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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...

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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