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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.

Spanish Flu & Coronavirus
31 March 2020

The initial response to the 1918 outbreak was to play it down, and later efforts at disinfection and social distancing proved insufficient to stop the spread of a disease that killed over 147,000 in Spain in one year.

When the new flu-like disease emerged, the initial response in Spain was to laugh it off. On May 22, 1918, the front page of the Spanish newspaper ABC reported on a new illness, described as similar to the flu but with milder symptoms. That same month, Madrid held its annual San Isidro festivities, providing the perfect conditions for mass contagion. 

With World War I still raging, countries involved in the conflict did not report on the disease to keep morale up and avoid providing the enemy with an edge. But Spain, which remained neutral in the conflict, was free to flag it up, which is why the 20th-century pandemic, which killed more than 50 million people worldwide, was nicknamed the “Spanish flu” even though its origin was not in Spain.



The 1918 influenza pandemic showed both significant differences and stunning similarities with today’s coronavirus crisis. As with the current virus, the situation in 1918 was exacerbated by the fact that it was not immediately taken seriously, and the erratic response by health officials eroded their authority in the eyes of citizens and the press, which questioned the government’s every decision.

And just like today’s coronavirus, the influenza outbreak showed no respect for hierarchies, with both King Alfonso XIII and the head of government, Manuel García Prieto, falling ill.

In 1918, half of Spain’s inhabitants were illiterate and the infant mortality rate was twice that of today’s poorest countries. Yet many measures implemented to contain the epidemic were similar to those being employed today. Universities and schools were closed, and rail travel was controlled, with disinfection teams deployed along railroad lines in an effort to contain the spread of the virus. There were also local authorities who were reluctant to impose restrictions; the mayor of Valladolid, for example, dragged his feet when it came to cancelling the fiestas in September, fearing the financial impact on the city’s business fabric.

Similarly, there was little that doctors could do apart from helping the sick to survive, although the techniques were much more rudimentary. Several experimental vaccines were tested without success, and some doctors even tried bloodletting despite the fact that such a practice had been discredited for a century. The Spanish began to wonder if doctors and scientists had any clue about what was going on.

With science failing to provide any answers, many turned to God. In Zamora, one of the hardest-hit provinces, Bishop Álvaro Ballano told his flock that the evil that was hanging over them was a consequence of their sins and lack of gratitude, and that is why the vengeance of eternal justice had fallen upon them.

To placate God, he organised one Mass after another in the provincial capital’s cathedral, probably facilitating the spread of the virus, and he confronted the health authorities which sought to ban them. In this respect, times have changed and bishops are not only respecting the advice from the health authorities but also making sure it reaches the faithful, limiting attendance at funerals to immediate family members.


The first stage of infection in 1918, equivalent to where we are with the coronavirus, was in fact not the most deadly. With the arrival of summer, the epidemic subsided, but in the fall it returned with a vengeance. The health system was overwhelmed, and at a time when many people were still living in the countryside, rural doctors were scarce; when they died, they were rarely replaced. Then as now, volunteers were recruited from among medical students.

The official death toll of the 1918 flu in Spain, a country of just over 20 million inhabitants at the time, was terrifying. In 1918 it killed 147,114 people; the following year, it took 21,245 lives and in 1920, it killed 17,825. The epidemic lasted three years and it particularly targeted people in their 20s who were completely healthy.

The supply of coffins in some Spanish cities ran out, and the mayor of Barcelona asked for the army’s help in transporting and burying the dead. This has not been the case yet in Spain, but it has in Italy, which is a week ahead in terms of the evolution of the pandemic. On March 18, dozens of coffins in the local cemetery in Bergamo were loaded onto army trucks to be taken to less affected areas for cremation.

The Spanish population fell only twice during the 20th century. In 1918, there was a net loss of 83,121 people and in 1939, it lost 50,266 due to the Civil War...

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The Spanish Guitar - A brief history
13 March 2020

The name "guitar" comes from the ancient Sanskrit word for "string" - "tar". (This is the language from which the languages of central Asia and northern India developed.) Many stringed folk instruments exist in Central Asia to this day which have been used in almost unchanged form for several thousand years, as shown by archeological finds in the area. Many have names that end in "tar", with a prefix indicating the number of strings for example:


two = Sanskrit "dvi" - modern Persian "do" -
dotar: two-string instrument found in Turkestan

three = Sanskrit "tri" - modern Persian "se" -
setar: 3-string instrument, found in Persia (Iran),
(cf. sitar, India, elaborately developed, many-stringed)                                

four = Sanskrit "chatur" - modern Persian "char" -                                            
chartar, 4-string instrument, Persia (most commonly known as "tar" in modern usage)
(cf. quitarra, early Spanish 4-string guitar, modern Arabic qithara, Italian chitarra, etc)


The Indian sitar almost certainly took its name from the Persian setar, but over the centuries the Indians developed it into a completely new instrument, following their own aesthetic and cultural ideals.

The guitar's ancestors came to Europe from Egypt and Mesopotamia. These early instruments had, most often, four strings - as we have seen above, the word "guitar" is derived from the Old Persian "chartar", which, in direct translation, means "four strings". Many such instruments, and variations with from three to five strings, can be seen in mediaeval illustrated manuscripts, and carved in stone in churches and cathedrals, from Roman times through till the Middle Ages. 

By the beginning of the Renaissance, the four-course (4 unison-tuned pairs of strings) guitar had become dominant, at least in most of Europe. The earliest known music for the four-course "chitarra" was written in 16th century Spain. The five-course guitarra battente first appeared in Italy at around the same time, and gradually replaced the four-course instrument. The standard tuning had already settled at A, D, G, B, E, like the top five strings of the modern guitar.

In common with lutes, early guitars seldom had necks with more than 8 frets free of the body, but as the guitar evolved, this increased first to 10 and then to 12 frets to the body.

A sixth course of strings was added to the Italian "guitarra battente" in the 17th century, and guitar makers all over Europe followed the trend. The six-course arrangement gradually gave way to six single strings, and again it seems that the Italians were the driving force. 

In the transition from five courses to six single strings, it seems that at least some existing five-course instruments were modified to the new stringing pattern. This was a fairly simple task, as it only entailed replacing (or re-working) the nut and bridge, and plugging four of the tuning peg holes. 

At the beginning of the 19th century one can see the modern guitar beginning to take shape. Bodies were still fairly small and narrow-waisted.

The modern "classical" guitar took its present form when the Spanish maker Antonio Torres increased the size of the body, altered its proportions, and introduced the revolutionary "fan" top bracing pattern, in around 1850. His design radically improved the volume, tone and projection of the instrument, and very soon became the accepted construction standard. It has remained essentially unchanged, and unchallenged, to this day.



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One of Spain's Most Important Cathedrals
03 March 2020


One of the finest examples of Spanish Gothic art. This cathedral is outstanding for the elegance and harmony of its architecture, and it is the only one in Spain which, for its cathedral building alone, has received the UNESCO World Heritage designation. Although it is predominantly Gothic, the cathedral also displays other artistic styles, given that it was built over a period lasting from 1221 to 1795. Its main façade is the Puerta del Perdón, with a starred rose-window and a gallery of statues of the Castile monarchs.



On either side are its 84-metre towers, crowned by magnificent 15th-century spires with open stonework traceries. Its most beautiful group of sculptures, however, is to be found on the Puerta del Sarmental façade, with the image of a Pantocrator surrounded by the apostles and evangelists. Inside, special mention should be made of the dome of the main nave, topped with a beautiful Mudéjar vault. Beneath it lies the remains of Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, known as ‘El Cid Campeador’, and his wife, Doña Jimena.



Close by, you will find the beautiful Escalera Dorada golden staircase by Diego de Siloé, built in the 16th century and inspired in the Italian Renaissance. In the side-naves of the cathedral, there are 19 chapels, with the Condestable and Santa Tecla chapels standing out especially. There are also valuable works of art to be enjoyed: a unique collection that includes altarpieces, paintings, choir stalls, tombs and sculptures, amongst other objects.




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March is Marzipan
25 February 2020

Mazapán - marzipan - means March's bread. This delicious sweetmeat's origin is disputed by several nations, however, there are two theories which are more backed up by historians than others. Spain claims it was invented in Toledo and Italy says it was in Sicily. Should you ever go to Spain, be sure to taste the best marzipan that Spain has to offer.

However going back even further there is little certainty. On the one hand, it is said that mazapán's -marzipan- true origin is Arabic as described in One Thousand and One Nights and it is described as being used during the hardships of Ramadan or as an aphrodisiac; the European version is basically a variation. On the other hand, we also know of a similar preparation in ancient Greece, where a paste of almonds and honey was made, however, it was during Christian times that it was included in the Easter preparations. Anyhow, let's explore the more recent theories.



Toledo was one of the multicultural and multi-religious cities where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived together in perfect harmony and would do so for a few centuries. It is not to wonder then that the invention of mazapán or marzipan, as we know it today, is pretty much a variation of an Arabic sweetmeat.

According to this version, marzipan was invented by nuns of the Convent of San Clemente in Toledo. After the Battle of Las Navas de Tolosa, where several of the would-be Spanish kingdoms fought the Muslims, as an attempt to reconquer the occupied territory, there was a terrible famine in Castile. At the time there was no wheat stored in the city, but there was plenty of sugar and almonds and the nuns fed a paste made with these two ingredients, and perhaps some others, to the undernourished people of the city.

We know that in the hospital Santiago de Toledo a preparation of shredded hen breast mixed with with almonds and sugar was prescribed which was said to be a variety of mazapán. However thanks to the ordinance made in the year of 1613, confectioners only accepted almonds and white sugar as the ingredients of true marzipan.

According to the other theory, marzipan was invented in 1193. An Italian wealthy woman of high birth and noble origin, Eloisa Martorana commissioned a convent to be built in Sicily, and it was called after her. The nuns of this convent had Greek origins and spent their time in the elaboration of a paste made of sugar and almond, which they later shaped in miniature animals or fruit. They would then paint it in vibrant colours with different natural dyes, including pigments extracted from roses, saffron and pistachio nuts.

Marzipane (marzipan in Italian)became famous and kept the nuns occupied most of the time. In 1575 the elaboration of marzipan was forbidden by royal decree, as the production of the sweetmeat distracted the nuns from their religious practices. Apparently, the nuns still found ways, despite the decree, to continue making mazapán.

Marzipan became so popular in Spain that, during the time of Spanish colonisation, the dish was exported to the various countries that fell under Spanish rule such as many of the countries in South America as well as some of the islands in South East Asia. As a result, some of the countries have developed their own varieties of the sweet, mainly varying on the type of nut used.
In the Philippines for example, their marzipan is called 'mazapán de pili' because it is made using pili nuts instead of almonds. In Latin America, the most famous marzipan can be found in Guatemala where it has been made since the 19th century. In Venezuela meanwhile, particularly in the South of the country, they use a type of cashew nut to make their version of marzipan.

Back in Spain, Mazapán de Toledo is protected by D.O. (designation of origin) and it's still one of the most prestigious in the world. However, Marzipan in Spain is not only produced in Toledo but in many other cities as well. Its consumption is mostly related to Christmas, but in good confectionaries, it's possible to find at any time of the year.

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The First "Villa" of the Kingdom
12 February 2020


Morella's geographic location has been key over the course of centuries. A Town of passage, a crossroads between the Ebro Valley and the Mediterranean, linking Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia, Morella has witnessed important events throughout its history. Since prehistoric times, times of the Neolithic, Bronze Age, Iberians, Romans, Muslims, Jews, Christians ... everyone saw in this place a fortress with a strategic position. The shape of the city, its castle and walls have witnessed the passing of the likes of Rodrigo Diaz de Vivar, El Cid, who fought two battles in this region to serve the Muslim king of Zaragoza in the eleventh century.


The medieval Christian conquest converted Morella in a town of privileges. Morella was conquered by Christians in October 1231, although on January 7th, 1232 when King James I came triumphantly into the city after tough negotiations with the noble Blasco de Alagón, whom the king had promised could keep as much as he conquered. But the king wanted the walled city and his knight said that "Morella is no place for any man of the world, but for a king, because it was as good as a county with their possessions".


The splendid medieval town is marked by being the axis of the Crown of Aragon, and that Morella would always belong to the King. In 1270 it became part of the Kingdom of Valencia and in the Valencian Parliament it still occupies the place of protocol of being 'First Villa' of the Kingdom, just behind Valencia and Xativa.The medieval times were rich, with a society of multiple trade unions, goldsmiths, silversmiths, sculptors, weavers, blacksmiths, and merchants who already travelled to places like Greece, Italy or North Africa. 

Another historic moment the city has witnessed was the Compromise of Caspe and the Western Schism. In 1410 Martí l'Humà  died without an heir, deciding that his successor would be elected by nine commissioners, one of them was from Morella, Domingo Ram, who, in 1412, when they decided that Fernando de Antequera would be the successor, was bishop of Huesca. In 1414 they met in Morella Pope Luna (Benedict XIII), King Ferdinand I and Fray Vicent Ferrer with the aim of ending the Western Schism, during which time there were three different Popes. The negotiations lasted fifty days without solution, The King and Vicent Ferrer left the obedience of Pope Luna, who remained in Peniscola isolated until his death.

The Succession War also took place in Morella too. During this conflict, local authorities remained with the Borbon side, but two Austrian occupations resulted in the destruction of the neighborhood of San Miguel. After the bombs, Morella was left with only 1,800 inhabitants but to the astonishment of all, they rebuilt the town. The Decreto de Nueva Planta repealed the existence of the Kingdom of Valencia and Morella came to enforce the laws of Castile.

The Carlist War I is one of the most decisive episodes in the history of Morella. The governor of the town and the Baron de Herbers proclaimed king Carlos V in 1833. The statement did not last long and for two years resisted the area as a small independent state led by General Ramón Cabrera. The wars fought here and in Catalonia predicted more wars in the new liberal state. Reformed the military organization in the area creating the General Command of Maestrazgo (1849-1871) reaching Catalonia, Aragon and Valencia and Morella was its capital, as it was done later to maintain the capital of the province of Castellón and south Tarragona (1871-1879). But once the Third Carlist War finished the military province returned to conform to civil boundaries. Ramon Cabrera, the Tiger of Maestrazgo came to deserve the title of Conde de Morella. After the conflict and after marrying a British noble went into exile in London, repenting of so much bloody battle. In the British capital there is a street dedicated to Morella, the one where the general lived.

The textile tradition of Morella is one that has lasted to the present day, especially wool, one of the oldest economic activities in this city and the whole region. This activity dates back to the thirteenth century. During the Middle Ages, Morella was literally a textile factory; the wool sheared from their flocks was by the workshop and spindle in every household. The city had hundreds of looms. They wove carpets, fabrics and cloths, cordellats, barraganes and tartanes, wool, cotton, linen... At that time, Morella traded with other Mediterranean countries, especially Italy, which provided them textile products.

Later, in the eighteenth, nineteenth and twentieth century, the most important products were bags, belts, blankets of Morella, blankets for the mules and shepherds. There are still some industries that you can visit that produce blankets, belts, bags and beautiful colorful paintings of great quality. It is a creative handcrafted activity, handed down from generation to generation.



During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the population lived exclusively from the textile production and derivatives such as dyeing, thanks to important industrial complexes such as the Factory Giner that established an important connection with the Catalan industry.

The blanket of Morella is unique in its design, its horizontal stripes and the combination of colours. They are made of wool and cotton and are available in various establishments that sell craft products and clothing. These fabrics have evolved in terms of functionality and we can buy them not only as blankets or quilts, but also to create curtains, table runners, cushions, bags, even clothing and accessories for cultural and festive costumes.


Another eason to visit Morella is the new Morella Astronomical Observatory, located in the Torremiró rest area, highway N-232 allows to look at the sky in the middle of nature. It is a privileged place without light pollution, with excellent conditions for observing the night sky. A high quality telescope  allows to see the stars, the rings of Saturn, the craters on the moon, meteor showers, tears of San Lorenzo ... Throughout the year there are guided tours. The Centre is coordinated by the local association Astromorella and for any questions, contact the Tourist Office of Morella. They often organise observation nights which cost around €8 a person.

Tourist Info Morella
San Miguel square
Tel. 964 173 032

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A Tropical Train Station
07 February 2020

The winding paths and many benches within this garden make it the perfect place to kill time or sit down with a cup of coffee or a book while waiting for your train. The lush greenery is a wonderful escape from the chaos of Madrid. It’s so serene, you’d be forgiven for forgetting you’re in a bustling train station, surrounded by commuters in a rush to get somewhere.

This wonderful garden was inaugurated in 1992. It fills an abandoned section of the building that was once the old Atocha train station before the transportation hub was expanded to include its high-speed train links. The garden contains over 7,000 plants from more than 260 species.

In the tree section, you’ll find many species native to tropical forests. Here, you can wander among breadfruit and coconut trees from Polynesia, royal palms and mahogany trees from Cuba, rubber trees from Brazil, banana trees from the Philippines, the endangered palm bottle trees from the islands of the Indian Ocean, and an impressive traveller’s tree from Madagascar.



The plants in the garden’s lower section are also originally from the tropics and include African coffee plants, Central American cacao plants, and South American Heliconia flowers. A few stranger plants such as carnivorous plants, the Mexican fruit salad plant, South African bird of paradise flowers, and the endangered Ginkgo biloba plant from Japan can also be found growing here.



Funnily enough, the water lily ponds used to be home to numerous North and South American freshwater turtles that were former pets. After the turtles were abandoned by their owners and thrown into the wild, biologists rescued them from Madrid’s waterways. Instead of treating them as invasive species and euthanizing them, the biologists gave the turtles a second shot at life and set them up in a fancy new home within the garden, where they wouldn’t cause any harm to members of the native Iberian ecosystems. However, in the spring of 2018, the turtles were relocated to a nearby wildlife park due to overcrowding and overpopulation of the ponds. 

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The Story of Navarre - A brief history
10 January 2020


Navarre 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 Navarre 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 Navarre 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 Navarre 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 Navarre, 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, Navarre, 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 Navarre.

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 Navarre.
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 Navarre 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, Navarre 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 Navarre’s own administration and since the 19th century it has persisted under the name of Diputación Provincial (Provincial Council), Diputación Foral de Navarre (Regional Council of Navarre), and since 1982, Gobierno de Navarre (Government of Navarre).

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 Navarre, 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 Navarre 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 Navarre 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 Navarre.

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Why do the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year's Eve?
26 December 2019


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!


Like 2        Published at 10:33   Comments (0)

Look what's hiding under The Rock...
27 November 2019

Gibraltar’s historical role as a fortress guarding the maritime passage east-west through the Strait connecting the Mediterranean Sea with the Atlantic Ocean and narrowly separating the European and African Continents is well known. Its limited land area and its role as a fortress have combined to make the demand for underground facilities a pressing local problem of applied geology, and stimulated almost uniquely imaginative solutions to maximise protection and survival of both civilian and military personnel.  Around half a kilometer under the Rock of Gibraltar lies a system of tunnels from where the Allies planned the North African landings during World War II.


The tunnels of Gibraltar, constructed over the course of nearly 200 years principally by the British Army, have made the Rock of Gibraltar "a veritable warren of tunnels that housed guns, hangars, ammunition stores, barracks and hospitals". Within a land area of only 2.6 square miles (6.7 km2), Gibraltar has around 34 miles (55 km) of tunnels, nearly twice the length of its entire road network. The first tunnels, excavated in the late 18th century, served as communication passages between artillery positions and housed guns within embrasures cut into the North Face of the Rock. More tunnels were constructed in the 19th century to allow easier access to remote areas of Gibraltar and accommodate stores and reservoirs to deliver the water supply of Gibraltar.

Now, this underground network has also been transformed into a digital data center where information about online gamblers and investors from all over the world is stored, zealously protected from cyber attacks by spectacular security measures. Here customer data from clients as far-flung as Bermuda, Bilbao and Hamburg is kept in colossal servers, hidden away from prying eyes. The tunnel system was the property of the British Ministry of Defence until 2008 when it was handed over to the Gibraltar government, which has since rented it out to a private company specializing in data management.

The past now lives alongside cutting-edge technology, which is being used to garner profits from the booming online gambling industry based in Gibraltar. Financial services companies and e-commerce firms also store data here. Security is watertight: the area is monitored by CCTV and anybody entering the area must have special passcodes and keys.

Like 0        Published at 13:38   Comments (2)

The 'Very Spanish' Bota - drinking wine on the go...
04 November 2019

The ‘Bota’ or wineskin is a leather bag used to contain any kind of liquid, but it is typically used to preserve and transport wine. Spain is the country with the greatest 'Botera' tradition in the world. On any traditional festivity this instrument emerges as one of the stars being passed between friends. The ‘bota’ has been very important in Spanish history, being one of the containers used most by the Spanish people. 

The original history of the ‘bota’ was really lost in ancient times but it was the Spanish that kept it alive. Written evidence of its existence has been found as far back as ancient Greece (Homer in the Odyssey when Ulysses the hero gets Cyclops Polyphemus drunk by giving him wine in skins), in the Bible (Noah’s children got him drunk too using similar artefacts), in the immortal Cervantes' Don Quixote (when the old gentleman takes swipes and lunges at the landlord) and throughout the Golden Age of Spanish literature the references multiply. 

Lightweight, flexible, durable, environmentally friendly, easy to carry, waterproof, practical, hygienic, attractive, simple but perfect in design, the wineskin is a legacy of our past and a product that charms those who know how to enjoy the basic pleasures of life. 

Traditional models are shaped as a water drop and usually have a curved face to facilitate the movement of liquid from the container to the user's mouth. 

There are two types of wineskin that vary because of their interior. Firstly there is the interior known as ‘pez’ (derived from pine or juniper resin and it is used for waterproofing the inside of the wineskin) and then there is the interior with latex. Latex wineskins instead of having resin waterproofing have a wineskin shaped latex bag inside the skin, which actually contains the liquid.

The “pez” interior wineskin is the original ‘Bota’, the one that has been used for generations. If you want to use it mainly for wine you are recommended to choose the traditional format. If you want to use it for water or carbonated sweet drinks, your choice should be latex. 

The companies ‘Boteria Jesus Blasco’, ‘Las Tres ZZZ’  and ‘Boteria Domingo los tres D.D.D’ are the main producers of traditional Spanish wineskins. All with a history dating back to the late 19th century. 

The wineskin is an iconic Spanish product and any occasion is a good excuse to enjoy it, whether walking or just getting together with some friends. It is a tradition that will not be lost despite the new drink containers that large companies are constantly putting on sale.

This handmade tradition will continue because of its uniqueness and heritage. The skin used for the traditional ‘bota’ is goat’s skin from local Spanish herds and it is a leather specialist who carefully selects each goat. 

Once dried, the skin is treated with vegetable tannins or extracts obtained from grounded tree bark (mimosa, pine and oak). Once ready and with the help of a guide, the skin is cut. 

Once cut, the skin is folded in the middle, matching the edges and creating the shape of the water drop. During the production process the wineskin is worked inversely to its natural form and then coated with a waterproofing layer of resin. 

Sewing the wineskin properly is the secret to its durability. The outer stitching, now done with a sewing machine over the past decades, is sewn in a criss-cross manner allowing it to be totally sealed and hermetic. This also makes the stitching incredible strong.

Once sewn, it needs to be turned ‘outside in’ so the stitching is on the inside. This process requires a highly experienced craftsman with a special rod. First he blows hard to inflate it and with a flick of the wrist turns it on the rod. 

At this point, the wineskin is ready for the waterproofing resin inside. The ’pez’, which after being cooked, is now in a liquid state and it is poured into the ‘bota’ to permeate throughout the interior. Once the ‘pez’ has cooled, the ‘bota’ is waterproofed. 

In latex wineskins, this process is completely replaced by introducing a latex bladder which performs the same function of waterproofing and containing the liquid. Finally, the spout or nozzle is placed on the top and attached to the skin. 

Once checked over, the last step is to add a cord for carrying the wineskin, which is sown in place. Once added, it would now be ready for use. 

Wineskins are said to be very much like good wine; they get better with age if maintained correctly, those that use them frequently claim it even contributes positively to the flavour of the wine over time. However, this will be very much a question of personal preference, so I encourage you to give it a go.


Like 0        Published at 13:19   Comments (0)

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