Category Archives: travel writing

Travel, culture, language and libraries: Queen Sofia of Spain visits Oxford and London

On Tuesday 29th April, Oxford welcomed Queen Sofia of Spain as part of the 700th anniversary celebrations taking place at Exeter College, of which the Queen is an honorary fellow and patron of a Junior Research Fellowship bearing her name. The King Alfonso XIII Chair of Spanish Studies has also been held at Exeter College since 1927, cementing the link between Oxford University and the study of Spanish language, literature and culture.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish.

Queen Sofia meets Oxford students studying Spanish. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The Queen attended a colloquium at the Taylor Institution, where academics and students spoke about their personal interest in Spanish language and literature as well as their current research. Queen Sofia joined students at Exeter College for lunch, and was later introduced to current and former members of the Sub-Faculty of Spanish and guests at a reception.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford.

Queen Sofia attends a seminar at the Taylor Institution, Oxford. Copyright Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The full set of photographs of the Queen’s visit to Oxford is available on the Exeter College Flickr stream. All copyright remains with Matthew Baldwin, Exeter College.

The following day the Queen visited the Cervantes Institute in London to inaugurate the new library which will bear her name.  Take at look at the video of her visit, courtesy of the Instituto Cervantes London (link below)

Queen Sofia inaugurates the Library at the Instituto Cervantes, London (VIDEO)

The Reina Sofia Library was inaugurated on the 30th of April 2014 at the Instituto Cervantes in London by Queen Sofia of Spain with the presence of the Director of the Instituto Cervantes D. Victor García de la Concha, the Spanish Ambassador in the UK, Dr. Federico Trillo Figueroa, The Director of the Instituto Cervantes in London, D. Julio Crespo Mac Lennan and the, Ministry of Culture, José María Lasalle.

In his speech, the Ambassador stated that “it is especially appropriate that the library of the Instituto Cervantes in London should take her name as the Reina Sofía library. It is above all a tribute to Her Majesty the Queen in recognition of the support that both Her Majesty and the rest of the Royal Family have given the Instituto Cervantes and Spanish culture in general”.

The Director of the Instituto Cervantes, Victor García de La Concha stated that “it is tradition that libraries of the Cervantes Institutes are named after a famous writer or a prominent figure in the culture of the Spanish-speaking world. The New York one is dedicated to Jorge Luis Borges, the one in Paris to Octavio Paz, the one in Berlin to Mario Vargas Llosa, and the one in Manchester has the privilege of being named after Jorge Edwards. In the case of London, as one of the leading Instituto Cervantes centres, we considered that the library should be called the Reina Sofia Library in recognition of the continuing, tireless and vital support that Your Majesty lends to our culture. In recognition too of your support for the Instituto Cervantes itself, where you have participated in many events that have been held in the Institute’s branches and Aulas Cervantes across 43 countries and have presided over the inauguration of the Juan Carlos Onetti Library in Athens. Your Majesty, it is a great honour that you are pleased to grant that this library should bear your name”.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

Queen Sofia address the gathering at the Instituto Cervantes, London.

After the Inaugural Unveiling of the Plaque, Her Majesty addressed the guests and declared that she felt very honoured and delighted that this wonderful library would be named after her.

Following the speeches in the library, Her Majesty inaugurated the exhibition of travel books on Spain written between the XVIII and the XX Century, one of the special collections that the library has. These books can be also found in a virtual exhibition in the Centro Virtual Cervantes. This project was launched in Madrid on 12th October 2013 in collaboration with Google.

Although royal visits still generate excitement and interest, it’s interesting to compare our modern reception of these to those in the early 20th century. The Spanish royal visit of August 1926 occasioned the publication of a special Spanish Supplement in The Times (viewable by readers with access to the Times Digital Archive), with articles about Spanish trade, history, famous sights, food and even a column about the national character by Aubrey Bell. This focus on Spain must in part be attributed to the presence of Victoria Eugenie, Queen Victoria’s grand-daughter and Queen Consort of Spain as the wife of King of Spain Alfonso XIII.

The Times 'Spanish Number' 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

The Times ‘Spanish Number’ 10 August 1926, celebrating the visit of King Alfonso XIII and Queen Victoria Eugenie.

If the content of the newspaper piques your curiosity, you might also be interested in a forthcoming conference at the British Library on 30 May, Beyond the Black Legend: Spain through British Eyes, 1898-1936. The conference explores the extraordinary transformation in British knowledge about Spain and Spanish culture that took place between 1898 and the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936. Changes in travel, publishing and education meant that ordinary British people had unprecedented opportunities to tour the country and learn its language. Hopefully our continued interest in the Hispanic world will ensure that people continue to study and engage with Spanish language and culture for many years to come.

………………………………………………………………………………

by Joanne Edwards, Subject Librarian for Hispanic Studies, Taylor Institution Library, Oxford, and Mayte Azorín, Head Librarian, Instituto Cervantes London