Julia Abreu-Grand Tour Redux 2019

Introduction

I grew up hearing about Italy. No one from my family had ever been to Italy, but my great grandparents were Italian, which gave my family a sense of proximity to a land no one has actually visited. I knew I wanted to visit Italy, for its history, its tradition, and because of my own history.  In this class I was able to do so with much more depth than I could have ever hoped for. From the Roman ruins I dreamt about seeing since I was a child, to the beautiful Cinque Terre I had never heard about, I had the opportunity to not only visit the places, but learn about their art, culture, architecture, and lifestyle. A trip through Italy and through time, this class gave me a new understanding of Italy, from ancient Rome to the modern times, passing through the medieval era and renaissance.

Rome

Termini

Ruins from Ancient Rome, echoes from a distant past, a journey into history. That is what comes to my mind when I think of Rome. But there is another side to the city, a side where the 21st century rules absolute. The Termini station can be seen as the heart of modern Rome. If all the roads lead to Rome, all the roads in Rome lead to Termini. The station is a stop for people all over the world travelling through Rome. The history and tradition typical of Italy in here give space to the modern, globalized world. In the market, traditional itlaian food is served alongside options from all over the globe. This reflects where the world is heading, as we are more interconnected than we have ever been, and the tendency is that it will continue to increase. One of the greatest attractions of Rome is its history, that allows us to experience Ancient Rome and understand how the Romans lived centuries ago. Interestingly, Ancient Rome was very multicultural, with people from different parts of the world living together as Romans, trading with different nations, and travelling freely across Rome. All of this is embodied in Termini, a station where people from different countries and cultures come together to eat, shop, and travel. Inside of Termini, it is easy to forget you are in Rome, as it could be anywhere in the modern world.

Florence

Duomo

Looking to Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo, at a higher point, the valley where the city is its filled by an imposing structure: the Duomo. The Florence cathedral, where the Duomo is, was built much before its most famous part. In a show of faith, arrogance, or perhaps both, the plans to build the dome were made before they, or anyone else for that matter, had the capacity to build it. The fact that they build the cathedral with the space for a dome that they would only be able to build hundreds of years later reflects well the personality of the city of Florence. In the 14th and 15th centuries, Florence was an extremely wealthy and influential city, under the rule of the Medici. It is also the birthplace of the Renaissance. The city and its members prided themselves on their achievements, seen in the Renaissance tradition of signing artworks, something which was not seen in the Gothic era. For them, whether in art, architecture, or politics, the question was never if it could be done, but when it would be done, and by who. The great artwork coming from Florence shows that. Boticelly painted the birth of Venus for the Medici, a female nude figure, which had not been seen in the middle ages. Michelangel sculpted the David, gigantic and perfect, utilizing marble in a way that had never been done before. And Brunelleschi built the Duomo, long dreamed of by the people of Florence. He not only created the way to build the dome, but also the machines needed to do so. After all, in Florence, the impossible did not exist.

Cinque Terre

Monterosso

Past and present come together in Cinque Terre.  A Unesco World Heritage side, The five villages are immune to the changes seen in other touristic cities. Monterosso could be considered the most developed of the five. One of the most interesting aspects of the city is how it managed to adapt to becoming a tourist attraction, while maintaining its own identity. It is a lesson to cities which, in attempting to attend to tourist needs, lose what they had unique about them, being filled with skyscrapers and fast food. In Monterosso, the city remains almost as it was before the tourists started flocking. Local restaurants and hotels are seen near the coastline. A tunnel divides the new and old cities. On the other side, small houses sit on the hills, connected by tiny alleyways, in a very classic Italian style. A Romanesque church serves as a reminder that this is not the tourist area, but where the locals live, with their traditions and religion. The beauty of Cinque Terre lies not only in its coastline and mountains, but also in the five villages, preserved as they were in the past. It is an entirely unique place, and what is even best, it wants to stay that way. After all, that is what makes Monterosso, and all of Cinque Terre, so magical.

Venice

San Marco East

In most places, features which distinguish the architecture and decor as coming from a certain culture and era are clear. In the St. Mark’s basilica, that distinction is impossible to be made. Seeing the building for the first time can take the breath away. After passing through the narrow, crowded streets of Venice, the plaza opens up, almost as if entering another reality. And at the end of the plaza stands the basilica, with its mixture of everything. There is not a single architectural style, instead influences from Romanesque, Gothic, and Islamic styles come together to create something entirely new and unique. This is also seen in the sculptures in the building, random pieces conquered from other cities. The effect is dazzling, if somewhat baffling. To understand the basilica, one must understand Venice. The mediterranean power during the middle ages, Venice had control over the sea trade, which meant they had contact with parts of the world that other cities were unaware of the existence. The people of Venice had the knowledge of different cultures, as represented in the mosaic of the pentecost, inside of the church, where the holy spirit comes down, and people from different nations are seen being preached to. The fact that they knew and represented other cultures in art was unprecedented in the middle ages, and would continue to be for years after the mosaic was done. They also had easy access to the products produced by the foreign nations, such as the blue pigment, seen so often in the Venetian paintings. This knowledge, and willingness to accept other cultures, if only for business, is part of what made Venice so unique, and is what makes St. Mark’s basilica so beautiful. To this day, people believe that accepting other cultures will weaken one’s own culture, but this could not be farther from the truth. It does not lead to one culture overruling the other, but rather a cultural merge, a melting pot which creates something new, something only seen in that place and at that time, a singularity. And this is what happens in Venice, perfectly exemplified in the basilica. Different cultures and eras, coming together to create something perfectly unique and astoundingly beautiful. Something to remind those who are afraid of losing their culture that there are only benefits to accepting others.

Conclusion

 I found what I was looking for in Italy, and much more. I did not simply learned about history, I lived through it, saw how people lived then, compared to how we live now. I learned that people are the same through different cultures, nations, and eras. We have the same drives and the same passions, the same humanity as those who lived thousands of years before. I struggled to live in a country with a different culture, with a different language than mine, but I still felt at home, as the Italians are warm and accepting. In Rome, I was transported to ancient Rome, what seemed like distant history materialized in front of me. The churches, from the pantheon to St. Peter’s, are not only extremely beautiful, but also led me to think deeper about the role of religion in society. In Florence, I lived through the Renaissance. It is amazing to see some of the best artworks in history, but even better to know their cultural significance, their importance as displays of power, or how they changed art afterwards. In Cinque Terre I experienced nature I had never experienced before. There, I found out that my limits are much higher than I believed as I finished the hike. I learned how important it is to be true to yourself and your roots, whether you are a city or a person. In Venice, I saw that people can achieve great things out of necessity. I saw how being culturally diverse makes a place special, stronger. And now, back in America, I can reflect on what I learned, and keep those lessons with me forevermore.

Ciao Amore.

Gabriela Lastra: Grand Tour Redux 2019

Introduction

Gabriela Lastra in Tivoli (Photo by Liliana Fonte CC BY 4.0)

The Grand Tour is the traditional end of a young, wealthy gentleman’s schooling. I never even dreamed it was something I could do. I am the absolute furthest thing from a typical participant of the grand tour. Rather than wealthy white men, my Grand Tour was a group of low to middle class Latin American women, and a couple of boys for variety. And yet, because of this dichotomy I believe the experience was so much more rewarding for us than it could possibly have been for them. It has been a month of learning and surviving. I have cried and been struck silent, in awe of the absolute beauty human hands have created.

When thinking about my project, it was difficult to structure. How could I choose only one aspect of such incredibly diverse cities to talk about? In the end, I chose one subject per city and still I feel there is too much to say.

Rome: Legacies

What is a legacy? According to the dictionary, it is a gift or a bequest that is handed down, endowed, or conveyed from one person to another. It is something discernible one comes into possession of that is transmitted, inherited or received from a predecessor. A legacy is how you are remembered, the stories and memories left when you are gone. To the ancient Romans, a legacy was everything. Really, we are not so different. As I walked through the streets of Rome, I think of what I have done that matters. I know I am still young, and I have so much time. And yet, Michelangelo was only 24 when he finished the Pieta, widely regarded as one of his best works, and still proudly displayed in the Vatican today. It is intimidating to think how much he accomplished at such a young age. At the start of this trip I was only 18 years old and I am nowhere near accomplishing anything so grand as the Pieta.

What is Rome? Rome was an empire vast and unending and now, a city filled with people who have nothing but a passing resemblance to the Romans of old beyond geographic location. They walk in the ruins of the glistening marble city it was once. And yet Rome is very much alive in the hearts and lives of the people who so casually sit on the chunks of ancient marble and walk past the looming remnants of the great and terrible. There is a sense of connection between the Romans of today and the figures of the past. Julius Cesar, Marc Antony, Hadrian. As I stroll through the charming streets of Trastevere, where the young adults of the city congregate at its many bars and restaurants, I think about the things left of people when they are gone. As the sun neared setting, I followed the sounds of a church bell an came across a rather plain facade that led into a quaint little courtyard with what in Rome is a modest sized church at the end. This is Saint Cecilia in Trastevere. I remembered Saint Cecilia, from a brief mention when exploring the catacombs near the Apia Antica, a Roman martyr who they attempted to execute twice and failed both times before she died slowly of the wound in her neck from when they attempted to decapitate her. Though it is not immediately apparent, the church dates to around 820 A.D. It stands where, supposedly, the house of Saint Cecilia once was. Saint Cecilia stood for her beliefs in the face death and for that she is remembered. Her home has stood for over 1000 years, and that is her legacy. Throughout Rome there are many more examples of people like Saint Cecilia and Michelangelo, who could not have known that their actions would live on, far beyond them.

Firenze: Feminism

Sunset over Florence from Piazza di Michelangelo

Feminism is a topic much discussed in our society but as a woman, and particularly a Latin woman, I believe it bears repeating. When I think of the great people in history, the first 10 names I think of are men. Why is that? Were women not great? Or worthy of being remembered? When I think of the way women are shown in history, I think of Eve and the apple, the Virgin Mary whose great accomplishment was never having sex and yet thousands of temples, like Santa Croce, are erected in her name everywhere we went. So far, in the only culture we have seen where this was not so was in ancient Rome. After the fall of the Roman Empire around 476 A.D. the portrayal and role of women changed dramatically. Women were no longer powerful, and their nudity was no longer positive. It was something shameful and sinful. A powerful, confident woman was something dangerous and bad. Walking through Florence, I expected more of the same. I admit that I was taken totally off guard to find that I was wrong. The Renaissance is a period of rebirth, the rebirth of art and science and classical ideas. Like most of the great names of the Renaissance, Sandro Botticelli was Italian and, more specifically, a Florentine. He lived and worked during the early Renaissance, in the late 1400’s. Two of his most well-known pieces are displayed at the Uffizi Gallery, which was once the center of power of the Medici family. The Birth of Venus is a spectacular painting, both for its subject and its composition. I will admit that I’m not much of an art person but seeing the Birth of Venus in person is something I’ll never forget. I can’t imagine what the original participants of the Grand Tour must have felt, seeing her in all her naked glory. Here is a woman like none of them had ever seen, confident and beautiful in her nudity, and more beautiful for it. She is a goddess and she is desirable without it being something vulgar or shameful.

With Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, we saw a change in the representation of women in art, portrayed as they had not been since the fall of Rome. The Renaissance however brought another change which in my opinion is so much more significant, at least to me. As we walked through the Uffizi, we came to a work of art significant not only for its subject but also for its artist. It was Judith Beheading Holofernes by Artemisia Gentileschi. This is the only work of art we had seen so far made by a woman. In the class lecture a question was asked which made me stand there and think on the great tragedy no one thinks about. This incredible work of art was made by a woman, despite being told by society that she could not do it because she was born a woman. How many incredible works of art were never made because women were told only men could be artists? How many millions of David’s and Birth of Venus’s did we miss out on because men thought themselves superior?

Women’s rights have come a long way from Artemisia’s time and yet we are still not done. I look around me and I see it. Why must I fight to be treated the same way the men of my family are? Why do I have to work twice as hard to receive the respect for my independence that is so thoughtlessly given to them?

Cinque Terre: Nature

We have seen so much in our time in Italy and learned so much that it is hard to put into words without sounding repetitive. Everything took my breath away. I kept thinking, “This. This is it. Nothing can top this.” And every single time, I was wrong. The Cinque Terre was no exception, though for its rich history or art. Cinque Terre was a pause, a moment to catch our breath an absorb all that we have witnessed. By that point, I’m sure we all needed it. I thought I was prepared but now I realize I had no idea what was coming. The Cinque Terre hike is beyond a shadow of a doubt the hardest thing, physically and mentally, that I have ever had to do. Despite that, I would do it again in a heartbeat. It was an experience like nothing else. I’m asthmatic. I have been since birth. The Cinque Terre hike pushed me like nothing else before. There were moments, climbing up those never-ending stairs and feeling my lungs seizing in my chest that I thought I wouldn’t make it. I wasn’t sure I could even make it back. But every single moment was worth it, for that one minute you are at the very top and you can see the Mediterranean glimmering below you, bird song in your ears and the colorful towns of the Cinque Terre nestled like jewels amongst the green at the base of the hills lined with farming terraces.

Venezia: Diversity

The Porta Magna at the Venetian Arsenal in Castello

Venice is a city like none I’ve ever seen. The twisting canals that run all through Venice have given rise to a city unique in its customs and way of life. It is a meeting point of cultures and customs. Being a city on the water, Venice had ongoing trade with all corners of the world, be they Christian or not. Venetian capitalism is famous for a reason. Venice of old was more interested in whether or not you had money than what land you came from or what you did in your spare time. It has made Venice not only unique for its gondolas and waterways, but also infamous for being a place of indulgence and relative freedoms. It’s hard to say if it is the diversity of people that led to the relative tolerance of difference or if the tolerance allowed the diversity.

Kamila Etcheverry: Grand Tour Redux 2019

Introduction

During my time in Venice, I consistently saw a poster for Biennale Arte that read “May You Live In Interesting Times.” I took it literally at first, thinking it was a perfect phrase for my time spent in Italy, but later discovered that my interpretation was completely incorrect. The phrase was first used in the late 1930s by Sir Austen Chamberlain, who believed it to be an ancient Chinese curse and one to be used ironically, for ‘interesting times’ was really in reference to times of chaos, disorder, and turmoil. Although there was actually never any evidence of it being a Chinese curse, the phrase held its ironic meaning and continued to be a representation of difficulty and struggle. When I discovered all of this, discarding it as an adequate phrase for my time in Italy, I found it to be a much better one for the time periods and history that I have learned about on this trip. The chaos of ancient Rome and the assassination of Julius Caesar, the influential power of the Medici over Florence and the horrors of the Black Death, the need for Rinascimento and the struggle and rise of women like Artemisia Gentileschi, the foundation and fall of Venice.

This project represents my own reflections and interpretations of Italy. It explores certain themes that stood out to me the most in specific locations, all of which are rich in culture, history, and born of these ‘interesting times.’

ROMA: HISTORY, ENTERTAINMENT, AND ETHICS

It is often easy to feel disconnected from history when the extent of our interaction with it only goes as far as textbooks and other assigned readings. Even studying the past of Rome with all its power and glory is not enough until you are there, standing on ancient ruins and the very places where blood was shed, chariots were ridden, and emperors lived. It is even more impactful when you realize how despite the thousands of years between you and the culture you are studying, there are more similarities than there are differences between the two. This realization became obvious to me several times on the trip as a whole, but especially during my time in Rome.

The Colosseum, for instance, is a prime example of this. Completed in 80 AD, it served as a common area for people to come together and witness gladiator shows, wild and exotic animals, simulated battles, and other performances. It became a center of entertainment and in some twisted way, brought people together through the violence that often took place. Circus Maximus represents something similar as well, providing entertainment for the people of Rome with chariot races, religious festivals, and theatrical performances. Today, in our own culture, we share the same need for entertainment but experience it in the form of football games, wrestling matches, rodeos, and races. If we are not experiencing it in person, we are experiencing it in our living rooms when our friends come over to watch people be slaughtered or raped on Game of Thrones. It brings us together the same way it brought people together in Rome and while I stood there, in both locations, it made me wonder how different we really are from one another. I remembered how before the course, I would have considered certain aspects of ancient Rome to have been unethical and even sometimes barbaric, and yet, simultaneously, here is my own culture engaging in essentially the same activities and interested in the same primal behaviors. Once I had become mindful of this, it made me question my own idea of ethics and when our society decided that some things were more morally acceptable than others. Are we really any different from them? Any more ethical? Or have we just figured out a way to make it all seem less repugnant?

In another way, it was also comforting to know that we are so alike to a civilization that changed the course of mankind forever. A culture whose history is so influential that thousands of tourists from around the world flock to the places that hold its buildings and its ruins. It is impossible to miss the excellence and imprint left from ancient Rome. I felt it in the Forum, where the ruins of ancient government buildings and daily life still stand. I felt it in the Capitoline Museum, home to several Greek and Roman sculptures and an incredible monument of Marcus Aurelius. I felt it at the Palatine Hill, where legend has it that Remus and Romulus were born. I felt it in the Baths of Caracalla, whose worn out but intricate mosaics give a sneak-peek of the delicate beauty that it once was.

In Roma, it is everywhere; history and knowing you are somewhere that has earned its place in time.

FIRENZE: COMMUNITY

I often say that I miss the sense of community that I get to experience back in my family’s hometown in Argentina. Maybe I haven’t been looking hard enough, but it’s not something I see much of in Miami so whenever I get the warm feeling of unity and connection, I like to take note of it because it reminds me of home. In Firenze, particularly in Piazzale Michelangelo, the sense of community was extremely present for me.

Piazzale Michelangelo was designed by architect Giuseppe Poggi in 1869. It stands on a hill and has a square dedicated to Michelangelo with copies of some of his work, including a bronze statue of the David. On the way up the hill and the surrounding area are the Rose Garden and the Iris Garden, consisting of hundreds of different plant varieties and spots to picnic at. During my time in Florence, I undoubtedly had some incredible views, but of them all, Piazzale Michelangelo was the best. On my way up, I stopped at the Rose Garden and became surrounded by an incredible amount of flowers with different smells and vibrant colors. Couples and friends laid around me, enjoying glasses of wine and the tastes of Italy in what I found to be the most romantic spot I had seen in all of Florence. When I finally arrived at the square up top, the view was unlike any other. It overlooks the Arno River, the Ponte Vecchio, the Duomo, the bell tower, the rooftops, the hills in the far horizon, and so much more beauty. Apart from the view, however, I was surprised to find the quantity of people that were there just enjoying the experience and each other’s presence. I had originally gone up there to watch the sunset and celebrate a friend’s birthday but instead, was found with a feeling of connection that I wasn’t expecting to receive at first. At the steps leading up to the square, sat what could have been about a hundred or so people with drinks and food in hand, talking and laughing as the slowly descending sun illuminated Florence’s golden sky. A newly wedded wife kissed her husband and the entire crowd cheered. Parents brought their children and friends brought each other at these steps. Moments later, as we sang “happy birthday”, strangers tagged along and sang with us, adding a little more significance to an already significant moment.

For a moment during my time in Piazzale Michelangelo, I thought about how special it is for the people of Florence to have a spot that brings people together in such an exceptional way. The view is one of a kind, and it will always be there, but what really makes it is that you are sharing this moment with so many different individuals, so many people of different races and origins and walks of life, who came to the same exact spot as you on that same day to experience the beauty of Firenze.

CINQUE TERRE: TOURISM AND CULTURE

No matter what you’ve seen or where you’ve already been, Cinque Terre will leave you awestruck. It sits surrounded by the Mediterranean Sea, vibrant with the colors of each building and the life that it brings through tourism. As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, Cinque Terre and its five villages are protected from any more altering of the location made by man, but also attract an incredible amount of travelers daily. Vernazza, in particular, is often considered the most beautiful village, surrounded by vineyards and olive groves that lead down to the town itself, whose colorful homes sit on cliffs and beside the water. The beaches are small but picture-esque, as you look out at the bright blue Mediterranean waters and see sailboats sailing behind rocks that peek out of the sea.

On my hike there, I passed by other hikers who I assumed were just on a visit much like myself. I heard them speak french, spanish, english, german, and other languages; all of us joined together in some way on this adventure. When I arrived at Vernazza, the few different languages I had heard moments before became an explosion of cultures and countries admiring the beauty of the town. People from all over the world were there experiencing the kind of slow-down to life that only Cinque Terre could offer.

In many ways, it reminded me of the influx of people that visit and often stay in the US. Like Cinque Terre, the United States has its own culture, of course, with its particular food and drinks, its breathtaking mountains and seas, its distinctive cities and sites. Just as the tourism in Vernazza doesn ́t take away from the authenticity of the location, the tourism in the states doesn’t take away from the lifestyle and culture of America. In fact, the combination of cultures adds life to the experience, just as the multitude of people from all over the world that come to Miami have turned it into a vibrant and eclectic city. How different would Miami be without its Cuban cortaditos? Its Venezuelan arepas, its Argentinian milanesas, the reggaeton that fills in the sounds of Ocean Drive? The comfort of knowing that no matter where you are from, there is probably someone that speaks your language? This, to me, is the beauty of the inclusion of different cultures. The fact that I, like any of the residents of a town like Vernazza, get to live in a location that is so incredible, it has thousands of people that visit and sometimes fall enough in love that they can’t help but stay. A place where the coming together of cultures only further accentuates the already existing beauty of the location.

VENEZIA: FREEDOM AND CONTRASTS

When I began my walk around Dorsoduro, I was surprised to find little to no people in the streets. As one of the first areas that was immediately inhabited after the founding of Venice, being home to several churches, art galleries, student universities, and historical architecture, I assumed it would have been packed with both locals and visitors. That was only the case in a couple of particular areas I was in, however, while many others seemed a bit more desolate. I walked past closed churches, residential areas, a quiet university, and cafes that were not open. Perhaps it was the time of day or the day itself, but regardless, I was not particularly disappointed by the lack of movement. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more than the touristy areas of Venice. Clothes hung off of balconies and in some moments, without a person in sight, the only existing noise was the blowing of the wind. It felt authentic.

After some unsuccessful attempts at visiting churches, I took a walk next to a narrow canal when I heard a man shout hello at me. I brushed it off at first but when it happened again, I looked up to find that it was coming from a tiny window of a bleak, brick building. The window was barred and surrounding the building was a tall brick wall with spikes at the very top. It dawned on me that it was probably a prison but that was then confirmed when he said again, “hello!”, followed by, “this is prison!” All of a sudden, three heads managed to squeeze as much as possible through the small opening; three prisoners looking to start conversation over the barred window and perimeter wall. If the rules were anything like America, I assumed it was probably not allowed, so I cut the conversation short and left after a couple of minutes. As I made my way towards Ponte dell’Accademia, one of the more populated areas I saw in Dorsoduro, and became surrounded by tourists enjoying their afternoons, I thought about the prisoners again and how the only thing that separates expression and experiences from captivity and lack of autonomy is a brick wall. I thought about how ironic it was that one of them would be in there for three years for possession of marijuana and yet the smell of weed filled the air in some of the more youthful parts of Venice. Granted, prisoners are not typically in prison for nothing, but even then, it was an interesting and completely unexpected perspective to have received on a sunny afternoon walk. Rarely do I ever really think about my own freedom, especially back in the States, where I am privileged enough to be able to walk the streets and express myself freely. But that day, I became aware of my own freedom and of the contrasts of life experiences that were happening in this small district in Venice. Dorsoduro is known for its young population that come to create a future at Universitá Ca’Foscari and then illuminate the streets at night with vibrancy and energy, a youth that represents life that has just begun and experiences that have not been had yet. A future to tackle and nothing but time. And yet, just a 10 minute walk from where these futures and identities are being explored, other futures have ended and identities are reduced to convictions.

Nicole Pena: Grand Tour Redux 2019

At the top of Piazza del Popolo. CC by 4.0.

Rome, Italy’s capitol city, brings in over nine million tourists annually, and is filled to the brim with history and culture. This rich history follows you throughout each alleyway and around every corner stands a ruin, waiting to share its story.

Spending two weeks in this city and being immersed amongst the people greatly improved our ability to visualize the day-to-day life of ancient Rome. A sense of cultural diversity was also palpable, and seemed to be valued highly. Upon arriving here one can be exposed to many different ethnicities that are working in or visiting Rome. This diversity was not just noticed in Rome, however, but in several of the other cities we’d visited, and was often attributed to the success and wellbeing of the city. 

The area of Tridente in Rome consists of a diverse array of popular attractions. Within Tridente, the Piazza del Popolo (also known as the people’s square) is one of the most visited piazzas’ in Rome. Our very first moments of study abroad included this piazza for it was once main entrance into the Roman empire. It also happened to be a great starting point to our Grand Tour Redux. There are 3 main roads that lead up to this piazza and to the obelisk in the center. If you fall on one of those roads, you can look down the narrow way and find the obelisk. 

A slow leisurely walk down the middle street called Via del Corso is often done from the piazza. This famous path is called the Passeggiata. It is where people walk up and down the closed street in an act of showing off pride and confidence. It was said that a family would take their beautiful daughter down this street and watch as all the men look at her in awe. As our class was doing the Passeggiata, we saw various many other tourists doing the same. There were men walking confidently with their business suits, and girls dressed up showing off their beauty. It was evident that people from all over the city and even the world come to part take in this act of Passeggiata. 

At the Spanish Steps. CC by 4.0.

The Passeggiata led us towards the next piazza in Tridente, the Piazza del Spagna, in which translates to the Spanish Plaza. This Piazza is another well-known and highly-visited square in Rome, which also consists of the Spanish Steps. The locals say that sitting on the Spanish steps would help you find your true love, a reputation that has attracted tourists worldwide. With the many times that I went to the Spanish Steps, I rarely ever saw it empty. Another famous landmark that attracts tourists is the Spanish Embassy that lays on top of the Spanish steps. This creates a cultural mix between Italy and Spain within the city of Rome. 

As I walked through this piazza, I couldn’t help but notice the mixture of different cultures that come into daily contact. Historically, this place was intended for Indian vendors, American tourists, Italian locals, and Spanish inquirers to fixate on one meeting place. This square also consists of the work of the father, Pietro Bernini, and the son, Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Pietro Bernini, and his son who helped, created this fountain called Fontana della Barcaccia, meaning “Fountain of The Ugly Boat,” to bring the legacy of the Bernini family and the story of the River Tiber to the square (“Fontana Della Barcaccia”). All these elements together within the square help to express the constant integration of different families, countries, and cultures.

The Il Victoriano. CC by 4.0.

The Piazza Venezia which carries a great deal of significance in Roman history. Unlike the other piazza, the Piazza Venezia includes the hustle and bustle of automobile traffic with a huge roundabout in the middle with the ending of the Il Victoriano. It is geographically shown as the center of Rome and can be easily connected to the theme that all roads lead to Rome. As we passed this building called Il Victoriano, I quickly appreciated the grandness and elegance of it. The appearance of the Il Victoriano was intended to attract visitors to appreciating the first king of Italy, King Victor Emmanuel II (Ermengem). Whether it be because you are walking for the history lesson or driving by cause it’s on the way to your destination, the location of this dedication simply brought people together.

In the Piazza della Repubblica. CC by 4.0.

The city of Florence definitely strived for difference and power. The Medici family was significant in making Florence the cultural capitol that it is today. Although wealthy, the Medici’s had to work for their noble status. They learned to trade and navigate politics to position themselves into a place of power. They were extremely influential during the Renaissance era, especially when it came to artwork. They brought highly-valued artwork to the city, which can be seen in the Uffizi Museum, with much of it shedding light to a feministic view, a perspective that wasn’t often seen during that period as women were often ignored. Even today, the Medici’s are lauded for their influence which helped shift attitudes towards women, as seen with the paintings of Venus within the Museum.

Although I felt very empowered as a woman while I looked at all the artwork, I noticed that attitudes of the modern men of Florence. Perhaps it is because Florence is so widely visited, but it seemed men were all too enthusiastic to objectify women. Of the cities we’d visited, I felt Florence was the least safe for women, particularly at night. It was an unfortunate attribute of an otherwise beautiful, empowering experience.

Before Florence had been established, the Piazza della Repubblica played a significant role in its relationship to ancient Rome. Today, with its carousel, stores, and small restaurants, it attracts many student tourists, such as myself. The first thing I noticed was the column that stands inside of the square. The column is called the “Column of Abundance” and is placed exactly where the Roman Forum used to be held. As this spot was once a place where people with different values came to express them, the feelings of diversity and unity flushed through me and back into the piazza. It was originally the center of the city and was filled with markets and was constantly crowded. However, the area became a ghetto when Cosimo the first came into power. It was said that during this time there was a bell attached to the column, which was used to warn others when something bad was coming. Today, however, there is no threat, and the carousel and other attractions gathers people much in the way the Forum used to during the Roman era. The Piazza della Repubblica continues to stand as one of the most famous squares in Florence for its history and beauty. 

In Cinque Terre: a Town called Vernazza. CC by 4.0.

Cinque Terre is located on a coast of the Italian Rivera and is filled with beauty and nature. It truly made it to the top of the list of my favorite cities in the world. It’s calmness and relaxing vibe were exactly what I needed during this trip. Since Cinque Terre is protected as a UNESCO heritage site, its natural remained mostly unchanged since Roman times. The UNESCO hike that many tourists come to Cinque Terre for, is the real hike that donkeys and Roman men used to walk through in the Roman era. This disheveled hike is what brought the diversity to the very infamous coast that consists of the five towns. As we walked and struggled through the trails, we would stop and talk to other hikers from around the world. From Russia to the Americas, there was a constant flow of new cultures that hit the coast. Cinque Terre brought a type of uniqueness to Italy that really is secluded to the world and connects well the land and the sea. Many of my family members who love to travel have never even heard of Cinque Terre and now it’s on their To-Do list!

Cinque Terre’s Signature Seafood in a Cone. CC by 4.0.

The second town we saw on the UNESCO hike was called Vernazza. I quickly grew a strong connection to this town due to its proximity to the water. Vernazza is known for their fishermans. The first thing I saw once we got there was the small dock with colorful boats bumping along side of each other. There were rocks at the very end of the dock that seemed to call the attention of mine and my colleagues. Sitting on those rocks, we stared out onto the dock and into the small town. Time would pass by, yet the dock never stopped being filled with tourists. The views and sounds of the water really drew them in. This town is also known for their easy access to the sea in which retrieves fresh seafood. The next thing I did was get fried seafood in a cone. It was exceptionally good. It was fresh and fried so how could it go wrong. This concept of fresh foods and accessibility to the sea was intriguing to all. While eating the cone in front of the food spot, there was a small hole looking out to a beach in between two buildings. Unfortunately, it was closed due to the mudslides, but it allowed me to analyze Vernazza within all that chaos. This town had the diversity of attracting both the calm and the crowd.

In Venice, Italy: a district called Cannaregio. CC by 4.0.

Venice was a whole new world compared to the other cities that we had seen on the trip. The concept of using the Venetian lagoon for transportation instead of cars is genius. It brought an aspect of how important water can be for a city. Small islands were used to build this city away from the mainland for protection. Little did they know, the formation of this city allowed for trade to flourish and allowed for connection of the east and the west by doing so. Trading is ultimately what brought diversity into the city. This hotspot thrives on tourists as tourist population outnumbers that of the residents. It continues to grow as a must-see city while they use attractions such as gondola rides and St. Mark’s square to grow its popularity.

Cannaregio is the largest of the seven districts within the city of Venice. This part of the city allows for a connection with the mainland as it consists of the train station. Essentially there are two parts to this district: one that is known for their shopping and popularity and the other is known as the more ethnic side. The main street for shopping such as the Strada Nova is what aids in connecting the train station towards the Rialto Bridge. This street blends various cultures such as English stores, German food stops, and American restaurants. While the other ethnic part, the oldest Ghetto used to take place there. Still today the Jewish ethnicity was left behind with a few synagogues and other buildings (“Cannareggio”). This district connects well with Miami as it shows how diverse they are and acceptable it has become into their society.

TO CONCLUDE…

This Italy study abroad dives into Italian history, culture, and art, and allows us to learn how to relate it to modern Italian life. As a class, we immersed ourselves into the culture through various eras, such as the Renaissance to Gothic. Each of these different styles really brought up a new interpretation of the world and its beauty. We, much like Italy, have gone through a lot of changes. Even though Italy has been around longer than the Americas, it does share the concept of cultural diversity and how it is entangled into its own culture. And whether we like it or not, tourism is really influential in Miami and is a huge reason of the diverse cultures we see today. 

Works cited
- “Cannareggio Venice Italy | Cannareggio District Venice | Cannareggio History.” Cannareggio Venice Italy | Cannareggio District Venice | Cannareggio History, InsideCom S.r.l., 27 Jan. 2016, www.venetoinside.com/discover-veneto/venice-art-cities/venice/areas/cannaregio/.
- Ermengem, Kristiaan Van. “Piazza Venezia, Rome.” A View On Cities, www.aviewoncities.com/rome/piazzavenezia.htm.
- “Fontana Della Barcaccia.” Rome Sightseeing, www.romesightseeing.net/fontana-della-barcaccia/.

Melissa Alvarez: España as Text 2019

By Melissa Alvarez of FIU Honors College

Bibliography

Melissa Alvarez is a student at Florida International University majoring in Biology with a minor in Chemistry. Melissa plans to graduate in the Spring of 2021 from the Honors College with the future goals of attending Medical School. Melissa plans to peruse a career in General medicine and trauma care. Her passions include dancing and music and caring for children. She loves to travel and learn about different cultures and customs.

Madrid as Text

“My Spanish Roots” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at Museo de Las Americas in Madrid, Spain, June 7, 2019

An old Cuban saying always told me who I was and where my roots came from “ Tan mitad Español que mitad Africano”, meaning all Cubans are half Spanish half African. However I always considered my self to be purely Cuban because I could never find my connection to Spain, Africa or Natives. As I become older I was more interested in my ancestry and my heritage and decide to create my own family tree and with time I was able to find the first Spaniard that traveled to Cuba in my bloodline. I was astonished that it was more than 200 years ago and to me it meant that I was not ready that Spanish. Time passed and DNA testing peaked my curiosity and the results proved me completely wrong. Not only was I Spanish but I was almost 40% Spanish and 80% European overall. I finally knew my heritage and the connection I had to Spain. This influenced my decision to travel to Spain on a study abroad to learn about the place I came from.

On my first week I was happily surprised just how much I learned about my ancestors in El Museo de Las Americas. I learnt about the journey the Spaniards took and the consequence that this important event in history had on Spain and in the Americas. The most impactful exhibit was one where there were old paintings of how artist pictured the people from the New World based on descriptions and tales. In the center was a glass with the this picture of a Spanish woman. It wasn’t detailed and it and looked like a sketch. However, when going to the backside of the glass there is the same outline of the Spaniard but looking like a Native American. The duality of this picture reminded me exactly of who I was and how I related to the Spanish that traveled to the Americas. It was the same woman but depending on how she was looked at it described who she was. It described all the descendants of the people that traveled to the Americas. I saw myself in those clothes showing that decided into two different worlds that no matter how little or big my percentage of “Spanish or African” I was, the food I ate the language I spoke and even the music I listened to were perfect prof that I was a mix of old and new worlds. I identified with both sides of the man on the painting and learned the biggest lesson. If we speak Spanish and come from Hispanic backgrounds than we are all Spanish.

Toledo as Text

“A walk to Remember ” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU in Toledo, Spain, June 12,2019

Ever since I was younger I have been crossing goals off my bucket list, from skydiving to simply learning to dance however on this trip to Toledo I was able to experience an bucketlist event that I did not even know I wanted to do. Seeing Toledo from the top of a mountain showed me breath taking scenery and how important it is to live life to the fullest. Not only was I on top of the world but I was able to see what El Greco saw when he decided to paint Toledo from the outskirts. When the hike started I was not expecting to climb rocks slide down slopes yet I felt like a new person when I accomplished everything the Professor told us to do. I saw a new Toledo.

The last time I visited Toledo I went on a tour and we saw the tourist part of the town and when we were going through the mountains I slept until we made it to the town. I saw a beautiful town and with a nice history. However on this trip I saw a beautiful city from the top of hill that I climbed and was able to experience something that maybe a local would do I felt as a part of the town and found a new happiness that I had not experienced before. It brought me back to my childhood and the exploring I used to do as a child, it brought out curiosity and a sense of gratefulness. I hiked Toledo and accomplished something that many people probably don’t and experienced a new way of living life, and broke barriers I would have not on my own. The trip helped me find a piece of me I did not know I had. A full walk to remember and ice cream with a twist to finish the day.

Sevilla as Text

“The Underground Taberna” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at Casa de Flamenco in Sevilla, Spain, June 19, 2019

A small city with an vast history and a vibrant lifestyle. I had heard so many stories about their famous bull fighting “la corrida de los toros”, but the one that amazed me the most was the flamenco dancing.

Having done a project on the diferente dance styles of spain I had seen the history behind flamenco, how it originated and that there’s even different styles, they specifically told us that they would perform sevillanas. 

Seeing the dancers on a computer during research was nothing compared to the real attraction between the two dancers. They showed love and passion and even despair. It is said that this style of flamenco is meant to represent a bull fighter and his cape. The male lead the female across the dance floor as if she was his cape, yet it showed as she took a life of her own and moved with fierce passion with the dancing they explained what the singer was telling the crowd. 

As foreigners we all see flamenco as the representation of Spain but it did not start that way. The dance originated in the poor neighborhoods of Spain by gypsies and was mostly danced in the underground’s if Spain. When the artist sang for the couple it was difficult to understand what he was saying, than I noticed it was not Spanish, the music was Gitana, gypsy.

Being part of such an intense performance was accelerating and emotional and everything that I did not expect but what perplexed me the most was that as a tourist sitting in the crowd I had been able to experience what the poor minorities of Andalucía used as an escape from repression and expulsion, I was able to see the romanticization of an art that was oppressed by Spaniards but is now recognized as the dance that represents all of Spain.

Granada as Text

“The Heavenly Gardens” by Melissa Alvarez of FIU at El Alhambra in Granada, Spain, June 18, 2019

Since I read the poem “Romance de la pérdida de Alhambra” a story on how the Moorish king lost Alhambra to the Christians. It was sad, emotional and astonishing, the story of this fascinating castle that was a devastating loss for the moors. 

The smell of jasmine was intoxicating and the sights overwhelming. However, the gardens where the most captivating and beautiful sights of the Alhambra 

When the lecture started the professor had asked us to pretend to be Muslim, a complex concept to me as a non religious person. How can I encompass an entire religion and culture with only knowing few things about it? It was my question though the entire trip. I did not know how they thought or their beliefs. However, when we arrived at the General Life gardens it helped me completely understand a part of their religion. These gardens recreated the heavens and gave me a visualization of what they believed true perfection was. 

The fountains reflected the heavens and the flowers showed true beauty and contemplation. 

The trip to The Alhambra showed me how important it is to understand religion and appreciate beauty for more than just the appearance but for the meaning behind the appearance. 

Gisell Rodriguez: Espana as Text 2019

Gisell Rodriguez is a Junior at FIU Honors College aiming to complete her Bachelors in Psychology and specialize to work with children. She will complete her Honors Spain abroad trip in the end of June 2019. Her reflections are listed and described below through her As Texts posts.

“Perspectivas” by Gisell Rodriguez of FIU @ Madrid, Spain

As I walked inside the crystal palace found in Madrid Spain, I was distracted by the artwork displayed by Charles Ray. Aside from the other beautiful aspects of the Parque del Retiro, this one by far was my most memorable. I felt a connection to home when I noticed the Shoe Tie sculpture, a spin on the Roman legend to represent the boy who ran with a thorn stuck in his foot without stopping to give a message to the Roman Senate. This very same boy called Fedelino can also be found in Vizcaya back in Miami, USA due to James Deering seeking to bring European culture to his home. I walked in with my classmates viewing and learning with them the meaning of each sculpture presented yet near the end, I found myself isolated and in a state of solitude. As I stood at a certain angle, I was able to not only see me, but many versions of me. Not physically like Cubism portrays, most famously recognized by Pablo Picasso and his rival Georges Braque in the early 1900’s, but symbolically. Time began to feel nonexistent as I stood there looking at myself in these different perspectives and contemplating as to how I felt in the moment. The joy of being a first time traveler to such a beautiful country like Spain which allowed me to use public transportation for the first time and see how efficient it can be when invested properly as it is. The sadness of not having a country care more about nature as Spain and its residents do where the government has many free municipal museums open and many rose gardens throughout. The anger of knowing the beauty displayed in the country whilst recognizing the horrors done in the past.

“Riches” by Gisell Rodriguez of FIU @ Toledo, Spain

My visit to Toledo in Spain changed some of my ideas regarding the church. Whilst visiting the Catedral Primada Santa Maria de Toledo, our tour guide spoke about the most beautiful monstrance I had ever seen. While I had imagined that the Spanish were after gold to enrich the country, it turns out that the statement is somewhat false. The monstrance was made by melted gold and silver from the jewelry collection of Queen Isabella around the 1520’s. The jewels include rubies, emeralds, and other precious stones. I had an image that Spain would be this luxurious country from top to bottom after obtaining gold and other materials from the Americas but the tour guide informed us that over 90% of gold obtained was used for the military and mercenaries. Spain at the time was spending most of its money on the military due to many wars and invasions as the United States is currently doing (over 600 billion). While I do recognize the horrors done in the name of the Catholic Church and the abuses done such as the Inquisition in which they murdered those who were accused of not being Catholic, I also recognize the beauty created in the name of it as well. Like the Burial of the Count of Orgaz done by El Greco which is insitu today at the Iglesia de Santo Tome in Toledo. Coming from a country with under 300 years of history, I will always remember the small city of Toledo as the city of riches due to its history and multiculturalism.

Taking a Second Look” by Gisell Rodriguez of FIU @ Granada, Spain

Even though I am not a Muslim, I can still view the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain as a beautiful reflection of heaven on Earth. Parts of the palace that best show this include: el Patio de los Arrayanes, Hall of Two Sisters, Patio de los Leones, and the Generalife gardens. I was not expecting my visit to Granada to be as memorable to me as it turned out to be. Our taxi driver Luis told us that it was his favorite city in all of Spain and I can see why he believes so. The Nasrids’ came around the 1200’s with knowledge of Christian churches, perfecting the different parts of the palace for arouns 250 years. However, just viewing the worlds most elaborate dome was not enough. I imagined being Abu- Abdallah Muhammad, the last Arab ruler at the time, viewing the hues of blue, green, and red on every inch of the domes. The red symbolizes the gift that the Creator gave which is our life source, blue represents God’s desire to sustain us and bless us with his creations, and green is used to symbolize the abundance of life promised in Heaven. After, came Carlos I who like many others had an obsession with power, resulting in frequent displays of signs to demonstrate it. To Muslims, pride and arrogance is a greater-sin that will be severely punished, Christians believe it is also a greater sin (Proverbs 8:13), and for Jews it is amongst the most serious of the vices. Yet you see Carlos I, Ferdinand, and Isabella plastering the walls with PLVS VLTRA or the initials of the Spanish Royals to exemplify their power which shows how arrogant they were. For the “Catholic King and Queen” to be committing sin shows the true intention of the church at the time as they were supporting these radical and inhumane actions against not just Islamic and Judaic culture, but also to the people such as the 1492 Alhambra Decree and the Inquisition. Today in the United States, Muslims are portrayed negatively by the media as the Catholic Church viewed non-Christians. It begins to make you wonder, will this cycle of harassment due to religion ever end?

Don’t Judge a Book by the Cover by Gisell Rodriguez of FIU @ Sevilla Spain

As I first roamed the streets of Sevilla, Spain after arriving at the bus station, I was unimpressed by the buildings full of graffiti and the dull looking streets. After, taking a lecture with Bailly and touring the city myself I began to see below the surface and actually see the beauty and the horrors it hides. While I understand that Catholicism to me does not mean the same as it did centuries ago, I know it doesn’t define me. Slaves being sold on church steps, genocide occurring within and outside the country, and women being raped in the Americas were all things that happened masked by the church. While these atrocities were dusted under the rug, I could not help but notice the constant reminders and symbolism of the Americas throughout the city. Columbus was placed on a pedestal, which could lead to someone concluding that Spain supports his actions regardless of the damages caused. Even with the church knowing those damages, he was still idolized due to the riches returned to the nation that passed through the Torre de Oro. Columbus is buried in the gorgeous Catedral de Sevilla with men holding his casket representing Spain and its regions. While I understand that Catholics believe in the forgiveness of sins, Columbus was not viewed as a sinner as even the “Catholic King and Queen” view him as the man who discovered half of the world or “ Colon dio medio mundo” displayed in the Real Alcazar, a place of residence for the king. Sevilla in my opinion is a complicated city who tries to hide its history and rise to wealth when it should discuss it.

Victoria Lopez-Trujillo – España as Text

Victoria is a senior at FIU graduating through the Honors College with a BA in Communication Arts in May 2020. She is a proud Miami native who loves to explore new cultures. Here are her personal reflections during the FIU Honors Study Abroad trip in Summer 2019.

Madrid as Text

An evening at Plaza de Toros

Sitting in the Sol y Sombra section of the 20th-century, Moorish-influenced stadium, a group of us sit with our faces scrunched under the conquering sunlight. The stadium was full of people, and the enthusiasm of the crowds spread quicker than fire. We found ourselves squinting around at anxious faces and absorbing the emotions we found in faces, words, and cheers.

The first bull came out. The stadium roared while the small group of us stared in awe. The animal spared no time. Aggressive, wild, confused.

The first round of fighters came out with bright pink and yellow capes to commence The Cape Stage. Subalternos y matadores. They are meant to protect the main bullfighter, who we could not distinguish at that moment. They taunted the bull into the walls of the ring until the animal was convinced running was pointless. Until the fighters changed the game. Two men mounted on padded and blinded horses, armed with spears, appeared on the sides of the doors. The Stage of Pikes. Picadors. The bulls charged them only to be impaled from above. And still, while blood flooded its sides, the animal continued to fight. The blinded horse struggled to stay standing without knowing the threat surrounding him. Suddenly, the bull overtook the horse, and in a flash, the horse was on the dirt motionless.

“Uh… can you remind me why we came to this?”

We fanned ourselves with crumbled brochures and pamphlets we had gathered throughout the day. We fanned ourselves to relieve ourselves in the heat, to feel better about being in the stadium in the first place, to get rid of our preconceptions of cruelty, abuse, animal rights, and entertainment. “What is this?”

And before we could think about the answers, matadores ran out into the ring with harpoons decorated in brightly colored cloth. They revive the fight by stabbing the bull and decorating him with the bright colors, provoking the animal while making an art piece of it. And finally, the work of art was put to the test; one it couldn’t even possibly win. A fight between an advanced, armed actor and a pitiful, weary animal.

“Well. It’s Spain.”

Segovia as Text

The Keystone

How on earth?

No mortar.

No cement.

Hearing this can make someone think that a structure this grandiose could only be built to stand by the gods (Lucifer maybe). Layers and layers, stone blocks on top of stone blocks, at its tallest reaching over 90 feet. I pause and stare with the rest of my classmates. I’m inclined to take my phone out for a picture, but instead I realize I can’t move. I’m completely in awe.

A structure of almost 30 meters held together entirely by weight?

When the Romans built the aqueduct 2,000 years ago, they had the structure prepared with a wooden mold, which they removed when the weight was equally distributed among the arch. But the whole structure would crumble to the ground if not for the keystone, the last stone block placed at the center of the arch. This stone pushes the weight of the blocks onto the column and makes them stronger. Only one stone has this kind of power, and without it the arches would not stand.

Every community has its keystone. And if the keystone were removed, the community would fall, and another community and another keystone may take its place. However, if the keystone remains, the community around it can change without falling. In 1492, Spain set a keystone in America: the church. The wooden structures were removed when Americans began to spread Catholicism on their own, and practice it on their own terms. Damage to the structure included the independence movements of the individual communities that drove out the Spanish government; however, Catholicism continued to grow and stand tall throughout the 20th century.

Cordoba as Text

The Mosque Cathedral

A cathedral within a mosque…

Did I hear that correctly?

Stepping into the Mezquita in Cordoba, Spain, you wouldn’t think anything different. I had never been inside a mosque before. The extent of my exposure to Islam had been very controlled by my Catholic upbringing. I did not know anything about the religion, save several crossovers between Christianity and Islam. I assumed that religious establishments would be quite similar to one another, as they are all meant to worship and glorify. However, I immediately knew I was wrong when I saw the interior of the Mezquita.

When the structure was first built in the 8th century as the Giant Mosque at the order of Abd Al-Rahman, it was originally intended to be one of the largest mosques in Islam. Normally, at the time, mosques were humble sights of worship. The Great Mosque would challenge many norms in the Islamic world, including a rule as stead-fast as facing Meccah. The rest was built quite traditionally: there was minimal use of furniture, simple floor tiles, decorated pattern artwork along selected walls, arches and structures that promised to send sound waves as far and intensely as possible so that the Khatib’s voice would be heard throughout the service.

The Giant Mosque continued to be expanded over the next few centuries by other Muslim rulers. Over hundreds of years, walls were torn down and rebuilt tens of meters further to make room for committed worshippers and great expectations. The mosque was meant to be a growing symbol of contemporary Islam. A religion that is alive and growing. With every breath that the mosque took, it expanded and never contracted.

When I saw the Mezquita, I imagined that it hadn’t changed that much from the last moment it had been used as a mosque 700 years ago. I stepped between the dimly lit archways that seemed to go on forever, hearing soft murmurs of tourists who were just as curious as I was as to why this was called a cathedral for Catholics when it was so obviously not. And then I saw it; the hole that was carved deep into the center of the mosque to create. Suddenly, the weight of the building shifted. Beforehand, I had been drawn to all sides of the building, vowing to myself that I could walk for ages exploring the new concept of the “mosque” and what it meant to me personally.

Now, my attention was drawn to the familiar center of the building. A weight concentrated at the hole that Catholicism had created in the history of Islam in Spain. I struggled to wonder the purpose of keeping a significant building that has been completely stripped of its purpose. A building meant to worship Allah in the way the Quran had described is instead now worshipping a god of a different name in a different and inappropriate way.

But the fact that we can have a conversation about it will always be the most important part. I do not applaud the Catholic church for absorbing a building of cultural importance, but I do recognize that if it had been torn down completely for the sake of a new cathedral, a large part of Islam and its historic presence in Spain would have been forgotten.

Sevilla as Text

The View from Above

While looking down at Sevilla from the roof of the city’s veteran Cathedral, I tried to take it all in. This city is one of the most beautiful I had ever visited. Parks and trees scattering layouts of every neighborhood; grandiose plazas bustling with tourists and locals alike; vintage districts with small and winding pathways. In each of these aspects, I would find such aesthetic and cultural pleasure that I had not been able to encounter anywhere else. Whether it was the Mudejar designs plastered on popular Moorish-influenced structures or the city’s familiar highlights of warm yellows and reds, there was something about this place that made both my mind and my eyes restless. I felt it when I traveled within the narrow lanes of the Jewish quarter every time I made a turn into a corner that smelled strongly of empanadas and wine, that echoed with the minor chords of softly strummed guitar strings. I felt it when I strolled along the river on the side of Triana in the middle of the night, watching locals slowly trickle out of small bars and restaurants, speaking their sensual, desert Latin as the full moon hung brightly in the sky. I found this feeling so often in the city streets, parks, buildings and people, but I was not at first able to understand what it was.

I did not understand it until I stood at the roof of the Cathedral, who’s layers loomed solidly over Sevilla. The Catedral, originally built as the Almohad mosque in the 12th century, was completed as a Catholic cathedral in the early 1500s. The building’s stained glass windows, leaning arches, and vaulted ceiling give it away immediately as a gothic work of architecture. While walking onto one of the many roofs during our tour, our guide remarked that one of the key elements in Gothic architecture is the value given to the aerial view of buildings. There is no perspective more important than that of God, the all-knowing and all-powerful. Because of this, the most decorative parts of gothic cathedrals are located towards the top, and a lot of importance is given to how the church can be seen from above, normally taking the shape of a cross. The view from heaven always supercedes the view from the streets below, or from the leveled windows across. To understand the value of Sevilla, I had to change my perspective.

No matter how much I want to view Sevilla’s narrow streets, local accents, and beautiful art from the ground level, I had to elevate my mind to understand the history and its influences on the present.

This perspective altered many views. The Jewish quarter I so admired: a neighborhood of tragedy and blood, where Jewish people had been denied their rights to life by those same Christian’s that claim to have contributed so much to the city. The Plaza of Espana, where I had enjoyed music and dance: a failed attempt to bring Spain into the international playing field until its major delay due to the outbreak of civil war. The statues and sculptures dispersed throughout the city’s parks and gardens hailing the discoveries of Christopher Colombus and the generosity of Isabel and Ferdinand: blatant symbols of a country turning away from horrors and bloodshed caused by its own historic victories.

Sevilla’s beauty as a city and attractiveness as a culture are woven together by a history that must be acknowledged for it to be appreciated in its entirety. I can take the view from the streets, looking over only the surface that I choose to see. Or I can take the view from above, a view that embraces each piece of the puzzle that has made Sevilla what it is today.


Sofia Guerra: España as Text 2019

Sofia Guerra is a Senior in the FIU Honors College pursuing a BA in Art History, with a minor in World Religions. She will have completed the Honors Spain program by the end of June 2019. She specializes in the painting and architecture of the Western Classical period. Here are her reflections from her experiences through her As Texts.

MADRID

Peace Through Strength by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Madrid, Spain

Photograph by Isabella Maria Garcia (instagram: @isamxrie CC 4.0)

I landed in Madrid a few days before the program commenced, confident with my packed Osprey and extremely limited, broken Spanish in my arsenal. A desire to get away, learn about the ancient history of España and not-so-ancient mishmash of my own identity propelled me to leave all I’ve known for the last 21 years of my life. Madrid is a city foreign to me, one I’ve only experienced through class lectures, family stories and sparing Google searches. The steadily sustained microcosm of Miami pushed me to a point where I felt exhausted of the city and not what is going to propel the next phase of my life after graduation-so I ran.

Museo del Prado, arguably the crown jewel among Madrid’s art collections houses masterpieces from the Classical age through the dawn of Modern art. A carousel of Greek-inspired Roman sculptures welcome you to the museum, one of which is a marble representation of Antinous. A young Grecian of Bithynian decent, a poor boy turned God by the will of Hadrian greets you. 

Hadrian ruled during the 2nd century AD during and was part of a legacy of Emperors that maintained peace and growth for the empire. He grew up native to the lands that would become Spain, and once he gained power he spent most of his reign traveling, checking on his administrations, living among his soldiers and living in common spaces; a habit that would ultimately introduce him to his forever love, Antinous. 

The two continue Hadrians travels, the world is their oyster until one day on the Nile Hadrian had a close encounter with death. Hadrian began to drown, Antinous dives in to save him, and Hadrian’s soldiers follow. While Hadrian’s soldiers save their emperor Antinous is swept away by the river and drowns. 

Hadrian deifies Antinous, an honor reserved for Emperors after death. He names cities after his lost love to keep his memory alive. Hadrian defies tradition set out before him by elevating his poor foreign lover into a God to be covered, l living life far form his capital and living as a peer to his constituents. All these actions reveal and authenticity to his humanism. 

Madrid is nothing as I anticipated. The hustle and bustle of the city swept away my shallow confidence and replaced it with a wash of anxiety, confusion, and disorientation. What am I doing here and why would I put myself in this position, all by my own choosing? 

Rome was not built in a day. Greatness and growth take time, and both occur in the face of adversity. While the Madrid presented itself as a metropolitan rip-current, the desire one feels to broaden ones perspective should not be stifled.

Hadrian accomplished all he had through his exploration and understanding of himself and his people. An expansive empire rich with culture and peace are a result of this awareness, and sweet the stage for the development of modern Western history thousands of years later. While Antinous met a tragic end his divine status and plethora of namesake cities keep his legend of love and truth alive. The Roman Spaniard and his Grecian lover live on in Museo del Prado and the city of Madrid. Madrid, the capital of the country where my journey for inner peace will continue through the strength I gain, and will continue to gain in Hadrian’s native land.

TOLEDO

God almighty, all Mercy, in Toledo by Sofía Guerra of FIU in Toledo, España

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

Fungia– (n). fOOn-ja. An intense frown where both corners of the mouth almost reach the chin. Often accompanied by crossed arms, the evil eye, and a tantrum.

The thought of a building bringing one to tears may sound strange in concept, but when standing inside Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo it becomes much easier to grasp. 

When I hear the term “going to church” my thoughts take a time machine back to my childhood. I think of being no more than nine years old, and seeing every Easter morning, Good Friday, Noche Buena, and speckled Sundays of fights with my father, crossed arms and the hardest fungia I can muster plastered on my face. 

Waking up before even the sky is fully awake, frilly dresses with matching ribbons, and tight french braids slicked to my scalp were not on my child-minded To-Do list. As soon as I got a say, or protested just enough, the silent visits with God in our neighborhood church stopped. 

More than a decade later, with a few years of college-level Religion and Art History classes under my belt, I gained a deep founded appreciation for the Italian and French masterpieces of Catholic paintings, altarpieces, and cathedrals. I also gained the opportunity to stand inside the massively elaborate Cathedral of Santa Maria de Toledo, built in a Gothic style. 

Building of this masterpiece in the heart of Toledo began in the 13th century and took nearly 300 years to complete. The architects and artists were outsourced from Italian, French, and even Flemish craftsmen to assemble a group skilled enough to build a structure so large, and visually powerful to reflect the importance of Toledo as the Catholic center of the Western world in its era of conception. In a town ruled by the Bishop it exudes spiritual dominance, precisely what the role of Catholicism was during the reign of Felipe II.

On a chilly Wednesday morning I stand inside el Catedral at the west end. Tears stream down my face, my arms are crossed to constrain my chills, fungia-less, and with a full heart. The beauty and radiance of the gold-gilded altarpiece depict the passions and life of Christ in full sculptural relief, topped with a crucified Christ whose pain is so tangible my heart drops. I begin to understand how religion was such an immense force so many centuries ago, and still today. 

In a time when literacy was so rare, these sites are more than enough to guide someone silently, not only through the Cathedral but to a place of utter spiritual transcendence. 

SEVILLA

Juderia Wrought by the Holy Cross by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Sevilla, España

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

Barrio Santa Cruz, covered in bougainvillea vines, intricate wrought iron work, boutique shops and tapas bars. The humble abodes that line the streets are quaint and close knit due to the kissing streets that take you through el barrio.  The street get their name because they’re so close knit that if you walk side by side, you’d be kissing your company. 

“Juderia” spelled out on painted tiles in the Barrio Santa Cruz naming the yellow wall that separated the jewish community from the rest of Sevilla 600 years ago. Houses packed on top of each other, trying to make the most of every square inch, the street so narrow that you must walk single file if walking with company. The walkways open up to small plazas, the site of the Acts of Faith, torture tactics and tests of faith given before execution of jews, instilled by the Fernando and Isabela in 1481. The humble abodes are locked by jewish families, holding tight to their keys hoping one day they can return home from the violent persecution sparked by monk Ferdinand Martínez. 

The whitewash city of Sevilla is punctuated with strokes of yellow, and barred with wrought iron. It’s welcoming, homey, and offers a place to land, but it’s blood runs deeper than the vines on historically segregating walls, and is tangled with secrets of human atrocities that cannot be painted over with whitewash and yellow paint.

GRANADA

North African Paradise by Sofia Guerra of FIU in Granada, España.

Photograph by Sofia Guerra (CC 4.0)

A fort. 

A palace. 

Paradise. 

La Alhambra sits atop a hill, overlooking a whitewashed town in the mountainous valley it reigned over for nearly 800 years. However when walking into the ancient city one actually walks into paradise. 

Throughout Spain there are remnants of the Moorish occupation through the mudejàr style of tiling and calligraphy-a seemingly Islamic decorative style that is vacant of its true spiritual purposes. It developed by the will of Catholic monarchs who coveted the beauty, spirituality, and harmony accomplished by true Islamic craftsmen. However, these craftsman acted to please their patrons, violent enemies. Today La Alhambra is among the only places in Spain where you can still see the natural harmonious style of Islamic architecture and design used for its true intentions, communication with God.  

Shapes that a child becomes familiar with before they can even speak act as the building blocks to the entire palace and paradise of La Alhambra. One on top of the other, the square foundation of the building is spiraled to create circular tents, the original dwellings of the Moores who made their home in Spain after their landing in 711 AD.

Shapes visible in the plants that build a natural agricultural paradise construct the architectural beauty that stands as a true testament to the Muslim power that held the land longer than the Catholics did after their violent conquest of 1492. Catholics monarchs appropriated the natural, symmetrical, and harmonious style of tile decoration present in Islamic art to communicate to the heavens, just as they did with each consecutive conquest of Islamic land on the Iberian peninsula. Luckily when they conquered Alhambra they did not destroy it-they stole it. The messages inscribed in the red stones monument to divinity in nature can not be silenced, it is alive in the walls and domes of La Alhambra. 

Alain Cartaya: España as Text 2019

Alain Cartaya Delgado is a student at Florida International University Honors College. He is pursuing a major in Computer Science and has much interest in Arts and how it reflects the history of the world. These are his España as Text.

Madrid as Text

Tradition by Alain Cartaya Delgado of FIU in Plaza Las Ventas, Madrid on June 13th, 2019

La Corrida de Toros, a tradition of thousands of years beginning with the Roman’s Coliseum shows, is for better or worse part of the Spanish culture. The bull, who in the best corridas weights about six hundred kilograms, is prepared with specific cuts to its impressive shoulder by the picadores and stroke by the banderilleros at least another four times around the same area. It is up to both of them to leave the bull strong enough to entertain and weak enough for the matador to give the final thrust; a perfect balance only achieved by the bests. Then, a dance of blood and swords is led by the matador. A dance to the rhythm of the bull’s steps and the words “Olé” shouted by the crowd. A dance that ends with the glory or the shame of the matador which is decided in the first thrust of his sword. A dance where, either with one thrust or multiple ones, the common factor at the end is the death of the strong, heavy bull whose fate was decided since its moment of birth. Is it a fair fight? It is not meant to be fair; it is meant to be entertaining; it is meant for the amusement of us humans; it is meant for the kneeling of the strongest animals to the humans and to have the world see it.

Segovia as Text

The Inspirational Aqueduct by Alain Cartaya Delgado of FIU in Plaza Artillería, Segovia on June 13th, 2019

Humans do not live forever, and most of the times history forgets them, but sometimes, no one forgets what they built. The aqueduct in Segovia, Spain, is the perfect representation of that fact. It is an impressive construction of around two thousand years old. Extending for fifteen kilometers going through mountains and with a height of 28 meters in its visible part it provided fresh water from the mountains to city’s inhabitants and decorating the city at the same time. This majestic construction is mainly held by arches that make the structure hold itself with its weight without any cement. Looking at this construction, I cannot help but think how many times they might have failed to try to create the technology to hold the structure and how many times they did not give up. Some legends say that some higher power magically built it, or that it was built in one night and part of a miracle. However, I see the aqueduct as what it is: a fantastic achievement of humans. I see it as one more proof that we, humans, are capable of doing anything and that as long as we put our minds up to a task, we will keep evolving. That is the true meaning and value of the majestic Roman aqueduct in the center of the city of Segovia, Spain.

Sevilla as Text

Anger, Sadness, Beauty by Alain Cartaya Delgado of FIU in Santa Cruz, Sevilla on June 19th, 2019

As I watched the beautiful danced of flamenco led by the palos of the dancer and accompanied by the sound of the Spanish guitar and the harmonic cry of the singer. This amazing composition of movements, sounds and energy made me think of how the Spanish culture is the composition of so many other cultures; just like the rest of the European culture. When the man was signing the rest of the intonation of multiple jumps in the beat of the voice. I could feel the sadness and at the same time the energy of the dance which was the best representation of the moment the dance was born; amid turmoil during the medieval expel of Jews and Muslims in Spain. I could not help but relate the movement of the dancers to the same difficult situation of leaving their homes; of becoming gitanos and settling somewhere else in this world. The dancers’ faces were a combination of sadness and happiness making me wait in suspense for the next movement, and the guitarist, waiting just like me, to beautify the beats of the shoes of dancers taping on the floor. This dance was the best representation of the Spanish culture I have seen so far. It was the mix of so many different synchronized rhythms, movements just like the current Spanish culture of mixed and synchronized religions and traditions.

Granada as Text

Saved History by Alain Cartaya Delgado of FIU in Alhambra, Granada on June 18th, 2019

Seeing the original Islamic art and how beautiful it is, how they represent art in a completely different way than the Europeans do makes me happy. It makes me believe that we are all different for a reason, that we have different cultures, beliefs and desires to create a wide variety of art that impresses us like no other has. It makes me believe that we are different because that away we evolve like no other know living being has and that the fact that we are all different is what makes us unique. Hope is the main word that comes to my mind when I think of Granada and the Alhambra. Those two places give me hope that the world forgives some of the humans’ mistakes. After everything that has happened in Spain throughout history of religion massacres and destruction, seeing that at least something survived gives me hope that we can do better. The city of Granada makes me think that someday we will be able to all live together, to share art and knowledge without prejudice and fear of other people beliefs and culture. The city has been protagonist of some of the biggest terror acts in the history of the world but also of some of the greatest art the world has ever seen. The Alhambra is the best representation that humans can create the most magnificent things and can also destroy them in the most horrific manner.

Sofia Scotti: España as Text

By Sofia Scotti of FIU

Sofia Scotti is a rising senior at Florida’s International University majoring in English and Psychology and getting certificates both in Women’s Studies and Exile Studies.

Madrid as Text

“A Fight to the Death” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at Plaza de Toros de las Ventas, Madrid

Bullfighting is a traditional, if controversial, sport that is still practiced in varying degrees in many places throughout the world. Nowhere however, is it more thoroughly embedded in the culture than in Madrid where “toreros”, the men who fight the bulls, are treated like NFL players are in the United States. Madrid is home to one of the worlds most important bullfighting rings called Plaza de Toros de las Ventas. When walking into the arena, it quickly becomes evident how popular the sport is with locals and tourists alike. Hundreds upon hundreds of people wait outside to buy tickets and once we got in, not one seat was left empty even in the blistering summer sun. People were on their feet heckling  matadores when they took too long to kill bulls, cheerin hen they killed them in one shot, and openly crying when the men were injured in the fight. It was clear how excited and emotionally invested people got about this sport the same way they would get excited over any other sport. Personally, I had a hard time watching the bullfight. The bull just seemed completely defenseless and pathetic after having been stabbed a number of times. He struggled to stay on his feet and panted in a way that seemed almost human. Watching the bulls collapse in a heap after minutes of torture just filled me with a lot of sorrow. Despite my deep and increasing moral opposition to the practice, I’m still glad I went. I really got myself in the mindset of a local who  feels that this is a part of his cultural heritage or that this is no worse than slaughtering a cow for meat. In a way I understand the argument despite the fact that I believe it’s wrong to torture animals for entertainment. Madrid’s bullfighting culture, despite its brutality, taught me a lot about opening my mind up to others while staying firm in my convictions when they are based on both experience and research

Toledo as Text

“Monstrosity” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo

When standing before the monstrance of Toledo’s cathedral Catedral Primada Santa María de Toledo, it’s difficult not to lose sight of everything else in the room. All of the other priceless treasures kept in the same area fade into background noise and the only thing my brain could focus on was the obscenely opulent monstrance placed before my eyes. At 309.5 cm tall, it towers over the rest of the room and with its gold, silver, and jeweled embellishments it gives the impression of a true piece of treasure. The monstrance was created between the years 1517-1524, as commissioned by the Cardinal Cisneros, to be used every year in the feast of Corpus Christi that is held in Toledo. It consists of a mind boggling 5600 pieces and is held together by 12,500 bolts. Gold from Queen Isabella the Catholic’s personal collection was actually melted down to create it and jewels that she donated were used in it as well. The monstrance was created to honor God and celebrate to His splendor and majesty in an earthly manner but as someone who was raised Catholic myself, it’s breathtaking beauty in some ways alludes to a Catholic Church firmly cemented in earthly displays of power and beauty while ignoring the legitimate plights of people who it claims to fight for. Gold used for this display could have been utilized instead to help the poor in the country gain shelter and food. But if I believed that the afterlife was all that there is or at least all that is important, maybe I too would use all my wealth not to help the poor and my community Yeah in this life but to honor God so much that he would save us all in the next.

Granada as Text

Photograph by Sofia Scotti (CC 4.0)

“A World Beyond Our Own” by Sofia Scotti of FIU at The Hall of Abencerrajes, Alhambra, GranadaI

In The Hall of Abencarrajes, it is said that 36 gentlemen of the family Abencerrajes were executed by order of the Sultan Mouley Hacen. Though I had always been aware of the role of geometry in art and architecture, I had never so viscerally been affected by it as I was looking at the dome in the Hall of Abencarrajes. Every inch of the walls and ceilings seemed to be covered in details that altogether overwhelmed the senses in a way intended to emulate divinity. My eyes couldn’t find a place to land in a room full of information. Once I thought I understood an inch of the wall the next inch came along and then the next each more complex than the last. At once I felt as if I was in a cave carved slowly over a millennium to have stalagmites hanging down from the ceiling and as if I were living in a palace designed only by the best architects of the time and worked on deliberately by craftspeople over centuries. I can’t imagine that even after living there for a century or more, one could begin to memorize the patterns or be less filled with awe when one looks at it. Part of its wonder for me however, may be in just how alien the design was to me. I have become so used to European art and its depiction of humanity and reality that the abstract and functional sculptures of the Moors was impossible to process. I can’t imagine what it must have been like being one of the knights slaughtered in the Hall of Abencerrajes and having the last thing I see be something so complex and beautiful. To ride through the seven heavens myself and endup squarely at the center of a lote tree before passing on to whatever truly comes next.

Sevilla as Text

“Grappling With a Colonialist Past” by Sofia Scotti of FIU in Sevilla

Being in Sevilla has further allowed me to consider the legacies that we inherit from our ancestors and the roles that each of us plays in carrying them forth while deriving our own meaning from them. In my home, we have a chart illustrating the genealogy of my family tracing back to the sixteenth century. The furthest back we have been able to trace it shows that my family was some of the first settlers on Argentinian soil. The first Argentine settlement was in 1536 and my family came in about 1600. Every day I pass by it and think about the deep colonialist history that my very existence represents and whether proudly displaying that history in our homes is constructive or not. To walk around Sevilla is to grapple with a similar conflict. Sculptures around Sevilla represent a continual celebration of colonialism and a deep awareness of the wealth that they were able to build while often remaining indifferent to the violence that was carried out to build it. When looking up at the balcony of the Palace of San Telmo, I am shocked by the self awareness of the city. The fact that they acknowledge the role of colonization in building their state and the celebration of it strikes me as problematic at the very least but actively violent at worst. I love Sevilla and I love my family but in some cases love requires critical analysis and the active decision to work to improve the legacies we inherit. While the people of Sevilla may have inherited a violent past, that does not mean they need to continue that legacy into the future. I think about how my very identity is built on the backs of Native Americans who had their land stolen by the people whose livelihoods I have inherited just as Sevilla’s identity is. I cannot change what my ancestors have done. What I can do instead is refuse to celebrate their violent actions and build a different legacy for myself.