Of course, my camera's battery was dying so I have to use a Wikimedia shot for the outside of the castle. The rest of the photos here are original though.
The Aljafería Palace is the largest, preserved Moorish structure in Spain and it tells a history that won't stop. It dates from the mid-11th Century and it was the fortified palace of Ahmad I al-Muqtadir. Moorish Spain wasn't a single entity, rather, it was a collection of independent kingdoms.
The Moors were a force in Northern Spain until mid-11th century and even after the reconquest of northern Spain, a now Christian Aragon remained an independent nation and the Aljafería remained the seat of power.
Fast forward to the mid-15th Century and the marriage of Isabella, Queen of Castile and Ferdinand II, King of Aragon. Their union formed the foundation of the modern nation of Spain and they ruled over their newly joined kingdom from the Aljafería Palace.
Fast forward another 540 years and some guy from St. Petersburg, FL (me) found himself standing in the inner courtyard of the Aljafería.
I've been fortunate to stand in some pretty significant places in my life and I can't be in a place like the Aljafería and not feel the humanity of the people who've been there before me. So as I was standing there it hit me like a rock that since this was the palace of Ferdinand and Isabella, Christopher Columbus would have passed through this courtyard on his way up to his audience with them.
Christopher Columbus was an idea man. Contrary to popular belief, people had known that the earth was round since the Egyptians ruled over the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Columbus was a visionary and he was determined to find someone to fund his great idea to sail across the Ocean Sea to reap the riches of India. For eight years he'd been pestering royal courts all over Europe and it was in Spain that he found a receptive audience.
It took him years to convince the Spanish Monarchs that his was a can't lose proposition. Ultimately, they decided to fund his expedition from an encampment in Granada but the preliminary meetings took place in the Aljafería.
So as I was standing in that Courtyard, I had a flash of insight into Columbus. I deliver pitches all the time. I'm an idea guy too. In fact, I have another pitch today at 10am. I'm nervous about it and I know Columbus was nervous about his too. The stakes for him were infinitely higher than my stakes are but the anxiety he felt then and the anxiety I feel now are the same.
As different as the world is now from what it looked like 500 years ago, what those two worlds have in common is people. We're the same now as we've ever been. We may know more stuff but our emotional ranges haven't changed. Anxiety now is the same as it's ever been. The same thing's true for love, or joy, or anger, or fear.
It's great to have the opportunity to stand in a truly old place such as the Aljafería Palace and to see and feel those common threads of humanity. Places like that help me put myself into some kind of historical context and to see that I'm really not so important or significant after all. I mean, I'm pretty important in the context of my own life but so far as the big picture goes, I'm not such a big deal. I find that comforting, that perspective.
Places that afford that kind of reflection are a dime a dozen all over Europe but they're pretty uncommon on this side of the Atlantic. I know that the profusion of such places is what draws me to Europe so strongly. But the very fact that I'm drawn so strongly marks me as an American. It's a curious thing.