California Heritage: Let's Look at The Statues

Amancay Tapia

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California has a rich Hispanic heritage as the state - together with Texas, Florida, Colorado, Nevada, Arizona and New Mexico- was part of Spain first and of Mexico later.

Juan Rodríguez Cabrillo navigated in 1542 along the coast of the current city of San Francisco, but it wasn't until the early 1700s that the Spanish started to settle in the area. Padre Junipero Serra established a series of missions around California, united by the Camino Real road. The 21 missions were built as part of the conquest of Alta California, and the first one, San Diego de Alcalá, was founded in 1769.

The main cities of California all have Spanish names; Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego and Sacramento. Then there is Fresno, Madera, Modesto, San Bruno, San Bernardino, Manteca, and many others.

Walking around the Palace of the Legion of Honor art museum, in Lincoln Park, San Francisco you will notice 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.

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Image courtesy of the Hispanic Council

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 and Californians may wonder what an equestrian statue of an 11th-Century medieval knight is doing there, or what an statue that is relevant in Spain and can be seen in many streets and squares all over the European nation is doing facing the Golden Gate bridge?

The statue is yet another example of the cultural and historic links between the U.S. and Spain. The Spanish were 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.

San Francisco is not the only city in country with an El Cid statue, there is another 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), 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. Her bronze statue of El Cid, puts emphasis on the physical strength of the horse and rider. He 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, the founder of The Hispanic Society of America.

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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