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I Wonder Why...?

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

The Quest to find the Holy Grail...
Friday, September 23, 2022

The quest to find the Holy Grail has made its way from religion to literary fiction and even on to the big screen numerous times. But did you know the real Holy Grail – the cup believed to have been used by Jesus Christ at the last supper – is housed in its own chapel at Valencia Cathedral?

The oriental agate chalice is nestled in a cove in the wall of the chapel, a focal point for prayer and for the people who have used this chapel for theology lectures since the 15th Century. It is the only cup to have been recognised by the Vatican as the potential Holy Grail and so pilgrims, tourists, historians file in to the church to see it for themselves.

The Holy Chalice of Valencia arouses feelings of admiration and scepticism at the same time. The visitor feels captivated by the beauty of the Grail, its perfect and exceptional shape, the details in gold, the pearls and the precious gems. The observer comes with the mind full of legends, films, even warned by the novels and pseudo-scientific literature of “Grail-like” themes. But also with scepticism: 

Is this Chalice of medieval appearance the grail of the Last Supper? Why is it in Valencia? Or is it maybe one of the many supposed Grails? Why isn't it so famous like the Shroud of Turin or the Tunic of Treveris? 

Indeed, the relic is the upper part, which is a cup of dark brown agate finely polished. It is an “Alexandrian vessel” that archaeologists believe it to have an oriental origin (100 - 50 BC). This is the conclusion of Professor Antonio Beltrán, published in 1960 under the name of  “El Santo Cáliz de la Catedral de Valencia” (“The Holy Chalice of the Valencia Cathedral”). It was never refuted and is the base of the increasing respect and knowledge of the Holy Chalice. 



The handles came later as well as the chalice's stem made of exquisitely engraved gold. Its alabaster base of Islamic art is different from the vessel. All of it, together with the jewels decorating the stem belong to the medieval period. It is 17 cm. high and 9 cm. wide, and the elliptical base measures 14,5 x 9,7 cm.



Venice and other places keep chalices with semiprecious stones of Byzantine origin. In Spain there are similar replicas (11th and 12th century) but they are liturgical cups, wrapped in gold and silver with an interior side in metal. However, the goldsmiths emphasized the vessel, without adornment, but with big handles so as to take it without touching the valuable and delicate chalice of translucent stone.

The tradition claims that it is the same cup that was used by the Lord in the last Supper for the Eucharist, then was taken to Rome by Saint Peter and was kept by the following Popes up to Saint Sixtus II. Through his Spanish deacon, Saint Lawrence, Saint Sixtus II was sent to Huesca (Saint Lawrence's homeland) in the 3rd century so as to save him from the persecution of Emperor Valerian. The presence of the Holy Chalice in Rome is evidenced by the phrase in the Roman Canon previously mentioned: “He took this glorious chalice” hoc praeclarum calicem, venerated expression that is not found in other old anaphoras and we cannot forget that the Roman Eucharistic prayer is the Latin translation from another Greek language, since this was the language of the Church of Rome till Pope Saint Damasus in the 5th century.

During the Muslim invasion, since 713 AD, the chalice was hidden in the Pyrenees region, after having been in Yebra, Siresa, Santa María de Sasabe (today San Adrián), Bailio and finally in the monastery of San Juan de la Peña (Huesca), where a  document (1071) refers to a precious chalice made of stone.

The relic was handed over in 1399 to the King of Aragon, Martin “The Human” who kept it in the Aljaferia Royal Palace of Saragossa and then in the Royal Palace of Barcelona in 1410 when he died. The Holy Chalice is mentioned in the inventory of his properties (Manuscript 136 of Martin “The Human”. Archive of the Aragon Crown. Barcelona, where the history of the sacred cup is described). Towards 1424, the second successor of Martín, King Alfonso the Magnanimous handed over the royal reliquary to the Valencia Palace. Because of his stay in Naples, it was given with the rest of the relics to the Valencia Cathedral in 1437 (Volume 3.532, fol. 36, v. Cathedral's Archive).

It was kept and venerated during many centuries among the relics of the Cathedral and it was used to keep the consecrated form in the float of the Holy Thursday up to the 18th century. During the Independence War, between 1809 and 1813, the chalice was taken to Alicante, Ibiza and Palma de Mallorca, escaping from Napoleonic invaders. In 1916, it was finally housed in the old Chapter House, later called the Holy Chalice Chapel. This continual public exhibition of the sacred relic resulted in a world-wide knowledge of its existence, since there was little information about it while it was kept in the reliquary of the Cathedral.

During the Civil War (1936-1939), it was hidden in Carlet. Pope John XXIII granted plenary indulgence on the day of its annual feast;

Pope John Paul II celebrated the Eucharist with the Holy Chalice during his visit to Valencia on 8 November 1982 just as Pope Benedict XVI did when he visited Valencia on 8 July.

Here it is today:



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Jurassic Antequera
Wednesday, September 14, 2022

To the south of Antequera is Torcal, a limestone mountain range where erosion has sculpted a formidable labyrinth of rocks with fantastic shapes such as the Tornillo, which looks just like an immense screw-threaded halfway into the planet. It was in the Jurassic Age, 150 million years ago, that these surprising rocks formed on the sea bed, as a result of the deposit and compacting of corals, mollusc shells and other shellfish of the era. Subsequently, time and geology worked together patiently, designing this landscape of narrow corridors. Its intersections opened to craters, basins and 'torcas' (clay-bottomed depressions), which give the place its name, and the boulders were shaped leading to tapering channels and the unique shapes of the Torcal which, rather than screws, look like hamburgers with many layers.



The repertoire of picturesque formations is completed with caves and chasms typical of a limestone enclave, with wild rose bushes, ivy, honeysuckle and 30 varieties of orchids. That is what the most beautiful and peculiar natural part of Andalusia is like.



The park centre recommends that visitors begin with the green route, a 1.5 km well-signposted pathway that covers the highest and most impressive area of the Torcal in under an hour. If you have the opportunity you must pay it a visit.

One of the most remarkable values of the El Torcal extensive fauna is the wide range of the birds that it supports, either in a sedentary way or simply as a transitive station in the migratory routes or as a nesting point. Thanks to this, the Natural Park was declared as a Special Zone for the Protection of Birds (ZEPA in Spanish).

But some of these bird species have become really rare due to man's irresponsible behaviour (poisons, the pillage of nests, uncontrolled sports activities, etc.), such victims have been the golden eagle, the peregrine falcon or the Bonelli’s eagle. The griffon vultures are also visible in the park and are usually over El Torcal, either passing between the Desfiladero de Los Gaitanes-Sierra Huma and the Sierras de Camarolos and el Jobo or when they come to eat cattle carcasses (authorized in some areas of the Paraje).

The reptiles present in the Natural Park depend to a large extent on the weather, so they are fully active in spring and summer, at which time they can be seen frequently. The most dominant species are; ocellated lizard, colilarga (long-tailed lizard) and Iberian lizard, stair snake, bastard snake and the snout viper, which does have a venomous bite.

El Torcal is a wonderful place to visit and if you enjoy nature it is really is a  must!


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The Queen's Spanish Getaway
Thursday, September 1, 2022


Queen Elizabeth II started spending her summers in San Sebastian in the mid-twentieth century when bathing in the Bay of Biscay became fashionable among high society. But the close link between the city and royalty became even closer when, after Queen Maria Christina's husband Alfonso XII died, she moved the Court here during the summer. The royal family's summer visits called for a royal country house, and the Queen commissioned the English architect Selden Wornum to design one. The site chosen was a large estate that overlooked the bay, where the San Sebastián El Antiguo Monastery formerly stood.

Opened in 1893, the Miramar Palace is a proper English-style house and also includes some neo-Gothic decorative elements. It still has some of the original rooms, such as the White Room, the Music Room, the Wooden Drawing Room, the Petit Salon, the Library and the Royal Dining Room. Currently owned by the city council, summer courses run by the University of the Basque Country are held there, and it is the headquarters of Musikene, the Basque Country Centro Superior de Música (Higher School of Music), which does not prevent it from being the venue for parties during the Film Festival.




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A Question of Science
Wednesday, August 17, 2022


Many crimes have been committed in the name of paella but now researchers in Valencia have laid down 10 commandments of what thou shall and shall not put in their national dish.

The ten permitted ingredients are: rice, water, olive oil, salt, saffron (or food colouring), tomato, flat green beans, lima beans, chicken and rabbit. No fish or shellfish. Ever.

The research was carried out by social scientists at the Universidad Católica de Valencia at the instigation of local chef Rafael Vidal. The researchers questioned 400 amateur chefs aged over 50 from 266 Valencian villages.

The results were published in the International Journal of Gastronomy and Science and were presented on Thursday at a meeting titled, A nightmare glocal discussion: what are the ingredients of Paella Valenciana?

Ninety per cent of those interviewed agreed on the 10 essential ingredients, with some dissent over rabbit (88.9%). Paprika (62.5%) and rosemary (52.2%) are also considered acceptable, as are artichokes (46.3%), when in season.

“Everyone has an opinion about paella but the idea was to do fieldwork to establish what are the essential ingredients,” says Pablo Vidal (no relation), an anthropologist at the university involved in the research.

“What we have shown is what is always an ingredient of paella, what ingredients are sometimes used and what should never be used.”

To people in Valencia, their version of paella is the version and nothing else is worthy of the name. Some will even argue that it can only be made from water from the region.

If people in the rest of Spain want to add seafood, sausage or even black pudding, that’s their business, says Vidal, but in Valencian eyes, it’s not paella.

The typical seafood paella encountered elsewhere in Spain is generally dismissed by Valencianos as Arroz con Cosas (rice with things).

“In Valencia everyone thinks their recipe is the best which is why we carried out this research, to try to arrive at a consensus,” he said.

Last year the regional government declared Valencian paella a cultural asset. “Paella is an icon of the Mediterranean diet, because of both its ingredients and its characteristics as a representation of Valencian culture,” read the eight-page declaration which was published in Spain’s official state bulletin.

The new study says that paella’s global popularity “is both a success and a challenge”. One such challenge was the outrage caused by the British chef Jamie Oliver’s recipe for paella with chorizo.

“Oliver helped to provoke a discussion about what makes an authentic Paella Valenciana,” says Vidal. “I’m sure that one day he’ll have a street in Valencia named after him.”

Like a barbecue, paella is a dish for social events that are usually prepared at the weekend or on holidays. However, it’s traditionally served in restaurants on Thursdays.

There are various explanations for this. One is that Thursday was traditionally the cook’s day off so people tended to eat out. Another is that Francisco Franco was partial to paella and also liked to eat out on Thursday, so restaurants put it on the menu lest the dictator showed up for lunch.

It’s also claimed that it was a way of using leftover fish and meat before the weekly shop on Friday.

Vidal says there are as many recipes as there are cooks and what makes a good paella is a matter of opinion, except in Valencia, where it’s a question of science.

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The longest Muslim castle in Europe - at risk of abandonment
Friday, July 29, 2022


Throughout history, the Iberian Peninsula has been home to many peoples and civilizations, such as the Roman, Visigothic or Phoenician, among others. Many of them have left a very important historical and cultural legacy, however, the Muslim one is, without a doubt, the one that has had the most influence at all levels: cultural, historical, gastronomic, etc.

An example of this is the numerous buildings and fortresses that run through the peninsula, such as the Alcazaba de Almería, Castillo de Vélez-Málaga, and of course, the Alhambra.  Many of them are in a good state of conservation, however, over the years and lack of care, others are at risk of abandonment. This is the case of the Caliphate castle of Gormaz, in Soria, which happens to be the longest in Europe.

This fortress stands imposingly on a hill from which it dominates the Duero valley. Made almost entirely of carved ashlars, it has two differentiated areas separated by a moat, today covered: the fortress and the walled enclosure.



In the fortress, the 10th-century Almanzor tower, the weapons room and the Torre del Homenaje stand out, with caliphal rigging and reused caliphal embedded beams, which act as the entrance door to the fortress, with a total of seven towers. The walled enclosure consists of about 1,200 meters in perimeter, 446 meters long and 60 meters wide, thus being the largest construction in all of Europe from the 9th and 10th centuries.

This impressive castle was built during the Caliphate of Córdoba in the 9th century and later enlarged to adapt to the orography. It had its heyday during the time of Gálib and Almanzor, and suffered numerous sieges due to its strategic and military location, although it also served the Cordovan caliphate to dominate the entire Duero valley. It conserves an impressive caliphal double door with a typical horseshoe arch, located to the south and, although it is not the only entrance, it must have been the most common.


The Gormaz fortress is in a poor state of conservation, which has made it enter the Red List of Heritage for its "uneven state of conservation". This inequality is mainly due to its enormous dimensions and is also the result of the different unequal interventions carried out. 

The best way to go to this castle is by private vehicle. From Soria, the distance to the fortress is approximately 66 kilometres, with a journey time of about 55 minutes along the SO-100 road.

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Thinking in a foreign language makes us more rational
Friday, July 15, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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Spain's Leonardo
Thursday, June 2, 2022

The Industrial Revolution changed everything. In the history of humanity, there have been many technological milestones and a good handful of them have contributed to shaping our world into what we know today. However, along with fire, writing and the digital revolution, the industrial revolution competes for first place in the ranking of importance and, therefore, its main representative: the steam engine. Perhaps that is why the Spanish find it so attractive to think that, perhaps, the person responsible for all this could be a Spaniard. A 16th-century Spaniard who designed a steam engine prior to the one that James Watt would patent in 1769. His name had been lost over the centuries as if brushed aside and forgotten.


Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont was a Navarrese military man, humanist and polymath who soon turned to music, cosmology and, of course, engineering. Depending on where we read about his life, we will find from modest biographies to true odes to this “Spanish Leonardo”. What is true, then? If we leave aside the ambiguous statements and the chauvinistic effluvia, we will find a series of interesting and commendable achievements, but that is far from the production of most of the historical figures that we have for "geniuses”,  such as  Da Vinci. And, knowing this, it is normal that we start from a certain point of mistrust when accepting that he could be the father of one of the most decisive revolutions in history. A suspicion that increases when we begin to document ourselves about it and find that there seem to be a few figures who dispute the invention of the steam engine. What's the problem? None of them lies as such, but it seems difficult to assign paternity to this invention and there is a good reason for it.

The truth is that the family tree of almost any technological revolution is very difficult to trace. It is not clear where it begins or who should be recognised as the father. In the end, a series of figures share quite important merits and it does not seem easy to choose one in particular, so our brain ends up asking us to desist, unable to unravel the web of contradictions that we find (especially in informative texts). Luckily, there are two key questions that we can ask ourselves whenever we find ourselves in this situation and that may help us resolve the doubt.

Of course, the simplest question would be "who was the first?". But in general, we will find that almost all devices are based on previous designs and, as much as it surprises us, they can be traced back almost as much as we want. For example, in the case of a machine that uses steam to generate movement, we could go back to the first century AD. and name Heron of Alexandria as the father of technology. His aeolipile was a sphere filled with water which, when heated, released pressurized steam through two twisted tubes, thereby spinning the sphere on an axis. In fact, maybe we could go back a few years because we know that Heron used to be inspired by previous designs by Ctesibius. However, we will agree that it was impossible to achieve the Industrial Revolution with the Alexandrian design. Therefore, the really important question is not that, but who put the intention and who made it efficient.

Heron did not know what to use the aeolipile for, his intention was not adequate and that is why he did not begin to use it to generate the workforce. That turning point, in which a technological anecdote finds a revolutionary application, is possibly the key to determining who its true inventor is. In this case, there is quite a bit of dispute, because until a few decades ago Thomas Savery was spoken of as the pioneer who developed, for the first time, a functional steam engine. Specifically, his purpose was to use it as a suction pump, capable of creating a vacuum by expanding and contracting steam. That happened in 1698 but we have already said that our Spanish candidate lived in the previous century, so if he had found a clear application, it could become the first practical application of which we are aware.

Well, the truth is yes. Indeed, Jerónimo had already used his steam engine to generate a vacuum and ventilate mines thanks to it. However, we will agree that none of these applications is close to the engines that made the Industrial Revolution what it was. However, there is an even bigger problem: it was completely inefficient, practically a curious toy, better than nothing, but quite useless. Thomas Newcomen would take a new step in 1712, creating the atmospheric steam engine, capable of pumping water more or less continuously, but it was still very inefficient. That is why we usually consider James Watt the father of the steam engine because when he came up with his patent in 1769, that machine had two basic characteristics: it was applicable and it was much more efficient than its predecessors. To get an idea, it consumed a third of the coal that Newcomen's needed to produce the same energy, and that is what we needed to fuel a true Industrial Revolution.


 Without a doubt, Jerónimo de Ayanz y Beaumont is a Spanish figure to be proud of, but despite the fact that he made some important progressions, it is difficult to justify that he is the father of a technology for which he was neither the first nor the one who gave the real leap in efficiency.

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Which King of Spain has lasted the longest on the throne?
Friday, May 20, 2022

Juan Carlos I said goodbye to the throne in 2014 hastily with the purpose of safeguarding the prestige of the Monarchy. There were only a few months left for him to celebrate 40 years as King of Spain, but he decided to abdicate to save the institution.

Until 2012, Juan Carlos I was on his way to being the longest-living king of Spain. But in April 2012, in the midst of the economic crisis, the country woke up to the news that Juan Carlos was flown into Spain on an emergency flight from Botswana after fracturing his hip during his stay in the African country, where he had travelled to participate in a hunt with his close friend Corinna Larsen.


The inopportune hunt, the continuous comments about his relationship with Corinna Larsen, as well as the wear and tear of the Nóos case, ended up convincing Juan Carlos I that it was time to plan his abdication, consummated after two years in 2014. His reign ended after 39 years and 7 months.

Despite remaining almost four decades at the head of the Crown, there have been five other Spanish kings who have remained on the throne longer:

1. Charles I. 40 years old (1516-1556)

King of Spain and Emperor of Germany. With him, the House of Habsburg was implanted in Spain. Son of Juana la Loca and Felipe el Hermoso de Castilla. During his reign, Spain experienced a period of maximum economic prosperity; the colonization and conquest of America opened many markets and the arrival of precious metals served as a boost to all economic activities, also facilitating the war campaigns of the emperor, but the constant rise in prices and the imperialist, anti-economic policy ended up ruining economic activities of Castile and initiated a decadence that would be felt at the end of the 16th century.


2. Philip II. 42 years (1556-1598)

Philip II of Habsburg was King of Spain from January 15 1556, until his death. He governed the vast empire made up of Castile, Aragon, Catalonia, Navarre, Valencia, Roussillon, Franche-Comté, the Netherlands, Sicily, Sardinia, Milan, Naples, Oran, Tunisia, Portugal and his Afro-Asian empire, all of the discovered America and the Philippines.


3. Philip IV. 44 years (1621-1665)

The reign of Felipe IV, who tried to have a reformist character, faced an economic recession, with four bankruptcies of the Royal Treasury (1627, 1647, 1656 and 1662). The aggressive foreign policy of his personal advisor, the Count-Duke of Olivares, in Europe sought to maintain Spanish hegemony on the continent, and for this purpose, no resources were spared against the two main conflicts: the United Provinces and France.


4. Alfonso XIII. 44 years (1886-1931)

Although he was king of Spain from his birth (1886), he did not take power until the age of 16, in 1902, with the country still under the effects of the recent defeat in the war against the United States and the consequent loss of the remains of the colonial empire (1898). His reign was marked by the support that Don Alfonso provided to General Primo de Rivera's coup d'état in 1923 and the dictatorship that he established, a decision that would make him lose the throne after a few years.


5. Felipe V. 45 years old (1700-1746)

King from 1700 (except for a brief period from January to August 1724). Founder of the Bourbon dynasty in Spain. The conflicts between the Habsburgs and the Bourbons, and the alignment of the former kingdoms of the Crown of Aragon in favour of the Austrians, triggered the War of the Spanish Succession. Once finalized by the treaties of Utrecht and Rastadt (1713) the Spanish monarchy lost the European territories in Italy and the Netherlands, although Philip kept the throne of Spain and Latin America.

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Where did the Spanish Kings' Nicknames Come from?
Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Probably all the kings of Spain would like to have gone down in history with a nickname like the Great. Such is the case, for example, of John II of Aragon. But only a few have had that fortune, as most have had to enter the books with not-so-laudatory nicknames.

This is the case of Carlos II, king between 1665 and 1700, who was called the Bewitched (Hechizado) because it was believed that his endless physical and intellectual defects were due to the fact that he had been a victim of witchcraft.

They found no other explanation for his head being covered with crusts due to rickets, for his epileptic seizures and for being mentally retarded.

At that time it was not taken into account that all this could be due to the consanguinity of his parents (Philip IV and Mariana of Austria were uncle and niece). Later theories have added that he suffered from hydrocephalus, that is, an excess of cerebrospinal fluid in the head.

Here are a few more:


The Impotent - El Impotente

It was Enrique IV the Impotent, who reigned between 1454 and 1474, and was unable to father children with his first wife, Blanca de Navarra. With her second, Juana de Portugal, it took her 7 years and Juana ended up being born, but gossip said that she, in fact, was the daughter of her best friend Beltrán de la Cueva and that is why they nicknamed her Juana la Beltraneja.

The Sufferer - El Doliente

Henry III, king between 1390 and 1406, was known as the Sufferer because of his precarious health. It is believed that from the age of 17 he began to suffer from some type of disease, probably neurological, which produced increasingly frequent clinical episodes and great physical deterioration.

So fragile was his health that he died at the age of 27. Testimonies of the time underline his thinness and weakness, his bad colour and his melancholy character. There are those who claim that he had tuberculosis and died from this disease, but this thesis is weak because it does not take into account other factors such as the changes in his face and the difficulties with language described by the historian of the time Hernán Pérez de Guzman.



The Careless - El Descuidado

Juan I of Aragón was called the Hunter, although others were less ironic and called him the Careless because he did not enjoy government tasks. Apparently, the monarch devoted much of his time to his personal hobbies, particularly hunting, although he also enjoyed astrology, letters and the arts.

Due to this dedication to his hobbies, the finances and public affairs of the Court were left in the hands of his wife, Violante de Bar.





The Summoned - El Emplazado

Ferdinand IV of Castile, king between 1295 and 1312, was called the Summoned because two knights, the Carvajal brothers, whom he ordered executed, summoned the monarch to death for what they saw as an irreparable injustice.

Those accused of murder claimed his innocence, but the king ordered them thrown off the cliff. Faced with this sentence, the Carvajal brothers summoned the king before the Court of God 30 days after his execution, implying that he would receive what he deserved. And the truth is that it was so because Fernando IV died at that time after going to sleep.

It should be explained that the monarch had a reputation for eating and drinking excessively, although no one suspected that his death was close to him. In popular tradition, the figurative presence of the Carvajales came to life at the moment of death and there are canvases that represent the brothers as ghosts. The theme became very famous in the literature of the time and Bretón de los Herreros premiered a drama entitled Los Carvajales in 1837.


The Astounded - EL Pasmado

Felipe IV, king between 1621 and 1665, was called the Astounded by the appearance of his face and Torrente Ballester published a novel with the same title. Imanol Uribe also directed a film following this novel starring Gabino Diego.

But Felipe IV received more nicknames, among them 'the Planet King' due to the breadth of his world domains. Interestingly, his territories were as huge as his travels were small because Philip IV never left Spain.

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Paracuellos - The Airport Cross
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

Anyone that looks out the plane window during arrival or take off at the Adolfo Suárez Madrid–Barajas Airport will see the huge white cross painted on a hill right beside the runway. It gives some passengers a feeling of unease, as some believe it to be a plane crash memorial. In fact the cross is for victims of a different sort of tragedy.

The Spanish Civil War, fought between General Francisco Franco’s Nationalists and left-wing Republicans, lasted from 1936 to 1939. Both sides committed grave atrocities during the war, one of the worst of which became known as the“Paracuellos Massacres.”

In the Battle of Madrid in 1936, the Nationalists attacked civilians with airstrikes from German bombers. At the same time the Republicans (supported by the Russians) incarcerated thousands of political prisoners in Madrid, among them civilians, Catholic priests and soldiers. As the Nationalist troops approached, the Republicans felt pressure to dispose of their enemies. Their solution was mass executions. Starting in the early morning hours of November 7, 1936 prisoners were informed that they would be released from imprisonment in groups. They were brought to the fields near “Paracuellos del Jarama,” where they were shot and buried in mass graves. The executions continued until December 4.




How many Spaniards were killed at the hands of their fellow countrymen is unknown. Numbers vary largely among historians. While some say it was a thousand in total, others say it was about a thousand in the first two days. Most numbers vary between 2,000 and 5,000. The magazine El Alcazar in 1977 put the number at 12,000. In the same year, César Vidal’s Matanzas en el Madrid Republicano included a list of 12,000 victim names. An official number will never be known, as most of the bodies cannot be found.

The white cross visible from the runway of Madrid Airport marks the site of the Paracuellos Massacres. What can’t be seen from the runway is the Cementerio de los Mártires at the foot of the hill, the Paracuellos Civil War Cemetery. Six hundred crosses mark the graves of the bodies that were discovered, and stand in memory of the many more whose fate is unknown.

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