The term ‘renaissance man’ traditionally referred to those, like Leonardo da Vinci, whose knowledge, expertise and wisdom far exceeded the boundaries of a single discipline. During the Renaissance they were typically master architects, mathematicians, inventors and philosophers, but could really be men of letters of varied combinations. In the manner in which he almost defies a single description or specialisation, Eduard Mira is very much a Renaissance Man.

The man known as a leading Valencian sociologist and linguistic expert originally took his degree in history and geography, before pursuing his studies in these fields but also branching out into economics, sociology, political studies and European languages. He became a noted expert on modern history, which along with his knowledge of geography and his almost instinctive understanding of social, political and economic issues has woven together a profound understanding of the past that translates into an equally perceptive appreciation of the processes that shape our world today.

A man of letters

As a result, the academic who has taught at the universities of Valencia and Alicante, the College of Europe in Bruges and been a visiting fellow at King’s College in London and the Fitzwilliam and Gonville & Caius Colleges in Cambridge, has also acted as an advisory expert on many an occasion on issues ranging from linguistics and cultural heritage to policy and urban planning. In the case of the latter, he worked for the Council of Europe as an advisor for architectural and urban matters in Ibiza and in historical cities such as Cracow and Ljubljana. His credentials are sufficient to fill a page, and they include commendations and awards for his contribution to learning and culture throughout Europe, including high-profile postings in Naples and Brussels, where he was director of the Instituto Cervantes.

More highly decorated in Italy than former Prime Minister, Silvio Berlusconi, Eduard Mira is perhaps best known in academic circles for his contribution to the study of the social, historical, political, economic and architectural forces that have shaped the European city. Indeed, he sees many virtues in the close-packed cohesion of the medieval city, in which densities are amassed in the centre to relieve pressure on the town’s surroundings. Professor Mira believes modern town planners would do well to pay attention to the lessons of the past, rather than following the doctrines of expansive modern planning too blindly.

Eduard lives and works by the port of Jávea, at less than 30 metres from the beach he used to visit as a child, and retains a strong emotional connection with the town he has worked hard to provide a conservation blueprint for. It is in his home in the old fisherman’s quarter that he, surrounded by books, writes and continues his academic work. “I would very much like to see the creation of a conservation policy for coastal towns like Jávea of the kind that I contributed to in cities in Central and Eastern Europe. I believe that more tourism charm can be added by restoring some of the unique characteristics of places like this.”

Learning from the past

“In my travels I have been able to admire the medieval gems of Tuscany and Flanders, as well as the beauty of cities such as Cambridge and Heidelberg, which continue to function well in a modern context, and I often point to the way the Dutch manage their highly populated territory as an alternative to our own land-hungry method of development.” Unfortunately his advice is not always heeded, but his writing, whether academic or literary, has always drawn a hungry public. ‘De impure natione’ (1986) was a heavy tome to absorb, but it influenced a generation of thinkers and continues to be read today, while ‘El Mediterráneo, entre Europa y Islam’ was a prologue to the Gulf War and appeared on the eve of that historic event.

More recently, Eduard Mira has also devoted himself to novels that inevitably draw on his rich historical knowledge to weave plots and create characters full of life, imagination and vibrancy. The past comes to life on the pages of ‘Les tribulacions d’un espia vell’, published in Catalan/Valenciano in 2006, recently translated into Spanish in ‘El misterioso caso de la peste negra’. Built around the character of Geoffrey Chaucer, a 14th century spy and diplomat above all known for his ‘Canterbury Tales’, the book takes us through a Europe racked to its very core by the pitiless onslaught of the Black Plague, which in a short time reduced the continent’s population by a third.

Answers for the future 

In a world teetering on the edge, in which suspicion and superstition have taken the place of pride, prestige and certainty, Chaucer is sent out to discover the origins of this pest of mankind. Whether he does so is contained within the book, but some have already drawn parallels with the events that challenged the order of existence in the 15th century so powerfully and our own fall from grace in recent years. Questioned about it, Eduard Mira remains noncommittal: “People should find their own messages and conclusions in the book, or simply enjoy it as a historic adventure, but yes, there are comparisons to be made…”

The depth and breadth of his knowledge is the basis for a highly developed personal wisdom that has seen Eduard Mira shun conventional categorisations of party political alliances, class identification and economic management, coming out to confront the shortcomings of policies and doctrines not after the fact, but long before most perceived there to be a problem. Does it make him smug, overbearing or arrogant? No, perhaps one of the most endearing things about this particular intellectual is that he carries his knowledge with humility, humanity and above all, a sense of humour and optimism borne out of a passion for life.