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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...

Mediterranean Flor de Sal - a gourmet touch
24 August 2015

Salt is probably the most ancient condiment used by Mankind. Romans and Phoenicians used to collect sea salt from beaches throughout the Balearic Islands. One of the most important locations is a natural 3.5 km long beach on the south-east of Mallorca, which is also one of the most unspoilt areas in Mallorca. During the mid-20th century, the Salt Flats of Es Trenc (Las Salinas) were the centre of much activity for salt producers in Mallorca. Since then the tradition has continued: harvesting ecological sea salt from the flats which are irrigated by crystalline water from the Mediterranean Sea. The salt accumulates on the surface of the water and is bathed in summer sunshine producing precious crystals called “Flor de Sal” (Salt Flowers).

This area of Mallorca boasts the ideal conditions for the creation of this very special natural product. The water is crystal clear and a gentle inland breeze blows throughout the summer months favouring the crystallisation. Each salt crystal carries within a very different mineral composition to other sea salts or your average table salt.

Flor de sal is the purest and most precious form of salt. Very specific meteorological conditions are required for this mineral-rich aromatic salt to crystallise on the surface of the salt flats: a lot of sunshine, a gentle constant breeze and low air humidity. A fine layer of flower-shaped crystals form on the surface of the water, which are then harvested with rakes in the longstanding traditional way.

Contrary to other common sea salts, nothing is added or removed from flor de sal during the entire process and It is entirely harvested by hand. After drying, the salt is either taken to be packaged or it is blended with Mediterranean herbs, spices and even olives. Seasoned Salt is a fairly recent innovation and has become extremely popular all over the world and Spain leads the world with this culinary product.

 

 

As well as the full aroma of the sea, flor de sal contains over 80 minerals and trace elements. Its sodium chloride content – the main component of common salt- is, however, very low. When the sun and the wind shake up the salt flats, the magnesium contained in the seawater is one of the first to emerge to the surface. This is why Flor de Sal contains between 16 and 20 times more magnesium than common sea salt. It also has double the potassium and calcium content as well as high counts of many trace elements.

 

This particular mineral composition makes flor de sal an ideal choice for health-conscious people. Magnesium acts as a natural flavour enhancer, so only a small pinch must be added to any dish. This low usage reduces sodium chloride ingestion. Flor de sal is highly recommended by dietitians and nutritionists.

Gourmets appreciate its balanced aroma and the smooth texture of its crystals. A 100% natural product, Flor de sal is always slightly moist. The crystals melt on the palate contrary to traditional rock salt and it turns the simplest dishes into true culinary events.

 

 

 



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Valencia's Unique Market Hall
17 August 2015

 

                                             

 

La Lonja de la Seda de Valencia is an exceptional example of a secular building in late Gothic style, which dramatically illustrates the power and wealth of one of the great Mediterranean mercantile cities. It is aesthetically one of a kind, because of its fine Gothic architecture and Renaissance decoration from 15th century Mediterranean art. It is a typical representation of the commercial and financial past of the City of Valencia which has been used for the same purpose for over five centuries.

 

 

In 1469 the decision was taken to build a new Lonja (exchange or market) in Valencia. It was not until 1482 that the City authorities purchased houses on the site chosen for the building, but work began at the end of that year under the direction of the architects Pedro Compte, Juan lborra and Johan Corbera. The entire complex, including the Consulate building and the garden, was not finished until 1533, under the direction of Domingo de Urteaga. Its original function was as a trading exchange for oil. It developed into the main maritime trading centre and silk exchange, and housed the commercial institution known as the "Consolat de Mar", which was founded in 1283, and the "Taula de Convis i Deposits", a banking institution. At the present time it is still a major trading exchange, now dealing primarily in agricultural products. 

 

  

 

The land occupied by the Lonja is rectangular in shape. About half of the total area is covered by the main "Sala de Contratación"; the Tower (including the Chapel), the Consulate building, and the large garden complete the ensemble. The entire building is constructed in limestone from Masarrochos. The Sala de Contratación (contract hall) is a magnificent hall, in Flamboyant Gothic style like the rest of the complex. The lofty interior is divided into three main aisles by five rows of slender spiral pillars from which spring the elegant vaulting which covers the roof. The floor is made of different coloured marbles from AIcublas. A Latin inscription in Gothic characters runs round the walls, which proclaims the principles upon which trade within the hall is based: "honesty of its traders and justice of its syndics". It is lit by soaring Gothic windows, the external frames of which, like the doors, are exuberantly ornamented, notably by a series of grotesque gargoyles. In the centre of the main facade on the Plaza del Mercado is the imposing doorway, crowned by an image of the Virgen del Rosario, and above the royal arms of Aragon. The same architectonic scheme is repeated at the other end of the hall. 

Access to the Chapel (dedicated to the Conception of the Virgin), which forms the ground floor of the tower, is from the "Sala de Contratación". It is square in plan, with vaulting springing from clusters of columns in the corner. Access to the upper floors of the tower is via a remarkable helical stone staircase. The room on the first floor was originally a prison for bankrupt or corrupt traders which unfortunately is not being used today, however it would probably be too small to cater for all of them anyway :)

 

The Consulate building rises to three stories: it is now the seat of the Cultural Academy of Valencia and serves as the venue for many exhibitions and other cultural activities. It is a later form of Gothic and equally exuberant in the decoration of its facades, especially on the upper floor, where the windows have highly decorated sills and lintels and are crowned by portrait medallions. The interior is notable for the carved decoration, gilded and painted, in the chamber on the first floor, known as the Cambra Dourada.

  

 

The environs of the Lonja retain close links with the history of the building and preserve its role. The large Market Hall, with its metal framing of 1914-28, is built on the site of the original market, whose activities were intimately associated with the Lonja. 


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The Oldest Synagogue in Europe
13 August 2015

The Ancient Synagogue of Barcelona, is located in the centre of Barcelona. It is believed to be  the oldest synagogue in Europe. Archaeological investigations show that the original structure of the building was built in the third or fourth century; whether this structure was the synagogue cannot be said with certainty. After many centuries of use for other purposes, the building re-opened as a synagogue and museum in 2002. No congregation prays regularly at the Sinagoga Major, but it is used for festive occasions. The building was significantly expanded during the 13th century. Medieval Barcelona is known to have had several synagogues, and the main synagogue was certainly in the immediate area. King James I visited the synagogue in 1263 at the conclusion of the Barcelona Disputation. Shlomo ben Aderet served as the rabbi of the Sinagoga Major for 50 years.  

  

It is believed that the original building was freestanding. To the north, it adjoined with what was then Escola Mayor Street and to the east with Marlet Street. The building ran southerly along “de les Dones” Street, where in the 19th century a narrow edifice was built. To the west there was probably an atrium, the site where later, around the 17th century, the stairs to the present-day building were erected. In the northern exterior wall, there is an effigy of Santo Domingo. Emblematic buildings in the Jewish Quarters were christianized with the effigy of a saint. The bloodiest day in the history of Barcelona’s Jewish community was August 5, 1391. On that day, the day celebrated as Santo Domingo, the Quarters were attacked.

 

After the uprising, the street name was changed to Sant Doménec. The building, along with all of the community’s belongings, passed into the hands of the king.

We find ourselves before a building whose foundations date back to Roman times. In addition, there are superimposed high-medieval constructions and a central structure from the 13th century. Also visible are 17th century modifications made when the upper level apartments were built.

At the end of 1995, the former owner put the property up for sale. The space was to be utilized as a bar. Before this lametable eventuality, Mr. Iaffa decided to purchase the property with the hope of bringing to light its historic past and preserving it from a use which would not dignify its extensive past.

Thus began the collaboration between Mr. Riera and Mr. Iaffa, with a common objective: to salvage a significant period of Catalan history from oblivion through the rehabilitation of the former Major Synagogue space.

 



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