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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...

The Chocolate Museum
26 April 2019

 

500 years ago, chocolate in the form of cocoa beans first came ashore in Europe. Coming into port in Spain, Hernan Cortes and his conquistadors brought the spiced treat with them after pillaging the Mayan and Aztec empires of Central America, where cocoa beans had been used to create chocolate variants for over 3,000 years.

In honor of this trans-Atlantic transfer, the Barcelona Confectionary Guild has set up the Chocolate Museum to tell the story of chocolate and its modernization. Although the history section of the museum is in no way perfect, visitors get a general trajectory of chocolate’s evolution, moving from bitter water, to the stunningly detailed sculptures that fill the museum. By using the statues to visibly depict the modern use of chocolate innovation, the arc of the history of chocolate feels fairly complete.

Upon entrance to the museum, guests are greeted by a massive white chocolate ape named Snowy, along with their own chocolate bar as part of their admission. As they gnaw down the confectioner’s chocolate, guests walk past glass-covered sculptures made entirely of chocolate. The sculptures include some famous cultural icons such as Minnie Mouse and Louis Armstrong. However, the bulk of work focuses on Spanish architecture, proudly featuring Sagrada Familia, one of Gaudi’s famous houses and creatures from Parc Guell.

Combining history, the world’s favorite treat and a small dash of Spanish pride, the museum offers something for every chocolate lover.

The Chocolate Museum is a dynamic facility promoted by the Barcelona Provincial Confectionery Guild and located in the former Sant Agustí monastery. It provides a journey through the origins of chocolate, its arrival in Europe and its spread as an element between myth and reality, its medicinal properties and nutritional value, relating tradition with the future and forming part of our collective imagination.

 

            

 

The Chocolate Museum is located in a historic building that already had a relationship with chocolate: in the 18th century the Bourbon army was a fanatical consumer of chocolate and, according to the ordinances, chocolate was present on the menus of the 18th-century military academies: “For breakfast each cadet and company officer shall be given one and a half ounces of chocolate with a quarter of a pound of bread...”. When the troops were in barracks, acting as garrison, chocolate was also commonly eaten. The halberdier corps, the monarch’s personal bodyguard, was enviously known as the “chocolateros”, because, as they were a pampered, elite corps, they consumed a great deal of chocolate.

Since the age of discovery in the 15th century, chocolate has played a role in the economic and social fabric of Barcelona. Along these lines, Barcelona port acted as a starting point for the sale and distribution of the product all over Europe.

In addition, the first workshop that transformed drinking chocolate into a solid product is recognised to have existed in the city at the end of the 19th century.



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The Fortress of Cuenca
16 April 2019

 

 

 

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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BEST TIME TO VISIT :  ANY TIME OF YEAR 



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A Virgin in Rocky Huesca
10 April 2019

On the top of a rocky ridge in near the town of Barbastro, in the Huesca province is a small shrine dedicated to the Virgin of Torreciudad, a “Black Madonna.”

Black Madonna’s are images of the Virgin Mary depicted with dark skin. Created in medieval Europe, the origin of the black Madonna are unknown though some scholars believe that the dark skin represents a blending with pre-Christian female icons. Relatively rare, with roughly 350-400 throughout Europe, they are seen as special and given particular reverance. 

In 1904, a very ill two year old named Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer was taken by his parents to this Black Madonna mountain shrine to be healed. The young Josemaria Escriva de Balaguer not just recovered but would go on to found Opus Dei in 1928, which teaches  that ordinary life is a path to sanctity, and everyone can be holy. Opus Deibecame a huge movement within the church and Escrivá was sainted in 2002. 

(Opus Dei is also a very controversial movement within the Catholic Church, particularly for its use of mortification of the flesh, such as the use of a cilice — a small metal band with inward pointing spikes worn around the upper thigh. Josemaria Escriva himself felt pain - both spiritual and physical - was holy, saying   “Loved be pain. Sanctified be pain. Glorified be pain!” Opus Dei got thrust into the spotlight when it was featured in Dan Brown’s factually ridiculous book the Da Vinci Code.)

 

 

 

Nearly seventy years after his recovery at the shrine, Josemaria Escriva decided to build a monument to God near the shrine that saved his life. Called the Santuary of Torreciudad, it was inaugurated on 7 July 1975, shortly after Josemaría Escrivá’s death. 

 

 

The sanctuary done in a 1970s architectural style holds a crypt, a 30 foot alter, and a large bronze Christ. The chapel contains an old inn, which is also open to the public. The church is also the site of major pilgrimage between April and October. 



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The Southern Pilgrimage
02 April 2019

        
 
This pilgrimage of El Rocio is the most famous in the region, attracting nearly a million people from across Andalucia and the entire country, and beyond. Every Andalucian city, town and village has its own pilgrimages, for its patron saint, virgin or other much-loved local figure. But the El Rocio has cult status, and is the most important and most colourful. It follows on from Semana Santa (March/April), and the various spring ferias, of which Seville's Feria de Abril (April) is the biggest.
 
 
 
This cult dates back to the 13th century, when a hunter from the village of Villamanrique (or Almonte, depending on which version of the story you follow) discovered a statue of the Virgin Mary in a tree trunk in the Doñana park. A chapel was built where the tree stood, and it became a place of pilgrimage. Devotion to this particular version of the Virgin was initially a local affair. Then, by the 17th century, hermandades (brotherhoods) were making the trip from nearby towns at Pentecost; by the 19th century, they came from all over Huelva, Cadiz and Seville, on a journey taking up to four days. Over the next century, the cult of the Virgin del Rocio became more and more widespread, and these days participants come from as far away as Barcelona and the Canary Islands - not to mention tourists who travel from abroad, around Europe and even further afield.
 
The object of the pilgrimage is a 13th-century statue of the Virgen Del Rocio (Virgin of the Dew), in the town of the same name. El Rocio is in Huelva province, in the heart of the Doñana park, between Almonte and the coast. Most pilgrims, known as rocieros, approach the town through the park itself.
 
The town of El Rocío is a sprawling, pretty Wild-West-style place (you tie your horse to a wooden rail with a sign saying "Reservado Caballos" - reserved for horses - while you have a drink or a meal), with sandy, unpaved roads (easier on the hooves). For a few days in late May or early June, Catholic hermandades (brotherhoods) and countless others flock from all over Andalucia, Spain, and beyond, to the town, to pay tribute to the Virgin del Roció, housed in her own church in the town.
 
Until the 1950s the town had only a few houses, and everyone camped in their wagons. Now, each of the 90 or so brotherhoods has its own house with stables, as well as its own chapel, with its name displayed at the front. Its members and their friends and families, and their horses, eat and sleep here during the pilgrimage weekend. People bring mattresses and bed down anywhere they can. There are impromptu parties, open-air masses, horse races and competitions between the hermandades. And lots of singing and dancing, at all hours of the day and night. These brotherhoods also stay at their houses at weekends throughout the year, with their families in tow, making each visit into a big fiesta.
 
The pilgrimage takes place over the weekend before Pentecost Monday, the seventh weekend after Easter. People start arriving on the Friday before, and leave again on Tuesday.
 
 
Every late May, or early June, in villages and cities across Andalucia (especially the western part), you can see the locals gear up their covered wagons and don traditional Andalucian clothing - broad-brimmed hats and traje corto for men (grey, brown or black trousers, often with Western-style leather chaps, and boots), and flamenco dresses for women - a slightly different style, with a fuller skirt than the fitted Feria dresses - to head off to the El Roció shrine, accompanied by their own virgin on her simpecado (float).
 
Some still make the journey the traditional way, on horseback, or in picturesque gypsy-style covered wagons (reminiscent of the Wild West), adorned with flowers (either real or imitation), with curtains tied back, offering a glimpse of the interior. These are pulled by pairs of oxen, whose yokes have decorated leather headpieces, and bells hanging round their necks. It is a spectacular sight - one not to be missed if you are in the area (especially Western Andalucia) that week. In Seville, for example, groups of horse-riders (men are called jinetes, women amazonas) and processions of gypsy caravans from the Seville brotherhoods, gather by the cathedral on the Wednesday morning before, as they prepare to set off on their pilgrimage to El Rocio. They return the following Wednesday. Other hermandades leave from all over Andalucia, earlier in the week.
 
 
There are three main, traditional routes, and most hermandades, wherever they are arriving from, eventually join one of these. These depart from Triana (Sevilla, to the north-east), Sanlucar de Barrameda (south), and Huelva (west).
 
People also travel in big trailers pulled by tractors, ideally with shade as it can get very hot, as well as lots of food and drink. The rocieros sit on benches along the sides of the trailers, including many children who go on the pilgrimage every year. The more practical and comfortable, though less attractive, option is a big white caravan, with the same curved roof as the traditional models, complete with air-con and running water. This is pulled by a 4x4, as the route takes rocieros through the Doñana park, including several river crossings, so a tough vehicle is essential.
 
 
Rocieras (flamenco style songs) are joyfully sung about the Pilgrimage. Everyone sings rocieras (flamenco-style songs about the pilgrimage) as they travel, and again at night around the campfire when the hermandades have stopped to eat, drink and dance and make merry, accompanied by plenty of wine. It is alleged by some that the annual baby boom which happens nine months after El Rocio always includes offspring produced as a result of extra-marital dalliances.
 
To reach the shrine, pilgrims must cross part of the Doñana park, which is a protected area full of rare wildlife, including the famous lynx wild boar, horses, and many water birds on the marisma (wetlands) such as flamingos, herons, storks and egrets. Law enforcement is well organised, with Guardia Civil and others working hard not only to keep order, but also to protect the environment. Fire is a special concern, as this event is one long party involving copious amounts of drinking and smoking. Information campaigns combine with round-the-clock surveillance in order to keep both participants and Doñana safe every year. Volunteers follow the rocieros to collect the thousands of kilos of rubbish left behind.

It has been criticised by many for the "hedonistic" and "pagan" aspect of the encampments, which is compared to the tales of Chaucer or Boccaccio; the absurd prices of real estate in El Rocío, where even the humblest house is now worth millions of euros; and the ecological impact on the surrounding Doñana National Park or Coto de Doñana, especially since the introduction of motor vehicles

In the early hours of Pentecost Monday, the Virgin is brought out of her church by the Almonte hermandad, who claim her as their own. A tussle ensues between the various other brotherhoods for the honour of carrying her to the next chapel, and so she journeys around the town, visiting all the hermandades' chapels, for the rest of the day. Popularly known as La Paloma Blanca (the White Dove), she is an object of massive veneration in Andalucia, and huge crowds push and shove just to get the chance to touch the glass case in which the Virgin sits, as she sways dangerously from side to side. People even lift small babies up to touch her. This remarkable, chaotic event is always televised by Canal Sur, the Andalucian regional TV station.
 
 
 
If you are not able to go on the El Rocio pilgrimage, the town of El Rocio itself is worth a visit at any time of the year. The modern church of Nuestra Señora del Rocio, dating from the 1960s, is a stunning sight when viewed from across the water (stop off at the restaurant by the entrance to the town), where the dazzling white sanctuary stand out like a beacon against the verdant green of the marisma, inhabited by wild horses, and the deep blue of the sky.
 
Equestrians will find plenty of shops offering riding gear, from (Western-style) tack, to all kinds of hats and boots, leather bags and woollen shawls, as well as flamenco dresses. If the wooden houses with verandas looks familiar, it's because the Spanish pioneers took their style of architecture with them from Andalucia when they sailed to North America.
 
 


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BEST TIME TO VISIT :  THE FIRST MONDAY AFTER PENTECOST SUNDAY (WHIT SUNDAY) IN 2019 IT WILL FALL ON THE 9th JUNE.

HERE IS A LINK TO CHECK WHICH DAY IT FALLS ON EACH YEAR :  www.rocio.com/index.php



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