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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 Mystery of Christopher Columbus's final resting place
Tuesday, March 23, 2021

 

Just inside the Cathedral door of Seville’s massive cathedral stands a monument to Christopher Columbus. His tomb is held aloft by four allegorical figures representing the four kingdoms of Spain during Columbus’ life, Castille, Aragon, Navara and Leon.

The tomb was one of the last additions to the cathedral, installed in 1899. It was designed by the sculptor Arturo Melida, and was originally installed in Havana before being moved to Seville after Spain lost control of Cuba.

Columbus’ body began its final rest in Valladolid, Spain where he died in 1506 at the age of 55. However this was not the end of his adventures. Initially he was buried in Valladolid, but was moved shortly thereafter to Seville, by orders of his son, Diego.  Diego, meanwhile travelled to the Dominican Republic to begin construction of a cathedral to hold his father's remains, in accordance with his final wishes. Unfortunately, Diego died in 1526 before he could make that happen, and he was, in turn, interred in Seville next to his father. Both father and son stayed there for another 16 years. When the Cathedral of Santa Maria was completed in the Dominican Republic, Diego's widow put organised to have both bodies moved there.

In 1542, the remains were again moved, this time to Colonial Santo Domingo, in what is now the Dominican Republic, where they joined the body of Christopher's brother, Bartholomew, who had died in Santo Domingo the year before. The body was laid to rest in the newly completed Cathedral, for a couple of centuries, at least.

Then, in 1795 when Spain lost control of the Dominican Republic, they took the explorer's body with them to the other Spanish stronghold in the Caribbean: Havana, Cuba.
100 years later, Columbus’s remans made their final voyage back home to Seville, and were placed in the Cathedral where you can visit him today.

Unfortunately, after all that effort, in 1877, back in the Dominican Republic, nearly a century late, a construction worker working on the Cathedral renovation uncovered a lead box inscribed with the words "The illustrious and excellent man, Don Colon, Admiral of the Ocean Sea.”

At first pass, it seemed obvious that the Spanish must have, in their haste, taken the wrong box. But there's a catch - both father, Christopher, and son, Diego, were known as "Don Colon" in their lifetimes, and both held the same title "Admiral of the Ocean Sea".

By 1898, when the Spanish were pushed out of Cuba by the Americans, both the Spaniards and Dominicans had decided firmly that the remains in their own possession were the authentic item, and that the other must be holding onto the son. Therefore, in Seville an elaborate cathedral tomb was prepared for the explorer's return to his homeland, while in his adopted home another "official" tomb was planned.

 

 

It took the Dominicans somewhat longer to get their design act together. It was not until 1931 that a design competition was held, won by a Scottish architect who proposed the 688-foot long cruciform memorial complex that stands today and is known as the “Faro a Colon” – “Lighthouse for Columbus”. The building was barely ready by the 1992 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival, when the remains were finally interred, taking the whole “mañana” concept to a new level! 

In 2003, the controversy was tackled by DNA science, and the remains in Seville tested against known remains of Columbus' brother Diego and son Fernando. Although promising, the results are not conclusive, and thus far, the remains interred at the lighthouse in Santo Domingo Este have not been tested, so for now, the mystery endures.



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Seville's Medieval Shipyard
Thursday, March 18, 2021

In 1248, Ferdinand III  took Seville from the Moors, who had held the city since 712. It marked the fall, alongside Córdoba, of the two great Moorish strongholds in the Iberian Peninsula. Knowing that he still had to secure his position, Ferdinand III decided to launch a military campaign into northern Africa. In order to do so, he required a fleet of ships.

Ferdinand passed away in 1252 before realising his plan, but his son, Alfonso X “El Sabio,” proceeded with his father’s strategy. To build the fleet he needed large shipyards, so he initiated work on the Reales Atarazanas de Sevilla, or the Royal Shipyards of Seville.

Built outside the city walls and close to the Guadalquivir River, the shipyard covered about 15,000 square meters and consisted of 17 vaulted naves constructed entirely of brick, in a style now known as Mudejar-Gothic, with vaulted ceilings and wide arches connecting the naves. Construction was similar to those found in a church or cathedral. Each nave needed to be large enough for the construction of a galley, with each section of the shipyard connected to the next via a series of arches.

 

 

Before the end of 1253 ten galleys had been built in the shipyard, and it continued to produce fleets for subsequent Castilian kings. Galleys built in the Royal Shipyards of Seville were used throughout much of the remainder of the Reconquista, as well as during the Hundred Years’ War against England. During this time the naves were also used to hold prisoners and booty taken during the various conflicts.


By the mid-15th century and the final stages of the Reconquista, orders for new ships began to decline and the naves began to be repurposed for other tasks. In 1493, a fish market was moved into the first nave. During the 16th century, other naves were reassigned as oil and wool warehouses, and three more to house the city’s customs warehouse.

 

 

Time and technology had overtaken the Royal Shipyards of Seville. The naves were too small for building larger, more modern ships, and soon shipbuilding ceased altogether. In 1641, five naves were transformed into the Hospital de la Caridad. In 1719, five more naves were assigned for the storage of artillery material. The rest were largely used as commercial warehouses.

The next big change to the structure of the shipyard came in 1945 when five naves were destroyed to make way for the construction of the Delegación de Hacienda (Tax Office) building. Fortunately, no further destruction took place before the shipyard gained National Monument status in 1969, protecting it from further damage.

The shipyard, however, has been an ongoing problem for the local government. For more than 20 years it has been off-limits to the public, despite various plans and proposals for its renovation, all of which have so far failed, generating more frustration.

But in December 2018, it was confirmed that restoration would begin in 2019, with the aim of opening the Royal Shipyards of Seville to the public in 2022. Many Game of Thrones filming locations have become major tourist draws thanks to the popularity of the HBO series. So when the Royal Shipyards of Seville were used in season 7 of the show, interest in the location was naturally increased and the motivation to restore them revived.

So when the Royal Shipyards of Seville do finally open, expect the visitors to be a delighted mix of medieval shipbuilding aficionados and a crowd of Game of Thrones fans.



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Who was the "Dama de Elche"?
Thursday, March 11, 2021

In the silent galleries of the National Archeology Museum in Madrid, you can witness the eerily penetrating gaze of this ancient sculpture, which seems to radiate authority and radiates a uniquely commanding presence. Discovered by accident in Valencia in 1897, the bewitching and inscrutable Dame of Elche has puzzled archaeologists and been the subject of fierce debate for over a century. 

 

 

There have been many theories over the years as to what this mysterious limestone bust represents. She’s been called a Moorish queen, a witch, and stranger still, an “extraterrestrial visitor from another planet.” But archaeologists believe the bust is actually a uniquely Iberian portrayal of the Carthaginian mother goddess, Tanit, used as a funerary urn in antiquity.

There have always been rumours of forgery surrounding the discovery and debate about the authenticity of the Dame of Elche. But in 2011 research carried out using electron microscopy and x-ray technology found that the piece is original, and confirmed its use as an ancient urn. Traces of ashes containing fragments of human bone were detected in the study and carbon-dated to be more than 2,500 years old, making it contemporaneous with the ancient Iberian period. Today you can visit the artefact in Madrid’s excellent National Archaeological Museum. But who she actually is, is still a mystery...

 



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