Author´s note: Be forwarned that you are going to read the inner-workings of an engineer´s mind, and for some that may be a frightening experience.
I decided to get out of town this weekend, and took the AVE (Spain´s high speed train) south to Córdoba, in the state of Andalucía. I´m seeking warmer temperatures, new culinary experiences, and a glimpse of Moorish influence on Spain. The trip is ~400km (250mi), but takes only 1hr 40min by AVE. (There was a speedometer in my train car, and I noticed a maximum speed of 270km/hr (~170mph).)
Andalucía is on the southern coast of Spain, and is known for Arab influence in the architecture and food (and probably other things, too). This is explained by the fact that the Moors conquered the Iberian Peninsula (what is now Spain and Portugal) in the 8th century, and Spain did not re-gain control of Andalucía until 1492 (big year for Spain). The main attraction in Córdoba is the Mezquita-Catedral, which was built in the 8th century to be the largest mosque in the world. The building is beautiful and quite impressive if for no other reason that its sheer size; the inside is basically just one football-field-sized room supported by nearly a thousand double-arched columns. After the Christians´re-conquest of the area, the mosque was converted to a cathedral.
The mosque is by far the most famous and most impressive site in the city. However, I could not avoid playing to the stereotype: the site that resonated most with me was the river bridge that was built by the Romans in the 1st century, and is still in use today (as a pedestrian bridge). Walking around on the 2,000-year old bridge, I couldn´t help thinking about the engineers who designed it and oversaw its construction. Did these men set out to build a bridge that would last millenia, or were they just going to work and doing a job?
The experience reminds me of the time I visited Segovia (a town northwest of Madrid) two years ago. There is a Roman aqueduct in Segovia built in the 1st century without mortar or clamps, that is in immaculate condition today. It´s more than impressive; it´s inspiring... it´s reasons like this you decide to go to engineering school.
I break for lunch to ponder more questions about Roman engineering. (I have a lunch of native Andalucian dishes: salmorejo (somewhere inbetween a sauce and a soup, and made from made from tomatoes, bread, oil, garlic and vinegar) and flaminquín (sort of like a Spanish version of chicken cordon-bleu).) If I had been born in 1st century Rome, would I still have ended up as an engineer? Am I as talented as these men obviously were? Were they educated at a university or through apprentiseship? Were the same stereotypes true back then... Were Roman engineers socially awkward around women? Did they have unruly hair and wear rumpled clothes? Were they workaholics?
In the end, I decide (without evidence) that the answers to these questions are all ¨yes¨. In other words, I would have fit right in.