering her senior year at Florida International University as a Biology Major with a Minor in Chemistry. She forms part of the school’s Honors College and QBIC program, an enrichment program for Biology students. Her professional goal is to become a physician specializing in Sports Medicine, an interest that stemmed from her experience as a competitive figure skater for nearly 13 years. Lourdes is also a travel enthusiast whose curiosity about the world around her never ceases. She has always been passionate about storytelling and inspired by the positive influence it can have on people and their perspective on life. Below you will find her reflections throughout the España study abroad program.
Madrid As Text
“We Meet For A Reason” by Lourdes Gabriela Madrigal of FIU at La Catedral de la Almudena
La Catedral de la Almudena in Madrid, Spain (Photos by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
On June 9th, 2019, at 17:00 hours, I was seated inside La Catedral de la Almudena, a Gothic Catholic Cathedral located in Madrid, Spain. It was a 34-minute walk from where I stayed in Atocha, but the experience was certainly worth every minute of the commute. As I entered the holy vicinity, a wave of emotions overwhelmed my being. This day marked one year since my father passed away and what better way to reflect on his life than to pray in a cathedral that is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Madrid? Beauty poured out from every inch of this sacred place, and a feeling of absolute peace flooded my soul.
When mass ended, I packed my rosary inside my satchel and was beginning to descend the cascade of steps outside the church when I unexpectedly encountered a Galician woman. She explained to me that Almudena comes from almudaina, an Arabic word referring to the walls encircling the city. Today, the walls surround both the cathedral and the Royal Palace. Legend says that in 1085, King Alfonso VI of León discovered the image of Santa María de la Real de la Almudena in one of the city’s walls. However, Archbishop Raimundo de Toledo commanded that the icon be hidden for nearly three centuries before “discovering” it, which is why the figure’s original discovery date is unknown. Our Lady of Almudena is the patron saint of Madrid, and her feast day is celebrated on November 9th.
In the late 15th century, sculptor Diego Copín built the current statue of Madrid’s Patroness, which was housed in Madrid’s former congregation, Santa María la Mayor until the church’s destruction in 1868. Many efforts were made to construct a cathedral and Episcopal See (a jurisdiction over which a bishop rules) since the 16th century, but it was not until 1883 that King Alfonso XII initiated the project. After more than a hundred years of construction, the cathedral was sanctified by Pope John Paul II in 1993. Many services have taken place here, including the funeral for the victims of the 2004 Atocha terrorist attack and on a lighter note, the royal wedding of the current King and Queen of Spain, Felipe VI and Leticia, respectively.
A former high school teacher of mine once said that we never meet people by accident. Instead, every individual we encounter in our lives serves a purpose, either for a reason, season, or a lifetime. The Galician woman and I easily conversed for about 20 minutes outside the cathedral, and I could not stop asking her questions. Bursts of knowledge enthralled me, with every word she spoke, making me intrigued to learn more. I would have never known the story of La Catedral de la Almudena had I not encountered her. She was my reason.
“Historia De La Catedral y De La Virgen.” Catedral De La Almudena, 10 Apr. 2018, www.catedraldelaalmudena.es/historia-de-la-catedral-y-de-la-virgen-dossier/.
Segovia As Text
“Roman Architecture in a Spanish City” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Segovia Aqueduct
Roman Aqueduct overlooking Azoguejo square in Segovia, Spain (Photos by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
God may have created Madrid, but he certainly lived in Segovia. Located in the Leon and Castile region of Spain, Segovia’s blend of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures throughout time has helped conserve its primitive medieval style. A perfect example is the Roman Aqueduct, which functioned to transport water from the Frío River to Segovia from the end of the 1st century until the mid-19th century. 166 stone arches are lined throughout the two-story aqueduct, spanning 14 kilometers of the city’s landscape. Neither mortar or cement was used to build the structure, but instead, wood was utilized as the skeleton for the project. The 29-metered-tall edifice pulls itself in place because of the resulting weight distribution from the columns, with keystones being placed between each arch to hold the structure together. This brilliant balancing technique is why the aqueduct has stood over time.
Interestingly, the aqueduct is also referred to as the “Devil’s Bridge.” Legend says that Lucifer once promised a woman to build her a bridge in exchange for her soul. However, when the woman became frightened with her promise to the devil, she began to pray to the Virgin Mary. A miracle later occurred, which inhibited Lucifer from placing the final stone before dawn approached. If one looks closely at the aqueduct, they will notice various holes on the stone arches. Such marks are believed to have been the devil’s fingers. However, our tour guide assured us that the marks were made instead by the equipment (a claw-shaped apparatus) used to build the stone arches. Today, the aqueduct towers over the streets, monuments, rivers, and hills of Segovia, reminding us of the ingenious Roman engineering that has stood for nearly 2,000 years and continues to attract individuals to this aesthetically pleasing city.
Sevilla As Text
“The American Wanderer” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Plaza de España
Plaza de España in Sevilla, España (Photos by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
It was Wednesday in Sevilla when I left my apartment at precisely 13:00 hours for a quick run to the supermarket. What I thought would be a swift errand turned into a 4-hour journey. The sky couldn’t have been bluer, and the flora was so fragrant. The scent of Jasmine followed me everywhere, almost knowing that its sweet scent would give me the courage to continue. I mean, I had no idea where I was heading. Using my gut as my guide, I found myself in a place where my professor took the class a few days ago. Only this time, I experienced it on my own. There were no conditions or time constraints, just me in the heart of Parque de Maria Luisa.
When Renaissance and Moorish styles clash into Spanish architecture, you know a masterpiece is in our midst. Plaza de España was constructed in 1929 for the World’s Fair, with the hope of attracting people from across the globe to this ancient city. The master behind the project was Anibal Gonzalez, an architect who surely delivered a wow factor exposition. Several brick buildings line the entire plaza in a semicircle shape, with 48 alcoves depicting the different provinces of Spain. With every step I exerted on the cobblestone floor, I traveled to a new region: Álava, Albacete, Alicante, Almería, Ávila, Cádiz, León, Madrid, Sevilla, Valencia, etc. It took me a moment to realize that the provinces were strategically alphabetized from end to end across the plaza. The square’s azulejos (intricately designed ceramic tiles)immediately caught my attention, with its geometric floral patterns possessing brilliant shades of mustard yellow, dark orange, and royal blue. They emulated a vibrant blend of cultures that captured the hearts of its guests, including mine.
If you look close enough, you will notice a set of bookshelves on both sides of each alcove, where travelers often leave their spare books in exchange for one on the shelf. A canal also runs through this same plaza, initially giving me the impression of a romantic Venetian-styled ambiance. Four ornate bridges cross the canal, representing Castile, Aragon, Navarre, and León, the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. I loved seeing couples sail back and forth across the square and could hear them laugh from the top of one of the bridges. They had no destination, just a single purpose—to cherish each other’s presence.
Plaza de España was built to help unify Spain. It brings together every corner of this sacred country, celebrating Spanish culture that is rooted in its Islamic past. Unfortunately, the Spanish Civil War did not allow the world to celebrate their greatness, a reputation that took monarchies centuries to build. And frankly, I don’t think Spain truly recovered from Franco’s regime. Spain is not as mighty as it used to be, which is a shame for a country that was once so ahead of its time. Today, nations like the United States are considered more powerful, which is a bit ironic considering that Spain took so much from America. I suppose this is similar to the books in the alcoves. To take a piece from someone, you must leave a part of yourself behind.
I think the scariest thing that anyone could do is to travel without a final destination. We try to assure ourselves that everything will be okay but become anxious in the process. This is where the power of wandering kicks in, for the journey is better through the road less traveled.
Watson, Fiona Flores. “Seville Plaza De España Square The City of Seville Main Sights, Sevilla Andalucia, Spain.” Seville Plaza De España Square The City of Seville Main Sights, Sevilla Andalucia, Spain, www.andalucia.com/cities/seville/plazadeespana.htm.
Granada As Text
“Light in the Pond” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Alhambra in Granada, España
Court of the Myrtles in Granada, Spain (Photo by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
The greatest Islamic architecture in the world lied 260km from where I stayed in Sevilla, España, and I had the pleasure of experiencing it first hand. La Alhambra is an abbreviation of the Arabic phrase, “Qal’ at al-Hamra,” which means Red Fort. It served as the royal residence of Mohammed I, the first Nasrid Sultan of Granada. The Nasrid Dynasty lasted from 1237 to 1492 and were the last Muslims to govern in Spain. The three principal palaces of La Alhambra were built in the 14th century and included the Palace of the Lions, the Partal Palace, and the Comares Palace. The Christian ruler, Carlos V, later built a fourth palace. My favorite part of La Alhambra was the center of the Comares Palace, known as the Court of the Myrtles.
Not too long ago, a monk told me that I should reach “stillness” at least once a day. For a while, I did not entirely understand what he meant by this. That is, until, now. Water is associated with delivering life and filling the soul, manifesting complete tranquility. In Islam, light from the heavens is light from God, and since God is reflected in the water, there is surely no Trevi Fountains in La Alhambra to disrupt His image. Instead, ponds are displayed throughout the fortress.
As I contemplated in the Court of the Myrtles, I tried to re-create paradise on Earth. My mind became more quiet as my breath grew less intense. I did not allow my surroundings to disrupt my peace, and eventually, I could not hear my own thoughts. Nothing mattered anymore, just me, the light, and the complete stillness.
Barcelona As Text
“Blotches of Hope” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Fundació Joan Miró in Barcelona, España
Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU contemplating on “L’esperança del condemnat a mort I, II, III” in Fundació Joan Miró (Photo by Sofia Scotti of FIU)
Joan Miró was a man of very few words, a quality that is suspended in his work. His loose brush strokes mirrored that of Van Gogh, but Miró’s usage of bold colors drove his paintings to the next level. His main points of reference were Picasso and Cubism but used Surrealism and abstract art to depict the cruelty of modern life, especially during Franco’s regime. Miró also merged poetry and painting, playing with independent elements to challenge space and sought to achieve depth through his application of visible lines, paint drippings, and scribbles of color across his blank canvases. His paintings were not scaled, but instead, portrayed a contemporary world without bounds.
The Catalán painter held on to his identity throughout the Spanish Civil War, but his sharp sensibility to the social and political events that surrounded him are largely depicted in his work. “The Hope of a Condemned Man” is a 1974 painting trilogy by Miró that paid tribute to Salvador Puig Antich, a young activist who was executed in a garrote by Franco’s officials. Miró was neither an anarchist or communist, but developed sympathy towards Salvador. Miro’s “free-thinking” mentality was displayed in this triptych, with thick lines resembling a whiplash or perhaps the feelings of a man condemned to die. On a deeper level, it may be the garrote twisting the man’s neck, causing him to suffocate. The splashes of paint may resemble the man’s tears, with blotches of bright colors expressing the possibility of freedom.
In reality, we do not know what Miró tried to express in these three paintings or in any of his works for that matter. A blend of frustration and hope are what immediately comes to my mind, but his message is not entirely clear. One thing is certain, though. Joan Miró challenges us to “look for the noise hidden in the silence, the movement of immobility, life in inanimate things, the infinite in the finite, forms in a void, and myself in anonymity.”
Miró, Joan. “Biography Joan Miró.” Fundació Joan Miró, www.fmirobcn.org/en/joan-miro/.
Sitges As Text
“A Heart’s Collection” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Cau Ferrat in Sitges, España
Cau Ferrat in Sitges, España (Photos by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
It was September of 1909 when American philanthropist Charles Deering offered to buy Santiago Rusiñol’s art collection in Cau Ferrat. What once seemed to be a humble assortment of wrought iron, sculptures, ceramics, pottery, and paintings, is now one of the few places that contain original works by master artists. I was lucky enough to see his hidden treasures with my classmates last week and was in awe of what I saw.
The development of Santiago Rusiñol’s extensive art collection happened in three stages. The first was his selection of wrought iron, which began in 1875. His second phase started in 1894 when he bought “Penitent Magdalene” and “Tears of Saint Peter” by El Greco. This period between 1892 and 1899 was considered the Festes Modernistes, in which Rusiñol accumulated various paintings by his friends Ramon Casas, Darío de Regoyos, and Ramon Pichot, alongside young rising talents Pablo Picasso, Manolo Hugué, and Isidro Nonell. Rusiñol also collected oils, drawings, and fresco copies from his travels to Andalucia, Italy, and Paris. His studio still holds the piano in which Manuel de Falla wrote a suite called “Nights in the Gardens of Spain” in 1916. Lastly, Rusiñol’s third stage involved his Carthaginian archaeological compilation from Ibiza as well as an assortment of pottery from his voyages to Andalusia, Valencia, Mallorca, and Castile.
Not surprisingly, Charles Deering’s business proposal was almost immediately turned down by Santiago Rusiñol. No amount of money could entice the artist to sell his most prized collection, something I can relate to on a personal level. I have spent years collecting original vinyl records and could not imagine giving any of them away. And so, similar to Rusiñol, each album carries a piece of my heart, so losing them would mean leaving a part of me behind.
HydraMedia. “Rusiñol Collection.” Museus De Sitges, 29 June 2015, museusdesitges.cat/en/ colleccions/rusinol-collection.
Extra Credit: Barcelona As Text
“Nit del Foc” by Lourdes G. Madrigal of FIU at Correfoc in Barcelona, España
Correfoc (Photo by Lourdes G. Madrigal)
Correfoc has officially begun in Barcelona. Good and Evil come face to face in this open-air show, and I nudged my way through the crowd to experience it front-row. In all honesty, I have never seen anything quite like it. Correfoc means “fire-run,” which makes sense since the performers essentially run around the square dressed as devils and use their pitchforks to set off fireworks. I admit that I was a bit frightened at first, but the more I watched, the more excited I became. Showers of sparkles filled every corner of Barcelona that night, and the hole it left on my dress will make sure I never forget how much fun I had.
Formerly a medieval theatre practice called Ball de Diables (Devil Dances), it was not until the 1990s that correfoc became popular in Catalunya. Today, it forms part of the Sant Joan Festival. Also known as the Summer Solstice in England, June 24th marks the beginning of summer and is considered the longest day (but shortest night) of the year. The reasoning behind this concept is that the sun is supposed to reach its highest point before dropping on the night of Sant Joan. And since the sun is considered a symbol of wealth and fertility, the entire city is filled with fireworks and bonfires to help “power” the sun. Correfoc is one of those events that has to be seen, heard, and felt (literally) in person to understand how spectacular it really is. It surely beats the Fantasmic show in Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
“Feast of Sant Joan in Barcelona, Spain – 23 June – 24 June 2019 Celebrations.” Festival of Sant Joan in Barcelona 2019, www.barcelona-tourist-guide.com/en/events/sant-joan/feast-sant-joan.html.