View of Toledo from a hilltop
Spain – every region, city, and community – is rich in history. A country that has been inhabited by ancient people and ruled by many different empires, modern Spain has plenty of historical capital. As an American citizen, I am often overwhelmed by the age of the structures around me, which are often hundreds or thousands of years older than my own country. It can be hard to imagine that a bridge I can walk across today, Salamanca’s Puente Romano, for example, could have been built by Romans two thousand years ago. Yet, there I go, stepping on unfathomable history.
As a result of so much time, Spain’s leadership has changed hands hundreds of times. Along with the change in leadership, came changes in law, religion, and even social customs. For example, the Arabic Empire, Al Andalus, ruled southern Spain for almost eight hundred years. They were a relatively tolerant empire, ruled by Califas from fortresses in several regions in the south and guided by the principles of Islam. Eight hundred years later the Reconquista conquered the last Muslim city of Granada in 1492. Before you hit the snooze button on this post-turned-history-lesson, I’ll get to my point.
All of this history and mix of cultures has made Spain into a country rich in architecture and art. This history and mix of cultures has made what we consider “traditionally Spanish.” This really came to light this past weekend that I spent in Toledo and Madrid – one of the oldest and best preserved cities in Europe, and the globalized, modern capitol of Spain.
As I continue to travel and think about the history around me, I feel grateful to have more insight into this culture than a typical tourist. My classes have allowed me to intellectually analyze what is going on around me every day and to explain the history of those customs. The combination of living amongst Spanish people and learning about their past in my history classes has allowed me to recognize just how important history is to a traveler. Seeing a monument is one thing. But being able to understand why that monument exists gives me a true appreciation.