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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 Village in Spain with the Best Views
26 February 2020

The National Geographic declared Montefrio, a village in the Granada province, one of the 10 villages in the world with the best views. This unexpected accolade was the beginning of an avalanche of tourists that has changed the village forever, bringing tourism to the local businesses and revitalising what was a dormant Andalucían whitewashed mountain village.  [ Go to National Geographic article ]

The visual power of the landscape and architecture of Montefrío are stunning. The imposing monumental structure that forms the Arab fortress and the Iglesia de la Villa, located on top of a rock are quite striking. Furthermore, Montefrío is set in a location of natural diversity. From the road that links Montefrío with Íllora, you can access the Peña de Los Gitanos, a natural rock that is bordered to the south by the Sierra de Parapanda.

Montefrío is located in the northwestern part of the province, in the heart of the Montes Occidentales that form the central sector of the Cordilleras Beticas mountain ranges, between the Sierra de Parapanda and the Sierra de Chanzas. Its district has one of the most diverse and spectacular landscapes of the region, where the areas of steep vegetation contrast with carved crop and olive fields.

The hilly area is ideal for walking and taking part in sports such as cycling, riding and climbing.

 

The climate of Montefrío is typically continental-Mediterranean. During the summer months, the town gets hot, into late 30, early 40 degree temperatures. The economy was mainly agrarian, with olives as the main crop, now, however, tourism is growing quickly. What was a relatively limited industry that revolved around agricultural processing such as oil and dairy products, has now all changed with new businesses and establishments opening up to serve the visitors. Near the town is a vast archaeological site known as Las Peñas de Los Gitanos, famous for its prehistoric tombs and remains of Roman and Visigothic settlements.

Montefrio is an upbeat, friendly destination, ideal for those looking for a rural retreat, with lots of space and fresh air, but not too far off the beaten track that you can’t visit the coast or cities of Cordoba and Granada.



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Spain's Most Beautiful Plaza
21 February 2020

      

The Plaza de España in Sevilla is a plaza located in the Parque de María Luisa. It was built in 1928 for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 and almost bankrupted the city. It is a landmark example of the Renaissance Revival style in Spanish architecture.

1929, Seville hosted the Ibero-American Exposition World's Fair and the Plaza de España was the centre piece of the show. The entire southern end of the city was redeveloped at great cost into an expanse of gardens and grand boulevards and at the heart of the project lied the Parque de María Luisa, a park resembling a Moorish paradise with a half mile of: tiled fountains, pavilions, walls, ponds, benches, and exhedras; lush plantings of palms, orange trees, Mediterranean pines, and stylized flower beds of immense beauty. Numerous buildings were constructed within this heavenly complex for the exhibition.  But a price was paid for this spectacular enclave. The estimated final cost of the exhibition works was 27 times more than the original budget, which was presented in 1914, totalling a massive 17,000,000pts. It may not sound like much but in today's money, it would come in at over 200,000,000 pounds sterling, a fortune for a city like Seville, which was going through financial difficulties at the time. It was the most expensive and the hardest construction of any fair to that date, employing on occasions more than 1,000 workers simultaneously. It seems that construction budgets have never been a Spanish forte, but in this case, we’ll let it go, as the result was a masterpiece for anyone’s eyes.

 

 

The initial idea of holding a World Fair in Seville was promoted in 1909 with the aim of opening the city and, especially, to modernise it. It would be the perfect occasion to achieve civil works, thus improve employment, promote the tourism, enhance the image of Seville and strengthen relationships with American countries. The fair was initially going to be inaugurated on April 1st, 1911. It was then delayed to 1914 but World War I (1914-18) and political issues between Morocco and Spain delayed it even further and it was finally held from May 9th, 1929 to June 21st, 1930.

 

 

The Plaza de España, designed by Aníbal González, was the main pavilion building built on the edge of the park to showcase Spain's industry and technology exhibits. González combined a mix of 1920s Art Deco and 'mock Mudejar', and Neo-Mudéjar styles creating an atmosphere which was out of this world. The Plaza de España complex is a huge half-circle with buildings continually running around the edge accessible over the moat by a series of beautiful bridges representing the four ancient kingdoms of Spain. In the centre is the Vicente Traver fountain. By the walls of the Plaza are many tiled alcoves with benches, each representing a different province of Spain and served as meeting points.

 

    

 

In 1926 Anibal Gonzalez resigned from his position and the Plaza de Espana was finished in 1928 by Vicente Taverner, who added the central fountain. It was also the place where King Alfonso XIII inaugurated the Fair.

Today the Plaza de España mainly consists of Government buildings. The Seville Town Hall, with a slight redesign, is located within it. The Plaza's tiled 'Alcoves of the Provinces' are backdrops for visitors portrait photographs, taken in their own home province's alcove. They are still a meeting point for tourists. Towards the end of the park, the grandest mansions from the fair have been adapted as museums. Ánibal Gonzalez was also the chief architect of the event and designed other buildings such as the Mudejar Pavilion (better known today as the Museo de Artes y Costumbres), the Fine Arts Pavilion (transformed later in the Archaeological Museum) and the Royal Pavilion. All of them can be found in the Maria Luisa Park, at the America Square (Plaza de America).

 

 

The farthest, the Archaeological Musem, exhibits Roman mosaics and artefacts from nearby Italica. Nowadays the complex still remains a magical place with a style that recreates de Arab constructions of 10 centuries ago and that emphasises the regions of Spain and its union with America.

The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie series — Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Theed on the Planet Naboo. It also featured in the 2012 film The Dictator.

 


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La Jayona - a monument of nature
13 February 2020

 

There are few more mysterious places than an abandoned mine. You are not often presented with the opportunity to visit one, but in La Jayona, in the mountain range that separates Extremadura from Andalusia, you have the only chance to do it. Walking through the passages of this excavation you can see how the hands of man and nature have joined together to create an unequalled landscape, steeped in history and mystery.

Right in the middle of the La Jayona mountain range, about five kilometres from Fuente del Arco, an experience steeped in nature, history and adventure is waiting for you. The La Jayona Mine closed down in 1921. Until then, hundreds of long-suffering miners had laboured to extract iron ore. At first they worked with the help of horses, later with that of an overhead cable connecting the mine with the railway station.

 

 

More than seventy years passed before the mine was rescued from oblivion and declared a Natural Monument in 1997. During the dark years of excavation, nature had taken over the abandoned galleries to create a rich ecosystem that today coexists with the mining remains of the cavity. Fern, climbing plants, moss, insects, bats and even birds live in the rocky recesses of the mine.

Inside, the galleries follow the natural veins of the mineral, which enables one to observe geological phenomena such as fold hinges, karstic processes, striation and slickensides. Each one of these formations, blended with nature's exuberance and the sunlight that peeps through small cracks and cavities will make your tour of the mine an exciting, magical experience.

Before visiting La Jayona - admission is free - you need to telephone the Fuente del Arco Town Council (667 756 600). The council organises the groups and a guide shows you the three galleries that are open to the public, although there used to be 11 in operation. Outside, the remains of the rubble and munitions dump still bring back memories of the area's industrial past. 

The mine is Fuente del Arco's main tourist attraction, a small village that still lives around its Plaza Mayor, where you can see the parish church of Our Lady of the Assumption.

The most important building in the municipality is the chapel of Nuestra Señora del Ara, (topic of my next post) located a few kilometres away in the mountains. It is a Mudejar and Baroque inspired church which is unremarkable from the outside but leaves visitors literally speechless when they enter. The walls and vaults are covered in frescos of great beauty and colours which certainly remind one of its “big sister” in the Vatican.

From Fuente del Arco there are several possible itineraries for getting to know the rest of the towns in the region of Campiña Sur. For example, the remains of the Roman Regina theatre are in Casas de Reina. The town of Reina is notable for the Arab fort that towers over it. You can also take advantage of your stay in the area to follow the routes of the different royal droving rights of way used by shepherds to take their flocks of sheep from Extremadura to Andalusia. The border character of this land is reflected in its gastronomy, which is a mixture of hearty mountain fare and dishes of Arab origin. So if you happen to be in the area stop by and take a look.



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Cáceres Museum
06 February 2020

The Cáceres Museum is housed in two historic buildings in the historic town centre of Cáceres, declared a Human Heritage Site by UNESCO.

The 'Casa de las Veletas' (Veletas Palace) houses the Archaeological and Ethnographical sections; it is a building which originates from 1600 by and was built by its owner, Don Lorenzo de Ulloa y Torres, in a site which may have been once occupied by a Muslim fortress which has now disappeared. The beautiful square patio with its eight Tuscan columns dates from this period. Nevertheless, the house was redesigned by Don Jorge de Cáceres y Quiñones, who introduced the gargoyles and the beautiful enamelled pottery ornaments on the roof, as well as the large shields on the main façade.

The Fine Arts collection can be seen in the Casa de los Caballos, which was a stable and later a dwelling until its conversion into a museum; after a recent renovation, it was opened to the public in 1992.

Although the first Board of the museum was set up in 1917, the concept of its creation arose in 1899 when a group of scholars of the history of Cáceres began to collect objects of archaeological and artistic interest and keep them in the Grammar School. In 1931 the Palacio de las Veletas was rented to house the Museum, which after an architectural refurbishment, was inaugurated on 12th February 1933.

After the later acquisition of the building, it was renovated in 1971 and the permanent exhibition was improved, a task which was repeated in 1976 in the Ethnography Section. In 1989 the Ministry of Culture transferred the management of the Museum to the Government of Extremadura, retaining for itself the ownership of the building and part of the funds. 

 

 

It is the Archaeological collection which gave rise to the Museum itself, beginning its formation at the end of the 19th century. It occupies five rooms on the ground floor, and two more rooms in the basement of the same building which house the mediaeval collections, plus a third one with information about Muslim cisterns.

The chronological development of the archaeological exhibition extends from the Lower Palaeolithic to the beginnings of the Middle Ages.

The  visit  starts in  the  hall  itself. This houses a big white marble sculpture which represents an androgynous genie (of a benevolent nature) coming from the Roman colony “Norba Caesarina” which gave origin to the present city of Cáceres.

Room 1 presents various lithological industries belonging to the Palaeolithic period, coming from river terraces of the province. Objects from the Neolithic period are also shown and others excavated from various megalithic tombs.

Room 2 provides a global vision of the most representative elements from the Bronze and Copper Ages, the collection of standing blocks as well as objects from the first Iron Age.

In room 3 we enter fully into the world of pre-Roman settlers. Amongst its most representative productions are the boars.

Rooms 4 and 5 are dedicated to Rome and occupy the most extensive space showing various aspects related to urban development, economy, religion and the funereal world.

The basement of the Casa de las Veletas houses the medieval collections, plus a collection of Roman epigraphy.

In room 6 objects and decorative architectural elements can be found related to funeral and liturgical spaces of the Late Roman, early Christian and Visigothic Ages.

The rooms 7 and 8 show a representative part of the important collection of Roman inscriptions reunited throughout the province, with inscriptions of three types: funerary, votive and honorary.

The epigraphic collection of the Museum, with about 150 copies, is among the most important in Spain and gives us a wealth of information on aspects such as social class, religious rites, geographical origins, etc.

Here you can visit the Islamic cistern - water deposit, dated between the 10th and 12th centuries, which was located in the basement and is the largest water deposit created in Spain under Arab rule, heir to the grand byzantine reservoirs of Constantinople. It is 14 metres long and 10 metre wide.

 

 

Situated on the first floor of the Casa de las Veletas, the Ethnography Section explains different processes and shows various objects which inform us about the models of cultural development in the province of Cáceres. Room 9 is dedicated to the production of resources, particularly agriculture, stock-breeding, hunting and grazing with interesting examples of farm implements and tools for caring for stock. Following the visit, we pass to room 10, where we can contemplate objects related to the production of resources –river fishing– and its transformation, through the production of oil, cheese and wine and the craft of carpentry.

 

 

Room 11 instructs the visitor on aspects relative to work, through activities and trades such as filigree, including the main components of a goldsmith´s workshop from Ceclavín, as well as the typical pieces of jewellery for the summer costumes of Cáceres, and mechanisms related to textile manufacture from a traditional loom to combs, carders, a winding machine or a spool. Room 12 presents a rich collection of costume, from linen undergarments to holiday and everyday clothes of Montehermoso, Serradilla, Malpartida de Plasencia, etc.

Continuing the visit in room 13, we reach a collection of items of domestic use shown together with other large objects, such as the bench and stocks for prisoners from Guijo de Granadilla, the still from Guadalupe or the mule cart from Zorita. In the showcases can be seen pottery from Talavera, Puente del Arzobispo or Manises and also examples from Extremadura, as well as objects made of horn, bone and wood. Room 14 is dedicated to beliefs and musical expression.

 

 

The Fine Arts Section consists of two rooms in which different artistic collections are placed. In room 15 the most outstanding items from the collection of Contemporary art are shown, which began with the creation of the Cáceres Prize for Painting and Sculpture in the seventies and eighties, and the works it acquired at the time and which the Junta de Extremadura continues to acquire. Exhibits representative of Contemporary Spanish Art of the 20th century can be seen, with works by artists belonging to the most representative artistic movements such as “El Paso”, with Saura, Millares or Canogar, or the Grupo Crónica. Near them are creations by key artists such as Picasso, Miró, Clavé, Genovés, Guinovart, Guerrero, Lucio Muñoz, Barjola and Tàpies. The sculpture  of the 20th century is represented by Alberto, Chirino, Palazuelo and Oteiza, among others.

The collection can be described as the most important in the region relating to this period in Extremadura and, no doubt, one of the most representative of the Spanish avant‑garde, with the presence of the best known artists.

In room 17 examples of Medieval and Modern art are installed. They include sculpture (in wood, ivory and alabaster), goldwork and painting. The key piece of this room is the picture of Jesus the Saviour by El Greco, which comes from the Convent of Agustinas Recoletas del Cristo de la Victoria, of Serradilla.

The museum is very much worth a visit and not particularly well known, so if you happen to be in  the area pay it a visit. It is free for all EU citizens. 

 

 



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