The Past Beneath our Feet | A Taste of Archaeology
Hola! My name is Sunny, and I’m majoring in Spanish at Colby College. This is my first time in a Spanish-speaking country. I’m currently studying abroad with PRESHCO and will be updating the fun times that I SPAINed here! Bievenidos!
When we were in Bilbao, our program director Kim told us about the great metro system of Bilbao. As someone whose mode of traveling mostly depends on public transportation, and more specifically metro (because you don’t have to deal with the traffic that you have to deal with in the case of buses), I was a little disappointed to find out that there are no underground metros in Córdoba.
“Why!!” I cried.
“Córdoba has thousands of years of history underground, building a metro would destroy all of that.” said Kim.
Nowadays, Spain does a great job of preserving its history; or better said, allowing the past to coexist (at least in part) with the present. The past still lives and breathes with the present, shaping the lives of the present and contributing to the future. The Mezquita that I pass by everyday on the way to school is a perfect example of coexistence of history and present, as well as the coexistence of two major religions. The Mezquita started out as a mosque, but then the Christians overtook Andalucía and wanted to turn it into a church. However, they were so taken aback by the beauty of the structure that they stopped all reconstruction, leaving the Mezquita today as a sacred place where both Christians can go for misa and muslims go for their own prayers. It’s a mix of two diverging cultures, and our tour guide also said that this is evidence that religions CAN indeed live in peace with each other, at least for a while. Beauty, at that time, was enough to pause the ugliness of war.
Indeed, the environment you grow up in influences your perception of words to a great extent too. In my UCO Intercultural Translation class, we were translating “callejuela”(alley) to English one day. Professor Luisa asked me, “What image comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘alley’?” I said, “I think of a small, dark alley in the Bronx.” Meanwhile, when Spaniards think of “callejuela”, the first image that comes to mind might be the yellow brick roads in la Judería (a labyrinth-like place surrounding la Mezquita) that people have walked upon for thousands of years. Imagine, your hands might have grazed upon the same ancient structure a famous historical figure might have touched. Humans pass away, but what they built stays.
Spaniards no doubt have a reason to be proud of their rich, cultural heritage. Take what my archaeological professor at PRESHCO said, “These archaeological remains cannot be found in the US!” After visiting so many archaeological sites during our orientation trip like Atapuerca, Museum of Human Evolution, a cave in Santillana, I was determined to take the PRESHCO class Andaluza Archaeology: Theory and Practice. For one, I needed to fulfill my history area requirement at Colby, and I’m personally more interested in pre-modern history; two, this is probably my only opportunity to experience digging up ancient history with my own hands. On the first day of class, the professors showed us pictures of the excavation from past PRESHCO students; last semester, they actually dug up a statue! Imagine how happy they must have been after days and days of digging and no finds, and then finally they come across a beautiful statue! How exciting that must be to be able to say, “I discovered it. I dug it up.”
Merely thinking of it got my blood flowing. But before we start digging, we needed to learn the basics, and wait for the temperature to cool down a bit so we don’t burn up (too much) in the sun. On Tuesday, we have our theoretical portion with Dr. Ángel, and on Thursday the practical portion with Antonio, who is currently excavating another site in Córdoba with his team. Ángel said, “The rocks talk - but only if you ask the right questions.” Antonio showed us that when he took us on archaeological journeys. He showed us the yellow marks on the road that marked where the Cordoben murals once were, now buried underneath the paved plaza; he pointed us to the “floating” doors on the walls of the Mezquita, and explained that that was the only door the Califat could enter, and that it was connected with the building across from it; he also showed us the wells that are huddled in a corner of a parking lot of Sojo Ribera, where residents used the pozo (well) to drink water, and another black well to toss human waste.
I was so fascinated by the history that are hidden within plain sight and shared it with some of my friends at UCO. They were also surprised to find out, because after living here for so many years, the tourist knows more about their city’s history than themselves!
This class is teaching me to pay attention to the little things in life. The things that we see everyday and take for granted sometimes may have bigger and deeper meanings to them than what we see on the surface. We just gotta - ask the right questions.
Lastly, look at this gigantic ficus tree I saw on a weekend trip to Cádiz with my host family. My host mom Lola even commented, “So much tree and so little Sunny!”