On Monday, several Temple students and I took a break from our routine at La Casa de las Lenguas and went on our first field trip in Oviedo. Our art history professor took our class to San Julián de los Prados, a church that’s just a short walk from campus and practically across the street from where I live with my host family. I pass the building every morning on my way to class, and although it’s very much integrated into the city’s landscape, it stands out from the apartment buildings and cafes surrounding it. Unlike anything else in the vicinity, the church was built during the 9th century, when Asturias was a kingdom and Oviedo was its capital. We had class inside, so we were able to walk around and look closely at some of the church’s details, like the paintings that remain on the walls, after our professor finished her explanations. As she continually reminded us, it’s not every day that you get to learn about pre-Romanesque art while sitting in a pre-Romanesque building and UNESCO World Heritage Site. Now I’m just hoping the church doesn’t lose its charm once I start studying for my first exam next week.
Our visit to the church was an obvious way to connect our surroundings to what we’ve been studying, but my art class isn’t the only one that’s taught me about Oviedo. Mentions of the city appear in readings and lectures, and my professors are always trying to help us understand “asturianismos,” or variations in vocabulary and pronunciation that are specific to the Asturias region. The brief lessons on local cultural and linguistic quirks have really helped with my day-to-day interactions outside of class, like when I’m reading menus and come across words that I never would have encountered in my Spanish classes in the U.S.
Most of my classes are taught by the University of Oviedo’s professors, but I’m also taking Directed Readings with Jaime Durán, the program director from Temple. In his class we’ve reviewed some of the major movements in Spanish literature and read two different texts set in Asturias. Clarín, one of the authors we’ve studied, lived in Oviedo for many years and showed his love for the region by using it as the backdrop for some of his most famous works. His name appears all over the city, so learning about him in class also taught me more about the some of the streets, buildings, and statues that I walk by every day.
With its centuries-old churches and green, mountainous surroundings, Oviedo seems like a perfect setting for a literary classic, and Spanish writers aren’t the only ones who’ve noticed. According to Woody Allen, “Oviedo is a delicious, exotic, beautiful, clean, pleasant, tranquil and pedestrianised city. It is as if it did not belong to this world, as if it did not exist…Oviedo is like a fairy-tale.” Luckily for me, Oviedo does exist, and this semester I have plenty of time to explore it up close!