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I Wonder Why...?

I will be writing about aspects of Spanish history and their traditions. I am a very curious person and have always needed to know "why" they do it, and "how" it came about. So over the years while living in Spain I have made a conscious effort to discover "el porque de las cosas" and I will be sharing them with you. I hope you find it as fascinating as I do.

A Brief History of Spanish Serrano Ham
28 May 2019

Generally speaking, the term jamón serrano refers to a leg of pork that has been preserved in the traditional way – first salted and then cured by exposure to mountain breezes for a period of between six and 36 months.

In common usage, in order to differentiate between hind-quarters (on which there is more, and better, lean meat) and fore-quarters, the word ‘jamón’ is used for the former and ‘paleta’ or ‘paletilla’ for the latter. On the evidence of the Real Academia Española database, it can be inferred that, although the word ‘jamón’ appears in Spanish texts from the late 16th century on, this Frenchified neologism (derived from the French ‘Jambon’) did not pass into general currency until the closing decades of the 19th century. However, it was then adopted so enthusiastically that it completely supplanted the traditional term ‘pernil’ (which appears in the occasional text from 1490 and is derived directly from the Latin ‘perna’, meaning : leg).

As for different categories of jamón, historical references do not differentiate between one breed of pig and another, but rather identify perniles by their place of provenance. This is because, until the 19th century, Spanish pigs were almost exclusively of the breeds known as ‘Ibérico’, and were raised on the extensive principle, feeding largely on acorns in the natural environment of the dehesa (wooded scrubland). In the last few decades, the term ‘Ibérico’ has come to denote products of a quality superior to those derived from other, intensively farmed, breeds. In the mid-20th century, foreign cross-breeds invaded the Spanish market, overtaking the native breeds and relegating them to a few pockets of traditional resistance.

The prehistory and history of serrano ham in Spain is, therefore, primarily the history of Ibérico ham, which I will go into more detail about in another post.

Nowadays, technically and legally speaking, the term ‘jamón serrano’ refers to a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (GTS), a specific designation protected by EU Regulation 2082/92 in which a set of characteristics is defined, including both traditional and modern production techniques, and always with reference to non-Ibérico, white pig breeds. That said, some Protected Designations of Origin are recognized as guarantees of fine quality: Jamón de Teruel (from the Autonomous Community of Aragón) and Jamón de Trevélez (from the heart of the Granada’s Alpujarras, in Andalusia) are examples of quality products with a long tradition behind them, and that stand out from ‘jamones serranos’ in general.

Although American-bred pigs were imported into Spain and other parts of Europe from the 16th century on, all were descendants of the Ibérico. The first Asian pigs (which fattened more readily), and other European varieties (Belgian White, Duroc-Jersey, Landrace, Large White, Pietrain…) for cross-breeding with Ibérico pigs, started arriving in the mid-18th century and throughout the 19th. Indeed, livestock farming made a gradual recovery between 1917 and 1936, with the selection of breeds, both Spanish and foreign, increasing and herds becoming larger.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the process went into reverse: between 1942 and 1950, the nation’s pig herd diminished by 20%. Improved economic conditions from the late 1950s on were reflected in an increasing demand for meat, especially pork, which was cheaper. Bigger demand resulted in extensive farming systems being thrust aside while fattening stations multiplied, so that from 1959 to 1985 the situation known as the ‘traditional livestock crisis’ occurred, and within that the ‘Ibérico pig crisis’. Pork consumption increased spectacularly, as did the intensive production and industrialization required to achieve it, to such an extent that traditionally produced Ibérico ham accounted for a mere 5% of the total by 1985.


Significantly, in 1955, pregnant sows of foreign breeds Landrace and Large White represented only 1% of the total, while in 1974 they represented 81%, and in 1986 90%. Between 1986 and 2006, Spain’s total pork production increased by 44%, making it the second biggest pork producer in the EU (15%), after Germany (22%).



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Coffee in Spain - How do you like yours?
16 May 2019

One of Spain’s greatest pleasures is sitting outside and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee. Coffee plays an important role in many countries and Spain is not different with a very strong coffee culture. The weather all year round makes for an enjoyable coffee sitting out under a clear blue sky soaking up the sun even on a chilly winter day. However, customs as always have been engrained on how and when coffee is enjoyed. For example, it is unthinkable for a Spaniard to order a café con leche after a meal, that is reserved for breakfast or maybe the "merienda" – the afternoon snack. After a meal, it would be a ‘Cortado’ or a ‘Bombón’ or a ‘café solo’ or a "Cortado tocado de Baileys" or a Carajillo if you prefer something a little stronger.

As you can see the options are endless and whichever region you go to they will have a name for a certain type of coffee. For those coming to Spain for the first time, this can get a little confusing as the options are endless. It all comes down to offering the customer the opportunity to enjoy a coffee as they like it, allowing them to personalise their coffee as they wish. This can get extremely confusing for a waiter who is not experienced, as a simple table of 4 can become a real tongue twister when repeating the order. In the summer it is common to hear: 

I want a ‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente en vaso de cristal’ 

And that’s just one order, multiply it by 4 and ask the guy to repeat the order without taking note and it requires a little practice, especially if everyone has their own way of ordering coffee. But that’s the beauty of Spain, don’t be afraid to ask for it the way you want it. In some places like Málaga they have established a system of 9 variations for the combination of coffee and milk, originally designed to avoid wasting coffee in times of need when coffee was very expensive such as after the civil war; some like it stronger and some prefer it weaker, but who would have thought that you would need to establish nine variations to content the customers, have in mind that we are talking about a small glass here of about 120ml so there isn’t much room for error. Throughout my time in Spain I have come across many different ways of having a coffee and I thought I would pull together all the ones I can remember, I am sure there are many missing from the list but maybe you can help to add to the list by kindly leaving a comment at the end of the post. So here goes, the first list are established names, some particular to a region and the second list are the different ways to personalise how you coffee is served :

    
1.    Café Solo: Same as an espresso
2.    Café Americano:  Half a glass of coffee and then topped up with hot water
3.    Café con Leche:  Standard white coffee normally 50/50 coffee and milk. Normally for breakfast/mornings. Served in a cup.
4.    Café con leche corto de café: White coffee with slightly less coffee in it 30/70   coffee and milk. 
5.    Café Cortado: Coffee with milk served in a small glass, normally for after meals. 50/50 Coffee and milk

In Málaga and areas in the region, these are the 9 variations established originally by the bar Café Central -

 

 

6.    Café Bombón/Biberó/Goloso: Served in a small glass. Condensed milk is poured into the bottom of the glass and the coffee is added on top. Same glass as a Cortado. You mix it with the spoon.

7.    Carajillo / Café Brulé: Coffee with a dash of Brandy – the proper version of this involves heating up the brandy with a lemon zest and 4 coffee beans, it is then passed through a small sieve and added to the black coffee.

8.    Asiático: Typical in Cartagena and other areas of Murcia. It is a black coffee with Condensed milk, Brandy, Licor 43 and cinnamon.
9.    Belmonte/ Trifásico: Black coffee with condensed milk and Brandy
10.  Barraquito: Popular in the Canary Islands. It has Coffee, milk, and condensed milk. It can also include, cinnamon, lemon and liquors.
11.    Manchado: in Murcia this is a Bombón with less coffee.
12.    Suau: A Catalan summer drink – Coffee, Soda, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Served with ice.
13.    Café Granizado – Iced coffee with crushed ice in a slush drunk with a straw

 

 

Personalising your coffee:

Del tiempo ó con hielo: served with a glass of ice to pour the coffee into and drink it cold.
Descafeinado de máquina: Coffee machine decaffeinated 
Descafeinado de sobre: Nescafé in a sachet.
Tocado de ………… – add any liquor/spirit such as Bailey’s or whisky
Temperatura del leche – leche caliente / leche natural
Corto de Café – Just over a half measure of coffee.
En vaso (de cristal) – served in a glass
En taza -  served in a cup


So you can see how easy it is to order a : 

‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente, en vaso de cristal, por favor’ !

How do you like yours?

 

 



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What's the story behind the 'Capirote' - Spain's conical hat at Easter?
18 April 2019

 

A capirote is a pointed conical hat that is used in Spain. It is part of the uniform of some brotherhoods including the Nazarenos and Fariseos during Easter processions and reenactments in some areas during the Holy Week in Spain. 

Historically the flaggelants are the origin of these current traditions, as they flogged themselves to do penance. Pope Clemens VI ordered that flagellants only under control of the church could perform penance; For this he decreed "Inter sollicitudines". This is considered one of the reasons why flaggelants  often hide their faces.

The use of the capirote or coroza was proscribed in Spain and Portugal by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Men and women who were arrested had to wear a paper capirote in public as sign of public humiliation. The capirote was worn during the session of an 'Auto-da-fé'. The colour was different, conforming to the judgement of the office. People who were condemned to be executed wore a red coroza. Other punishments used different colours and drawings to show the punishment to be received.

 

When the Inquisition was abolished, the symbol of punishment and penitence was kept in the Catholic brotherhood. However, the capirote used today is different: it is covered in fine fabric, as determined by the brotherhood. Later, during the celebration of the Holy Week/Easter in Andalusia, penitentes (people doing public penance for their sins) would walk through streets with the capirote. The capirote is today the symbol of the Catholic penant: only members of a confraternity of penance are allowed to wear them during solemn processions. Children can receive the capirote after their first holy communion, when they enter the brotherhood.

Historically the structure is called the capirote, but the brotherhoods cover it with fabric together with their face, and the medal of the brotherhood that is worn underneath. The cloth has two holes for the penant to see through. The insignia or crest of the brotherhood is usually embroidered on the capirote in fine gold.The capirote is worn during the whole penance. In Sevilla, it is not allowed to enter the cathedral without the capirote.


In New Orleans during the period between the Rebellion of 1768 and the abolishment of the Spanish cabildo, the more risqué Mardi Gras celebrations of the traditionally French Catholic residents were strictly curtailed by incoming Spanish clergy. The anti-Catholic 'second' Ku Klux Klan that arose at the beginning of the twentieth century may have modeled part of their regalia and insignia on the capirote and sanbenito as a sardonic nod to the enforcement of these restrictions on masquerades a century earlier.

 



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The Worlds Most Iconic Sweet
15 March 2019

Up until the late 1950s, sweets were different shapes and colours. But children, being children, would pop them in and out of their mouths regularly to examine them, to talk to friends, to hide them from parents or to put them in their pockets for later. This meant that kids and sweets were a messy mix.

 In 1958 Enric Bernat created a universally appealing sweet that would make kids and parents happy.

In the early 1950s, Bernat worked for an apple jam factory called "Granja Asturias". After he proposed the idea of making lollipops, the investors left so Bernat took over the company in 1958. He built the production machines and sold a striped bonbon on a wooden stick for one peseta each.

Bernat’s original idea was a piece of candy on a fork. After several experiments with small forks, Bernat saw the opportunity for production on a larger scale. Before the first Chupa Chups lollipop hit the market, however, the fork was substituted with a wooden stick as a safer and less expensive alternative

Bernat got the idea of a "bonbon with a stick" from a cursing mother as her child got sticky hands from melting sweets. Bernat felt that at that time, sweets were not designed with the main consumers — children — in mind. Shopkeepers were instructed to place the lollipops near the cash register within reach of children's hands, instead of the traditional placement behind the counter and Chupa Chups stood out from other sweets with displays that were cute, curious and creative.


At first, he decided to call it “GOL”, imagining the sweet was a bit like a football and an open mouth was a bit like a football net.

But it wasn’t quite catchy enough, so he hired an advertising agency to come up with a creative new name for him, Chups.

Then, consumers stepped in. The catchy jingle used to market Chups proved so successful, that it changed the name of the sweet! 

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

It’s so round and it lasts so long.

“Lick, lick lick a Chups”     [“Chupa, chupa, chupa Chups”]

 

 

Sales of Chupa Chups lollipops abroad prompted the need for a modernised wrapper design. For this important task, a visit was paid to Salvador Dalí, who, in less than an hour created the famous daisy logo. He also changed the logo to only two colours and insisted that his logo be positioned on top of the lollipop so that it could be seen perfectly from every angle. This very logo is still pretty much the logo in use today. And these little changes made it iconic.

In 1988 it was revamped a little and that is the design that has stuck till today. Bright, cheerful and unique, it has proven universally popular with the public. It has become the definitive icon for a world famous brand. 

 

 

The Chupa Chups Company was a success. Within five years Bernat's sweets were being sold at 300,000 outlets. After the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship (1939–75), the self-funded private company went international. In the 1970s the lollipops appeared in Japan and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Australia. In the 1980s it expanded to the European and North American markets, and in the 1990s to most Asian countries, including South Korea and China. Nowadays billions of lollipops a year are sold in over 150 countries.



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What does the adjective “Spanish” mean in other languages?
07 March 2019

In the Spanish language, a wide range of objects and ideas are defined by a nationality, from the so-called Russian salad (ensaladilla rusa) to the English wrench (llave inglesa), and expressions such as “voting like a Bulgarian” (votar a aprobación a la búlgara), which refers to decisions that receive unanimous approval, typically out of fear.

But what does the adjective “Spanish” mean in other languages? When, and for what reason, is “Spanish” used as a descriptor? 

A group of phrase-lovers points out that the word Spanish and Spain appears in many expressions in foreign languages. On the one hand, certain languages associate Spain with the strange and incomprehensible. For example, in Slovak, saying that something is “a Spanish town” (To je pre mňa španielska dedina), means it doesn’t make any sense. The same expression exists Czech (španělská vesnice).

In German there is a similar association; if something sounds strange and unreliable, then it “sounds Spanish” (das kommt mir spanisch vor). And in French, “speaking like a Spanish cow” (parler comme une vache espagnole) is to speak very bad French.

However, when we cross the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, the word carries a completely different meaning, particularly in the world of viral memes and social media jokes. Saying a person “cries in Spanish” means they are over-the-top and exaggerate their feelings of distress. And the expression “speaking in Spanish” refers to all kinds of seduction abilities, associated with the stereotype of the “Latin lover.”


A second group points out that “Spanish” often has negative connotations, with the adjective unfairly used to describe unwelcome events and problems.

The most obvious example is the so-called Spanish Flu a reference to the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 40 million people (including Austrian painter Gustav Klimt). Although the pandemic did not break out or spread from Spain, it is described as the Spanish flu in English, Slovak (španielska chrípka), Portuguese (gripeespanhola) and German (Spanische Grippe).

The flu was given this title because of the attention it received in the Spanish media. Other international media filled their pages with news of the First World War and censored information about the effects of the disease so as to not appear weak before their enemies. But Spain, which did not participate in this war and did not have to worry about its image, faithfully reported the news on the flu and paid for it with its name.

The adjective “Spanish” is also negatively used in the French phrase a “Spanish hotel” (l'auberge espagnole), which describes a place that is messy and disorganized. This was the title of a 2002 French film by Cédric Klapisch about a chaotic student apartment belonging to a group of European students in Barcelona on their Erasmus year (known as The Spanish Apartment and Pot Luck in English). Meanwhile, the French phrase to “make castles in Spain” (faire des châteaux en Espagne) is the equivalent of saying something is pie in the sky.

Other negative uses of the adjective are related to the Spanish Inquisition. For example, certain torture methods used during the Inquisition are described as “Spanish” in other countries. In Slovak, a “Spanish boot” (španielska čižma) refers to the iron casting that was placed on a person’s leg to crush their bones.

In English, a Spanish tickler is the name given to a metal claw that was used to rip flesh away from the bone. Another example is the English phrase “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” which refers to an unexpected visit from a threatening figure. This phrase comes from a well-known episode of Monty Python.

Other uses of “Spanish” in foreign languages are less negative. In ancient battles, to defend a strategic area, sharpened stones were stuck into the ground with their points facing outward. This made it hard for horses to walk and forced riders to take the road by foot. Examples of this are seen on pre-Roman walls in Celtic and Iberian areas. The invention has been called the “Spanish rider" in German (Spanischer Reiter) and in Slovak (španielsky jazdec).

Interestingly in Spain however, this defense mechanism is called “fields of stones” or the “horse of Friesland,” an allusion to Friesland, a province in the Netherlands.

When it comes to food, the word “Spanish” has a variety of meanings. Unsurprisingly, Andalusian olive oil is called Spanish oil outside of Spain (sometimes, sadly, Italian olive oil). But it also has more unexpected uses. In Germany, “Spanish” is used to describe paprika (spanischer Paprika); in Italy, ice cream with sour cherries is called spagnola (even though the berries are not eaten in Spain); in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a meat roll stuffed with vegetables is known as a “Spanish bird” (španělský ptáček and španielsky vtáčik respectively).

Generally speaking, what is “Spanish,” according to others, tends to be associated with the outrageous, the exotic or based on common stereotypes.



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The history of the Spanish Flu
26 February 2019

Did the so-called “Spanish flu,” an epidemic that killed more than 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919, really start in Spain? For almost a century Spaniards have either borne this mark of shame with resignation, wearily telling the world that it had to start somewhere, or have put the blame on neighboring France.

A study by Spanish and US scientists points out that the pandemic was dubbed “Spanish Influenza” by the world because the press in Spain widely reported the outbreak in its early stages between May and June of 1918. Spain was not involved in World War I, and its media had no restrictions, while the main European nations and the United States, embroiled in the conflict, censored all news relating to the pandemic for fear of a decline in troop morale.

That said, the team of researchers, from the University of the Basque Country, Madrid’s Complutense University, and the Bethesda National Institutes of Health, as well as Arizona State University, are not ruling out the possibility that the pandemic may have originated in Spain. The paper, published in BMC Infectious Diseases, is the most detailed study of Spanish flu ever carried out, and establishes that Spain was certainly very badly hit by the pandemic and that Spanish cities were definitely early sources of the virus.

As yet, there is no incontrovertible evidence that the virus emerged in Spain, although some of the authors believe it may well have. Antón Erkoreka, the director of the Basque Museum of the History of Medicine, says that such a hypothesis is perfectly possible, “but it has yet to be proved: perhaps the newspapers were right when they called it Spanish flu.”

In fact, the accepted version of events traces the first case of Spanish flu a long way from Spain, and before the first cases were reported in Spain: to March 4, 1918, at Camp Funston, Kansas, where US troops waiting to be sent to fight in Europe were stationed. Although the flu spread rapidly, it was no more lethal than any recorded in previous years. To begin with, the worst symptoms of the new epidemic were mild respiratory problems of the kind that still kill around half-a-million people every year around the planet.

But the virus that came to be known as Spanish flu had its own plans to enter the pages of infamy. At a certain point during the summer of 1918, it underwent a mutation, or a group of them, which converted it into the most efficient agent of death in history. Again, according to historical reconstructions used to this day, the first case of the second wave was not recorded in Spain, and dates to August 22, 1918, in the French port of Brest, used as the entry point for around half the US troops that had joined France and Britain in fighting Germany in April 1917.

“By April of 1918, the virus was in Europe,” says Erkoreka, “both among the troops as well as the civilian population; but this wave didn’t result in many deaths. Later though, the outbreak in Madrid that May was significant, both in terms of the high death rate, as well as the way that it affected people across class barriers: even King Alfonso came down with it between May and July,” he says, noting that the Spanish monarch did not belong to a high-risk group: he was aged 32, well-fed, and in good physical shape, but the virus was no respecter of palace walls.

The flu spread rapidly through Spain: the authors estimate that up to 237,000 people died out of a total population of 20 million. But by the autumn of that year, the mortality rate in Madrid had begun to fall in comparison to the provinces. This is an effect well understood by epidemiologists: the population of the capital had been exposed to the virus, and was by now immunized against its variants, but was now also able to help spread it. This process, say the researchers, shows that the virus had mutated during the summer. Those infected during the early stages were relatively fortunate because they developed immunity to the second stage of the virus.

Previous studies of Spanish flu have generally discarded the idea that the pandemic originated in Spain, suggesting that it was already present in France in 1916 and that it was brought to Spain by unskilled Spanish and Portuguese labourers working in France. But these workers may well have taken the deadlier mutation of the virus back with them to France after the summer of 1918.

The Spanish-US team’s work, supported by a wealth of statistics, shows that just about every province in Spain was hit by the flu. There were three viral waves between January 1918 and June of 1919, moving from north to south, a process that can only partly be explained by socio-economic factors says the team.



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The Aljafería in Zaragoza
21 February 2019

 


  

The Aljafería in Zaragoza was declared a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest on the 4th June 1931. In 1947, however, it still remained a woeful sight in rags, according to the architect Francisco Íñiguez Almech, who for over thirty years undertook a slow and thorough recovery task. After his death in 1982, this was continued by the architects Ángel Peropadre Muniesa, Luis Franco Lahoz and Mariano Pemán Gavín. The result of all these alterations, backed by several archaeological digs, has led to the present-day appearance of the building, in which the original remains can be distinguished from the reconstructed part.  

Moreover, the Regional Assembly of Aragon has its seat in one section of this collection of historical buildings. Work on the Assembly building was started in 1985 by the architects Franco and Pemán. This work is part of the aesthetic trends of contemporary architecture, and its authors have avoided including historical elements that could lead to possible mistaken interpretation. In 2001, UNESCO declared the Mudejar architecture of Aragon a World Heritage site, and praised the Aljafería palace as one of the most representative and emblematic monuments of Aragonese Mudejar Architecture.

 

 


This retains part of the primitive fortified enclosure on a quadrangular floor plan reinforced by great ultra-semicircular turrets, together with the prismatic volume of the troubadour Tower, whose lower part, which dates from the IX century, is the most ancient part of the architectonic building.

The Islamic Palace enclosure houses residential quarters in its central area which are similar to the typological model of the 'omeya' influenced Islamic palaces, just like those that had developed in the Moslem palaces in the desert (which date back to the VIII century). So, in contrast to the defensive spirit and the strength of its walls, the 'taifal' palace, which is of delicate ornamental beauty, presents a composite plan based on a great rectangular open-air courtyard with a pool on its southern side. Next come two lateral porticoes with a polycusped mixed line series of arches that acts as visual screens and at the far end some tripartite rooms, which were originally intended for ceremonial and private use. There is also a small oratory in the northern portico, with a small octagonal floor plan, in whose interior fine and lavish plaster decorations can be seen (with typical ataurique motifs) as well as some brightly coloured well contrasted pictorial fragments, which are of particular interest. All of these artistic achievements correspond to the work carried out during the second half of the XI century under the command of Abu-Ya-far Ah-mad ibn Hud al-Muqtadir, and they serve to highlight the cultural importance and the rich virtuosity of his court. Furthermore, the Aljafería is thought to be one of the greatest pinnacles of Hispano-Moslem art, and its artistic contributions were later copied at the Reales Alcazares in Seville and at the Alhambra in Granada.


The palace of the Catholic King and Queen was erected on top of the Moslem structure in around 1492, to symbolise the power and prestige of the Christian monarchs. However, the direction of the work fell to the Mudejar master, Faraig de Gali. The work blended the medieval artistic inheritance with the new Renaissance contributions. From this origin came some of the most significant examples of the so-called Reyes Catolicos style (that of the Catholic King and Queen).
 

The palace comprises a flight of stairs, a gallery or corridor and a collection of rooms known as The Lost Steps, which lead to the Great Throne Room. Of these, the most interesting are, on the one hand, the paving made up of small paving tiles and the tiles from Muel, and on the other, the gold and polychrome wooden ceilings among which the magnificent coffered ceiling in the Throne Room is especially remarkable.

From 1593, by order of King Phillip II, the Siennese engineer Tiburcio Spanochi drew up plans to transform the Aljafería into a modern style fort or citadel. Consequently, he provided the buildings with an outer walled enclosure with pentagonal bastions at the corners and an imposing moat surrounding it all (with slightly sloping walls and corresponding drawbridges). However, the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in the face of the Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as the monarch’s wish to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza. After this first military renovation, throughout the XVIII and XIX centuries, extensive alterations were made to the building to adapt it for its use a barracks. To this day the blocks built during the reign of Charles III remain, along with two of the NeoGothic turrets added during the time of Isabel II.
 

Lastly, it must be must be pointed out that very few Aragonese monuments have as many excellent architectonic examples such as those at the Aljafería in Zaragoza, summing up ten centuries of daily life as well as historic and artistic events in Aragon.

 

 



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Ever wondered why Spain has so many autonomous regions? 
12 February 2019

For many years the Spanish monarchy and the dictatorships which followed (Primo de Rivera and Franco) maintained the position that Spain was a unified nation, the legacy of the Roman province, Hispania. In reality, Spain is and has long been quite divided. Currently, Spain is divided into eighteen regions, which are themselves composed of fifty provinces.

The most relevant part of Spain's early history is that the whole Iberian Peninsula became part of the Roman Empire. The Romans, who divided the peninsula into different provinces, introduced the Latin language, Roman law, and Christianity to the majority of the peninsula, were succeeded by a couple different Germanic tribes. The most significant of these was the Visigoths, who attempted to unify the disparate parts of Iberia, focusing on the Roman legacy, especially the Roman law. 711AD marks the beginning of the Moorish period. The vast majority of Iberia came under Islamic control fairly quickly, and gradually receded over time. Over the next couple hundred years, the rulers of Muslim Spain (that is, the still largely Christian part of the peninsula which had Muslim rulers), especially the Caliphate of Cordoba, were consolidating power and patronizing the arts and sciences, as well as experiencing relative religious tolerance. In the mountainous, rural northern regions to the north, the Christian rulers were regaining their footing, despite numerous internal conflicts. The next couple hundred years can largely be described as a period of intermittent aggression balanced with wary tolerance.

The Christian kingdoms gradually expanded at the expense of the Caliphate of Cordoba and sometimes of each other in a process known as the Reconquista. With the disintegration of the Caliphate into the “Taifa States,” the Christian kingdoms were able to more easily expand by means of shifting alliances. A couple of successive fundamentalist Islamic regimes (primarily the Almoravids followed by the Almohads) invaded from North Africa and imposed unity on the Taifa kingdoms at the expense of tolerance and intellectual livelihood. The thirteenth century saw a drastic expansion in which the Christian kingdoms approximately doubled their territory, leaving Granada as the only independent Muslim state, albeit a highly bullied one. That was finally conquered by the Kingdom of Castile in 1492. Just as Christians remained in Moorish Spain after that conquest, so too did Muslims and Moorish culture remains after the Christian conquest.

 

 

 

Spain was, and still is a diverse country integrated by different contrasting regions that show varying economic and social structures, as well as different languages and historical, political and cultural traditions. According to the Spanish constitution, the Spanish nation is the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards, which is integrated by nationalities and regions to which the constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government.

The terms "nationalities" or "historical nationalities"(Spanish, Galician, Basque, Catalan) though never defined officially, are territories whose inhabitants have a strong historically constituted sense of identity, or more specifically, certain autonomous communities whose Statutes of autonomy—their basic institutional legislation—recognizes their historical and cultural identity.

The formation of Spain can be viewed as an alliance and progressive union of several peninsular kingdoms, and it can be said that the nationalist or regionalist tradition in Spain has its roots in Spanish history. In fact, no serious attempt was made to centralize the administration until the reforms of the eighteenth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, though, the Spanish government was heavily centralized and the State did not recognise the nation's regional diversity. It was also, later during this same century, that as Catalonia and the Basque Country became rapidly industrialised and areas where commercial capitalism made swift progress while the rest of the country followed at a much slower pace, nationalistic sentiments began to grow, and it was not unusual that some writers of the time would express their concepts of a Catalan or Basque fatherland or even nationhood.

Both nationalist movements had much in common, in that both arose in areas that enjoyed higher levels of prosperity and were the only areas in the country to develop modern industry, and both possessed a linguistic tradition of their own both the Catalan and the Basque languages began to experience a strong revival, as was the case with the Galician language. As nationalistic sentiments grew, sometimes within conservative ideals and afterwards with the left, their demands for self-government also grew, and in some sectors, separatism — outright independence — was preferred.

The appearance of the so-called peripheral nationalism in the aforementioned regions of Spain occurred in a time where Spain itself as a whole first began to look into its own concept of nationhood, and where Spaniards began to study their own nationalism between two competing views, the traditionalist, where religion played a significant role in defining the Spanish nation, intrinsically and traditionally Catholic, and strongly monarchical, and the liberal view where sovereignty resided in the nation — the people, as opposed to the monarch — and where some advocated for a uniform centralized State while others preferred decentralization and even republicanism.

Spain experimented with decentralization during the First Spanish Republic (1873-1874), but social and political chaos, which had started even before the change of regime with a change of monarchical houses, led to its failure.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the two political discourses of Spanish nationalism, the traditional and the liberal, continued to be present and opposing, advocating for different political regimes.

During the final stages of the 'turno pacífico', a staged pacific alternation of power between liberals and conservatives in the Spanish Parliament, Catalonia was granted a limited form of self-government, and the Commonwealth of Catalonia (Catalan: Mancomunitat de Catalunya) was established in 1913, with its own Regional Assembly. The Assembly drafted a Statute of Autonomy that was, however, rejected by the General Courts (the Spanish Parliament). The Commonwealth of Catalonia was dissolved during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (Marquis of Estella) in 1923. Primo de Rivera was a dictator, aristocrat, and military officer who served as Prime Minister of Spain from 1923 to 1930 during Spain's Restoration era. He deeply believed that it was the politicians who had ruined Spain and that governing without them he could restore the nation. His slogan was "Country, Religion, Monarchy." Historians depict him as an inept dictator who lacked clear ideas and political acumen, and who alienated his potential supporters such as the Army. He did not create a base of support among the voters and depended instead on elite elements. His actions discredited the king and ruined the monarchy, while heightening social tensions that led eventually, in 1936, to a full-scale Spanish Civil War.

In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was established, and a new liberal constitution allowed the "regions" of Spain to attain self-government and created the "autonomous region" as a first-order administrative division. Catalonia was the first to approve a Statute of Autonomy and the Generalitat, the Catalan institutions of government that operated since medieval times until the early eighteenth century, was restored. The Basque Country and Galicia followed suit in 1936, but only the Statute of Autonomy of the first was approved before the Spanish Civil War erupted.

After the war, centralism was most forcefully enforced during Franco's regime (1939-1975) as a way to preserve the unity of the Spanish nation. His attempts to fight separatism with heavy-handed but sporadic repression and his oftentimes severe suppression of language and regional identities backfired: the demands for democracy became intertwined with demands for the recognition of a pluralistic vision of the Spanish nationhood. When Franco died, Spain entered into a phase of transition towards democracy, and all democratic groups were forced to face the Catalan, Basque and Galician question.


On 11 September 1977, more than one million people marched in the streets of Barcelona (Catalonia) demanding "llibertat, amnistia i estatut d'autonomia", "liberty, amnesty and Statute of Autonomy", the biggest demonstration in post-war Europe. A decree-law was passed that allowed for the creation of pre-autonomías, "pre-autonomies" or provisional regional governments for all regions, the "historical nationalities" included. Catalonia was the first to be so constituted, reviving again the Generalitat. The Basque Country quickly followed suit. In the 1977 election to the first democratically elected Parliament since the times of the Republic, regional Catalan socialists (Socialists' Party of Catalonia) and Basque nationalists (Basque Nationalist Party) both won significant positions in representing their regions and their aspirations. This newly elected Parliament was entrusted to formulate a new constitution.

The demands for the recognition of the distinctiveness of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, within the Spanish State became one of the most important challenges for the newly elected Parliament. In fact, the writing of the second article, in which the "nationalities and regions" of Spain were recognized, was the most hotly debated in Parliament. Its acceptance was not smooth: the right vigorously opposed it, while the nationalists and the left firmly objected leaving it out. The natural corollary to debating the term "nationalities" was debating the term "nation". At the end of the spectrum there were those who thought the term "nationalities" was unnecessary, or that there was only one "nation" and "nationality"— Spain — while at the opposite end of the spectrum there were those who advocated for defining Spain as a plurinational State, that is, a State integrated by several nations. In the end, the second article was passed along with the term "nationalities" but firmly stressing the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation. It reads:

"The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all"

The Preamble to the constitution explicitly stated that it is the Nation's will to protect "all Spaniards and the peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages and institutions". This was a significant move since for the "historical nationalities" part of their distinctiveness lies on their own regional languages. Furthermore, the nation became openly multilingual, declaring Castilian — that is, Spanish — the official language of the entire country, but declaring that the "other Spanish languages" will also be official in their respective autonomous communities. The third article ends up declaring that the "richness of the distinct linguistic modalities of Spain represents a patrimony which will meet the object of special respect and protection."

The constitution aimed to devolve self-government to both nationalities and regions, if the latter so desired, which were to be constituted as autonomous communities, yet making an implicit distinction between the two groups in the level of competences that were to be devolved, and in the way they were to attain self-government — the three "historical nationalities" (Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country) were granted a simplified "fast-track" process, while the rest of the regions had to follow a specific set of requirements. Thus the process was purposely intended to be asymmetrical in nature. The autonomous communities were to be formed from the existing provinces, a division of the centralizing regime of the early nineteenth century: an autonomous community could be created by a province or group of provinces with common historical, cultural and economic features. Yet, the outcome was not predictable; First, it did not specify the name or number of the autonomous communities that would integrate the Spanish nation, and secondly, the process was voluntary in nature: the regions themselves had the option of choosing to attain self-government or not.

While the constitution was still being drafted, there was a demonstration in Andalusia, which sought to be recognized as a "nationality" as well, and to be granted self-government also through a rapid process. This opened a phase that was dubbed in Spanish as "café para todos", "coffee for all", which meant that all regions would be "served the same" — that is, that all nationalities and regions would accede to self-government in roughly the same degree, even if at different paces. Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia acceded to autonomy via the fast-track route established in the 151st article of the constitution, with all competencies granted, because in the past they had approved a Statute by referendum and they had already established a pre-autonomic provisional government. Andalusia was able to take this route after a referendum in 1980. The rest had the opportunity to accede to autonomy via the slower route established by the 143rd article, with a lower level of competences during a provisional period of five years, after which there was to be a progressive transference of competences, that would roughly equalize all communities. One particular exception was granted to both the Basque Country and Navarre in that their fueros or "medieval charters" that had granted them fiscal autonomy were restored. While Navarre, a province with a Basque-speaking minority, chose not to form part of the soon-to-be-formed autonomous community of the Basque Country, it followed a different route of devolution, precisely because of the reinstitution of the medieval charters, and it is nominally known as a "chartered community", as opposed to an "autonomous community". (Both the Basque Country and Navarre are considered "communities of a chartered regime", that is, with fiscal autonomy. They collect their own taxes and send a prearranged amount to the central government. The rest of the communities are considered to be of a "common regime"; currently they administer taxes only partially. The taxes collected from "common regime" communities are administered centrally and distributed amongst them all for fiscal equalization).

The "autonomic process", that is, the process whereby the nationalities and regions would accede to autonomy was partially concluded in 1983 when 17 autonomous communities covering the entire Spanish territory were created. (It was finally completed with the creation of two autonomous cities in Northern Africa, Ceuta and Melilla). All autonomous communities follow the provincial limits established in the 1833 territorial division of Spain, that is, no province has been partitioned between communities. Moreover, many communities roughly coincide with the pre-provincial historical regions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which in turn reflected, to some extent some of the historical medieval kingdoms or administrative regions of the past.

On the other hand, some autonomous communities are new creations. For example, autonomy was granted to Cantabria and La Rioja, both of which were historically part of Castile. Despite the lack of a historical base for both communities and the fact that the Spanish government favoured their integration in the larger Castile-León, the local population overwhelmingly supported the new entities.


The province of Madrid was also separated from New Castile and constituted as an autonomous community, in a way in recognition of its status as the capital of the nation, but also because it was originally excluded from the pre-autonomic agreements that created the community of Castile-La Mancha, to which it naturally belonged. Some peripheral nationalists still complain that the creation of many regions was an attempt to break down their own ‘national unity’ by a sort of gerrymandering thus softening the impact of the distinctiveness of their own nationalities.

As competencies were eventually transferred to all communities in roughly the same degree, some nationalists view that there is a vanishing practical distinction between "nationality" and "region", regardless of how the autonomous community defines itself, a dilution that is welcomed by some political parties at the national level. In fact, other communities have chosen to be identified as "nationalities" besides the "historical three" (such as Andalusia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and the Valencian Community). Also, most communities that do not enjoy fiscal autonomy — the "common regime communities"— typically tend to follow Catalonia's lead in their demands for more competences or self-government. This has caused a movement for further recognition of the distinctiveness of the "historical nationalities" as "nations" resuscitating on many occasions the debate between "nationality" and "nation" or the concept of a "Plurinational State".

Spain as it is today :

 



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Spain's Sweet History
07 February 2019

The Spanish have had a love affair with chocolate for hundreds of years even though they aren't famed for producing it, but they are one of the largest consumer markets still today, especially when it comes to drinking chocolate, and its history goes back quite a way... 

For many millennia Cacao grew in the understory of the tropical rainforest the northern Amazon basin. Together with the plethora of plants, animals and insects of the rainforest, it thrived in the shade on the forest floor and lived on the nutrients and water passed down from the canopy above.

The history of this popular plant's use is somewhat clouded by numerous wildly conflicting stories. The myths, legends, propaganda and inaccuracies in the history of Chocolate are profound. Especially suspect are the manufacturers' websites!! 

Cacao has been a cultivated crop for at least 3,000 years, probably quite a bit more. Before that, it is certain that the seeds of wild Cacao trees were gathered. Initially, a few Cacao trees would be planted just inside the heavy rainforest, mixed with both wild and cultivated understory plants. Eventually, that grew to more specific plots of Cacao, still under the canopy and within the rainforest.

The people who first utilized Cacao were the inhabitants of what is now Venezuela in northwestern South America, where the tree is native. I strongly suspect that they created Cacao as we know it, just as the Inca created the potato using their rather advanced genetic technology. (Most high production food plants, certainly including Potatoes, Squash, Maize (corn) and Bananas, were engineered over many generations by the natives of their respective areas to produce large and plentiful fruit.) The Olmec Civilization (3500 to 2500 years ago) consumed the beverage and it was used to fortify soldiers during marches and in battle.

Cacao was clearly highly valued by these people and they spread it northward through trade with their neighbours. It was probably the Maya, over 1500 years ago, who brought Cacao to Yucatan in what is now Mexico. Maya urns were often decorated with images of Cacao Pods. The Aztecs who got Cacao from the Maya used Cacao in a number of ways, one common way was as a bitter spice in food (such as today's Molé sauce). The common people often used Cacao as a spice, and possibly also as a base for pasta or bread.

The most well-known way that Cacao was used (and the way that made the deepest impression on the European conquerors) was as a drink. The beans were toasted, ground up, put in hot water and often a bit of maize, vanilla or chillies were added to create the beverage of the Emperor. The water had to be extremely hot for the mixture to work, and from that came the phrase, still used in Mexico, Like Water for Chocolate to mean as hot as anything you can imagine. It seems likely that the consumption of this drink was limited to nobility, priesthood, and ritual occasions. Mixtecs and Oaxaca used it in marriage rites of nobles and deities. While the Maya drank Chocolate hot, the Aztecs seem to have often taken it cold. The term 'food of the gods', is not Aztec, nor Maya, it was coined by a European in the 17th century.

 

It is well known that Cacao Seeds were valued so highly throughout Mesoamerica that they were used for centuries as currency. 

The Aztecs called the drink, and apparently the bean as well, Xocoatl. From this word comes the pan-European word Chocolate.  The word Cacao comes from comes from the Mayan word for the plant was "Cacau". Because of a spelling error, probably by English traders long ago, these beans became known as Cocoa beans.

When Europeans first made contact with the Aztec civilization, Cacao was being cultivated and used extensively. The Spanish Conquistadors quickly noticed the benefits of Chocolate and used it to keep their armies marching long distances with little food. From the Aztecs, the Spanish took it to Europe -- where it became part of the then European-wide Imperial quest for more drugs for the polite high society, competing with the British tea and opium, the Catholic countries' coffee and the young USA's tobacco.

 

 

There is a great deal of differing information about the arrival of Cacao in Europe. Some sources say that Columbus himself brought the first beans, others say it was Cortes, and a whole list of others have their supporters. Actually, Columbus never showed much interest in the beans that he thought were sheep turds. (He actually burned an entire cargo of Cacao for this reason.) In any case, although almost every country claims to have been the first in Europe to utilize Chocolate, clearly the Spanish were first.  There is even the improbable suggestion that Spain kept it a secret for 100 years, however, it seems possible that it took that long to generate European interest in the strange bitter confection.

Initially (in the 1500s), Europeans, primarily the Spanish, were put off by the drink's traditional spicy bitter flavour so they so they began adding European (and recent American import) flavourings to Chocolate, such as vanilla, cinnamon, black pepper and, of course, cane sugar.

Chocolate was widely used in Catholic countries after 1569 when Pope Pius V declared that Chocolate (the drink) did not break the fast -- despite the hearty nutritional aspects of Chocolate. Every Pope for 190 years after him, from Gregory XIII to Benedict XIV affirmed this decision -- the popes loved Chocolate. It became a popular way to nourish oneself on the many religious fast days. This may have reached its climax when Pope Clement XIV was killed with a cup of poisoned Chocolate in 1774!

By the middle of the 1600s, Chocolate houses had opened in Europe; this is before coffee houses started up. Chocolate Houses became social clubs, meeting places for the elite, places to visit and to talk politics. It was trendy and extremely expensive. Coffee was much cheaper and therefore not for the elite, but for the masses. Coffee houses inherited the popularity, the community and the political atmosphere from Chocolate houses when the invention of the Dutch press removed the narcotic effect. The coffee house culture went on to incubate the democratic political movements of the 18th & 19th centuries.

The drink was foamed, not using the Aztec method of pouring it from one cup into another, but using a 'molinillo', a wooden whisk-like tool that is twirled between the palms of the hands. This is commonly used today to foam Chocolate drinks in Mexico. Machine-made Chocolate was first produced in Barcelona in 1780.

As Chocolate spread out of Spain, Hapsburg possessions remained at the forefront of Chocolate manufacturing and use, this included Austria and the Spanish Netherlands (which are today Holland and, the world centre for Chocolate, Belgium!). Hapsburg Emperor Charles VI transferred his court from Madrid to Vienna in 1711 which certainly advanced the use of Chocolate in Austria. However, in 1810 one third of the world's entire Cacao production was consumed by Spain and Venezuela had 50% of world production. Germany surpassed Spain as the world leader in chocolate consumption around 1900.

Originally the way they made the Chocolate drink was to grind the whole bean and add sugar and hot water, it was delicious, mildly intoxicating and somewhat 'Aztec', but apparently too rich and for the European palate. In 1828 the Dutch (Coenraad Van Houten had the patent) developed a press to force about initially 50% and with improvements, 98% of the fat out of Cacao paste -- producing the powder which we are familiar with today. The powder was then mixed with milk, instead of water, to add a little fat, but not nearly as much as was removed. (3% vs. 54%!) The pressing process also produced a major commercially viable by-product: Cocoa Butter!

Twenty years later at the Joseph Fry factory, they discovered a way to mix melted Cocoa Butter back into Dutch powder to create a gooey mass which could be moulded: the first bar Chocolate. In 1875 two Swiss men, Daniel Peter and Henri Nestlé used the sweetened condensed milk they had developed for concentrated infant food formula in to create milk chocolate. The low water content of the milk made it possible to mix it with the Chocolate into a bar that did not spoil quickly. Rudolphe Lindt developed the 'conching process' in Switzerland in 1879, producing for the first time, smooth creamy Chocolate bars like we are familiar with today.

The New World, Mexico and Costa Rica, but primarily Venezuela, was the main supplier of Cacao until the start of the 20th century when the centre of cultivation moved first to the Caribbean and then to Africa (with some also in Asia). In the late 19th century major companies started growing Cacao on large plantations, generally clearing rainforest to provide open land. It was at this time that the extremely low pollination rate of Cacao (1 in 3000) was noticed, but no one paid any attention to it. You will still find scientific sources which suggest this was a natural phenomenon, when in fact, moving Cacao from the rainforest to plantations took it farther away from it's pollinating midges' habitat.

Many of the companies that started making Chocolate in the late 19th century, including Hersheys & Cadbury, were based on religious ideals of abstaining from alcohol -- Chocolate was seen as an acceptable substitute.

There are various suggestions of when Chocolate was introduced into the USA, ranging from the early 1700s to the late 1800s. In 1900 Milton Snavely Hershey, a Mennonite from Pennsylvania began producing milk-chocolate bars and "kisses" with great success. He was anti-alcohol (As was Cadbury & Fry) and saw Chocolate as a good, profitable alternative. In less than ten years he was able to buy two entire towns and name them after him, one previously called Derry Church, Pennsylvania, and the other in Cuba, around his sugar mill. The empire grew even larger during World War I when Milton Hershey encouraged the US Army to add four Hershey bars to each soldier's daily ration!

This completed the sequence that took Chocolate from the divine food of Emperors, through the European Imperial quest for monopolies on mild drugs for high society, into respectability and common usage and finally to candy. Not unlike coca, which followed much the same course through the shady time of patent medicines such as the original colas, through to the time of prohibition to inclusion, at one time, in today's favourite candy-drink Coca Cola!

Chocolate remained popular in Europe, and after World War II many Belgian and French Chocolatiers specialized making fine, high-grade Chocolate. Eventually, in 1994, the Chocolate War established standards and started the huge wave of pure Chocolate Bars made of 70% or more Cacao.



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Spain's most deadly invention...
18 January 2019

When Christopher Columbus reached the West Indies in 1492, the natives greeted him with fruit, wooden spears and “certain dried leaves which gave off a distinct fragrance.” The Spanish sailors in Columbus’ crew appreciated the fruit but threw away the dried leaves not knowing what they were for. A few weeks later, while on a reconnaissance on the island of Cuba, two crewmen from the ship reported that they watched as natives wrapped the same type of dried leaves in maize and lit one end and inhaled the smoke from the other. Reportedly, one of the sailors tried a few puffs himself and soon became a confirmed smoker, probably the first European to do so. 

 Later explorers would learn that the new world was full of smokers and had been for hundreds of years. North American Indians prized tobacco and traded the valuable leaf regularly. While tobacco was usually smoked in simple pipes called “calumets,” Spanish explorers such as Cortez reported seeing Aztec and other Central American Indians smoking flavoured reed “cigarettes” while the natives of Cuba reportedly rolled their leaf into cigars then as now.

By the mid 16th century, Portuguese settlers in Brazil began cultivating their own tobacco for export to Europe. In 1564, Captain John Hawkins and his crew introduced pipe smoking to England and over the next few decades, the demand for American leaf grew significantly. Sir Walter Raleigh is credited with popularizing pipe smoking at the English royal court not long after. A few decades later, John Rolfe brought South American tobacco seed to the Jamestown Virginia settlement and raised the first crop of “tall tobacco” in what is now the U.S. By the 1730s, the first North American tobacco factories had appeared in Virginia manufacturing snuff.

By the mid 19th century, cigarettes were gaining in popularity in Europe. In 1843, the French Monopoly began the manufacture of cigarettes, a form of tobacco consumption which up until then had a reputation as “beggar’s’ smokes”. This name came from the first people to actually make cigarettes, as we know them today. It dates back to 16th Century Seville when the beggars would collect the scraps that were thrown away by the tobacco factories established in the city. They would tear up and crush the broken leaves that were no good for cigars and roll them up in rice paper. This custom continued for centuries and was extended by the Spanish sailors who exported it, so to speak, to all corners of the world. The Spanish were also the first to start manufacturing these cigarettes in the mid 19th century and it then quickly crossed the border into France and what had been a practice only worthy of the lower class became a symbol for the sophisticated upper class of Europe. 

However, in the 18th century, Spain built the Royal Tobacco factory in Seville, which was the gateway for tobacco from the Americas. This 18th-century industrial building was, at the time it was built the second largest building in Spain, second only to the royal residence El Escorial. It remains one of the largest and most architecturally distinguished industrial buildings ever built in Spain, and one of the oldest such buildings to survive.The factory was built just outside the Puerta de Jerez in the land known as “de las calaveras” ("of the skulls") because it had been the site of an Ancient Roman burial ground. Construction began in 1728, and proceeded by fits and starts over the next 30 years. The architects of the building were military engineers from Spain and the Low Countries.

The factory began production in 1758; the first tobacco auctions there (which were the first in Spain) took place in 1763. At that point the factory was employing a thousand men, two hundred horses, and had 170 "mills" (“molinos”: the devices used to turn the tobacco into snuff, known in Spanish as polvo or rapé); tobacco came both from Virginia and from the Spanish colonies in the Americas. According to the inscription on two of the pillars of the drawbridge on the west side, the building was finished in 1770.

The production of snuff was heavy work: enormous sheaves of tobacco were hauled around manually, and horses turned the grinding mills. For centuries, Seville remained Spain's only manufacturer of snuff. The rising popularity of cigars resulted in part of the factory being adapted for that purpose; cigars were also made in several other Spanish cities: Cádiz, Alicante, La Coruña, and Madrid. Long after the manufacture of cigars elsewhere in Spain (and in Cuba) had become women's work, the workforce in Seville remained entirely male. By the beginning of the 19th century, 700 men were employed in the factory to make cigars, and another thousand to make snuff.

 

   

 

Over time, however, Seville's cigars developed a poor reputation. There were frequent problems with labour discipline, and quality was lower than in the factories where women made cigars; furthermore, men received better wages than women, so these inferior cigars were more expensive than those produced elsewhere. The factory became less profitable. Matters were brought to a head during the Peninsular War. The cigar-making portion of the factory closed in 1811. When it reopened in 1813, it was with a female workforce, then (from 1816) a larger, mixed workforce, and finally (after 1829) an entirely female workforce again, some 6,000 of them at the peak in the 1880s before numbers began to decrease because of mechanization.

Labour unrest was less common among the women than it had been among the men, though by no means was it unknown. There were revolts or strikes in 1838, 1842, and 1885, but none of them was sustained for more than a few days. With mechanization, the labour force reduced to 3,332 in 1906, about 2,000 in 1920, and by the 1940s only about 1,100. Although the interior has been much altered, especially during the adaptation in the 1950s for use by the University of Seville, the Royal Tobacco Factory is a remarkable example of 18th-century industrial architecture. 

The building covers a roughly rectangular area of 185 by 147 metres (610 by 480 feet), with slight protrusions at the corners. The only building in Spain that covers a larger surface area is the monastery-palace of El Escorial, which is 207 by 162 metres (680 by 530 feet). There are paintings inside the Tobacco Factory recalling the women cigar makers who worked there. Outstanding among these is the painting by Gonzalo Bilbao, whose most well-known depictions of customs and manners are in the Seville Museum of Fine Arts, including other portrayals of women cigar makers. A ditch was dug around the factory with several sentry boxes, indicating a defensive use. Today it is the headquarters of Seville University.



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