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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...

Christmas eating needs a good digestif...stock up!
13 December 2018

Licor de Orujo, or simply Orujo, is a Spanish liquor which is very similar to other European distilled spirits such as marc from France, grappa from Italy and tsiroupo from Greece. All of these drinks are made by distilling grape marc/pomace, which is the solid part of the grape that is left  over after the fruit has been pressed - in other words the skins. In Spain it is most common to drink this after a heavy meal as a digestif.

The name of the drink also comes from the ingredients. Those of you who study Spanish might know that the left over parts of the grape after crushing are called 'orujos' in Spanish. The skins, seeds and stalks of the grapes are all put into closed vats and then fermented before being distilled in order to produce the liquor. The stills, which are called alambique or potas, tend to be like large copper kettles which are heated over an open fire. These stills were brought to Spain by the Moors when they conquered Spain.

 


The distillation process in order to produce alcohol actually originated in Ancient Greece and Alexandria, one of the main focal points of Mediterranean culture during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Alcohol distillation become much more advanced later on thanks to the Arabs, who applied their knowledge and blending techniques to alcohol distillation. Alcohol is actually an Arabic word. Back in these times, distilled spirits were often believed to have medicinal properties - an opinion that still exists today.

 

Licor de Orujo however, only appears many centuries later; the first reference to the spirit being in 1663 when a Jesuit monk from Germany, named Atanasio Kircher, documented the existence of hard liquors such as orujo being produced from grape marcs in his chemistry treaty.

Since this time, the history of orujo has been difficult. As soon as the hard liquors began being produced, the government began imposing heavy taxes on the drink and the production and consumption of such liquors and distilled drinks were actually banned during the 19th century. Concessions and allowances began to be made during the first few years of the 20th century, although there were still a number of obstacles that orujo had to tackle.

Orujo at this time was often produced from portable stills, and distillers would travel from town to town to produce the drink. People would give the distiller their grape harvest, which he would then make into orujo. The people would then receive most of the liqour back, although the distiller would take a cut of it to cover his expenses and a bit of profit too!

Now, licor de orujo has to be made to industry and legal standards, although the drink is very commonly made at home. This level of regulated quality has also led to a number of highly revered distilled spirits being produced over the past two decades, and in fact, many licores de orujo have now been awarded Designations of Origin. These DO licores de orujo are produced from high quality grapes and are now replacing some of the home-made versions, which tend to only be found in small towns and villages.

Today, licor de orujo is produced mainly in the northern regions of Spain such as León, Galicia and Asturias, however the liquor is drunk throughout the country. So no matter where you decided to go when you visit Spain, you will still be available to find this drink in a bar or restaurant.

The best place to try licor de orujo is in Galicia, and more specifically, in the town of Potes. It is here that, every November, the Fiesta del Orujo is celebrated and there are many opportunities to taste the best of the liquor. They also hold a distilling competition where people produce the drink using their own stills and then judges award prizes for the orujo which tastes the best.

Orujo which has just been distilled is actually a clear liquid but it is often that you will find orujo which is more of an amber colour. This amber version of the Spanish spirit is called 'orujo envejecido' which means 'aged orujo' which is normally fermented and distilled in the same way as normal orujo, but it is then left to age in oak barrels for around two years which then produces the distinctive colour. You may also find Orujo de Hierbas which is  yellowy in colour but this orujo has a higher sugar content so it doesn't taste as strong and it has also been macerated with wild herbs giving it a very distinct flavour. Whichever one you try, I am sure you'll love it!

(One of my favourites is Martin Codax as pictured)



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It's Christmas Lottery time again!
08 December 2018

Spain's Christmas lottery has been running for over 200 years. I have no idea how long other lotteries have been working but in Spain the Christmas lottery is a tradition, an institution, and plays a major role in boosting the Christmas Spirit.

 

I must admit when I first came to Spain I found it quite confusing; “series”, “billetes”,  “decimos”, “participaciones” etc. and then the prizes which seem endless, when the results are published the following day in the paper it takes up pages and pages. To give you an idea of how important this is for the Spanish and their festive spirit, this year there is an expected average spend per inhabitant of in the Valencian community of €75, slightly more than last year.  This year there is an expected turnover of more than 3,6 Billion Euros of which 70% will go to back out in prize money. Not quite sure what happens to the other 30%, which is a fair whack!

 

Originally in 1812, it was an idea created by a Minister called Diriaco Gonzalez to increase the government income without penalising the people via additional tax. As it goes there are over 15,000 prizes given out. . 

 

 

 

 

In total 180 million “decimos” (tenths) are put on sale in the month of July at €20 a ticket.  A decimo is a tenth of a “billete”- Note. So obviously if you want all of the decimos of a particular number you need to buy the entire “Billete” at €200.

 

Each number assigned to a “Billete” is printed up 180 times into what they call “Series” – serial numbers, basically, so each run of decimos has a different serial number. So if you chose for example 12,345 as your preferred number (always five digits) to buy all of the tickets that carry this number in the country you would have to buy 180 “Billetes” (all the serial numbers) meaning you would have to cash out €36,000.

 

Finally you have "participaciones" which are shares of "decimos" normally divided in to 10 parts aswell, so 1/10th of a "decimo"- 2 euros. This is normally done by groups of people who can't afford to buy so many tickets at €20 and prefer to buy more "shares" in other numbers and hedge their bets for a budget. This is very common in bars and schools, small companies and groups of friends etc. It is also very common for companies to give lottery to their employees as a Christmas gift.

 

As far as the prize money goes, the main prize is the 1st Prize which they call “El Gordo de Navidad” and pays out €4,000,000 per Serial number, which is €400,000 per Decimo. The 2nd prize pays out €1,250,000 per serial number, the third prize €500,000 per serial number and then there are other prizes of €200,000 - €60,000 - €20,000 euros and so on.

 

This lottery, as opposed to other lotteries, does not make any one person stinking rich, mainly because of the price of the tickets. It is designed to share the wealth amongst the people. As the Serial numbers and the Billetes tend to be bought up together without being divided, it is very common for entire villages or neighbourhoods to end up having bought the same number or very similar numbers that also gain prize money, meaning when it hits in a small village the chances are most of the village wins. 

 

On occasions, several “serial numbers” can hit in the same place. When you think that there is a prize of €4,000,000 for each of the 180 “Series” it’s quite a substantial sum that is being distributed just with the 1st prize - €720m. This is why it is so popular because there is a slightly better chance of winning something even though the probability of winning the 1st prize is only 1 in 100,000. Still much better odds than the EuroMillions.

 

However, there is a 1 in 10 chance of getting your money back and coming out evens and a 15,3% chance of actually winning something. If the last number of your ticket coincides with the last number of the 1st prize in your series you get your €20 back. So the thinking is I’ve got a “good chance of winning something” even though it might not be entirely true. Most people wouldn’t invest in anything if it had a 10% chance of breaking even! But this is Christmas and it’s all part of the festive tradition, not even the Spanish Civil war was capable of stopping the lottery. During that period each side stopped and did their Christmas lottery, so it doubled up!

 

 

       

 

 

The prize draw is a major event on TV, many kids take the day off school to stay home and watch the draw, even though they shouldn’t! It lasts for at least 3 hours until all the prizes have been given out. The system used is a traditional one that hasn’t changed much since 1812. It entails two wire spheres that rotate until one wooden ball falls down the shoot. One sphere is for the ticket number and the other is for the prize that corresponds.

 

Every year children from the San Idelfonso School sing out the numbers and the prizes in a very characteristic way, adding to the occasion. So if you are feeling lucky go out and buy a “decimo” who knows?!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
 


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The Music "Palace" of Barcelona
22 November 2018

The Palau de la Música Catalana was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1997. The concert hall is an architectural jewel. Its exterior is as surprising and unique as its interior, with one of the most beautiful auditoriums in the world.

Built between 1905 and 1908 for the Orfeó Català (a Catalan choral society), it is currently one of the most representative Catalan Modernist buildings in Barcelona.  

Its impressive acoustics is the reason for which many famous artists wish to sing in the Palace of Catalan Music and why it is held in such high esteem.

If you happen to be in Barcelona and have enough time, I recommend booking the guided tour. If you don’t have time you must at least walk past the Palau to see this magnificent building.

 

The building’s guided tour begins with a presentation of its history, its current programme how it plays an essential role in the society of Barcelona.


 

Once the presentation finishes, visitors are taken to the concert hall. This auditorium is naturally lit during the day with a bright and colourful light thanks to its stained-glass panes and its enormous stained glass skylight. The hall is beautifully decorated to immerse the spectators into a magical world, almost fantasy.

 

 

The hall and the stage contain sculptures, busts, reliefs that fill the room with magic and create an ideal atmosphere for the various artists that perform in the Palau.

 


The tour of the Palace continues in the Lluís Millet hall which is a gathering place for concert-goers a striking Modernist hall with a small terrace with peculiar columns covered in mosaics.



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The Cathedral of Wine
20 November 2018

 

Defined by the playwright Àngel Guimèra as one of the 'cathedrals of wine', the modernista cellar of Pinell del Brai is an architectural expression of the agricultural cooperatives in Catalonia at the end of the 19th century. Its construction, in 1919, was the responsibility of Cèsar Martinell who used all the elements of the traditional local architecture and enriched it with the technical innovations of his teacher Antoni Gaudí. For those who know the works of Gaudí, it is easy to see his influence in the work of Martinell. The light that is filtered from the windows, the floor plan reminiscent of a church and the feeling of spaciousness recreates the interior of a Gothic Gaudiesque Cathedral.

But beyond the architectural beauty of the building, Martinell created a functional space designed for the production of wine. For this reason, some important technical innovations were incorporated: the structure of the warehousing based on parabolic arches, the ventilation system through large windows or insulation in the cavity walls of the containers in which the wine is made.

 

 

Another characteristic element of the winery is the glazed ceramic frieze on the façade designed by the painter Francesc Xavier Nogués, where there are scenes of the harvest and the production of wine and oil. Despite it being spectacular, due to the lack of budget, it was taken out of the initial project and was not incorporated until 1949.

 

 



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The Most Expensive Ham in the World
13 November 2018

The most expensive ham in the world, which sells for 4,100 euros a leg, just won the organic food Oscar. The 'Biofach' in Nuremberg (Germany), the largest European fair for organic production - a sector with a continental market value of 10,000 million euros, according to the International Trade Center agency - has distinguished a ham from Huelva as the best ecological product available.

The creator of this exquisite product is Eduardo Donato, a Catalan who has been living in Cortegana (Huelva) for 26 years and who has managed to save his unique species of pig: the Manchado of Jabugo, of which only a little over a hundred reproducing specimens are left, and thus in danger of extinction.

Eduardo Donato, 67, considers it the most valuable, not the most expensive because what reaches the consumer's palate is the result of years and years of "patience, passion and pleasure".

At Dehesa Maladúa, this variety “Manchado de Jabugo” (“Spotted Jabugo”) has been bred and raised in perfect harmony with the pristine habitat of their Mediterranean forest.

The “Manchado de Jabugo” faithfully exemplifies the Iberian pig of olden days. By enjoying the utmost of its pasture’s wealth like no other, the free-roaming pigs present us with charcuterie of a quality that rises above any other variety of Iberian pig. Experts from all over the country have hailed this ham as unique and 'truly special', if only it were a little cheaper!!!

 



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An Architectural Jewel
29 October 2018

 

Built to mirror a similar structure in London which was installed just over 30 years earlier, Madrid's Palacio de Cristal (Crystal Palace) is a lovely architectural jewel that recalls an era when spaces were built simply to be beautiful.


The ornate glass and steel greenhouse that sits on the edge of a lake in Buen Retiro Park was finished in 1887 as a space to exhibit arts and wonders in a setting that was both lovingly baroque and still naturally stunning. From the high glass dome to the bright red brick foundation, the building is a thing of beauty. Since the the walls are glass the park's lush green surrounds can also be appreciated in addition to whatever exhibition is on display inside. The palace is also outfitted with a boat landing on the waters of the park's small lake and an entrance fitted out with classically-styled columns. 

 


Since the palace is essentially an elaborate greenhouse it is no wonder that the first exhibition in the space was display of exotic Vietnamese plants that were brought into Spain for the event. The intention was originally to continue displaying wondrous plants in the space, but as time went on the palace began showing more art than flora.

Today, the Crystal Palace can still be visited by anyone who wants to take in the art on display inside or the natural vistas outside, or both at the same time.   



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Chamberi....The Ghost station
24 October 2018

 

If you have travelled on the Madrid Metro's line 1 (the "blue" line) you have probably noticed an old station flashing through the train car's windows for a few seconds between the Bilbao and Iglesia stops. This is the now-disused 'Estación de Chamberí', and its history provides an instructive glimpse at the history of the Madrid Metro itself.

One of eight stations on the Metro's first line, the Chamberí station linked the nascent system to the Plaza de Chamberí above. Opened in 1919, this inaugural version of the Metro ran for four kilometres, from Cuarto Caminos to Puerta del Sol. However, this modest start would quickly become a popular and vital part of the urban landscape, expanding rapidly over the following decades to become one of the longest and most comprehensive metro systems in the world.

As part of this progressive expansion, the trains on line 1 were lengthened in the 1960s. This meant the end for Chamberí; built on a curve, and close to both Bilbao and Iglesia, lengthened the station's platform proved both pointless and basically impossible. Chamberí was closed on May 22, 1966. The rails, however, were not moved, nor the trains rerouted, so it served for decades thereafter as the mystery station glimpsed by passengers on trains merely passing through. 

The rails and overhead electric lines continued to be maintained, but the rest of the station fell into dilapidation and disrepair. It remained, however, a sealed example of the transit systems origins, and thus rehabilitation efforts began in 2006 to transform Estación de Chamberí into a museum chronicling the history of the Madrid Metro. Opened in 2008, the museum — called Andén 0, or "Platform Zero" — features a fully restored Chamberí, complete with old ticket offices, turnstiles, maps, and a film about the building of the Metro.

 

The main attraction, however, is found in the beautifully reconstructed original ads lining the walls of the platform, composed of tiny, brilliantly-coloured tiles just as they were in 1919. Just don't be startled by the trains that still rumble through this abandoned-station-turned-museum, separated from the exhibit area only by a clear glass barrier.

Located on the Plaza de Chamberí, a short walk from either the Bilbao or Iglesia stop on the Metro's line 1. The visit is free, but make sure to get there early, as a there is usually a long line of visitors due to the "one person out, one person in" policy.



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Castillo de Javier
18 October 2018

 

A silhouette of crenellated towers cuts the horizon, welcoming your arrival at the Castle of Javier, the birthplace of San Francisco Javier (St Francis Xavier), patron saint of Navarre, centre of religious missions and tourism in Spain. 

The fortress stands on a rock outcrop 8 kilometres from Sangüesa in the Central region of Navarre. Every year in early March the castle is the destination of thousands of people from all over the community in the popular pilgrimage known as the Javierada.

Cross the drawbridge and enter a world of towers, dungeons, machicolations, embrasures and arrow slits, enabling you to get to know the place where Francis Xavier was born (1506) and lived. He was later the co-founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits) and one of the most universal missionaries.


Near the border with Zaragoza (Saragossa) province, at the highest part of the small village of Javier, stands the imposing silhouette of the Castle of Javier, the birthplace of the patron saint of Navarre, San Francisco Javier (St Francis Xavier).

The origins of the castle go back to the end of the 10th century when a signal tower was built called la Torre del Homenaje (Tribute Tower). Its strategic location on the border between the kingdoms of Navarre and Aragon reinforced its role as a fortress, and the different sections of the castle were gradually added on. 

In 1516, Cardinal Cisneros ordered an attack on the castle and it was partially destroyed, and at the end of the 19th century, the basilica was built next to the castle. Reconstruction work on the castle began in 1952 gave the fortress its original appearance and nowadays it is one of the few castles that conserve its defences and structures such as machicolations and arrow slits.


Francisco de Javier was born into a noble family and was the sixth child of Juan de Jasso, an important figure in the kingdom of Navarra, and María de Azpilicueta. He left for Paris at 19 years of age to study in the Sorbonne, where he met Ignatius of Loyola, with whom he was later to found the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). 

This is where his evangelising zeal emerged, which led him to travel to thousands of cities, towns and villages in Africa and Asia for 11 years until he died of pneumonia on December 3rd 1552 at the age of 46 when he was about to enter the Chinese Empire. Five centuries later, he has left his mark in all the places he visited, and in his native land, Navarre, he is loved, revered and admired. 


On the first two weekends of March, a popular pilgrimage known as the Javierada takes place to the Castle of Javier, in which thousands of people from all over Navarre travel great distances on foot to venerate the Saint. 

The origin of this tradition goes back to 1886 when the help of St Francis Xavier was invoked to stop the cholera epidemic that was decimating Navarre; in gratitude for the fulfilment of this desire, the people made a promise to make a pilgrimage to Javier.


You start in the entrance hall, going through the main door to the castle, where you can see a stone relief with three shields separated by angels, representing the family coat of arms. You go through the stables and down into the basement, where the bodegas (wine cellars) used to be.

A set of dioramas reveals small details of the saint's life, and from here you pass into the main floor with an exhibition of objects from the old castle, souvenirs of the Saint and a model of the old building. This museum is divided into three sections: 1) history of the building, 2) Javier and Navarra in history, and 3) the art gallery, where the highlight is the Flemish canvases by Maes. Finally, a ramp takes us up to the other rooms in the castle.

You start the visit in the Sala de Escudos, decorated with the coats of arms of Francis Xavier's parents and his family tree. Passing through a stone door you gain access to the Sala Principal or Grande (main room), a place for receiving visitors and where the family spent the most time. Then we go up the steps to the Torre de Undués until we reach the Camino de Ronda (battlements), a protected corridor for the defence of the castle. Stones and boiling oil were often poured over attackers through the machicolation!

Leaving the chaplains' rooms (now an oratory) on the left, you enter the old heart of the castle. There are two rooms here around the Tribute Tower, the oldest construction of its type in Navarre. The room on the right was the bedroom of St Francis Xavier, and on the left is the chapel of San Miguel (St Michael), the first one in the castle. Walk out onto the adjacent terrace, where you will get a sense of the strategic location of the castle, and enjoy the spectacular views: to the north, the Sierra de Leyre, to the west, the flood plain of the river Aragon, to the right, the frontier with Aragon, and to the south, the area known as El Castellar.

You then descend to the bottom of the tower, where a corridor takes us to the Hall of the castle and the Capilla del Santo Cristo (chapel of the Holy Christ). Behind a grille stands the Christ of Javier, an impressive 16th-century Gothic image carved in walnut. According to tradition, the figure sweated blood when the Saint was dying in Sanchuan, an island off the coast of China. It is surrounded by a dramatic mediaeval fresco, the only Gothic representation of the Dance of Death that exists in Spain.

Going down the stairs you come to the inner courtyard/parade ground and you exit through the gate. At your feet are the old steps, and on the left (breaking with the construction style of the castle) is the wall of the Basílica, built in the 19th century on the site of the Palacio Nuevo (New Palace) built by the parents of Francis Xavier, where he was born. The tour ends back at the starting point, the entrance hall. 

Once the visit to the castle has ended, do not miss the eclectic Basilica, whose façade contains images from the life of Francis Xavier.

A multi-purpose hall called the 'Aula Francisco de Jasso' has been built for the 5th Centenary of the birth of the saint, with capacity for 1,300 people, and also the 'Georg Schurhammer' exhibition hall, with the personal archives of the greatest biographer of Francis Xavier, specially brought from Rome.

 



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Welcome to the Prado
11 October 2018

Last week I found myself in Madrid and I grabbed the opportunity to visit one of my favourite galleries: El Prado. This spectacular gallery boasts the most extensive collection of Spanish paintings from 11th -18th century, and numerous masterpieces by artists such as El Greco, Velázquez, Goya, Bosch, Titian, Van Dyck and Rembrandt. 

The quality and variety of the collection on offer make the Prado one of the world's best-endowed museums. It combines a first-class collection of Spanish painting, the most important works of the Flemish and Italian schools, and many fine examples of the German, French and English schools.

Additionally, it is home to such masterpieces as Las Meninas by Velázquez, the Two Majas by Goya, Nobleman with his hand on his chest by El Greco, the Garden of Delights by Bosch, and The Three Graces by Rubens, among other priceless pieces.

 

Velaquez

Goya 

 

El Greco

Bosch

 

Rubens

 

Although the museum was created to house primarily works of painting and sculpture, it also contains major collections of drawings, engravings, coins and medals, as well as items of clothing and decorative art.

In 2007 the museum's exhibition area was practically doubled with an extension designed by the Spanish architect Rafael Moneo. The new area includes four rooms for temporary exhibitions, the restored cloister of the church of Los Jerónimos, a large entrance hall, an auditorium seating 438 people, as well as various storage facilities and workshops for the restoration of artworks. Elements worth noting on the exterior include the impressive bronze doors by Cristina Iglesias and the Tuscan box gardens. If you ever get the opportunity to visit Madrid, pass by the Prado and take a look...if you don't here's a video....

 

 



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A Breathtaking Basilica in the Clouds
03 October 2018

The Basilica of Covadonga, alongside the sacred cave where pilgrims venerate the statue of La Santina (Our Lady), is a place of worship and pilgrimage for the people of Asturias. It is of neo-Romanesque style with two high towers flanking the main entrance. Nearby there is a spring which flows from the sacred cave and beneath there is a famous fountain with seven spouts and is a place of reference for all young ladies wanting to marry, a traditional local poem says: "The Virgin of Covadonga has a fountain very clear, the girl who drinks from it will marry within a year." 
 
 
According to the legend King Pelayo and other Asturian warriors fought the Arabs from a cave dug out of one of the rocky faces of the Covadonga Valley. The tale says that a little virgin appeared to Pelayo in the cave before the battle forecasting the victory of the Christians over the Muslims. A different legend also tells that before the battle with the Muslims the cave was probably used, about 1500 years ago, as a celebration and worshiping centre by a Celtic sorceress and as a holy meeting place for the Celtic tribes that lived in the area at that time. This would be the earliest divine origin of the Covadonga cave, used in the first place by pagan Celtic tribes for magical and spiritual practices. As in many other locations throughout the region, with time, the Christians took over the holy Celtic spaces to build their own churches and sacred places, and Covadonga was not an exception.
 
 
A Christian chapel was the first construction inside the cave and it was ordered by King Alfonso I The Catholic (739-757) as a memorial for the battle of Covadonga.  Originally the Holy Cave chapel was wooden, until it and everything it contained, including the image of the Virgin, jewels and goblets, were lost in the fire of 1777. The image, which is there today, dating from the 16th century, was donated by the Chapel of Oviedo Cathedral in 1778 as compensation for the loss of the early Virgin. The Virgin known as The "Santina" is an image of Mary which forms an integral part of the Asturian tradition through history, through word of mouth from generation to generation, and through personal religious experiences. Deeply rooted in the people of this land, it constitutes one of the strongest and most powerful convocational symbols that the Asturians have. Its figure was carved, incarnated, gilded and polychromed from oak in the 16th century. She measures 71.4cm tall, including the pedestal, with a girth of 46 cm at her widest point, and a depth of 21 cm. The current baby Jesus was placed there in 1704. Standing out from her clothing is the mantle that Our Lady wears from her shoulders to her feet. Its colour changes according to the occasion. The normal mantle is a reddish-purple colour with a golden trimming and stamped with simple floral motifs.
 
 
 
The chapel, which is to one side, was also reconstructed in stone, as it can be seen today. One can also find the tomb of Pelayo in the Cave, in front of the image of the Virgin.
 
Although he was originally buried in a nearby parish called Santa Eulalia de Abamia, his remains, along with those of his wife Gaudiosa and his sister, were later transferred to the Holy Cave where the tomb of Alfonso I and his wife Hermelinda (Pelayo"s daughter) is also kept, although slightly more hidden.
 
 
Behind the cave, in the guts of the mountain, an underground cascade runs free, and it reaches the outside world right underneath the cave, falling some 20 meters down into a natural water pool where pilgrims and visitors throw coins wishing for their dreams to come true.
 
After heavy rains or when the snow melts on the mountains the streams bulges with water and the sound of the waterfall is so intense that from inside the cave you can’t hear anything but the water crashing against the rocks and falling into the pool.
 
At one side of the pool you can find the seven-spout water fountain. Many Asturians still try to respect the tradition by going to Covadonga and drinking from all seven spouts before their marriage, just in case.
 
 
To access the cave there is a staircase leading up from the pool. It is not uncommon to see people going up the stairs on their knees because of a religious promise. The other way to access the cave is passing by the stone lions and following the road all the way up to the Basilica. Once at the Basilica there is a small pedestrian path that leads to a 30-metre tunnel carved out of the mountain and which is the antechamber of the Covadonga cave.
 
Silence and respect are demanded on the visit to the cave, especially when there is a mass on. It is a very similar atmosphere to Lourdes.
 
Many visitors from different regions and countries come every year to worship “la Santina”. Even Pope John Paul II made a very special visit to the Santina and to the Real Sitio of Covadonga in 1989, visiting also the Picos de Europa on his journey along the Camino de Santiago.
 
 
Roberto Frassinelli designed the basilica and the architect Federico Aparici Soriano erected it between 1877 and 1901. In 1777 a fire destroyed the old chapel that was by the Covadonga cave and it was then decided that they would build an eve more impressive structure. There was an initial project that was finally rejected because of its high costs and the opposition of local priests.
The definitive project was approved and launched by King Alfonso XII almost one century after the destruction of the original chapel. The initial project by Ventura Rodriguez with a classic design was finally replaced by the actual structure, which has a Romanesque style.
 
The original idea from the actual construction came from a German painter called Roberto Frassinelli, “el Alemán de Corao” that lived in the region. Architect Federico Aparici did the technical project, based on Frassinelli´s idea. The building sits over a large terrace and it has three different aisles. In the plaza in front of the basilica there is a 4 ton bell from 1900, a bronze statue of King Pelayo from 1964 and an obelisk from 1857, which according to the legend, stands at the place where King Pelayo was crowned.
 
The Covadonga Basilica was inaugurated on September 7th 1901, and Pope Leon XIII gave it the dignity of Basilica. It was built using pink limestone from the surrounding mountains. By the entrance portico there are two sculptures representing the two regional bishops started and finished the works. The inside of the basilica is famous because of its simplicity with just some decorative elements placed on the ceiling of the Basilica. Beside the high alter there are  two large paintings of Madrazo and Carducho that represent the Battle of Covadonga and the proclamation of Pelayo as King of Asturias.
 
Beneath the high altar there is a "pit" with the relics of San Melchior and Pedro Poveda. To the left there is an altar dedicated to San Melchior, the only Asturian Saint, canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1989. Due to their economical contributions to the building of the basilica, flags from all South American countries are permanently shown. 
 
Despite the many fires, the Museum of Covadonga still keeps very valuable and unique pieces. The crown of the Virgin of Covadonga is a very valuable piece of jewellery created by Felix Granda Buylla in 1918. It is made of gold with diamonds, rubies, sapphires and pearls. This crown is only used during the Covadonga celebration day, on September the 8th.
 
At the museum we can admire drawings from the basilica construction project done by the architect Ventura Rodriguez (the project that was rejected and replaced by the actual structure) as well as an impressive painting of King Pelayo. Pieces of jewellery, an ivory Christ from the XVI century donated by King Felipe II and ancient liturgical clothing together with other pieces of ancient art can also be contemplated and enjoyed within the museum. Nearby you will also be able to enjoy some of the most beautiful countryside Spain has to offer with breathtaking views of the Picos de Europa and some of the most beautiful lakes in Spain.
 
 
 
 
 


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BEST TIME TO VISIT : ANY TIME OF YEAR



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