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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.

Preserved Fish - One of Spain's Specialities
06 May 2021

Good practice and respect for the age-old tradition of preserves combined with the use of state-of-the-art technology has placed Spain among the top countries in the world ranking of the preserves industry.

But preserving did not replace salting the fish until the end of the 19th century, although the seed was planted back at the beginning of this century. In 1810, Frenchman Nicolás Appert revealed his method for preserving food using thermal sterilisation. Shortly thereafter, Peter Durand patented the tinning container.

But it was English engineers Bryan Donkin and John Hall who purchased the patent and opened a preserves factory where they packaged mainly meats and vegetables. France was where the practice of preserving fish and shellfish began.

In Spain, the origins of this industry go back over two centuries. The Galician Sea inlets were one of the main areas for salting fish, while the Catalan migrants arriving in the 18th century to commercialise sardines brought new technology with them.

The turn of the 19th century was a glorious time for the preserves industry in the Galician ports due in part to Spanish neutrality during World War I.

Up until 1936 the preserves industry had experienced a period of growth but the self-sufficiency policies at the hand of Franco resulted in Spain closing itself off to the rest of the world and shortages of raw materials forced preserves companies to fold. With this in mind, the growth of the transformational preserves industry of the Galician Sea inlets at the beginning of the 20th century was far superior to other relevant areas such as Asturias or Cantabria, with the latter specialising in marinades.

Albacore tuna belly in olive oil
Tuna belly in olive oil is one of the many delicacies obtained from the reputed Albacore tuna due to its supple texture and its tremendous flavour. Its smooth and delicate texture makes it very pleasing to the palate. It is a very nutritious fish, rich in protein, polyunsaturated fats, omega 3, vitamins and minerals. The best Albacore tuna are caught along the Cantabria Coast and the flavoursome bellies are removed and preserved in olive oil, making a delicious treat.


 

 

Albacore tuna in olive oil
The albacore tuna in olive oil preserve is considered the best of the tuna family in Spain and in other international markets such as the US and France. Towards the end of June, fishermen catch the best specimens of albacore tuna in the Cantabrian Sea, although the season lasts until the beginning of autumn. Since the mid 20th century, this white-flesh fish with mild flavours and textures has taken on greater significance in the fishing industry.

 

Atlantic Chub Mackerel in olive oil

 

 

 

 

 

The Atlantic chub mackerel (caballa del sur) and its quality are guaranteed by the Protected Designation of Origin of Caballa and Melva in Andalusia and its traditional flavour takes us to the southernmost part of Spain. The catching region is between the months of April and September. This fish preserve began to be refined when the preserves industry was flourishing in the region, at the end of the 19th century. The traditional flavour of the Atlantic chub mackerel is unique to the south of Spain. It is advisable to buy it preserved in olive oil, presented as perfectly firm fillets. As to the nutritional characteristics, it has a high protein, omega 3, and vitamin and mineral content.

 

Cantabrian anchovies in olive oil
This semi-preserved salt-cured fish with an intense flavour that is rich in omega-3, was brought to Spain by the Italian craftsmen who found the best specimens of bocartes (anchovies) in the Cantabrian Sea.

The term bocarte is another name given to this species due to the large mouth it uses to feed on marine plankton (boca=mouth in Spanish). The ideal time of year to catch anchovies for preserves is during the spring months.

Despite the fact that the Basque fleet – mainly from Bermeo and Ondarroa – catches the most anchovies, Cantabria is the region that leads in the production of anchovy preserves. Santoña is, in fact, the town with the greatest tradition of this activity and is where the industry is most highly concentrated. However, both Asturias and Galicia produce high-quality anchovy preserves in addition to the Basque Country.

But the origin of anchovy preserves is with the Italian craftspeople who came to Spain at the end of the 19th century in search of the fish that had become scarce in their waters, and because the best quality ones could be found in the Cantabrian Sea.


Clams

Clam preserves reign over all the others. This mollusc satisfies even the most refined palates due to its delicate and succulent taste. It offers the most aromatic sea flavour that you can find. The best clams are caught in the Rías Gallegas (Galician Sea inlets).

Noia and Arousa are significant clam-catching sites, although high-quality clam specimens are also caught in the towns of Ribeira and Aguiño. Clam season starts in October and the gatherers collect the best specimens for use in preserves during this month.
This delicacy provides many benefits since it is very low in calories but rich in high-quality protein. It is one of the foods with the highest iron, iodine, phosphorus, and calcium levels.

The historical evolution of clam products is similar to that of the cockle, although it has always been superior and is the most choice preserve.

 

Coastal anchovies


Anchovies are small oily fish with silver bellies that live in saltwater. Preserved anchovies are received fresh from the port and are then are cut, eviscerated, and cleaned by hand in brine. Next they are steamed in a cooking tunnel. The result is a product with a smooth texture and intense aroma. It is canned in olive oil.


Cockles


The best cockles and mussels are those caught in the Rías Baixas area where the season starts in October. Shellfish have always represented one of the major dietary staples of the Galician coasts. In the 1940s, the packaging of this preserve began, along with mussel industrial processing, reaching its peak with the economic boom of the 1960s.

Cockles are rich in iron, practically fat-free, very low in calories and offer a high-quality protein content. Packed one-by-one using the traditional method, they have an intense sea flavour.

 

Hake roe in olive oil

The world of canned seafood has been getting more sophisticated. Today we can talk about preserves that go beyond the usual mussels and tuna. That’s where hake roe comes in.  It is obtained from the animal during spawning season and is a delicate and highly valued food with a smooth texture. The roe is sorted, washed, and boiled, sliced or with the outer sac removed, and preserved in olive oil.
Just open and serve! Even though it doesn’t need any condiments you can find hake roe on the market seasoned with lemon, hot pepper, or cayenne pepper.

 

Mussels in marinade


The use of mussel-harvesting ponts in the Ría de Arousa Inlet from the 1940s onward gave rise to one of the most typical preserves in Spain. Marinating shellfish is the most traditional conservation method, as this technique was used in the past for its preservation. The best product is normally harvested from September to November, coinciding with highest production levels. The “Mexillón de Galicia” or Galician Mussel has its own Protected Designation of Origin, due to its excellent quality.

 

Razor clams
Razor clams get their name from the shape of their shell, which is like a blade. They are one of the Galician Sea’s jewels, owed to their succulent and prized flesh. Although they can be found in other Spanish seas, razor clams are mostly found in Galicia. They inhabit sandy coastal areas and spend most of the time burrowing in a vertical position. Their burrows can reach a depth of up to 50 centimetres. On the sand they leave a distinctive shape of the number 8.
They are dug year round with the diving method, although experienced and daring shellfish gatherers have a trick that is both surprising and foolproof: they place a handful of salt next to the hole where the burrowed razor clams live.
The colour of this shellfish ranges from white to light brown with brown or red strips. The shells, when stretched open display very fine vertical and horizontal fissures.
If eaten fresh they can be served grilled with a little olive oil or simply a bit of lemon. However, as a preserve, they are an excellent choice, ideal at any time of day.

 

Sardines in olive oil


The sardine is the most veteran of all the preserves and the most traditional one in Spanish pantries. It was the first fish that was put through the preservation process at the beginning of the 19th century. Although the technique for making preserves comes from England, it was Frenchman Nicolas Appert who made the system available to all households in 1810. It is of French origin, specifically Nantes, which is why this fish preserve was referred to as “Nantes-style sardines” for such a long time.

The area for catching sardines spans the entire coast of Spain but the Galician coast is particularly abundant in this type of fish. In fact, by the beginning of the 20th century, the predominant sardine fishing area was the Galician Sea inlets.
It is a noble seafood, humble yet flavourful. Truly a great food. To determine the quality of this product, the fat content of each sardine must be considered. The more polyunsaturated fats, the better the flavour is. Peak sardine catching season is from summer onwards, but especially between the months of September and November; an optimum time for fishing.

This fish is very nutritionally complete and healthy. Its high protein, omega 3, calcium and phosphorus content has made sardine preserves in olive oil a staple in Spanish pantries.


Squid


This cephalopod mollusk (the smallest of which is called chipirón in Spain) is one of the most popular sea preserves. n the canned goods market, it is usually found cooked in its own ink, stuffed or cut, or accompanied by the unmistakable spicy sauce américaine. For a complete and delicious meal, all you have to do is open the can and enjoy the contents with rice. In addition, squid is often prepared with garlic or accompanied by the fantastic simplicity of olive oil.

 

Tuna Mojama


Mojama tuna is the star of salt-curing and is considered a delicacy in Andalusian cuisine.This fish preserve is prepared with large pieces of red tuna as a raw ingredient. This type of tuna is traditionally caught using the age-old art of fishing of the almadrabas, a practice that has been preserved throughout centuries in the area surrounding the Gibraltar countryside and is still used today. 

The fish is dried in special drying tunnels for at least 18 days. The result is a unique product reminiscent of salt-cured ham due to its texture and appearance, but that retains that unmistakeable sea flavour in its layers. The way it is sliced is of key importance in the tuna mojama product, just as with salt-cured ham, and it is done with extreme care in the Andalusian preserves industry.

 

Urchin caviar


 

Urchin roe is a highly valued food. They are extracted from the animal, washed, and sorted, then canned as is.
They have an intense sea flavor and an attractive bright reddish color. There’s nothing like urchin if you are looking for the greatest concentration and expression of the sea in a food.
Thanks to its production in preserves, you can enjoy this delicacy during the off season, any time of year, and anywhere.

 


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Patron of the Kingdom
28 April 2021

 

The Real Monasterio de Santa María del Puig was declared a National Artistic and Historic Monument (Asset of Cultural Interest) in 1969. It stands in the town of El Puig, in the area known as the Horta Nord of the Region of Valencia, only 14 km from the city of Valencia.

The monastery was built in the style of a Renaissance religious building with Herrerian influence, with four towers as defensive features. It was founded by the order of King Jaume I, known as The Conqueror, in 1240. Its historic importance comes from the fact that this was the setting for the definitive confrontation in the conquest of Valencia in 1237, the Battle of El Puig.

The monastery was founded on the orders of King Jaume I. While the king was in the town of El Puig preparing to besiege the city of Valencia, San Pedro Nolasco, founder of the Order of Merced, unearthed a stone carved icon of the Virgin Mary that had been buried under a bell on the hill where the monastery stands today. The king regarded this find as a miraculous event and proclaimed Santa María de El Puig as the Patron of the Kingdom of Valencia, ordering a monastery to be built to house the image and appointing the Mercedarians as guardians of the sanctuary in perpetuity. No trace remains of the initial building, which would have been a simple chapel dating back to the Reconquest, except for the entrance to the present-day church, which is not in its original location.

The purpose for which the monastery has been used has changed a number of times over the years, as it has been a church, a prison and a school. Nowadays, part of the building is still occupied by the Mercedarians and the other areas serve as venues for cultural and political events.

Inside, you can visit the cloisters, the Royal room, exclusively for use by Spanish monarchs when they visit Valencia, the Jaume I Gothic room, where a reproduction of the king's sword is on display alongside a section of facsimile documents, and the Salón de la Cerámica (Ceramics room), housing numerous ceramic items dating back to the Romans, the Iberians and other periods in history.

 

 



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What is the origin of Spain's famous Tapas?
14 April 2021

 

The tapa is one of the definitive symbols of Spanish gastronomy. Exported to much of the world, it is increasingly common to come across a tapas bar in the most unlikely places on the planet: it's quite understandable, everyone likes to eat, drink and a good chat. But despite the considerable international success of the tapa, the specific origin of this gastronomic act is still unknown: why did the famous Spanish tapas emerge?

Most of the versions about the origin of the tapa put its etymology in relation to the act of 'covering' (tapar = cover). In this sense, it is said that since ancient times there would have been a custom associated with taverns, bars and food outlets: putting food - generally ham or cheese - on top of the jug or glass, usually wine. And why on top? Tradition states that the piece of food would prevent insects or dust from entering the wine and that it would retain its flavour longer. It makes sense, doesn't it?

However, there are those who point out that this traditional explanation has a weak point: if the lid covers the wine, what covers the lid?. The insects or the dust would end up on the piece of food something and that would not be too pleasant either.

On the other hand, the term 'tapa' has coexisted for many years with another that refers to a very similar concept: the pincho or pintxo, more common in northern Spain. It would be a "lid" that includes a toothpick to facilitate its handling. Unlike the traditional tapa that is accompanied free with the drink, the northern pincho is not free and it is the diner himself or herself who takes it directly from the bar, where the trays of pinchos are usually displayed.

So when does the concept of a 'cover' appear in literature? In the book 'El Lazarillo de Tormes' drinks were already covered with food, but the name 'tapa' does not appear. Likewise, in Don Quixote or in some of Quevedo's works the same concept is also present, but with different names: 'Callings' in the case of Cervantes' writings, the idea being of 'calling' one's thirst, and 'Warnings' in the case of Quevedo: an aperitif that prepared you for the main dish that was coming later.

The truth is that the Royal Academy of Language has no evidence that the word 'tapa' appeared in any cookbook before the 1930s, pointing out that it is an 'Andalusianism', a term that would emerge in southern Spain and then it would be exported to the rest of the country... and then to the whole world.

Despite the fact that the word 'cover' is less than a century old in its current sense, the legends about its origin go back much further in time. Here are some of the possible 'mythical' origins of the Spanish tapa...

1. Back in the 13th century, Alfonso X El Sabio saw fit to put into practice a decree to ensure the health of the population: he ordered the inns of his kingdom to serve some food accompanying the wine they served in order to 'soften' the effect of the alcohol on the patrons. Apparently, the king had previously been prescribed a glass of wine to treat an ailment and not seeing it clearly, he decided to add a little food ... making him feel much better.

2. Another version of the term could have arisen in a tavern in San Fernando where the Catholic Monarchs stopped off: there were so many flies in that 'shack' that the king asked for a slice of something to cover the wine: “here you have your 'cover', your majesty " he is claimed to have said. 

3. In the second half of the 16th century, the French term étape was borrowed and used as 'tapa' in the realm of war: it would refer to the soldiers' rations during a march that lasted more than one day. In this sense, the 'tapa' would have been the place where this snack was made and 'tapear' would be the action of eating it while resting briefly.

4. Just as the modern hamburger could have arisen, the tapa could also have been born from the need to transport the food and drink more comfortably: they say that the gentlemen of the private clubs of Seville went out to order drinks from the nearby 'tablaos' placing a slice of sausage on top so they could free up a hand...practicality.

5. During the 20th century and returning to Andalusia where it is more than likely that the origin of this divine aperitif originated, Alfonso XIII was travelling through Cádiz when he decided to stop at the Ventorrillo del Chato inn by the beach (still located in the same place). He ordered a Jerez wine and the innkeeper quickly came with the glass and a piece of ham that he had placed on top of it to prevent sand on the beach from being blown into the wine by the wind.

Be what it may, the truth is that tapas have become an emblem of Spanish gastronomy, one of Spain's most beloved customs, does it really matter how it originated? I don't think so.



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A Napoleonic victory with the help of the Poles
25 March 2021

This whitewashed Spanish church may be small, but its walls hold memorials to a mighty event in military history. Its plaques and stunning stained glass window pay tribute to the Polish cavalrymen who charged their way into a victory over the Spanish forces during the Peninsular War.

In the early 18th century, Poland lost its independence and was divided and ruled by its not-so-friendly neighbours, the Kingdom of Prussia and the Russian Empire. Most of the Polish Army was absorbed into the armies of the occupying countries. However, many Polish cavalrymen, known as uhlans, took off to France and fought in the Napoleonic Wars alongside the French army.

 

 

Alongside the French, the Polish cavalry took part in many of the most notable battles of the Napoleonic period. They were the first unit of Napoleon’s army to enter the Moscow Kremlin during the emperor’s invasion of Russia. However, perhaps their most notable success (and certainly the best known) is the Battle of Somosierra, which occurred during of the Peninsular War.

 

 

During his advance on Madrid, Napoleon was blocked on November 30, 1808, by 9,000 Spaniards in the valley of Somosierra in the Sierra de Guadarrama. Because of the tough nature of the terrain, the Spanish forces could not easily be outflanked. Impatient to proceed toward Madrid, Napoleon ordered his Polish light cavalry escort to charge the Spaniards. Despite losing two-thirds of their numbers, the Poles succeeded in forcing the defenders to abandon their position.

  

On the exterior the Ermita de Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, a small chapel which lies directly at the side of the old Madrid to Burgos road (now by-passed by a tunnel carrying the A1 Autovia), you can see a memorial to the event. The Polish government placed a brass plaque onto one of the church’s walls in 1993 to honour its valiant fighters. The event is also marked by a plaque inside the hermitage and by the gorgeous stained glass window, which depicts a Spanish artilleryman and Polish uhlan on either side of an image of the Madonna.

 



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The Capital of Spain moved between 10 cities
03 March 2021

Although there are those who still think that Madrid has always been the capital of Spain, the truth is that it has not. Throughout the history of the country and for different historical reasons throughout it, the capital moved in the past to other cities such as Toledo, Valladolid, Cádiz or Valencia, among others. All this together with the first capitals that were part of the peninsula at the time of ancient Visigothic Hispania, at the time of the Roman Republic or at the beginning of the Kingdom of Spain that originated after the reconquest in Covadonga (Asturias). These are the cities that have been the capital of Spain:

Cordoba


Córdoba was founded by the Romans during the second century BC, and it also became the capital of Hispania in times of the Roman Republic, as well as the Betica province during the Roman Empire. But its moment of splendour as a capital occurred during the Muslim domination of the Iberian Peninsula when it rose as the capital of the Emirate of Córdoba. A history that has also led it to become the city that houses the most titles of World Heritage Sites and thanks to authentic treasures that still live on today such as the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, its historic centre, the Fiesta de Los Patios or the palatine city of Medina Azahara, among others.

 

Barcelona


Barcelona was the first capital of Hispania Goda and it was reinstated several times specifically during the Visigothic period. Known at that time as Barcino, present-day Barcelona was a Roman city until the arrival of the Goths. Few remains from that Visigoth period are currently preserved in Barcelona, but most of what has been preserved can be seen in the archaeological basement of the Barcelona History Museum. Another important moment in the history of the city would be in 1937 when, in the middle of the Civil War, it was decided to move the headquarters of the Republican Government to Barcelona.

 

Cangas de Onís


In addition to being known as one of the must-see visits if you travel to Asturias, as well as for the Covadonga Cave, the Basilica and the famous lakes of Covadonga, Cangas de Onís was the first capital of Asturias and according to Asturians, it was also the first capital of the Kingdom of Spain. It was precisely in Covadonga where Don Pelayo won the battle against Muslim troops in 722, thus initiating the Reconquest. In Cangas de Onís, Don Pelayo first established the capital of the Kingdom of Asturias and later that of Spain.
 

Toledo


Toledo has had its role as capital in two moments in history. The first was in the year 567 when King Atanagildo decided to move the capital of the Spanish Visigothic Kingdom from Barcelona to Toledo. In this way, Toledo became the capital of the Kingdom of Spain. Hundreds of years later, between 1519 and 1561, Toledo once again became the capital of the Spanish empire with Carlos V, but they would finally end up in 1561 with the Cortes moving to Madrid.


Madrid


The history of Madrid as capital begins in May 1561 when Felipe II makes the decision to establish the Court permanently in this city. A decision that would forever change the history of the city, which at that time was just one more city in the kingdom. One of the main reasons associated with this decision is the geographical centrality of Madrid with respect to the rest of the peninsula, although this change has also been linked to political and love affairs on the part of Felipe II.

From this moment the accelerated growth of this city began, although it should be noted that between 1601 and 1939 the Cortes passed in different periods of time from Madrid to other cities such as Valladolid, Seville, Cádiz, Valencia or Burgos, the latter two, coinciding with the instability of the Spanish Civil War. It is finally in 1939 when the capital city returns permanently to Madrid.

 

Valladolid


For the city of Valladolid, history took an unexpected turn in 1601 after the advisor of Felipe III, the Duke of Lerma, managed to transfer the Court of Madrid to Valladolid. An unexpected event that made Valladolid the capital of the Empire from 1601 to 1606. An event that also brought this city its moment of maximum splendour.

 

Seville


Seville was the capital of Spain specifically for two years and at the same time that the Napoleonic wars occurred (between 1808 and 1810). In those years, a large part of Spanish territory was invaded by Napoleon's troops and Seville was one of the places where they fought with the greatest force against these troops. It was specifically on December 16, 1808, when Count Floridablanca, president of the 'Junta Central', summoned the Junta to Seville, from which time Seville became the Spanish capital, the Real Alcázar being the headquarters of the  'Junta Central'. This came to an end in January 1810 when Seville finally surrendered to the French army.

 

Cadiz


In addition to being the oldest city in Spain and also in Europe, its foundation being located eighty years after the Trojan War around the 13th century BC, Cádiz also became the capital of Spain after the transfer of the Cortes and after the handover of Seville to the French. Its period as capital city ran from 1810 to 1813 and it was in this city where the Spanish Constitution of 1812, La Pepa, was proclaimed.

 

Valencia


Valencia also experienced its time as the capital of Spain, something that occurred between November 1936 and October 1937, after the Council of Ministers made the decision to move the capital and due to the dangerous approach of Franco's troops to Madrid. A moment in history that corresponded to the Second Republic and in the midst of the Civil War. A new capital that happened from one day to the next. The current headquarters of the Cortes, the Palacio de Los Borja, was converted to the republican centre of operations.

 

Burgos


After the government of the Republic moved between 1936 and 1939 from Valencia, to Barcelona and Gerona and Figueras, finally, Burgos ended up holding the capital of Spain between April 1 and October 18, 1939, coinciding with the end of the Spanish Civil War. This resulted in Burgos becoming the capital of nationalist Spain after the coup against the Republic.



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Discovering Navarra
10 February 2021

 

Navarra has a rich history. From the first traces of humanity through to the Romanisation, the Navarran and French dynasties and the Carlist wars, and continuing to the present day, all these eras have left their mark on the landscapes, in the towns and in the interesting artistic heritage found there. It is a history filled with battles and covenants involving monarchs, pilgrims,"indianos" and the peoples of the region, and which has shaped their character and their individuality. This is the story of a millennial kingdom.

Confirmation of the first settlements in Navarra is provided by the Lower Palaeolithic remains (600,000 BC to 40.000 BC) found in Coscobillo, Urbasa, Estella, Lezáun, Lumbier and Viana. Later on, Neolithic culture converts the hunters into farmers and shepherds, and the Bronze Age means dolmens and flint workings spring up all over the pasturelands; at this time, megalithic constructions appear throughout the land, from Viana, Cirauqui and Artajona, to the mountain ranges of Urbasa and Aralar, reaching as far as the towering Pyrenean peaks.

The Iron Age teaches the primitive Basque inhabitants new techniques and ways of life brought by the Celts and Celtiberians from Central Europe.

Rome’s presence is weak in the saltus vasconum or northern and forested area –the Mountains–, where the autochthonous Basque language prevails, and cultural exchange is minimal; on the other hand, as of the 2nd century AD, Roman influence becomes more consolidated in the ager vasconum, the middle area, which is more accessible and has greater natural resources. Within the saltus, in 75 AD, Pompey occupies Iruña, the main Basque city, where he founds the Roman city named after him, Pamplona.

With the decline of the Roman Empire, the Basque tribes recover their influence over the Roman ager, extending it furthermore to include neighbouring areas. At the same time, they defend themselves against military incursions by the Visigoth monarchs, who seek to consolidate their political influence in the north of the peninsula. These same Basques also oppose the presence of the Franks, who threaten their independence from the northern slopes of the Pyrenees. The Battle of Roncevaux against Charlemagne in 778 stalls the plans of the powerful Frankish monarch in this part of the Pyrenees.
 


A new threat emerges with the arrival of the Moors, who manage to occupy the Ebro basin in 714. Nevertheless, the Moorish presence is weak, as it will fail to take hold either politically or socially. There soon arises a Christian core in opposition to the Moors, which by the 9th century will end up politically transforming the autochthonous dynasty of the Íñigos into the first Navarra dynasty.

It will be succeeded by the Jimenos, politically more consolidated. Sancho Garcés (905-925), the dynasty’s first monarch, embraces a committed policy of territorial expansion against the Moors, whereby he forms alliances with the other Christian kingdoms. Despite the advances made by Sancho Garcés, who occupies the district of Estella, fords the Ebro and reaches Nájera and Calahorra (914), the Moorish presence will remain in the Ribera for a further century, as Tudela will remain under Moorish control until the year 1119.

 

 

Sancho Garcés III el Mayor – the Elder (1004-1035) rules over the greater part of the Peninsula’s Christian domains: Pamplona, Nájera, Aragon, Sobrarbe, Ribagorza, Castile and Leon, at the same time as he lays claim to Gascony and the County of Barcelona. His reign leads to the social, political and economic expansion of the kingdom of Pamplona, with major territorial gains. This monarch organises the Way of Santiago, introduces the Romanesque and spreads the Cluniac culture throughout his kingdoms.

At the end of the 9th century, the kingdom of Pamplona is forced to bring its territorial expansion to a halt, held in check by the advance of its powerful neighbours, Castile and Aragon. Thus its southward expansion is halted at the same time as it lives under the constant threat of political annexation.

Hovering between independence and incorporation within the political sphere of the French, Castilian and Aragonese monarchs is the awkward status that prevails in Navarra during the Early Middle Ages.

 



 

From 1076 to 1134 it will remain part of the Aragonese crown, from which it will secede during the reign of Garcia Ramirez (1134-1150), thus restoring its political independence; in the ensuing reign of Sancho el Sabio – the Wise (1150 – 1194), the kingdom of Pamplona will become known as the Kingdom of Navarra, which is interpreted as a gesture of political affirmation and territorial sovereignty in the face of annexationist threats from other Peninsular kingdoms, and especially from Castile.

Nevertheless, the process involving the loss of territory continues, and in 1200, under the reign of Sancho el Fuerte – the Strong (1194 – 1234) the kingdom is deprived of the territories of Alava, Guipuzcoa and the Duranguesado, in Vizcaya, which are conquered by the Castilian monarch. Thereafter, Navarra, blocked to the west by the frontier with Castile, will be forced to focus its policy of territorial expansion largely towards the north, the French lands of Ultrapuertos, and to the east, the border tract with Aragon.

The death of Sancho VII el Fuerte in 1234 brings the Navarrese dynasty to an end and the kingdom falls under French influence, in search of an ally that will ensure its survival in the face of constant pressure from Castilians and Aragonese alike. The first to be installed on the throne is the House of Champagne (1234 – 1274), which is succeeded by the Capetian dynasty, which between 1274 and 1326 simultaneously occupies the thrones of France and Navarra.

The House of Evreux (1328-1425) initiates a time of intense relations in the political life of the Peninsula and Europe overall, especially during the reign of Charles II, obsessed by occupying the French throne; the reign of Charles III the Noble (1387 – 1425) strikes a balance between cultural and material prosperity; testifying to this is the splendour of the Navarrese Gothic, evident in artistic works such as the Royal Palace in Olite and this same monarch’s sepulchre in Pamplona Cathedral.

 


The death of Charles III gives rise to a serious conflict regarding his succession. This is no more than the first signs of a far-reaching institutional and social crisis that will lead to civil war. John II, who heads the camp of the Agramonteses, is married to Blanca, the heir to the Navarrese throne, and has been King of Navarre and of Aragon since 1458; opposed to him is his step-son, the legendary Charles, Prince of Viana, who heads the camp of the Beaumontes in their quest, which was never to be fulfilled, to occupy the throne of Navarra.
This state of internal weakness will last for half a century and will finally be exploited by Ferdinand the Catholic who, in support of the Beaumonteses, invades Navarra in 1512, thus making it part of the Crown of Castile. Soundly defeated, Don Juan and Doña Catalina de Albret, the last monarchs of Navarre, seek refuge on the other side of the Pyrenees, which they will never cross again, and will uphold the dynasty that, as of 1555, will give rise to the House of Bourbon, which will reign in France until the 1789 revolution, and in Spain from 1700 onwards.

 

 

Following its conquest by Castile, Navarra is governed by a Viceroy, who exercises the powers of a monarch in Pamplona. This situation will last for four centuries. Meanwhile, the kingdom’s institutions are maintained, especially the Cortes, which is convened throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries to legislate and approve the kingdom’s financial contributions to the ventures of the Spanish monarch. The Kingdom’s Council (Diputación) is founded in 1576 as a standing governing body in representation of the Cortés when the latter is not sitting: for five centuries this institution has been the exponent of Navarra’s own administration and since the 19th century it has persisted under the name of Diputación Provincial (Provincial Council), Diputación Foral de Navarra (Regional Council of Navarra), and since 1982, Gobierno de Navarra (Government of Navarra).


The end of the 15th century’s internal rivalries, which concluded with the victory of the Beaumontes’ camp and the Castilian conquest, lead to an economic resurgence that brought with it the recovery of demographic equilibrium, affected by the protracted civil war. It also brought stability to economic life and reinforced the foundations of the institutional structure of the Kingdom of Navarra, as it continued to be called until the middle of the 19th century.

The situation of political and institutional stability begins to deteriorate in the second half of the 18th century, with the centralist policies of the Bourbons. This will generate ever-increasing tension that will explode in 1833 in the form of the First Carlist War.

 

 

The military conflict will conclude in 1839, with an armistice on the part of the Carlists, and from an institutional and political perspective, it will be embodied in the so-called Ley Paccionada of 1841.

By virtue of this law, the historical Kingdom of Navarra becomes part, under the status of Province, of the liberal state, whilst it still maintains institutions and legislation from its age-old system of Fueros (regional rights), especially those involving taxation and the administration.

This particular situation persisted throughout the Restoration, the 2nd Republic and Franco’s regime. With the advent of democracy and following the Spanish Constitution of 1978, the regional system for Navarra becomes integrated within the new institutional regime, by virtue of the Organic Law of 1982 for the Reintegration and Improvement of the Régimen Foral (Regional System) of Navarra.



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The Lovers Bench
13 January 2021

 

 

The beautiful "Parque de la Alameda" Santiago de Compostela is reminiscent of a country estate, anchored at the centre by the 17th-century Baroque chapel of Santa Susana. There are lush gardens, historic statuary, elaborate tiered steps, and an unassuming stone bench: a “banco acústico” that holds a hundred years of secrets and whispers.

The granite seat is known as the Bench of Whispers, or sometimes the Lovers Bench. Its semicircular design and physical orientation give it an unusual acoustic characteristic. If you sit at one end and place your head up against the back of the seat, and speak even in the softest tones, your voice travels all the way across to the other end just as loud or even louder than it started out, if that's possible..!

 

The bench was added to the park around 1916, and its special properties were soon noticed by courting couples. The spot became a well-known destination for innocent dates during the Franco years when an emphasis on strict social behaviour included regulating young unmarried couples. Touching in public, or even speaking, was against the rules. So suggesting an innocent walk in the park, where maybe your partner just happened to be walking too, might end up with a secret romantic word or two.  

The nature of sound travel at the bench is similar to the phenomenon of the Whispering Galleries at the dome of St. Paul’s Cathedral or at Grand Central Terminal. 

 



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Why do the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year's Eve?
24 December 2020

 

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 History of Spain's Cava
01 December 2020

You'll probably drink a lot of Cava over the coming Christmas period, but do you know the history 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 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 becomes 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 is 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.), a 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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Visiting Zaragoza?...visit the Aljafería
19 November 2020

 


  

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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