Abstract: The cultural impact of the discovery of America
It was 02:00 at night when Rodrigo de Triana shouted “Land!” and the world changed for ever. Columbus was right, it wasn’t flat. Please, stop to read and look up. Imagine a creak running slowly on the sky’s surface. Suddenly the blue crushes down as a mirror: a much bigger reality shakes your existence. Everything you believe is a mistake.
That’s happened on the 20th of October 1492: a new continent was unveiled and the world took a new spherical shape. The cultural impact of the discovery of America was much beyond a mere physical fact.
Suddenly the people of Europe stopped to look at the Atlantic Ocean as a mystery concealing the end of the world. On the other side of that immense roaring water, there was a land of wild nature and gold, a new unexplored land inhabited by others human being.
Wild dreams of voyage, power, and gold took over the old world. The faith trembled, the teaching of a sacred book considered infallible was wrong. Economy was shaken, the balance of power inclined to a different axis, the scientific revolution was about to come. The whole perception of reality was renewed at all levels.
Men broke a limit and the consequence was to feel that there were no barriers anymore to his will, no obstacles to freedom. It was an epochal moment in the history of mankind. Besides the politic and economic changes in the world scenario, the cultural impact of the discovery of America is now considered the beginning of a new era, the beginning of the Modern Age.
523 years after, around the same hour, I stand on the Triana Bridge, Sevilla, Spain, dreaming of America. I close the eyes and I breathe, feeling that perfect exciting sensation of the world spinning around, and the weight of the history giving to the place a deeper substance.
Columbus departed from Palos de la Frontera, a small village by the shores of the Guadalquivir River, the same river where I am now. I imagine him, watching the same water and dreaming. Somehow the Age of the Great discoveries began here.
There is a colorful crowd of tourists and locals on the bridge. A fresh wind blows and brings scent of salt and freshness from the Atlantic. Palms tree, the silhouette of a white Arabian tower, a forest of pinnacles, towers bell, terraces: Seville’s skyline is a dreaming arabesque floating in the night.
The Guadalquivir river flows quietly in the darkness. It reflects the city as a legendary submerged realm. It was because of this water that Sevilla arose as a queen among the cities, a river as a road that connected Sevilla to the open space of the Ocean, and, far away west, to America.
After the discovering of America the Spanish Crown gave to Sevilla the privilege to be the door of the new world. For almost two centuries Sevilla monopolized the trans-oceanic trade. All the ships returning from America must sail the Guadalquivir river and stop here to be registered in the House of Trade. Only once done they could land their wonders: the New World reached all the corners of Europe by this river.
Merchants and thieves, prostitutes and priests, adventurers and sailors, frantic people and dreamers, artists and beggars, Sevilla attracted everybody. Beauty blossomed everywhere, the extreme richness allowed a life devoted to pleasure, the convergence of different cultures promoted new visions and ideas, enthusiasm, and no perception of limits. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan began here the first circumnavigation of the Earth. It has been a golden age of art and economy that make of Sevilla a charming capital of the world.
It looked that her destiny was to dominate forever. But Fortune is blind, she blesses and deprives with the same easiness. Sevilla made no exception. Her fortune faded slowly together with the Spanish power.
In 1649 the black plague took over the city, Death became the new lord and desperation replaced cheerfulness. Half of the city died. Later on the trade was moved to Cadiz. Sevilla saw money and people left her suddenly. Betrayed, the glory lost, the city decayed.
This happened long ago, but places are like people, they keep their own memories, the cultural impact of the discovery of America will never be deleted, not from the memory of the city, nor from the memory of the world.
Even today the elegant shapes of the buildings, the lush of its gardens, the exotic atmosphere of streets and squares, the sparkling life and the scent of distances growing, reminds us of that time, and makes wider our thoughts as once Sevilla made wider the world.