How Córdoba’s Ancient Beauty Made Me More Proud to be American

In a way, it can be said that the Americas can trace their European roots all the way back to Córdoba, Spain.

Before he sailed the ocean blue, a minor historical figure named Christopher Columbus met with the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, at Córdoba’s Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. It was there that he first presented them with his plans to sail to what he thought was India. I know that Chris C-bus was all kinds of problematic in the sense that he didn’t go about “discovering” America in the nicest of ways (genocide, anyone?) but the historical significance of that initial meeting is still profound.

Gardens at the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
Gardens at the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

The meeting at the Alcázar was far from the first Important Historical Thing to happen in Córdoba, a city which I first learned about (unsurprisingly) in a poem by mi amigo Federico García Lorca:

Córdoba.
Lejana y sola.

Jaca negra, luna grande
y aceitunas en mi alforja.
Aunque sepa los caminos
yo nunca llegaré a Córdoba.

Canción del Jinete

But the more I learned about this historic city in my Civilization and Culture of Spain class, the more I wanted to visit someday. And I’ve done just that since coming to Spain, twice so far. It was my most recent trip last weekend that really opened my eyes as to my place in the world as an American. Does that sound weird considering I was surrounded by ancient monuments? Let me explain.

Córdoba’s origins go all the way back to ancient Rome. In fact, you can still see many remnants of the Roman era throughout the city, including the ruins of an ancient temple casually next to the Ayuntamiento (city hall).

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Walk south for about 10 minutes or so and you’ll find yourself at the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge), which is exactly what it sounds like.

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After the Romans, the city fell under Islamic rule. If you’ve studied anything about Spain, you may have seen pictures of the Mezquita (Mosque) with its famous orange and white striped arches. The Mezquita was built between 780 and 987 AD.

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Another important remnant of the Islamic period is Medina Azahara, which was a grandiose palace-city located a few miles outside of Córdoba proper. You can visit the ruins of the city itself and walk through a museum which has some more artifacts.

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In the 13th century, Christians took over the city and built their own grand and glorious cathedral right in the middle of the existing mosque. Today, the official name of the site is the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral).

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Córdoba was also very important in the Jewish tradition. The historic Jewish quarter, or Judería, is exactly the picturesque whitewashed barrio you might expect when you think of southern Spain.

I forgot to take pictures in the Judería, so this came from Google.

So why the history lesson? Because experiencing all of this backstory made me realize what a tiny place my country occupies in world history. My beloved United States are just 239 years old, while some places around the world have been writing their stories for thousands of years. It’s incredibly humbling, but as I sat on the steps of the Mezquita eating gelato and contemplating all of this, I realized that experiencing such history has made me even more proud of where I come from.

The USA has come a long way in two and a half short centuries of formal existence. We’re not perfect, but in that time we’ve made so many contributions and exercised a great deal of influence on world affairs that it’s hard not to be proud. It’s incredibly humbling to walk through the Alcázar and realize that your country can trace its European history right back to that very building, in a way, and to consider how far it’s come since that moment.

I will always be proud to be American. And as much as I love Spain, being here has only strengthened that.

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