San Francisco, CA

Know Your City: San Francisco El Cid Statue

Amancay Tapia
Image Courtesy of the Hispanic Council
There are so many interesting facts about San Francisco that even the most knowledgeable city lovers stumble upon something new every time they walk around.

At the California Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, in Lincoln Park, you may have noticed an equestrian statue dedicated to El Cid, also known as Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid. One of the best-known figures in the history of Spain. El Cid is Arabic for “lord” and “El Cantar de mio Cid” -The Song of My Cid or The Poem of the Cid- is the most important Spanish medieval songs of deeds and a classic in European literature.

What El Cid has to say may not seem relevant to a contemporary audience so curious San Franciscans may wonder what an equestrian statue of an 11th-Century medieval knight is doing there, or why an statue that is very relevant in Spain cultural tradition and that can be seen in many streets and squares all over the European nation is doing facing the Golden Gate bridge.

However, there is a solid reason for this, the statue reflects the cultural and historic links between the U.S. and Spain, the Spanish let us not forget, where in the country for over 300 years and played a key part in supporting the American revolution by providing money, supplies and munition to American forces and attacking British forts in Florida, Alabama and Mississippi.

In fact, San Francisco is not the only city in the United States with an El Cid statue, there is one in New York, next to the Hispanic Society, in Audubon Terrace; and another one in San Diego, situated in the popular Balboa Park Who is the sculptor of this equestrian San Francisco statue now part of San Francisco's landscape?

Anna Hyatt Huntington (1876-1973), one of America’s most accomplished academic artists, and very well-known for her lifelike animal sculptures.

She is also known for being the first woman to create a public monument in New York City, Joan of Arc, the city’s first monument dedicated to a female historical figure.The San Francisco bronze statue puts emphasis in the physical strength of the horse and rider. El Cid wears a long chain-mail garment typical of medieval warriors.

El Cid spent time in the service of both Christian and Moorish masters, but he is shown here wearing a large crucifix around his neck.The three statues she created of El Cid in the United States,were all inspired by the one gifted by the Hispanic Society to the city of Seville to commemorate the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929.

The artist was married to Archer Milton Huntington, and his wife interest in El Cid was no question, thanks to him. He founded The Hispanic Society of America and had published a scholarly translation of the “Poema del Cid”. In San Francisco, the statue was installed in 1929 as part of a broader exhibition of American sculpture.

Once the exhibition was over, it was put into storage until 1937, when a patron donated funds for the pedestal on which it still stands at the Legion of Honor.

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