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Max Abroad : The Best of Spain

Quite simply writing about the best things Spain has to offer and anything that might crop up along the way. Spain is a lot more than just sun, sand and sea...

Medieval Villages in the Valencian Community
19 July 2021

The Valencian Community fuses nature, history and culture throughout its entire territory. And being able to walk through the villages that take you back in time is not so difficult to find. Alicante, Valencia and Castellón are full of places that mark and remind us of their historical past. Walls, castles and fortresses are just some of them. Here are 5 options I wanted to share with you where you can stop and enjoy Spain as it was in the Middle Ages.

 

Culla (Castellón)

In the province of Castellón, we find one of the most charming corners of the Valencian Community, Culla. With a population of only 500 inhabitants, this beautiful municipality is surrounded by a privileged natural environment. Its wild nature and peaceful atmosphere make you travel through history while strolling its medieval streets. Its characteristic style of cobbled houses, the ruins of the Arab Castle, the Granary of the Commander or the Parish Church of El Salvador help you immerse yourself in times gone by.

The nature that surrounds Culla also allows for a wide variety of outdoor activities. For this reason, taking excursions to explore its beautiful scenery or visiting the Miner del Maestrat Park is a must. Likewise, you should not forget to try some of the most typical dishes of l’Alt Maestrat such as the "Pot of the Maestrat - Olla del Maestrat" or its heavenly "Coca".

 

 


Xàtiva (Valencia)

Xàtiva is one of those cities that leaves you spellbound as you go through each of its corners. Through its monuments, you can appreciate the passage of history. It was declared an episcopal headquarters at the time of the Visigoths, living its period of maximum cultural splendour during the Muslim rule. Xàtiva was also the birthplace of the painter José Ribera, known as 'El Españoleto', and of two popes from the Borja dynasty. Its precious hiding places and the majesty of its Castle will transport you back to the middle ages. Its old town was declared a Historic-Artistic Site in 1982.

 

 

 

Chulilla (Valencia)

In the interior of the Valencian Community, the beautiful town of Chulilla is located. The magic of this place lies in its magnificent location in the middle basin of the Turia river. The vast amount of water that runs through this area has made it well-known for hosting many of the trails which make up the "Ruta del Agua". In it, you can enjoy endless walks such as the Ruta de Los Calderones or the Charco Azul. In addition, the beauty of its narrow and steep streets will help you savour medieval times.

 

 

Guadalest (Alicante)

The province of Alicante combines not just sea but also mountains. It is the fourth most mountainous province in Spain. And thanks to this, we can find places as spectacular as the town of Guadalest. Located on a cliff at an altitude of 595 meters, El Castell de Guadalest has managed to maintain the essence and the most typical features of the inland Alicante towns. Its natural enclave is very picturesque since its houses are embedded in the rock and the views it offers are of the extensive valley below. Its beauty and charm earned it the award of Historic-Artistic Site in 1974.

This village also offers a series of very varied cultural activities. You can go to the Casa Orduña, a noble house from the 17th century nicknamed the Casa Gran; or stop by one of the curious museums, such as the Museum of Nativity scenes and Dollhouses, the Museum of Microminiatures, the Museum of Salt and Pepper Shakers or the Museum of the Collection of Historical Vehicles.

 

 

 

Morella (Castellón)

The province of Castellón is home to one of the most incredible places in the entire Valencian territory: Morella. The city that was built mainly at the foot of the Castle, located at an altitude of more than 1,000 meters, continues to maintain its medieval aspect. In addition, its fortress that still preserves the main square, the cistern and the Pardals tower, is considered today to be one of the most important treasures of the Castellón territory.

No matter what time of year you drop by the Maestrazgo, this town with about 2,500 inhabitants transports you back in time. Be sure not to forget to visit the church Arciprestal Santa María La Mayor, a Gothic jewel reflecting the power of this location centuries ago.

 



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Museum in Mazarron - Roman Salting Factory
13 July 2021

The town of Mazarrón is located in the southeast of Spain. It is part of the Autonomous Community of Murcia, 72 km from the regional capital, Murcia.

 

 

In 1976 a large Roman salting factory was discovered, dating back to the 4th and 5th centuries AD. The structure preserved in the Salazones Museum-Factory corresponds to the area used for the cleaning, chopping and salting process of fish. This industrial complex would have extended through the streets and lots adjacent to the museum. The museum offers a tour that consists of four stages: 1) the salting factory; 2) from Paleolithic to late Roman times; 3) the late Roman period; 4) from the Middle Ages to the present day.

 

A fundamental element in the salting factories were the pools or tanks in which the fish was macerated with salt; this process lasted between twenty days and three months. Later, in these same pools, the fish meats were seasoned and the different fish sauces were made, the undisputed star being Garum.

 

 [Modern Garum, following Roman recipe from Pompeii]
 
Garum was an essential element in any Roman kitchen that was valued, as a condiment for countless dishes. It was obtained by the maceration of the viscera of certain fish. After the fermentation process, and the action of heat, the fish was reduced to the precious liquid called Garum, for which astronomical sums were paid.


Next to the salting factory are the vestiges of a Roman house, on Era street, dating from the 4th - 5th centuries AD. It was part of a group of houses that were probably related to the fishing industry and the peak of the salting factory. Its residents must have been people with good purchasing power since a significant number of imported coins and domestic objects were found in the archaeological excavations.

 


A third section that can be visited, also linked to the salting industry, is the Roman complex of Alamillo. The oldest vestiges, which cannot be visited, correspond to the republican period, in the Loma del Alamillo, where a sanctuary has been identified. The rest of the complex is related to the industrial area of a Roman villa, highlighting the pools where the famous and highly demanded garum was produced.


Another point of interest is the Interpretation Center of the Phoenician Ship of Mazarrón, located in Jardín del Gachero in Puerto de Mazarrón, next to Playa de la Isla. It has audiovisual information, various explanatory panels, models and a reproduction of the Mazarrón 2 wreck, found in Playa de la Isla in 1994. This boat, the best preserved in the Mediterranean, faster but with less load capacity than the Gôlah - the typical Phoenician merchant ship. The wreck was found practically intact in its original position and was loaded with 2,820 kg of circular litharge bars, used for silver mining.

 



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Pimentón de la Vera - The only paprika you need
08 July 2021

Paprika is a fundamental ingredient in traditional Spanish cooking, with a flavour that brings to mind comfort food at its finest.

The aroma, flavour and colour of paprika leave an unmistakable signature on each dish as well as some of the most typical charcuterie products in Spanish culture.

Chillies were brought over from the west and with them the varieties associated with paprika. Once harvested, they are fire or sun-dried. They are then ground until the final texture is reached and then sold.
The paprika that is protected under the Designation of Origin comes from La Vera or Murcia.

Pimentón De La Vera (La Vera Paprika), which is my favourite, is made from Capsicum annuum chillies of the Capsicum cerasiforme and Capsicum longum varieties, which are used to make three different types of paprika: sweet, sweet and sour, and spicy; a wood-burning fire with oak or holm oak provide all the heat necessary to perfectly dehydrate the paprika and give it its characteristic “smokiness” both in aroma and flavour.

 

 

Paprika from Murcia, on the other hand, comes from grinding red Capsicum Annuum longum chillies of the bola variety that have been dried in the sun or with hot air.

 


The best tip for buying this spice is to opt for the products with a Designation of Origin (DO) “Pimentón de la Vera” (La Vera Paprika) or “Pimentón de Murcia” (Murcia Paprika) seal. This spice is widely available, but the ones that are not protected under the DOs do not offer the same quality or flavour. These are the logos you should look out for:

 

                 

 

 

 

Paprika has only 3 kcal per gram. It is rich in Beta-Carotene, which acts as a very effective antibiotic, and it also contains riboflavin (B2) and niacin (B3) in smaller quantities. Of its minerals, it is richest in iron, magnesium, potassium and phosphorus. It also contains lycopene, a very effective antioxidant that slows down the ageing process, and capsaicin, which promotes good circulation, stimulating the appetite and aiding digestion.

 



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Hiking in the Monfragüe National Park
29 June 2021

Part of this four hour route coincides with the Cañada Real de la Plata or Silver Route, and it allows us to get a spectacular panoramic view from the viewpoint which dominates the confluence of the river Tiétar and the Cardenal bridge.

The Monsfragorum (overgrown mountain) of the Romans, or Al-Mofrag (the abyss) of the Arabs, is an immense scrubland of slate and quartz, throwing up rocky outcrops 500 to 600 metres high, cloven into two halves by the River Tagus. Like an island in an ocean of holm oak forests, Monfragüe in north-east Cáceres, has seen cavemen and Vettones, legionaries and Visigoths, Moors and Christians…; they all passed through this lonely landscape, including the herds of the Mesta, leaving behind a castle, a handful of huts, and fertiliser for the plants.     

To hike in Monfragüe, go to Villarreal de San Carlos (71 kilometres from Cáceres via the EX-390 to Torrejón el Rubio, and then the EX-208 towards Plasencia), a town founded by Carlos III halfway between Plasencia and Trujillo as a night-time shelter to protect shepherds from wolves and bandits, on the spot now occupied by the Visitors' Centre. This is the start of the Castillo trail (Ruta del Castillo), a lovely four-hour walk, marked out with red stakes, through the heart of the national park. The path, which occasionally coincides with the Cañada Real de la Plata or Silver Route, takes you to the banks of the Tagus in less than half an hour, after passing by a viewing point overlooking the confluence of the River Tiétar and the bridge, Puente del Cardenal.

If the bridge is underwater, you will have to make do with the modern one a kilometre further on and cross over to the Fuente del Francés. There a sign will invite you to follow the steep path winding up to the chapel and castle of Monfragüe. This dense, shady forest contrasts with the sparse holm oaks, wild olives and shrubs on the southern side, where we will make our way down after the pleasure of scanning the endless horizon of this prehistoric terrain from the tower of the ruined Arab fortress. 

Also prehistoric are the Bronze Age paintings you can see on your way down (on the barer side) where the path curves shortly before meeting the road to the Salto del Gitano. And there is a prehistoric look to the many birds to be seen here, thanks to the observatory opposite the outcrop of Peñafalcón: Egyptian vultures, black storks, golden eagles… And the most imposing of all, the cinereous vulture, the largest bird of prey in Eurasia, with a wingspan of nearly three metres. The colony of more than 300 pairs here is the largest on the planet. At the bridge, go back towards the river and then you can head back to Villarreal de San Carlos following the same route.

 



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Cartagena Cuisine
23 June 2021

 

In Cartagena fusion cuisine is age-old: Romans, Phoenicians and Arabs have left their mark on family recipes, based on a variety of ingredients that few regions can boast of having as it is considered to be one of the best vegetable gardens, bursting with an array of autochthonous varieties. This, together with a rich cuisine and culture, makes the gastronomy of Cartagena one of the most surprising. The best way to conquer the cuisine of Cartagena is, like in battles of old, through the port. Its fish market is supplied by two seas: the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor: grouper, gilthead bream, dentex, mullet, anchovies, crayfish, clams, prawns, whitebait..., the hard thing is choosing.

The oldest recipes in the area, Salazones (salted fish), also come from the sea. Fish was preserved this way back in the Bronze Age. Phoenicians and Romans extended this use to several types of fish: tuna, mullet, skipjack tuna, sardines, anchovies, ling or meagre, which come with fresh peas or tomatoes in the bars of Cartagena. The sea and the vegetable garden, the hallmarks of Cartagena.

To make the most of the flavours of the Mediterranean and the Mar Menor, a 'Caldero' is the best option. This is the name of the traditional rice dish that fishermen prepared over a fire on the beach. Rockfish or whitebait for flavour, with gilthead bream or mullet and, as they say, love and affection to prepare the broth by frying the ingredients in parts and stirring the rice until it's cooked to perfection. The fish is served in one dish and the rice in another, both accompanied by alioli. Purists require the dish to be presented on the table in a zinc or clay pot and served in a clay cup or bowl.

Another classic is MichironesWhite beans eaten with cocktail sticks as a tapa or on the table during household celebrations. Michirones are another hallmark of gastronomy in Cartagena. They are stewed with chorizo, ham, pork fat, potatoes and chilli peppers. It's a good idea to have a chilled bottle of local wine nearby: the people here like their Michirones spicy. You can also find the cultural influence of the port in this typical dish. The food had to be able to withstand long journeys, hence the habit of cooking dry beans instead of fresh like in other areas of Murcia.

Los Exploradores are another characteristic food from Cartagena. The name of this dish indicates that its recipe was a result of an experiment, with a successful contrast between sweet and savoury, making it an exquisite dish that is hard to forget. Los Exploradores (the explorers), as they call it, are a kind of pasty filled with morcón sausage and egg or mince and coated in icing sugar.

 

 

Needless to say, you can't get up from the table without ordering un asiático (an Asian), a coffee made with condensed milk, brandy and Licor 43 (fruit and spice liqueur). It was first served in the early 20th century at the request of sailors from - you guessed it- Asia. There is even a competition for this Asian concoction: 'La ruta del asiático' (The asiático route). For two weeks all the bars in the city strive to make the best combination of the three liqueurs.

 

 

Cartagena is the perfect place to eat its traditional dishes 'a tajo parejo', as the locals say to describe eating heartily and in an orderly fashion...

 

 

All eyes are on two dishes: Cartagena-style octopus and San Antón rolls. The first is a dish of small rock octopus that are cooked on the large grills the bars bring out onto the street. The second is a dessert that requires you to stay on your toes: according to tradition "quien roba un rollo a san Antón, novios tendrá un montón" (she/he who steals a roll from San Antón will have boy/girlfriends a plenty). The rolls are offerings to the saint. At the San Antón festival, the saint kindly looks the other way.

 Anything for love.

 



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4 Best Natural Pools in Spain
15 June 2021

The UK's refusal to add Spain to its list of safe destinations this summer is generating great uncertainty in the tourism sector. Despite the advance in vaccinations, this year national tourism may once again be the key to the season.

In fact, some autonomous communities have already launched proposals to promote reservations and visits by Spanish citizens. Galicia, Madrid, Cantabria or Andalusia offer a series of discounts and offers of up to 600 euros in tourist accommodation, restaurants, and leisure that will incentivise travel to their regions.

However, not all customers choose to enjoy their summer holidays on a towel by the sea. The magazine specialized in inland tourism, Escapada Rural, offers a selection of the best natural pools scattered throughout the country to take a dip these hot months ahead.

 

Garganta de los infiernos in Cáceres.

This natural enclave offers a series of pools with transparent water and some rapids which offer a whole lot of fun for all ages. They are very close to the Jerte Valley, known for its cherry blossoms, and access is completely free. Currently, due to the health situation, there is a capacity of 300 people in the nature reserve. In addition, access and parking are regulated without the possibility of booking in advance. From the tourist office, they warn that although you are allowed to go with pets they must be on a lead, on the other hand, access with motor vehicles is prohibited and they insist on the need to take care of the environment so leaving rubbish behind will imply a hefty fine from the authorities.

 

Chorreras de Cabriel in Cuenca

Less than an hour and a half from Cuenca, this natural bathing area through which the Cabriel River flows, offers imposing pools of blue and crystalline waters. This space was declared a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO in 2019. It is an area with waterfalls and pools of turquoise water, where you can go hiking, do water sports and nature tourism, especially bird watching. A great day out for the whole family. It is essential to come with a parking reservation, as that is how they regulate the capacity, this can be obtained from their own website.

 

Pozas Pou Clar in Valencia

These clean, turquoise water pools are located in Ontinyent, a town less than an hour from Valencia. The Clariano River runs through this river area and creates up to six different natural pools as it passes through the entire rocky area. It can be reached on foot, by bicycle or car from the municipality and at its entrance there is parking for vehicles. It is possible to bathe, have lunch on the indicated dates (between October and May, in the summer months it is prohibited) and enjoy nature. As in the rest of the locations, camping, barbecues or depositing waste is prohibited.

 

Arenas de San Pedro in Ávila

If what you are looking for is a more family and peaceful environment, the natural pools of Arenas De San Pedro are the key for this season. In the province of Ávila, approximately an hour and a half away is this wonderful destination. Its bathing area is shallower than others so it will be safer for the little ones in the family. Near the bathing area, there is a nearby car park with a capacity for 50 vehicles. In addition, in its surroundings, there is a meadow with grass where you can rest and outdoor showers, access stairs, and even a trampoline. In the vicinity of the municipality, there are also the Cuevas del Águila, a gem of geological heritage that allows you to go deep down into the interior of the Earth.

 

 

 



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Travelling The Via Augusta
07 June 2021

Can you imagine walking along a road that is more than 2,000 years old, surrounded by stunning landscapes? Would you like to go on a wonderful journey back to the times of the Roman Empire? There’s no need to go to Italy, all this is possible here in Spain, travelling along the Via Augusta.  

The Via Augusta was the longest Roman road anywhere in Hispania, covering some 1,500 kilometres from the Pyrenees, skirting the Mediterranean Sea as far as Cadiz, in southern Spain. Although many of its original sections are now roads and cannot be walked. If you want to cover part of this route you will be able to walk along many sections that do coincide with the original roadway.

This Roman road links at least 96 monuments. It forms part of the European Union "Roman Roads in the Mediterranean" initiative, and besides a wealth of cultural attractions, also offers stunning landscapes that you can enjoy on foot, by bike, or on horseback. Choose the sections you like most or design your own personalised route because the lack of hills on this itinerary makes it easy. Furthermore, the pleasant Mediterranean climate means you can do this trip at any time of year. 

You could start your route in Catalonia, north-eastern Spain, through a real natural corridor that the Roman emperor Augustus used between the years 2 and 8 BC. This first stage covers almost 700 kilometres, crossing Girona, Barcelona and Tarragona. On the way, you will be able to savour the landscapes of vineyards while you enjoy monuments that date back to the ancient Roman Empire, such as Barà Arch in Roda de Barà (Tarragona). Also in Tarragona, which the Romans called Tarraco, there is an impressive archaeological site very close to the Via Augusta, with the UNESCO World Heritage designation.

The Region of Valencia, on the shores of the Mediterranean, was the next large area crossed by the Via Augusta and comprises of Castellón, Valencia and Alicante. The route covers 425 kilometres and a large part of this runs less than 25 kilometres from the Mediterranean Sea. The remains of mansions, bridges and triumphal arches such as the one in Cabanes (Castellón) succeed one another on an unforgettable journey running to places such as Jávea and Elche (Alicante province) and Sagunto (Valencia province), where you can visit its Roman Theatre. Landscapes of fruit trees, especially oranges, will accompany you on your way. Furthermore, you should not miss the stunning spots that surround the Via Augusta, such as Las Palmas Desert in Castellón, or the Albufera Nature Reserve in Valencia and the Carrascal de la Font Roja Nature Reserve in Alicante.

 

 

The third stage of this age-old route runs through Andalusia, in southern Spain, in the provinces of Jaén, Cordoba, Seville and Cadiz, following the course of the Guadalquivir River. The first pleasant surprise is in Linares (Jaén), where you will find the Roman ruins of Cástulo. However, one of the best conserved and most fascinating sections of the road is surely the one from Seville to Carmona. There you will find the Roman necropolis and the Puerta de Sevilla.

After marshland, the mountainous region of Sierra Morena and the vineyards of southern Spain, you come to Cadiz, where the Guadalquivir River has its mouth, in Sanlúcar de Barrameda. This marks the end of an unforgettable journey on the Via Augusta, a real window into the past. 

     

 

There are numerous archaeological sites throughout the country. All you have to do is choose an area. Go back to the times of the gladiators and emperors, and learn something of the civilisation that gave Spain such a priceless cultural legacy.

In this journey, one of the things that will become evident about the past is that the houses in ancient Hispania had heating systems, running water and thermal baths, that their occupants used instruments such as nail clippers, and that hunting was of great importance in their daily lives, as illustrated by the themes of the mosaics and by the weapons and utensils discovered at excavations.

There are countless Roman sites throughout Spain and some of them, such as those at Tarraco and Mérida, even have UNESCO World Heritage status. Alongside these major archaeological sites are smaller but equally interesting sites, often based on old Roman towns in beautiful natural settings. Just a few examples are the Carranque Archaeological Park in Toledo; the Roman towns of La Olmeda and Quintanilla de la Cueza in Palencia; the ruins at Oliva de Plasencia in Extremadura; the Roman towns of Els Munts and Centelles in Tarragona; the Roman city of Baelo Claudia in Tarifa… and so the list goes on.

The sites often also include exhibitions, audiovisuals, reproductions, explanatory panels and scale models to provide visitors with a more complete insight into daily life in these settlements. One such site, for example, is the Museum of Roman Towns at Almenara-Puras, 55 kilometres from Valladolid. The only museum of its type in Spain, it is perfectly integrated with the surrounding landscape and, with exhibits of remains recovered from a stately house from the 4th century AD, enables visitors to learn about life in a farming town during the days of the Early Roman Empire.

Visiting the Roman towns in Spain will take you on a journey through rooms, palaces and burial grounds; you will admire temples and statues dedicated to the ancient divinities; beautiful mosaics and paintings of incalculable artistic merit; marble columns and old stone walls; the remains of ceramics, glass objects, coins and tools; dishes, containers and decorative elements; arches, bridges, vestibules and courtyards; water tanks; pantheons... a whole host of monuments just waiting to be discovered. All in all, an enjoyable and fun way to learn about one of the most fascinating periods in Spanish history.



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A Breath of fresh air in Madrid
02 June 2021

 

Founded by King Ferdinand IV's royal decree, the Real Jardín Botánico is a two-and-a-half centuries-old wonder, occupying 20-acres of lush terrain in the heart of Spain's capital city.

Housed in its current location since 1781 in a building designed by the same architectural team responsible for the Museo del Prado, the botanical garden was initially populated with over 2,000 specimens retrieved from all over the Iberian peninsula by botanist and surgeon José Quer. After implausibly surviving centuries worth of civil and international wars, the collection has expanded to over 90,000 flowers and plants (not counting its herbarium with a literal million specimens on its own) plus an estimated 1,500 trees.

Originally arranged according to the Linneaus method favored during the period, in which the specimens are categorized in terraces of import, today its expansive grounds have been rearranged in a fashion that makes more sense.

Visitors will find the Real Jardín Botanico has been divided into seven outdoor gardens and five indoor greenhouses. Each of these sections are arranged logically by theme, content, and nature of origin. Highlights include the "Terraza de Cuadros" – featuring a Japanese garden and a series of box-edged plots filled with medicinal, aromatic, and orchard-like plants arranged around a fountain – and a romantic, period-accurate garden arranged to echo an English garden bursting with trees and shrubs. 

 

Perhaps most fascinatingly of all, one of Real Jardín Botánico's greenhouses has the ability to recreate the desert climate, making it one of the very few places where visitors can experience an accurate desert experience without leaving continental Europe.



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Ñ, the letter that almost disappeared...
27 May 2021


Ñ is the 15th letter in the Spanish alphabet and is used in more than 15,700 words. There’s no "Español" without ñ but even worse there would be no "cañas" either. The letter ñ was first included in the dictionary of RAE in 1803. But its origins stretch to the Middle Ages. The letter first appears in a text dating back to 1176.

Neither the sound or the letter ñ existed in Latin, but as the Latin language evolved and romantic languages such as Spanish, French and Italian began to appear, so too did the palatal nasal sound, which is articulated with the back of the tongue raised to the hard palate - the movement required to pronounce the ñ.

In the Middle Ages, monks were the scholars and the monasteries were the centres of knowledge. The letter ñ is thought to have originated at this moment in time due to the shortage of scrolls, which were very costly, and all efforts were made to maximise the efficiency of space on each scroll. As a result, it is believed that the monks were forced to abbreviate some double letters in order to fit more words in each line. According to this theory, the second repeated letter was represented as a tilde over the first. In other words, what we know as the ñ is in fact a double n, so instead of donna, we have doña.

However, there is another theory about the origin of this letter. According to this theory, the letter ñ emerged as a way to represent the new palatal nasal sounds that appeared in the ninth century. These words meant more work for the monks and so different adaptations began to emerge depending on the language. The letter ñ was used in Spanish and Gallego (España); the nh combination in Portuguese (Espanha); gn in French and Italian (Espagna); and ny in Catalan (Espanya).

These different forms continued to be used interchangeably until the 13th century when King Alfonso X of Castile and León ordered a spelling reform as part of his policy of linguistic unification. The monarch introduced the letter ñ as the preferred option to the previous combinations and in doing so set the first rules of the Spanish language. When the use of ñ became widespread across the Iberian peninsula, humanist Antonio de Nebrija included the letter in the first Spanish grammar book in 1492.

But it was not too long ago that the letter ñ was in danger of disappearing, at least from the written language. In the 1990s, the European Economic Community (EEC) proposed eliminating the ñ to make computer keyboards more uniform. It was not until October 2, 2007, that the ñ, as well as other tildes, could appear in email addresses and web domains.

The controversy ended on April 23, 1993, when the Spanish government approved a royal decree that maintained the mandatory inclusion of the letter ñ on keyboards.

But it is important to note that neither the letter ñ nor the sound is exclusively Spanish. In the Iberian peninsula, it is used in Gallego and Asturian, and also to a limited degree in the Basque language Euskera. In Latin America, many indigenous languages also include the letter, such as Mapuche in Chile and Argentina, Zapotec in Mexico and Quechua in Ecuador.

 

 



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Discover Cuenca
19 May 2021

 

 

 

The Old Town of Cuenca is an exceptional example of the medieval fortress town that has preserved its original townscape intact, along with many examples of religious and secular architecture from the 12th to 18th centuries. The walled town blends into and enhances the fine rural and natural landscape within which it is situated.

 

Cuenca is an ensemble, Islamic in origin, which reached its greatest splendour during the medieval and Renaissance centuries, when Cuenca had a leading place among the towns belonging to the Castilian crown. Cuenca is a 'fortress town' where the architecture conforms to the natural landscape, resulting in a cultural heritage of universal value. It may be considered a prototype of the 'landscape town'. The lack of space within the walls, along with the need to straddle the river valleys, has resulted an unusual development of the vernacular architecture, with exceptional groups on the cliffs overlooking the river Huécar and the Júcar.

 

When the Moors conquered Spain they took advantage of one of the best defensive sites on the lberian peninsula, to build a fortress-town from which to control the vast area of the Kura de Kunka, in the heart of the Caliphate of Córdoba. It developed between the castle and the Alcázar, adapting itself to the terrain.

 

Alfonso VIII of Castille captured the town in 1177 and Cuenca entered a new phase of its history as a "Royal town" and consequently Christian. The Christian town was built over the Moorish one and began to spread down from the crest of the hill. lt became a manufacturing town and one of the nuclei of the Castilian economy as well as an administrative centre.

 

During the 16th century Cuenca experienced a large increase in population, which tripled to some sixteen thousand by 1594. The intra-muros area was gradually taken over by religious institutions, the wealthier citizens moving to the lower parts of the town and the common people to new suburban areas. This was the period of Cuenca's flowering, with a large textile industry and flourishing trade. 

 

The urban fabric stabilised itself at this time, not to change significantly until the present century: the fortified upper town is a closed and densely settled medieval urban space, the lower town open and ordered. The early 17th century saw the collapse of the textile industry and an economic crisis. Only the ecclesiastical element of the town survived relatively unscathed and continued to build: Cuenca became a monastic town and Baroque architecture began to appear in the townscape but the town underwent a period of deterioration: ancient buildings either collapsed or were demolished because they were unsafe. The historic fortified enclosure was virtually abandoned by its wealthier residents and became a largely working class and monastic area.

 

The rehabilitation plan of 1918 accomplished very little beyond the widening of some of the streets and restoration of some facades. The upper town is the archetype of the fortress-town, and the part that gives Cuenca its individual character. The Castillo quarter is a small suburb just outside the walls, with vernacular houses. From here the fortified town is reached by a bridge.

 

 

Some remains of the Moorish fortress still survive, among the large aristocratic houses, monasteries, and churches along San Pedro and Trabuco streets, from the medieval, Renaissance and Baroque periods. The 12th-century cathedral, built on the site of the former Great Mosque and the first Gothic cathedral in Spain with its Plateresque chapels, is located on the Plaza Mayor, which is also the site of the Town Hall and the Petras convent. Its churches and monastic ensembles are notable artistic features of Cuenca.

 

 

Most were founded early in the town's history and underwent many transformations and additions over the centuries that followed. The private houses near the Episcopal Palace were built in the later medieval period on the spectacular steep bluffs overlooking the bend of the Huécar River. Most of them were rebuilt in the 16th century in their present narrow, high form, with two or three rooms on each of three or more floors. These houses are what have made Cuenca so popular as a tourist attraction, commonly known as the "Hanging Houses of Cuenca".

 

 

 

 

The importance of the upper town lies, however, not so much in its individual buildings, although many of these are of outstanding architectural and artistic quality, as in the townscape that they create when looked at as a group, on the fortified site dominating the river valleys. It is this which gives Cuenca its special character and quality. 

 

 

 

 

 


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