Mahanoor Abbas: España as Text 2019

My name is Mahanoor Abbas and I’m graduating in Spring 2020 from the Honors College at Florida International University with a double major in International Business and Marketing. 

Madrid as Text

Atocha Tandoori Felt Like Home by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Atocha Tandoori Indian Restaurant on June 13, 2019.

<<Atocha Tandoori>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

Coming to Madrid, I honestly did not know what to expect. Not only was it my first time traveling without family, but it was also my first time living with people I did not know. The food I had during the first few days gave me stomach aches and made me feel nauseous all together. I was overall overwhelmed to say the least. There was a restaurant on Paseo de Santa María de la Cabeza that caught my attention. It was an Indian restaurant called Atocha Tandoori. I decided to go out and try the restaurant with the group of girls I was staying with. As a person who eats halal meat, my food options are pretty limited. I walked into the restaurant thinking of the vegetarian options I could go with. When the waiter came to take our order, I asked him if he served halal meat even though I was expecting him to say no. I was wrong because his answer was “Yes, our chicken is halal. I’m a Muslim myself and I eat this halal chicken.” His response made me feel content.

After all, I would finally get to eat meat after a week without it. After we finished our meal, the waiter approached our table and started to converse with me in my mother tongue, Urdu. This made me feel like I finally belonged, and although Spain was different than home, it had food available that made me feel like I was a little closer to home. What I found most interesting however, was the difference in the food. For example, I ordered a chicken tikka masala, a very popular Indian dish. At all the different restaurants I’ve eaten it in Florida, it has pretty much tasted the same. At Atocha Tandoori, it tasted very sweet with very little spice, something I wasn’t used to. When I asked the waiter about this, he said they had to adapt the taste to the locals eating at the restaurants and they preferred it like this. While many people may believe that adapting to local tastes makes the food less authentic, I would have to disagree. It’s really interesting to me that different cultures adapt to the locals surrounding them and how this varies from country to country.

The meal that I enjoyed inspired me to investigate the Indian and Pakistani culture in Madrid. After research I found that there are around 35,000 Indians and 82,000 Pakistanis living in Spain. While they make up a small part of the population, they definitely have integrated themselves with the rest and made a nice community for themselves. Having a little piece of home here has helped me cope with the culture shock and overall enhanced my experience in Madrid.

Toledo as Text

Toledo’s Neo-Mudéjar Railway Station by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Toledo Railway Station on June 13, 2019.

<<Toledo Railway Station>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU
<<Inside of Toledo Railway Station>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

I was very excited for our day trip to Toledo after hearing about the different cultures that integrated there. We took a train to the city of Toledo since it is a bit far from Madrid. Right when we arrived at the railway station in Toledo, I noticed the Moorish inspired architecture, which I found out was called Mudéjar art. After looking more into the architecture of the railway station, I found that it was Neo-Mudéjar. Neo-Mudéjar is a type of architecture that began in the 19th century, influenced by Mudéjar(Moorish) architecture. In Arabic, the word Mudéjar means “permitted to remain.” This was the name given to Moors who remained in Spain after Christians took it back over.

I find it hypocritical how both Mudéjar and Neo-Mudéjar styles of art are still used in Spain and embraced by Spaniards after many Moors were expelled from the country. Despite this, I find it fascinating that they kept a lot of the Moorish influence across Spain because it’s honestly so mesmerizing and different from Spanish architecture, while also being a huge part of its history. At the time Florida was conquered by Spaniards, Spain’s capital was Toledo, a city very much influenced by Moors. Therefore, I find it weird that you don’t see any Moorish influence in Florida. I suppose it could be due to the Spaniards wanting to spread the Christian identity to the New World and it was a perfect fresh start for them.

Sevilla as Text

House of God by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in The Cathedral of Sevilla on June 22, 2019.

<<La Giralda>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

I walked into the house of God and I was confused with the way I felt. The perception of what I thought I would have felt and what I actually felt were in contrast with one another. Considering that the vast majority of my classmates are Christians, I felt disconnected from the group in terms of religion. When I stepped into the Cathedral of Sevilla I didn’t become Christian for the day. I didn’t have to. As I wandered around the cathedral, I realized that my Islamic roots were not so different from Christianity after all. The same story of the Virgin Mary and the birth of Jesus Christ that I grew up hearing was portrayed in the mesmerizing altarpiece. 

I was quite surprised to find that it was built on the site of The Almohad Mosque, which was in place until 1248 and then turned into a gothic church in only 72 years. Being the largest gothic cathedral in the world, it has a bell tower called La Giralda that was first constructed as a minaret to go along with the mosque, but later turned into a bell tower for the cathedral. Its foundation is made from Roman stones, making it centuries old. I feel as though the mosque and minaret were swallowed by the church, and I was somewhat disappointed both as a Muslim and a tourist. If they had preserved the mosque and built the Cathedral of Sevilla in another location, we would have gotten to see two different but very similar, beautiful places of worship. 

Granada as Text

7 Levels of Heaven by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Alhambra on June 22, 2019.

<<Allah>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU
<<Hall of Ambassadors>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

As a Muslim, I was completely and utterly speechless as I walked through the Alhambra. I had never seen Islamic architecture this beautiful in my life. Although I can read Arabic, it was hard for me to read the writing that was placed all across the palace. The one word that stood out to me most was Allah, meaning god in Arabic. 

One of my favorite parts of the Alhambra has to be the Hall of Ambassadors. Its ceiling is supposed to represent the 7 layers of heaven that Prophet Muhammad visited. In Islam, we refer to his journey as the “Mi’raj”. During his journey, he meets the following prophets: Joseph, Jesus, Moses, Abraham, Aaron, and John. Prophet Moses tells Prophet Muhammad that God says that Muhammad and his followers must pray 50 times a day. Muhammad pleads for its reduction because he says it’ll be to much for the followers, therefore God agrees to bring it down to 5 times a day. This is the reason why Muslims around the world pray 5 times a day. Seeing the 7 layers of heaven on the ceiling reminded me of the stories of “Mi’raj” that I have heard my whole life. 

The colossal palace of Alhambra showcases the beautifully intricate Islamic art and architecture. Not only was it used as a palace, but also as a mosque and as a fortress. The only reason we can see it today is because of a poet named Washington Irving, who stayed there while it was abandoned. He was crucial to why Alhambra still stands because he wrote a book about it, which is what intrigued people to come and visit it. The world Alhambra derives from the Arabic word Al-Hamra meaning “the red one,” which makes complete sense because the building is red from the outside. 

Sitges as Text

Home of Rusiñol by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Museu del Cau Ferrat on July 5, 2019.

<<Fountain of Cau Ferrat>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

After visiting the Cau Ferrat, it is very clear to me as to why Charles Deering fell in love with Santiago Rusiñol’s home and studio at first glance. Not only did Deering fall in love with the beauty of the house itself, but he also fell in love with the collection of art that Rusiñol had inside of it. He was mesmerized by the Modernisme artists and El Greco paintings. Charles Deering, captivated by Cau Ferrat, proposed that he would like to purchase it as well as the art pieces inside, to which Rusiñol refused. Deering, with the help of Miquel Utrillo, converted the hospital in Sitges into his residence inspired by Cau Ferrat. Utrillo also helped Deering purchase many pieces of art and furniture throughout Europe that he eventually took back to the U.S., even though Utrillo opposed.

Now looking back at it, Rusiñol saved a big part of the Catalan identity by not selling the house and art collections to Deering because they would have ended up in the U.S. Converted into a public museum in 1933 as wished by Rusiñol, Museu del Cau Ferrat is widely known as the “Temple of Modernisme” because of all the ancient and modern art collections it holds that were handpicked by Santiago Rusiñol himself. Cau Ferrat holds 2 paintings by El Greco as well as works by Pablo Picasso, Ramon Casas, and many more that are only still there because Rusiñol’s smart decision to keep his home and studio for himself. They are what make the museum a symbol for Catalan identity.

Barcelona as Text

Trencadís by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Park Güell on July 5, 2019

<<Trencadis>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

As I walked through Park Güell, I could not help but notice the architecture of it. The public park that was originally meant for wealthy families was designed by the famous Spanish architect Antonio Gaudí. Eusebi Güell, a friend of Gaudí’s, wanted Gaudí to construct a private community for the wealthy families that consisted of 60 houses. Located on top of a mountain, the community was supposed to offer spectacular views of the city of Barcelona to the people that would live there, but only two houses were built as it turned out to be an unsuccessful project. The sustainable architecture used by Gaudí was more than impressive for its time. For example, the irrigation system he designed had pipes running inside the pillars of the park, which constantly collected and stored rainwater so not one drop went to waste.

The most beautiful and intricate part of Park Güell has to be the long bench covered with colorful trencadís. The bench stands out from the rest of the park because of the unique colors that are incorporated into it and bring the park together as a whole in the middle. Trencadís is the smashing of ceramic tile and then piecing the shards together to create a mosaic. Many believe that Gaudí created the trencadís style, but it can be traced back to the Moors who actually invented the style. 

EX as Text: Bullfighting

Bull Fight by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU in Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas on July 5, 2019

<<Plaza de Toros>> by Mahanoor Abbas of FIU

I am not sure where to begin, should I start with the way I felt when I saw bull after bull die or when I saw a matador get rammed in the leg by one of the bulls. The bullfight I went to in Madrid at Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas was definitely an eye opener. I would always hear about bullfighting and thought it was so cool, that is up until I witnessed it first hand. To say it was gruesome is an understatement. I am glad that I went to see it because now I can say that I think it is wrong. I honestly believe that if I had not seen it I would still be a naive little girl thinking it was not a bad thing. To me it just felt like it was inhumane the way they made the bulls suffer.

After doing some research, I found that it was most likely the Moors who introduced bullfighting in Spain as a sport around the 11th century. Although it can also be traced back earlier to gladiator games during Roman times. It is said that the first official bullfight in Spain was organized in honor to crown King Alfonso VIII. Even though I felt queasy and cried watching the blood spew out of the poor bull, I do not regret going. At the end of the day, it is a part of the Spanish culture and heritage that I believe one must personally witness before forming an opinion about.

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