We had landed on Naboo.
Plaza de España, the famous set of “Lawrence of Arabia” and “Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones,” is a magnificent square built in 1928 in Maria Luisa Park.
Seeking to boost morale after the loss of its colonies in the late 19th century, Spain commissioned the square for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.
Located to the south of the city center, Maria Luisa Park is a half-mile oasis of exotic Mediterranean trees and flowers beautifully designed by French landscape architect Jean-Claude Nicolas Forestier.
The park’s shaded promenade, ideal for a horse-drawn carriage paseo, leads to the Art Deco plaza by Spanish architect Aníbal Gonzalez (with idyllic canals for romantic boat rides and pavilions used as museums and government offices).
Tiled booths representing each of the provinces of Spain surround the square. These “Instagrammable” backdrops
are popular with visitors looking to pose beside beloved Spanish regions. My favorite was Barcelona.
As we left behind the magic square and re-entered Maria Luisa Park, flamenco street performers hypnotized us as we continued to the General Archive of the Indies.
A little bit of history: Back in the late 1500s, merchants of Seville would use parts of the Cathedral as an office. That’s when Phillip II commissioned the ancient merchants’ exchange, which would house the General Archive of the Indies a couple of centuries later by decree of Charles III.
For the extreme value of the documents it holds, recording the history of the Spanish empire in Asia and Latin America, the building itself seems modest. But don’t get fooled by the discreet two-story structure.
Among the precious papers is the journal of Christopher Columbus, along with other essential letters and documents signed by the Conquistadores. The archives also hold “Don Quixote” author Miguel de Cervantes’ request for a job in the New World. He would send King Phillip II the message after being infamously injured at the Battle of Lepanto.
Pope Alexander VI’s Bull of Demarcation is the most consequential document, which effectively divided the Latin American continent between the Portuguese and the Spanish crowns.
I stood in front of this ancient contract for a long time in a trance. I thought about the profound implications that the stroke of ink inflicted on millions of people across a vast geographical region, spanning more than five centuries.
I thought about the 21st-century indigenous women and children begging for money outside of fancy restaurants in Medellin.
I needed a beer.
I didn’t mind chugging one right before visiting the Gothic-style Seville Cathedral.
The world’s fourth-largest church has witnessed significant events in its five centuries of existence: supplanting Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia as the largest cathedral in the world and serving as the site of the baptism of Juan of Aragon, son of the Ferdinand II and Isabella I. It is also the final resting place of Christopher Columbus. But my favorite part is the majestic view from its bell tower.
A visit to “Al-Andalus” would be incomplete without seeing the Alcázar, the royal palace product of caliph Abd al-Rahman III’s revolt against Córdoba.
Unlike Granada’s Alhambra, the Christian conquest destroyed the original Alcázar in the mid-1200s.
In its place, King Peter of Castile built today’s palace. Despite the conflicts, the Alcázar remains a prime example of the Mudéjar style in the region, combining Renaissance and Gothic elements.
One of the most groundbreaking learnings of this trip is that in the roughly 700 years in which the Moors occupied Iberia, there were periods of peace among Muslims, Christians, and Jews.
The little-publicized fact may explain the aesthetically-diverse aspect of this region and serve as a testament to the coexisting of different cultures as vital to leaving a rich legacy.
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