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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.

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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The Story of Cava
11 January 2019

 

You probably drank a lot of Cava over the Christmas period, but do you know the story behind it? Three hundred years ago, wine was much more important than it is today. Currently, the annual consumption per capita in Spain is around 15 litres per year, whilst before, the consumption per capita would have been of around 150 to 200 litres.

In all probability, the reason justifying this higher consumption would have to be attributed to the need for higher levels of energy that were needed to perform the work that at that time was almost all manual and therefore, required more effort; which implied a higher intake of calories than today. This would explain the importance given to the cultivation of grapes and of all the associated wine industry, which weighed heavily within the economy of the territory, in particular in the area of the Mediterranean. At that time (XVIII century), wines had very different characteristics to current wines, since they were fortified with alcohol and were sold wholesale in vats, barrels or skins.

Already in the XVIII century, the Catalan people knew of the existence of sparkling wines, thanks to the cork manufacturers from the areas of La Selva and the Ampordà (Gerona) since they were the principal suppliers of cork tops to the Champagne manufacturers in France.

In the first half of the XIX century, the first steps are taken in Spain to manufacture sparkling wines following the same method of Champagne, and little by little they become aware that the preparation of these wines should not only be limited to the fermentation in the bottle, but that within the wine regions, locations should be found that due to the nature of their land and climate, would produce maximum quality wines.

 

 

During the second half of the century, some sparkling wines already became outstanding for their quality, winning some medals in international competitions such as the Universal Fairs in Paris or Vienna, to name some.

As from the end of the XVIII century, vine growing becomes the most important farming activity in Catalonia and particularly in the Penedés region.

According to historians, the evolution of this farm product can be attributed to the success obtained in the export of brandy and from the wines produced throughout the second half of the XVIII century and which increased during the XIX century.

But in this latter period the principal role was played by the invasion of phylloxera in the French vines, that as from 1863 stopped producing, and consequently, the Catalan wine producers went through a splendorous unprecedented era, known as the “gold fever” because it made the prices of the Catalan wines rise tremendously, due on the one hand to the scarcity of French wines and on the other to the development of sales by means of railways.

 

Although at that time it seemed impossible, the great production dream in which the inhabitants of the area lived, would receive a severe blow.

This was phylloxera, a very small insect but very prolific in reproducing, which could at great speed finish off any vine stocks it found in its path eating all the roots.

Phylloxera appeared for the first time in Europe in 1863 through Bordeaux, originating in America. This insect, which advanced at a rate of 40 km per year, first attacked the French vineyards and after a few years, it also attacked the Spanish vineyards.

However, while phylloxera attacked the French vineyards, the Spanish wine producers saw their earnings increased considerably by exporting their wines to France as well as to other countries that France could not supply.

When phylloxera reached Catalonia through Gerona in 1879, the way to fight this insect was already known, this was by grafting the vine to American rootstock that is resistant to the insect.

Once they found a way to combat phylloxera, now they could think of replanting the fields.

In Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, a group of farmers and wine producers, amongst which were Marc Mir and Manuel Raventós, committed themselves to a fast renovation of the vineyards and to the improvement of the sparkling wines that had recently become implanted in Spain and in particular in Sant Sadurní d’Anoia.

The great achievement was not only to have obtained the restoration of the fields but also in making the right decision to determine which kinds of grapes would develop more successfully in these lands.

Experiments began to take place with local grape varieties and with others that were already grown in the area, such as Macabeo, Xarel.lo, Parellada, Monastrell and Garnacha, as well as more central European varieties such as Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The refurbishing of the wine cellars, which at that time had no facilities for cooling the grape must, did not allow for the adaptation of the last two since being earlier varieties (more precocious) were harvested when the summer temperatures were too high, which entailed fermentation problems.

The visit of King Alfonso XIII to the Penedés in 1904 represented a recognition that the sparkling wines produced in the area were quality wines, at the same time reinforcing the area in its self-esteem and promoting its projection.

In this way, little by little the production of sparkling wines is consolidated. In 1911 the official statistics show that the sales of these wines in Spain already exceeded the amount of foreign sparkling wines. At the same time, the development of exports is also carried out towards the Latin American countries with which Spain had always kept a good relationship due to the origin and relationship of its inhabitants.

New technologies are introduced, and the quality in the trade improves and working conditions become increasingly more professional.

The development of society at the end of the ’50s and ’60s provokes an increase in consumption of wines from 5 to 40 million bottles, which obliges winemakers and producers to make increasingly large investments to cover an increase in demand.

This same growth phenomenon also commences to appear in Europe after the Second World War, but while German and Italian sparkling wine producers opt for carrying out the second fermentation in large pressure tanks, French and Spanish producers opt for maintaining the traditional method of obtaining the sparkle naturally with a second fermentation of the wine in the bottle itself.

Intensification of cultivation is already a fact. The industrialisation and commercial aspect of sparkling wine become increasingly more important.

One of the most relevant periods with regards to change that takes place in the viticulture sector is, without doubt, the decade of the ’60s. In all spheres, there are profound modifications in the structures with the objective of improving quality. New rules and regulations are established in order to guarantee the quality of the products and improvements in viticulture techniques continue to be introduced. There is an introduction of new technologies in bodega infrastructure, vinification processes are perfected and a good economic level is attained with the increase in sales. As an anecdote, during a symposium on economy held in 1964, it was already being said the Cava (Champán or Xampany as it was called at that time) had very good perspectives both in the national as well as in the international markets and taking into account a future joining of the common market, the future production of cava could reach a roof of 100 million bottles. Today the production of Cava has exceeded 230 million bottles.

 

 

The decade of the 70s was the time when the great expansion of Cava outside the country took place, and it continued to grow until today with a presence in over 120 countries.

Due to legal security matters and economic needs, as from 1932, new regulations are enacted in Spain to regulate the wine sector, which will modify all the legal organisation with the publishing of a framework law, a series of regulations of inferior legal range and the creation of Regulating Councils. The Decree of April 18, 1932, created the “system guarantee of the origin of the wines” and a period of 4 months is set for completing this Decree with a General Statute for Wine.

With the Wine Statute of 1932, the production system is regulated for viniculture products, which represents the very first legislative systemization that is applied in our country. What it is, in fact, is a legal text promulgated with the object of organising all activities of the whole viniculture sector in the Spanish State. Said Statute defines sparkling wines as “those that have carbon dioxide produced within the wines by second alcoholic fermentation in the closed container, that is spontaneously, or produced by the classical method for these productions or variations”.

But it was only later that an Order of 1959 when the first Spanish rules were passed on sparkling wines. It was also in this text when for the very first time in official documents the word “Cava” was used, although this name did not have at this time the etymology which later would become the defining word for sparkling wine.
These rules also set forth that those producers of sparkling wines that wish to state on the labels the type of production, must request it from the authorities in order that the label may have a subtitle in smaller letters than those used for “Sparkling Wine”, that mention “Aged and produced in a Cave”.

Here, the generic name “Cava” was not to be applied in a specific manner until the enactment of a new Rule in January 1966 approving the “Regulations for Sparkling and Gasified Wines”. This rule defines the word “Cava” to characterise the sparkling wines of the classical system of fermentation in the bottle and ageing in the cellar, and a consulting and ancillary body is set up of the General Directorate for Agriculture, called the Sparkling Wines Council, which acts as a link between the producing sector and the Government. Specifically in its Article 5 it is established that “The producers of sparkling wines by the classical system of fermentation in the bottle and ageing in the Cellar may characterise their products with the Name of “Cava”, which is the distinctive brand for this system of production, after prior authorisation from the General Directorate of Agriculture”.

During the ’50s and ’60s Cava begins becoming a well-known product. An interesting fact is worthy of mention in this History of Cava and that is the case of “Spanish Champagne”, which occurred in the United Kingdom during the ’50s.

In the mid-’50s, the fact that a company was selling in the United Kingdom, with a certain amount of success, a wine labelled with the name of “Spanish Champagne”, began to draw the attention of the large companies distributing French Champagne, all of which took the case to the Courts.

At that time, the United Kingdom had not signed the Treaty of Rome, for which reason the rules for the denominations of European origin were not applicable in that country and in fact, other countries such as Australia, Germany, Russia or Cyprus had also sold and were selling products under the name of Champagne.

In 1958, in a first lawsuit, which was heard in the penal courts, a popular jury declared the Spanish company innocent, condemning the defendants to pay the costs for the court case. Nevertheless, the French industry continued with legal actions and in a second court case in 1960, this time through the civil courts, the Court ordered that the company desist from selling the sparkling wine in question under any description that included the word Champagne since the expression “Spanish Champagne” could confuse a part of British consumers.
This particular case brought an important precedent. As from that time, in the United Kingdom and the whole Commonwealth, the word Champagne could only be used to describe the wine produced in this region under the rulings of the AOC.

A few years later, in 1966, Spain ratifies and adheres to the Lisbon Agreement where the protection of certain geographical names is recognised and among these, that of “Champagne”. This position will be reasserted in the “Ratification Instrument of the Agreement between the Spanish State and the French Republic on the protection of the Denominations of Origin, an indication of origin and Denominations of certain products and Protocol” drawn up in Madrid in 1973.

With the future entry of Spain into the Common Market, the need arises for adapting the legislation on Cava to the community rulings. Due to this need, the Order of the 27th of February 1986 is published by which it is established that the Denomination “Cava” is reserved for quality sparkling wines produced by the traditional method in the region that is established therein. It was in this Order, specifically in its annexe, where the area of production is determined of the Determined Region for Cava and which is currently defined in the Regulation for Cava that are in force.

The incorporation of Spain into the CEE on the 1st of January 1986, signifies the recognition of Cava as a Quality Sparkling Wine Produced in a Determined Region (V.E.C.P.R.D.), category in which are grouped all the first category or maximum quality sparkling wines and which are comparable to the Denominations of Origin and what it, in fact, means, is the recognition of the CEE, that Cava can only be produced in the Spanish State and provided that this is within what is known as the “Cava region”.



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The Three Wise Men and thousands of tin cans
04 January 2019

By boat, camel, horse, helicopter, on foot, by donkey or even in a convertible ... they will get there any way they can. The three wise men or the Three Kings will visit all towns around Spain on the 5th of January and most towns will organise their festive floats and parades to welcome them but in Algeciras, they will be summoned by an extremely noisy tradition with more than a century of tradition

On January 5th in the morning, before the Three Kings Parade, Algeciras celebrates the 'Arrastre de Latas' (Dragging of Cans), when the children of the city drag a string of tin cans through the streets. This tradition has a couple of explanations the first being an attempt to banish the "Giant of Botafuegos" who every Christmas tries to cover the sea with grey fog, obscuring the star from the Three Kings and thus making it impossible for them to proceed and also impossible to see the port of Algeciras. The noise scares off the Giant and the fog vanishes meaning that the children are able to receive their gifts. However there is another version of this legend: in the olden days when many families were too poor to buy presents, parents told their children that the Three Kings had so much work to do that they were tired and had fallen asleep. Therefore the children decided to make as much noise as they could so that the Kings would hear them and dragging tins through the streets was an effective solution.

 


Every year over 40,000 children, parents and grandparents attend this traditional ceremony before the arrival of the Kings. On the 5th of January, all participants congregate in the Plaza Andalucia at 11:00 am and at midday they set off for Llano Amarillo near the port, where the Kings are scheduled to arrive at around 13:00 pm.

Melchor, Gaspar and Baltasar for many children are more important than Santa Claus but these three Kings were not always three or even Kings, there was even a time when the three were all white because Baltasar was not black until the sixteenth century. It was at that point that the Church wanted the wise men to represent the three parts of the known world: Melchor: old, bearded, white-haired representing Europe; Gaspar: young blonde on behalf of Asia and Baltasar: black, personifying the African continent. However what is general belief is that these wise men visited Christ on the twelfth day of Christmas, carrying Gold, Frankincense and myrrh.

    



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Why do the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year's Eve?
27 December 2018

 

Traditions have always aroused a lot of curiosity in me, because there is always a reason for them, nothing just happens by chance. Every year I celebrate the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes and many years ago I wondered why they actually did this and nobody really seemed to know why. Still to this very day I am yet to meet a Spaniard who knows the story..... so I always end up telling it...

The very short version of the story, which is pretty much common knowledge, is that wine farmers from Alicante and Murcia promoted the tradition in 1909. They were eager to sell on their large surplus of grapes from the incredible harvest they had had that year. However, although this story has some truth to it, the real origin dates back even further.

If we define the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes as when twelve grapes are eaten in the Puerta del Sol at 12 am on December 31, which is basically the general understanding, the first written testimony of this goes as far back as January 1897 when the Madrid Press published that in "Madrid it is customary to eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes twelve, separating the outgoing year from the incoming year…" this means that at least in 1896 it was done, and probably many years before that for it to be considered  “customary” by the local press.

The plausible explanation for why someone decided it was a good idea to get cold the last night of the year waiting for a clock to strike 12 strokes and choke on a dozen grapes goes back to 1882. That year the mayor of Madrid, José Abascal y Carredano, decided to impose a tax of 5 pesetas for all those who wanted to go out and celebrate the Three Kings on the night of January 5. The purpose of this was not to stop any tradition or start any new ones but to stop the general public from raising hell and getting drunk through the night – this should not be confused with the festive floats and processions which were in the afternoon and open to everyone. 

However, it did deprive the vast majority of the locals of partying that night, except for those that were well off, of course. This obviously led to the people rebelling and trying to find a way to let off steam so New Year’s Eve became the night of preference for partying and an opportunity to make a mockery of the recent bourgeois traditions imported from France and Germany. The local newspapers frequently published how the upper class now celebrated the New Year by drinking champagne and eating grapes during the New Year’s Eve dinner, so as an act of protest the working class would congregate in the Puerta del Sol and eat grapes as the clock struck twelve.

This behaviour quickly spread and popularised in the capital, to the point that in 1897 the merchants of the city advertised the sale of “Lucky Grapes” and within just a few years it was known as far away as Tenerife.  Now, this is when the Levante wine farmers come on the scene, taking advantage of their surplus production in 1909, they carried out a national campaign to embed and enhance the custom throughout the country and were thus able to sell all their harvest.

Clearly, it worked and today there are few who do not welcome the New Year with 12 grapes in their hand and eat them to the sound of each stroke as it counts down to the New Year. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, many don’t finish them in time and it does take a bit of practice but it is the effort that counts, no effort – no luck, well at least that’s what those who don’t succeed tend to say… 

For those who cannot be in the Puerta del Sol, they will follow it on television, normally on La Primera which tops the national audience ratings year after year with around 8 million viewers, some 6 million more than second place. Being such an important occasion some people spend a few extra minutes to remove the seeds or peel the skins off their grapes all in an attempt to improve their chances of swallowing them in time. My best piece of advice is: buy small seedless grapes and you’ll have no problem but they are not easy to come by as the traditional grape variety for New Year's Eve is the Vinalopó from the Valencian Community, the one promoted by the wine farmers back in 1909, so if you can't find seedless try to avoid the large juicy ones or you’ll be in trouble and may well choke your way into the New Year, try and pick the smaller ones and at least remove the seeds…. Good Luck and wishing you all a Happy New Year!

 



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The Solemn Changing of the Guard
03 December 2018

 

Behind the gates of the Plaza de la Armería at the Royal Palace everyone struggles to get the best spot. The stalls in the venue have been taken long before - you have to be on the ball and get there very early- and the steps leading to La Almudena Cathedral are packed out. The clock is about to chime and the horses can be heard trotting in the distance. It's a bright, sunny day and the rays shine off the soldiers' silver armour. The Changing of the Guard has begun.

A spectacle which is more commonly associated with Buckingham Palace also has its version in Spain. The Music Unit kicks off the Solemn Changing of the Guard, which is performed on the first Wednesday of each month (except July, August and September and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting). The strains of El Almirante, Doña Francisquita, España Cañí ring out. The fifes and drums accompany the marches, as the guards stand to attention, incoming and outgoing soldiers waiting with their weapons on their shoulders.

The lancers and cuirassiers parade with rifle companies, and soldiers -men and women- in charge of the artillery and the ammunition carriages for almost an hour. In total, 400 people and 100 horses stage the changing of the guard as it was performed in the times of King Alfonso XII and King Alfonso XIII, wearing the same uniforms.

 

 

A veritable show, which is complemented each Wednesday and Saturday of the year, at 11 am (except July, August and September: from 10 am to 12 noon) at Puerta del Príncipe. Every half an hour (infantry) and every hour (soldiers on horseback) until 2 pm, four members of the Royal Guard are relieved of their positions, dressed in their gala uniforms -red, white and blue-. Soldiers march to the beat of a fife (a very high-pitched piccolo used in military bands) and a drum, following official orders and commands.
A different way to enjoy Madrid and its traditions.


INFO:

Solemn Changing of the Guard: On the first Wednesday of each month at 12 o’clock midday, (except July, August and September and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting). Approximate duration: 50 minutes. Free entry via the Puerta de Santiago gate which leads into the Plaza de la Armería from Calle Bailén. The event is usually rounded off by a concert on the Puerta del Príncipe esplanade (Calle Bailén) offered by Unidad de Música. 


Changing the Guard: Every Wednesday and Saturday of the year from 11 am to 2 pm (except July, August and September: from 10 am to 12 noon, and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting) at the Puerta del Príncipe (Calle Bailén).  



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How Spain revolutionised the Train
28 November 2018

Ever wondered why Spain has one of the best railroad systems in the world and always has had?

Well, it’s because they effectively invented “modern” rail travel and have been innovating for decades.

The “Tren Articulada Ligero Goicoechea Oriols” (TALGO) appeared in the 40’s and is considered the first “modern train” in history. It was a revolutionary train, in design and function that concentrated on aerodynamics, style and comfort with speed for the first time. The first time it was revealed it must have created a real stir, similar to a futuristic prototype car being revealed at a car show.

 

 

However, Talgo trains are best known for their unconventional articulated railway passenger car that uses a type similar to the Jacobs bogie that Talgo patented in 1941. The wheels are mounted in pairs but not joined by an axle and the bogies are shared between coaches rather than underneath individual coaches. This allows a railway car to take a turn at higher speed with less swaying. As the coaches are not mounted directly onto wheel bogies, the coaches are more easily insulated from track noise.  For many decades TALGO dominated the world market controlling event eh North American railroad market from the 60’s through to the 80’s, in fact many trains still running today are TALGO’s. Alejandro Goicoechea was the creator of this train that changed the face of rail travel globally. The Talgo I was built in 1942 in Spain. The coaches were built at the "Hijos de Juan Garay Fábrica" in Oñati and the locomotive was built at the workshops of the "Compañia de Norte" in Valladolid. It was built as a prototype, and it was used to set several railroad speed records.

Talgo II coaches and locomotives were first built in 1950 at the American Car and Foundry Company (ACF) works in the United States under the direction of Spanish engineers, and entered service on the Rock Island Line, servicing the Jet Rocket train, between Chicago and Peoria, Illinois. One was also trialled on the New York Central Railroad until 1958 but saw little success. Talgos were also built for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad for its "John Quincy Adams" train from (New York City to Boston, Massachusetts), and the Boston and Maine Railroad for its "Speed Merchant" train, running between (Boston, Massachusetts and Portland, Maine). Soon afterwards, Talgo II trains began running in Spain, and were successfully operated until 1972.

TALGO continued to develop trains and is still one of the major contenders in the global market. Today they manufacture all types of trains including the Talgo 350, which entered service as the RENFE AVE marking the company's entry into the high-speed train manufacturing market. Tests with the prototype commenced in 1994 and Talgo 350 trains have been operating at a top commercial speed of 330 km/h since 22 December 2007.  It has recently launched a very high-speed train called the AVRIL (Alta Velocidad Rueda Independiente Ligero - Light Independent Wheel High Speed), which can travel at 380km/h.

 

 

Things have moved on a bit, haven't they?



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Thinking in a second language makes us more rational
15 November 2018

Ever heard this as a child? : “What language do you need me to use so you’ll pay attention?”

It turns out that there is some truth behind the question. A series of recent scientific studies suggests that we think and make decisions differently if we process the information in a language other than our mother tongue.

Even if we grasp the notion equally well in both languages, our final decision on the matter will tend to be better thought out, less emotional and more results-oriented.

A leading expert  on bilingualism at Pompeu Fabra University in Barcelona, Albert Costa, believes it is good for deliberative thinking; it makes you think twice about things.

Costa began his research with the tramway dilemma: would you push someone onto the tracks if that death were to save the lives of five other people? The moral conflict involved in sending someone to their death appears to vanish when the question is put to subjects in a language other than their mother tongue.

The proportion of people willing to sacrifice a person for the larger good shot up from 20% to nearly 50%, with the only difference being that they processed the question in a second language.

It appears that processing information in a foreign language makes us less prone to emotional thinking and more focused on efficient results. We become less moralistic and more utilitarian.

The research also finds that thinking in another language increases our tolerance for risk-taking on anything from planning a trip to embracing a new breakthrough in biotechnology.

As the Nobel winner Daniel Kahneman explains, our brain seems to have a System 1, which focuses on fast, instinctive and stereotypic thinking, and a System 2, which deals with issues requiring greater consideration.

In our native language, we may be more prone to using System 1, while the additional effort required for thinking in a foreign language might trigger System 2. This could explain the higher percentage of people who overcome loss aversion and moral dilemmas in a foreign language.

For instance, these insights might be useful during negotiations that require participants to put their personal feelings to one side and focus on the greater good.

 

 

 



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