16 February 2011

Standing in the footsteps of Columbus

Last Wednesday, thanks to the generosity of Tile of Spain and the Spanish Trade Commission, I toured the grounds of the Aljafería Palace in Zaragoza, the capital of Aragon, Spain.

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.


  1. Good luck in the pitch buddy! You're going to rock it. You know if we could all be there for you like we were in yesterday's webinar we would be.

    I'll cross my fingers for you at 7am my time!

    "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."

    ... Awesome!

  2. Thanks Ryan. Was it really a week ago that we were walking around that palace? It's seems like a year ago on one hand and yesterday on the other.

  3. That's the jet lag... I thought coming home would mean more sleep but I think I have been getting less!

    ... Oh well I guess I can chalk it up to practice for being a new Dad.

  4. How come I'm not in any of these pictures? I've been told I bear a striking resemblance to Christopher Columbus - only a lot taller. And I have white hair

  5. It's jet lag for you Ryan but for me it's denial.

    Bob: Did you know Columbus was a red head too?

  6. Paul, gorgeous pictures and another informative post, as always. I am really glad that I was in on your webinar yesterday! I am chomping at the bit to get started, but waiting to get all of my ducks in a row first. Nick was also inspirational last night one the Blue Collar Coach show. Thanks again for all of the help.

    Brenda Lynn

  7. Beautiful pictures Paul. I can hear the hustle and bustle of life. You don't happen to have a full front picture of the doors along the walkway do you?

  8. I find it intriguing to note that Columbus'original motivation to sail the ocean blue was self-serving rather than some great altruistic gesture towards humanity! The result was so far removed from his personal desire to score financial reward.

  9. Oh my! It's so mind-bogglingly gorgeous, I may have to go lie down.

  10. Brenda: I'm glad you found that webinar to be useful. Between me and Nick last night, it was like a Twitter tent revival yesterday.

    Ginny; I did not snap a clear photo of those doors unfortunately. They were very modern-looking and bronze I remember that. I'd never seen anything like them.

    Gloria: You're right. One of the reasons he had such a hard time getting funding for his trip was that he wanted such a high percentage of the loot.

    Raina: My battery was dying the whole time I was there and I was kicking myself over it. fear not though, we're putting together a Reign in Spain official photo album and I'll post it here when it's done.

  11. Good thing it is still so well-preserved. I'd hate to think that something like this will just exist in stories...

  12. "the Sage, the first who dared to brave
    the unknown dangers of the western wave
    who taught mankind where future empires lay
    and turned his detention and demotion into a
    kind of martydrom
    kings and nations, envious of his name
    enjoy'd his toils and triumph'd o'er his fame
    and gave the chief, from promised empire hurl'd
    chains for crown, a prison for a world"

    and to think you were standing in a courtyard where Columbus passed. The architecture is amazing. -Brenda-
    P.S: Hope your pitch went well.

  13. Brenda; what is that poem? My pitch went well and I got the job. I was thinking about Columbus the whole time. :)

  14. Paul, FYI the poem was written in 1787 by Joel Barlow who was an American poet as well as a noted politician.
    P.S: Re the job, CONGRATULATIONS!

  15. Thanks Brenda. By the way, I met Kelly James in Toronto a couple of weeks ago and we talked about you. It was all good and I realized that I need to get to Ottawa one of these days.


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