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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 Origins of the Spanish Language
28 October 2020


The "Camino de la Lengua" (the path of the Spanish language) starts from the San Millán de la Cogolla Monasteries in La Rioja and passes through five locations that have had a special and unique relationship with the history of the Spanish language in Spain: the Santo Domingo de Silos Monastery in Burgos and the cities of Valladolid, Salamanca, Ávila and Alcalá de Henares. 

The Yuso and Suso Monasteries are in the village of San Millán de la Cogolla and are European Heritage Sites. They are in the Cárdenas Valley, a tributary of the River Najerilla, in the foothills of the Demanda Mountains and under La Rioja's highest peak, San Lorenzo (2,262 metres). Suso, the upper of the two monasteries began in the caves inhabited by the hermits and disciples of San Millán in around the 6th century. The building work that turned these caves into the monastery is reflected in the different architectural styles layered on top of each other from the 6th to the 10th centuries: Visigoth, Mozarabic and Romanesque.

Suso's cultural importance comes from the collection of manuscripts and texts written at the Monastery's library, one of the most important during Spain's Middle Ages: the Codex Emilianense de los Concilios (992), the Quiso Bible (664) and a copy of the Apocalypse by Beato de Liébana (8th century) make this one of the most important, if not the most important, libraries during Spain's Middle Ages. This setting provided the backdrop for what is today the oldest written evidence of the Spanish language.

The Yuso Monastery was built to expand the Suso Monastery in the 11th century and is particularly large. It was built during the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries and combines different architectural styles: mainly Renaissance and Baroque. The Monastery's museum houses many wonderful works of art: paintings by Juan de Rizzi (thought to be the best Spanish religious painter) and copper pieces dating back to the 17th century. The 11th century gold and ivory chests hold the relics of San Millán. The screen closing off the church's lower choir was made in 1676 and the retrochoir's sculpture contains eight beautiful Spanish images One of the Monastery's best pieces is also in this area: a pulpit made of walnut, which is thought to date back to the late 16th century.



The Monastery's library and archive are of particular interest and are considered to be one of Spain's best. The Medieval archive's main items are two cartularies (the Galicano and the Bulario cartularies) containing around three hundred original documents. 

The library remains as it was furnished towards the end of the 18th century. The true value and interest of the library is not so much the number of documents it houses (over ten thousand), rather the unusual nature of the items. One of these unusual pieces is the "Gospel of Jerónimo Nadal", printed in Antwerp in 1595. Although it is unusual to own a copy of this edition, the actual format of the book is even more unusual, as all the sheets are painted one by one in various colours.

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Visiting Valencia? Let Sorolla guide you around...
20 October 2020

Joaquín Sorolla is one of the great masters of 19th-century Spanish painting. He became internationally famous with his paintings of Mediterranean scenes, full of light and happiness. This route around his hometown, Valencia, covers the places connected to his life and works. From the neighbourhood where he grew up, to the places that inspired him, including the museums that display his art. 

The Sorolla Route is a cultural proposal that explores the history and works of the Valencian painter Joaquín Sorolla. The route covers about thirty spots around the city of Valencia which are connected to some extent to the artist. The urban route we present includes some of these important places. It can be covered on foot in a day, although you can also take the metro or tram to some of the places, for more convenience.



We start the route at the artist's birthplace, situated at 8, Calle de las Mantas street, which is marked by a commemorative plaque. Close by we'll find the Church of Santa Catalina, where he was baptised, and the Church of San Martín, where he married Clotilde García. Then we'll go to the Silk Exchange, as its steps are the setting in the artist's painting "The Cry of the Palleter" (1884). Then, we head towards the Fine Arts Club, to which the artist used to belong. It is currently situated in a Gothic palace on Calle Cadirers street.

The next stop is the Cathedral, a building that appears in some of Sorolla's earlier works. If we walk down Carrer de San Vicente Mártir street, we'll get to the Town Hall, which houses an art collection that includes some of Sorolla's paintings, such as "My Family" (1901). We continue on Calle de las Barcas street towards the section known as that of the Painter Sorolla: the Artisans' School of Valencia used to be situated here. The artist belonged to this school between 1876 and 1878. The centre is currently situated on Avenida del Reino de Valencia and conserves an oil painting by Sorolla and some of the drawings he made while he was a student.



The route continues by crossing the Turia River, over the Puente de la Exposición bridge, popularly known as "La Peineta" ("ornamental comb"). Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, it will take us to Calle Galicia street, where we'll find the Palacio de la Exposición palace, which held the Regional Valencian Exhibition in 1909, which showcased artworks by several artists, including Sorolla.



Then we walk down Paseo de la Alameda to get to the Valencia Museum of Fine Arts. Its collection includes around 50 of Sorolla's paintings. After that we cross the Turia River again towards El Carmen Centre. It is an old 13th-century convent which used to house the School of Fine Arts, where Sorolla studied between 1878 and 1887. Today it is an exhibition centre and holds the Joaquín Sorolla Research and Study Institute. The House-Museum of Benlliure is close by, dedicated to the Benlliure family of artists, intimately connected to the Valencian artist.



The route continues towards La Malvarrosa beach, which appears in many of Sorolla's paintings. On the coast we'll also be able to discover the house of another of his friends - the House-Museum of Vicente Blasco Ibáñez. We'll also see two places whose activity was an inspiration to the artist for several of his works: the Hospital Valencia al mar (old San Juan de Dios shelter) and the Casa dels bous house. If we walk down the promenade we'll get to Valencia's monument to Sorolla, situated in Plaza de la Armada Española square.

The urban route ends at the General Cemetery of Valencia, at the family pantheon where the artist is buried. Nevertheless, we can enjoy more of his paintings in the Lladró Museum, six kilometres from the city, in Tavernes Blanques.

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Manzanares el Real Castle
16 October 2020


The town of Manzanares el Real, 30 miles north of Madrid, is most famous for its castle, which is an imposing example of the Castilian military architecture of the 15th century and one of the last of its kind in Spain. In fact, after initially being user as a fortress, it became a residential Palace of one of the noblest families in Castilla since the Middle Ages: the Mendozas. However, Manzanares Castle is also closely tied in with Madrid's recent history, because the process leading to the autonomy of Comunidad de Madrid (1981) was started there, as was the project for the Statute of Autonomy, which would be approved in Congress and the Senate in 1983.



The construction of the castle began in the year 1475, at a time when Madrid was just a little town. The castle has a quadrangular plant with four towers on the corners. The whole building is surrounded by a permiter barbican, with a single entrance via a beautiful west-facing door, flanked by two strong turrets and defended by stone deer. All the walls of the barbican contain loopholes in the shape of the Jerusalem Cross in homage to the first duke's brother, Cardenal Mendoza, who was given the title of Cardinal of the Holy Cross of Jerusalem Basilica by the Catholic Monarchs in 1480.


The south facade boasts a portico, the outer face of which is made up of low arches with a flamboyant Gothic style pillar between each one. It contrasts sharply with the solid walls and shows how lnigo Lopez changed the look of his residence with the help of the skilled architect Juan Guas. The latter also designed the magnificent portico, galleries around the central courtyard, with late Gothic and Mudejar influences particularly on the ceilings and the corridors containing the coat of arms of the Mendozas, Lunas and Enriquez. The Castle’s stately appearance, contrasting with the harmonious blend of Moorish and Renaissance details and the elegance of the mock Arabic cornice on which the battlements are supported, is only interrupted on the south-facing facade by the splendid portico which gives it a special grace and uniqueness.



The Mendozas used this Palace-Castle as a stately home for less than a century. In 1565 when the 4th Duque del Infantado died, feuds between the inheritors resulted in its disuse and a slow process of deterioration until the architect, Vicente Lamperez Romera, took responsibility for the first restoration works in 1914. Declared a Historical ­Art Monument in 1931, the Duque del Infantado, lnigo Arteaga y Folquera, ceded it to Madrid County Council in 1965. At present, the Castle is run by “Direccion General de Turismo de la Consejeria de Economia y Empleo de la Comunidad de Madrid”.

The castle of Manzanares also appears in the movie "El Cid" (1961) featuring Charlton Heston and Sophia Loren. If you ever get a chance to pass by Manzanares El Real, I highly recommend visiting this wonderful property.


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The Biniadris Cave - Menorca
02 October 2020

The Biniadrís cave is a forgotten cavern in the rock that hadn’t been touched for thousands of years. In an almost inaccessible hole in the rock face, measuring just 10 square meters were a great number of human skulls covered with dirt. Some had a perfect orifice drilled into the cranium, indicating that they had been trepanned. 



The cave was discovered in 2013 in the island of Menorca in the Balearic Islands. So far, the archaeological team has identified the bones of around 100 people belonging to the island’s Talayotic period during the Bronze Age. The cave was used from around 3,300 years ago until around 2,600 years ago as a burial site – “a sacred space” where mysterious funeral rituals were carried out.

However, they don’t know how they got the bodies to the cave but it appears that they were wrapped in a kind of linen shroud and carried on their backs. They were placed in the centre of the cave, covered with red ocher and left there until they had to make room for another body. Then the old remains would be piled up against the sides of the cave.



The archaeological team which has just published the first results of their research has photos of one of the most impressive discoveries in Biniadrís: a perfectly preserved lock of hair dyed with red ochre powder. They would cut a lock of hair from the dead and placed it in a tube that was made of leather or wood or other materials. In the lids of these tubes, which were made of bones, they carved a series of almost perfect concentric circles. However, it’s impossible to know what these ceremonies meant to them. In the same period, the Assyrians worshipped Enki, the god of fresh water; and the Egyptians worshipped Osiris, god of the afterlife. Like thousands of other beliefs that prompted generations of wars, they no longer mean anything.

The archaeologists have also discovered buttons made of bone in the cave, similar to those from a duffel coat that suggest that the bodies were dressed. The buttons were pieces of craftsmanship that were perhaps passed down from generation to generation, according to archaeologist Manuel Altamirano.

In their report, the team describes five trepanned skulls bearing practically perfect holes. Some of these holes are scarcely big enough to fit a pencil through while others are as big as three centimetres in diameter. The lips of the holes suggest that the bone regenerated after the operation and the individuals subjected to the surgery carried on living. Trepanation was a common medical operation dating back to Neolithic times, undertaken to relieve the pressure of meningitis or strong headaches. The trepanations were performed by people with a certain know-how. According to the archaeologists, they made the holes with a stone tool using it like sandpaper and then employed a point. They would have had some kind of painkiller to avoid the pain.

The Biniadrís cave is the last mysterious corner of the funeral territory known as the Cales coves in the Alaior region of Menorca where, in 1990, other caves were found containing evidence of similar burials, such as Es Mussol, Es Càrritx and Es Pas. But, even within this extraordinary framework, Biniadrís is exceptional due to the quality of the remains. The digs will continue next summer – the cave still has much to reveal about the trepanned redheads.

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New World Ingredients
26 August 2020

Spanish history - and Spanish gastronomy of course - would take a huge turn when a new continent was discovered by mistake, in 1492. It was also the year of the reconquest when the Muslims of Al-Andalus were expelled from most of the Iberian Peninsula. This meant that a lot of the cooking techniques from this culture were disregarded, and so Spanish gastronomy was in need of a revival. Thankfully, the Americas were able to provide that extra lift needed to revitalise Spanish food.

Soon new ingredients would appear in Spain, though some people who looked at them would wrinkle their noses or frown upon them, and it would take many years for some of these vegetables to become acceptable to Spanish palates. Curiously, much of the Spanish diet -if not most- is based on these few ingredients and some would even, someday, save Europe from starving during famine.

So what ingredients are we talking about? Tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and cocoa as well as wheat. There was hardly any pre-columbine influence in the preparation of food in Spain, but for the use of these vegetables. However, as we mentioned, it's acceptance took a little longer.

It is believed that potatoes came into Europe through Galicia, where it was first cultivated. This bulb had been discovered in Peru in 1532, it would take some years till it spread to the rest of the country, and continent, but eventually, it was accepted, especially during the Eighty Years' War, when it fed thousands of Spanish soldiers stationed in Holland. The lower classes took more time to assimilate this new vegetable, preferring turnips and parsnips instead.

Today potatoes in Spain are one of the main ingredients of the most emblematic dishes in Spanish cuisine: tortilla de patatas, patatas bravas, papas arrugadas from the Canary Islands and many others. Should you ever travel to Spain you will get the chance to taste all the wonders that Spanish cuisine makes with potatoes. But the potato is not only important in Spain of course, but most European countries also have this bulb as a base ingredient for many of their dishes.

Tomatoes in Spain were imported from Mexico, as it was an important ingredient in Aztec food. In Spain, it was believed to be unfit for consumption, and it was given a medicinal and ornamental use as well. Nowadays we can't imagine life without tomatoes: pantumaca, gazpacho, salmorejo and many other dishes use it as a base ingredient. Tomato also changed the gastronomy in different countries. What would pizza and spaghetti bolognese be without tomatoes?

Another very important ingredient was cocoa beans. During the 17th and 18th century chocolate in Spain became a national vice of the gentry. In the Aztec empire, chocolate was consumed very bitter, directly from cocoa and occasionally mixed with wheat flour. The Spaniards had the great idea of mixing it with sugar and it became the most popular drink among the wealthier classes. In fact, the Spanish aristocracy and clergy would drink it at all hours. Too popular in fact for the liking of the church, who decided to forbid it! 

Some of the smaller ingredients that made it across the ocean to Spain include paprika which has since become one of the Spanish's favourite spices. This spice is used in a number of dishes in Spanish cooking and is the vital ingredient for transforming chorizo sausages into their characteristic red colour. Before this, chorizo was generally a black or brown colour. It was in the 17th century that they began to combine the sausage with paprika, hence changing the image of the sausage forever.

As you can see, many of the traditional dishes that we associate with Spain would not have existed if it were not for Colombus's idea to try and reach China in a different way. Who knows when they would have been brought over to Europe and how they would have influenced European cuisine had they not been discovered by the Spanish....?

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Thinking in a foreign language makes us more rational
17 July 2020

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 Claim to Coca Cola
19 June 2020


Locals believe that the Spanish town of Aielo de Malferit is where Coca-Cola originated -- and that the factory which developed the formula that inspired the world's best-selling soda has been cheated of its rightful place in history. Not to mention profits.


It's allegedly the birthplace of the world's best-known soft drink. Grey-haired and bespectacled, Juan Micó - in his seventies -  still runs a liquor factory and produces a brown liquid with a secret - Grated kola nut and multiple herbs blended with alcohol mature in a clay jug for a month then Juan claims, what happens next is a secret...


A very well-kept one. Supposedly, the recipe for his liquor -- now called Nuez de Kola Coca -- is the basis for Coca-Cola. The syrup is extremely sweet -- sugar beet molasses are bland in comparison and Juan suggests that it's better to mix it with water rather than to drink it pure or even with milk as is prefered by the ladies of the village. It is also common locally to add it to coffee.

The first version of Nuez de Kola Coca was invented more than 120 years ago by the founders of Micó's factory. Even today, people come from far and wide to sample it -- sometimes, entire coachloads of visitors.


The history of Aielo's Fábrica de Licores dates back to 1880. The factory was founded by Bautista Aparici, Ricardo Sanz and Enrique Ortiz. The three entrepreneurs began manufacturing quality products -- including liquors with such imaginative names as Perfecto Amor (Perfect Love), Lágrimas de Contribuyente (Tears of the Taxpayer) and Placer de Damas (Ladies' Pleasure).


Kola Nut                                                                         Coca Leaves

Aparici, who was in charge of sales, was soon travelling from the Spanish province to trade fairs in Rome, Paris, London and Chicago. In 1885 he went to Philadelphia with a new beverage in his luggage. Called Kola Coca, it was made from the caffeine-rich fruit of African kola nut trees and the leaves of Peruvian coca plants, and promptly scooped an innovation prize. Before he left, Aparici gave some American sales representatives a few samples. Perhaps it was coincidence, perhaps it wasn't -- but just one year later, US pharmacist John Pemberton made history when he invented Coca-Cola. I'll let you be the judge of that...





Back in Aielo, Micó is proud of his framed collection of medals and honours. Kola Coca won the company awards in Milan in 1881, in Chicago in 1883, in Philadelphia in 1885, in London in 1889 and in Paris in 1900. They were certainly onto something big...

A total of 20 gold medals and 10 honorary diplomas were won by their Kola Coca drink. He believes wholeheartedly that the basis of Coca-Cola was invented in Aielo de Malferit. He claims it was easy to copy a beverage in those days because patents were only registered if a product proved successful. His predecessors only patented the Nuez de Kola Coca formula in Spain in 1903. But by then, Coca-Cola was already well on its way to iconic status in the US.

Half a century later, the two companies finally crossed paths. When Coca-Cola decided it was time to move into the Spanish market, there was no way of avoiding the small factory in Aielo de Malferit. In 1953, Coca Cola executives visited provincial Spain and acquired the rights to the name from Joaquin Juan Sanchis, who was then the owner of the factory.

It was allowed to go on producing Kola Coca, but only an alcoholic version. Nuez de Kola Coca has been a liquor ever since. The deal is believed to have been worth 1700 euros , but no one knows for sure, since records have been destroyed. It was definitely a lot of money for those days.

But it was only a fraction of what it could have been. In 2011, Coca-Cola celebrated its 125th anniversary as one of the world's best-known brands. 

As things stand, his business now consists of little more than an old factory with a peeling facade, a worn stone floor and a few dozen wooden barrels. The business changed hands many times before Micó bought it in 1971. He had worked there for eight years, starting out as an employee and advancing through the ranks to become the sales manager. In those days, the company numbered nearly 40 employees. Today, only four are left.

Juan remarks that the business has become difficult now that overseas companies have cornered the market. Most traditional businesses have closed down and these days his company is mainly a wholesaler.

Micó also works as a farmer so he can make ends meet. Recently, his company also took over sales for a major Spanish brewery. The liquor factory is basically just a hobby these days for Juan but he wants to keep the tradition alive, so it doesn't get lost forever, but they can no longer invest in it so the factory will eventually die a death.

Recently the village of Aielo has been campaigning for permission from Coca-Cola to allow it to market the village as the origin of the drink and gain its rightful place in history. Somehow I can,t see that happening...

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How did rice become so important to Spain?
12 June 2020

Reliable sources seem to credit Alexander the Great (356-323BC) with having introduced rice into Mesopotamia in the latter half of the 4th century BC. According to Strabo (Greek Geographer: 64BC-24AD), by the end of that century rice was already an established crop in the Euphrates valley. From Persia, it spread to Syria, Asia Minor and Egypt.

Alexander personally sent samples of rice (orýza) to Greece around 320BC, although it was not a success as a crop. It was considered a very exotic species of plant in Greece; it was used primarily in medicine, especially as rice water, but was barely used as a food source. Although Athenaeus and Sophocles (496-406 BC) mentions that rice flour could be used to make a bread called oríndes, it is by no means certain that they were referring to the same seed.

The Romans became acquainted with rice via the Greeks, as the Latin version of its name (oryza or oriza) reveals, but they imported it from Syria and Egypt. It continued to be an exotic product, being used mainly in medicinal compounds since infusions made with rice (‘rice water’) were believed to exert a calming effect on intestinal ailments. However, it was beginning to crop up in the occasional culinary recipe during this period: Apicius mentions using rice flour, or fecula (starch), to thicken a sauce.

Between the 8th and 10th centuries, the Arabs introduced rice into Morocco, Spain, Madagascar and Sicily. It did not acquire importance in Europe, as either crop or foodstuff, until the Arab peoples implanted it firmly in the Iberian Peninsula after 711. However, there is a school of thought that maintains that rice reached Spain earlier - in the 6th century - from Byzantium.

The first big rice fields in Spain, and Europe, were planted by the Muslims of Al-Andalus in the river deltas of the Guadiana and Guadalquivir. Around the 10th century (during the caliphate of Abdurrahman III), rice-growing began in areas of Spain’s east coast (Levante) such as Valencia’s Albufera and the municipalities of Catarroja, Ruzafa, Silla and Sueca. During the 11th century, the plantations were expanded and irrigation systems improved as a result of population growth caused by an influx of Andalusís who had migrated up from the south after the fall of the caliphate and the concomitant civil war. The Spanish name for rice – Arroz – derives from the Persian orz, to which the Arabs prefixed the particle al. Al-orz subsequently evolved into ar-orz and ar-ruz, in which form it appears in a 13th-century Hispano-Mahgrebi manuscript. The word arroz makes its first appearance in Castilian Spanish in 1251 in a translation from Arabic of a collection of oriental stories entitled Calila e Dimna, commissioned by the figure who would later become known as Alfonso X, the Wise (1221-1284).

Because it was such a difficult crop to grow, rice remained a luxury product throughout the Middle Ages. Noteworthy among traditional Arabic-Andalusí recipes are those for dishes in which rice is cooked (over the fire or in the oven) in fresh milk or almond milk, which can be sweetened and flavoured with various spices. The usual thing was to grind the rice grains before cooking so that the end product resembled sweet porridge. A late medieval cookery book from the Kingdom of Aragón, the oldest of its kind in the Catalan language, includes this same recipe for cooking rice with almond milk and cinnamon.


The Christian reconquest of the Levante by the army of Jaime I of Aragon (1208-1276) between 1232 and 1245 wrought drastic changes to Valencia’s rice fields. For one thing, rice was perceived as Muslim food, the growing of which took up space that could be devoted to traditionally Christian products; for another, the medical and dietary theories that were starting to take shape, especially from the 14th century on, caused links to be detected between the wetland environment where rice was grown and public health problems. Proximity to the rice fields was believed to cause illness and, furthermore, food grown in muddy, foul-smelling conditions could not be nutritionally beneficial. In some places, therefore, prohibitions concerning rice-growing were issued intermittently in the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries, especially after the expulsion of the Spanish Moriscos in 1609, during the reign of Philip III (1578-1621). Against all odds, however, it did not disappear completely as a crop.

From the 16th century on, descriptions of meals eaten at the Spanish Court make quite a frequent mention of a dish called 'manjar blanco': this medieval sweet rice dish (recipe and instructions below) - a favourite with the aristocracy - was made with ground rice flour, shredded poultry meat, almonds and cane sugar. Over time, the recipe discarded the meat element and it became the dessert dish that is still eaten in certain parts of Spain (such as Montblanc, Tarragona and other municipalities in Catalonia), a kind of solid custard (or blancmange) made with rice flour, ground almonds, sugar, cinnamon, lemon peel and water.

In the 17th century, the expulsion of the Moriscos combined with the European economic crisis triggered a dramatic drop in the population of Spain, the knock-on effect of which decimated demand for certain crops, including rice. Even so, documentary evidence dating from halfway through the century attests to the existence of rice fields in Murcia, on the fertile banks of the Segura River, and beside the Argos, in Calasparra.

The 18th century, by contrast, saw an increase in population, which tripled in Valencia between 1718 and 1787, and farming and rice growing thrived once more in consequence. Rice plantations increased in size in Valencia and Murcia, creeping ever closer to centres of population in defiance of official bans. The epidemics of tertian fever (malarial fevers so-called because of their repeated three-day pattern and caused by Anopheles mosquito bites) that occurred as a result claimed many lives. After the worst outbreak of malaria, in 1804, rice fields were forced to retreat further away from the towns.

In the first thirty years of the 20th century, rice-growing began to take on a significant role in Valencia’s economy. This was particularly true from the First World War (1914 – 1918) on when demand increased for all types of cereal, among other essential products, destined for the rest of Europe. It was this fact that lay behind the Spanish Government’s attempt to limit rice exports so that domestic demand, which was also growing, could be met. During the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939) and the post-war period, consumption of rice increased still further.

However, from the 1940s on, production started to decline in Spain’s eastern provinces such as Valencia and Murcia (the water for whose rice fields was provided by the rivers Turia, Júcar and Segura) in favour of such new regions as Seville, Extremadura, Huesca, Zaragoza, Navarra and Tarragona, where the crop was implanted mainly along the banks of the rivers Ebro, Guadiana and Guadalquivir.

From the 1960s on, cultivating and harvesting processes became increasingly mechanized, and producers found themselves gradually having to raise the quality of their product to meet the demands of a now better-off public. They also started to grow long-grain rice varieties which until then had not been a cost-effective option.


Manjar Blanco - Medieval

The recipe was first referenced in "The Book of Sent Soví". It does not specify the quantities or the timings. However, in other references, it is mentioned that the quantity of almonds is the same as that of the broth and the elaboration process is better detailed. If you fancy discovering a medieval Spanish recipe just follow these steps:


1 litre of chicken broth.
1 kg of Almonds
A tablespoon of sugar.
Rosewater .
Rice flour.

We prepare a broth with the chicken's quarters and boil them slowly for about 2 hours, strain it and remove the fat - let it cool and once all the fat has risen to the top, scoop it off.

We add the chopped and peeled almonds to the broth and we boil it for about 20 minutes, then strain the mixture in a cloth strainer pressing until all the liquid comes out, put it back on the heat, add a tablespoon of sugar, and a splash of rose water and without stopping slowly mix in the rice flour until obtaining the thickness of cream and add salt to taste.
Shred the chicken meat off the bone and sprinkle on top and serve.


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A Brief History of Spain
02 June 2020


Although very difficult, the intention of this article is to summarise over two thousand years of Spanish history down into a series of bite size digestable chunks, giving you a quick outline of milestone events and key periods that shaped Spain forever and hopefully arouse enough interest so you keep discovering more about this wonderful country and its endless heritage.




Carthage Begins to Conquer Spain 241 BCE

Beaten in the First Punic War, Carthage – or at least leading Carthaginians – turned their attention to Spain. Hamilcar Barca began a campaign of conquest and settlement in Spain which continued under his son in law. A capital for Carthage in Spain was established at Cartagena. The campaign continued under Hannibal, who pushed further north but came to blows with the Romans and their ally Marseille, who had colonies in Iberia.

Second Punic War in Spain 218 – 206 BCE

As the Romans fought the Carthaginians during the Second Punic War, Spain became a field of conflict between the two sides, both aided by Spanish natives. After 211 the brilliant general Scipio Africanus campaigned, throwing Carthage out of Spain by 206 and beginning centuries of Roman occupation.

Spain Fully Subdued 19 BCE

Rome’s wars in Spain continued for many decades, often brutal warfare, with numerous commanders operating in the area and making a name for themselves. On occasion, the wars impinged on the Roman consciousness, with eventual victory in the long siege of Numantia being equated to the destruction of Carthage. Eventually, Agrippa conquered the Cantabrians in 19 BCE, leaving Rome ruler of the whole peninsula.

Germanic Peoples Conquer Spain 409 – 470 CE

With Roman control of Spain in chaos due to civil war (which at one point produced a short-lived Emperor of Spain), German groups: the Sueves, Vandals and Alans invaded. These were followed by the Visigoths, who invaded first on behalf of the emperor to enforce his rule in 416, and later that century to subdue the Sueves; they settled and crushed the last imperial enclaves in the 470s, leaving the region under their control. After the Visigoths were pushed out of Gaul in 507, Spain became home to a unified Visigothic kingdom, albeit one with very little dynastic continuity.

Muslim Conquest of Spain Begins 711

A Muslim force comprised of Berbers and Arabs attacked Spain from North Africa, taking advantage of a near-instant collapse of the Visigothic kingdom (the reasons for which historians still debate, the “it collapsed because it was backward” argument having been now firmly rejected); within a few years, the south and centre of Spain was Muslim, the north remaining under Christian control. A flourishing culture emerged in the new region which was settled by many immigrants.

The apex of Umayyad Power 961 – 976

Muslim Spain came under the control of the Umayyad dynasty, who moved from Spain after losing power in Syria, and who ruled first as Amirs and then as Caliphs until their collapse in 1031. The rule of Caliph Al-Hakem, from 961 – 76, was probably the height of their strength both politically and culturally. Their capital was Cordoba. After 1031 the Caliphate was replaced by a number of successor states.

The Reconquista c. 900 – c.1250

Christian forces from the north of the Iberian Peninsula, pushed partly by religion and population pressures, fought Muslim forces from the south and centre, defeating the Muslim states by the mid-thirteenth century. After this only Granada remained in Muslim hands, the Reconquista finally being completed when it fell in 1492. The religious differences between the many warring sides have been used to create national mythology of a catholic right, might and mission, and to impose a simple framework on what was a complicated era.

Spain Dominated by Aragon and Castile c. 1250 - 1479

The last phase of the Reconquista saw three kingdoms push the Muslims almost out of Iberia: Portugal, Aragon and Castile. The latter pair now dominated Spain, although Navarre clung on to Independence in the north and Granada in the south. Castile was the largest kingdom in Spain; Aragon was a federation of regions. They fought frequently against Muslim invaders and saw, often large, internal conflict.

The 100 Years War in Spain 1366 - 1389

In the latter part of the fourteenth century the war between England and France spilt over into Spain: when Henry of Trastamara, bastard half brother of the king, claimed the throne held by Peter I, England supported Peter and his heirs and France, Henry and his heirs. Indeed, the Duke of Lancaster, who married Peter’s daughter, invaded in 1386 to pursue a claim but failed. Foreign intervention in the affairs of Castile declined after 1389, and after Henry III took the throne.

Ferdinand and Isabella Unite Spain 1479 - 1516

Known as the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile married in 1469; both came to power in 1479, Isabella after a civil war. Although their role in uniting Spain under one kingdom – they incorporated Navarre and Granada into their lands – has been downplayed recently, they nonetheless united the kingdoms of Aragon, Castile and several other regions under one monarch.

Spain Starts to Build an Overseas Empire in 1492

Columbus brought knowledge of America to Europe in 1492, and by 1500 6000 Spaniards had already emigrated to the “New World”. They were the vanguard of a Spanish empire in southern and central America – and nearby islands – which overthrew the indigenous peoples and sent vast quantities of treasure back to Spain. When Portugal was subsumed into Spain in 1580, the latter became rulers of the large Portuguese empire too.

The "Golden Age" 16th Century to 1640

An era of social peace, great artistic endeavour and a place as a world power at the heart of a world empire, the sixteenth and early seventeenth century have been described as Spain’s golden age, an era when vast booty flowed in from America and Spanish armies were labelled as invincible. The agenda of European politics was certainly set by Spain, and the country helped bankroll the European wars fought by Charles V and Philip II as Spain formed part of their vast Habsburg empire, but the treasure from abroad caused inflation and Castile kept going bankrupt.

The Revolt of the Comuneros 1520- 21

When Charles V succeeded to the throne of Spain he caused upset by appointing foreigners to court positions when promising not to, making tax demands and setting off abroad to secure his accession to the Holy Roman throne. Cities rose in rebellion against him, finding success at first, but after the rebellion spread to the countryside and the nobility were threatened, the latter grouped together to crush the Comuneros. Charles V afterwards made improved efforts to please his Spanish subjects.

Catalan and Portuguese Rebellion 1640 – 1652

Tensions rose between the monarchy and Catalonia over demands on them to supply troops and cash for the Union of Arms, an attempt to create a 140,000 strong imperial army, which Catalonia refused to support. When the war in southern France was initiated to try and coerce the Catalans into joining, Catalonia rose in rebellion in 1640, before transferring allegiance from Spain to France. By 1648 Catalonia was still in active opposition, Portugal had taken to opportunity rebel under a new king, and there were plans in Aragon to secede. Spanish forces were only able to retake Catalonia in 1652 once French forces withdrew because of problems in France; the privileges of Catalonia were fully restored to ensure peace.

War of the Spanish Succession 1700 – 1714

When Charles II died he left the throne of Spain to Duke Philip of Anjou, grandson of French king Louis XIV. Philip accepted but was opposed by the Habsburgs, family of the old king who wished to retain Spain among their many possessions. Conflict ensued, with Philip supported by France while the Habsburg claimant, Archduke Charles, was supported by Britain and the Netherlands, as well as Austria and other Habsburg possessions. The war was concluded by treaties in 1713 and 14: Philip became king, but some of Spain’s imperial possessions were lost. At the same time, Philip moved to centralise Spain into one unit.

Wars of the French Revolution 1793 – 1808

France, having executed their king in 1793, pre-empted the reaction of Spain (who had supported the now dead monarch) by declaring war. A Spanish invasion soon turned into a French invasion, and peace was declared between the two nations. This was closely followed by Spain allying with France against England, and an on-off-on war followed. Britain cut Spain off from their empire and trade, and Spanish finances suffered greatly.

War against Napoleon 1808 – 1813

In 1807 Franco-Spanish forces took Portugal, but Spanish troops not only remained in Spain but increased in number. When the king abdicated in favour of his son Ferdinand and then changed his mind, the French ruler Napoleon was brought in to mediate; he simply gave the crown to his brother Joseph, a dire miscalculation. Parts of Spain rose up in rebellion against the French and a military struggle ensued. Britain, already opposed to Napoleon, entered the war in Spain in support of Spanish troops, and by 1813 the French had been pushed all the way back to France. Ferdinand became king.

Independence of the Spanish Colonies c. 1800 – c.1850

While there were currents demanding independence before, it was the French occupation of Spain during the Napoleonic Wars which triggered the rebellion and struggle for independence of Spain’s American empire during the nineteenth century. Northern and southern uprisings were both opposed by Spain but were victorious, and this, coupled with damage from the Napoleonic era struggles, meant Spain was no longer a major military and economic power.

Riego Rebellion 1820

A general named Riego, preparing to lead his army to America in support of the Spanish colonies rebelled and enacted the constitution of 1812, a system supporter of King Ferdinand had drawn up during the Napoleonic Wars. Ferdinand had rejected the constitution then, but after the general sent to crush Riego also rebelled, Ferdinand conceded; “Liberals” now joined together to reform the country. However, there was armed opposition, including the creation of a “regency” for Ferdinand in Catalonia, and in 1823 French forces entered to restore Ferdinand to full power. They won an easy victory and Riego was executed.

First Carlist War 1833 – 39

When King Ferdinand died in 1833 his declared successor was a three-year-old girl: Queen Isabella II. The old king’s brother, Don Carlos, disputed both the succession and the “pragmatic sanction” of 1830 that allowed her the throne. Civil war ensued between his forces, the Carlists, and those loyal to Queen Isabella II. The Carlist’s were strongest in the Basque region and Aragon, and soon their conflict turned into a struggle against liberalism, instead of seeing themselves as protectors of the church and local government. Although the Carlists were defeated, attempts to put his descendants on the throne occurred in the Second and Third Carlist wars (1846-9, 1872-6).

Government by “Pronunciamientos” 1834 – 1868

In the aftermath of the First Carlist War Spanish politics became split between two main factions: the Moderates and the Progressives. On several occasions during this era the politicians asked the generals to remove the current government and install them in power; the generals, heroes of the Carlist war, did so in a manoeuvre known as pronunciamientos. Historians argue that these weren’t coups, but developed into a formalized exchange of power with public support, albeit at military behest.

The Glorious Revolution 1868

In September 1868 a new pronunciamiento took place when the generals and politicians denied power during previous regimes took control. Queen Isabella was deposed and a provisional government called the September Coalition formed. A new constitution was drawn up in 1869 and a new king, Amadeo of Savoy, was brought in to rule.

The First Republic and Restoration 1873 – 74

King Amadeo abdicated in 1873, frustrated that he could not form a stable government as the political parties within Spain argued. The First Republic was proclaimed in his stead, but concerned military officers staged a new pronunciamiento to, as they believed, save the country from anarchy. They restored Isabella II’s son, Alfonso XII to the throne; a new constitution followed.

The Spanish-American War 1898

The remainder of Spain’s American empire – Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines – was lost in this conflict with the United States, who were acting as allies to Cuban separatists. The loss became known as simply “The Disaster” and produced debate inside Spain about why they were losing an empire while other European countries were growing theirs.

Rivera Dictatorship 1923 – 1930

With the military about to be the subject of a government enquiry into their failures in Morocco, and with the king frustrated by a series of fragmenting governments, General Primo de Rivera staged a coup; the king accepted him as a dictator. Rivera was supported by elites who feared a possible Bolshevik uprising. Rivera only meant to rule until the country had been “fixed” and it was safe to return to other forms of government, but after a few years other generals became concerned by forthcoming army reforms and the king was persuaded to sack him.

Creation of the Second Republic 1931

With Rivera sacked, the military government could barely keep power, and in 1931 an uprising dedicated to overthrowing the monarchy occurred. Rather than face civil war, King Alfonso XII fled the country and a coalition provisional government declared the Second Republic. The first true democracy in Spanish history, the Republic passed many reforms, including women’s right to vote and separation of church and state, greatly welcomed by some but causing horror in others, including a (soon to be reduced) bloated officer corps.

The Spanish Civil War 1936 – 39

Elections in 1936 revealed a Spain divided, politically and geographically, between the left and the right wings. As tensions threatened to turn into violence, there were calls from the right for a military coup. One occurred on July 17 after the assassination of a right-wing leader caused the army to rise, but the coup failed as “spontaneous” resistance from republicans and leftists countered the military; the result was a bloody civil war that lasted three years. The Nationalists - the right-wing led in the latter part by General Franco - was supported by Germany and Italy, while the Republicans received help from left-wing volunteers (the International Brigades) and mixed assistance from Russia. In 1939 the Nationalists won.

Franco’s Dictatorship 1939 – 75

The aftermath of the civil war saw Spain governed by an authoritarian and conservative dictatorship under General Franco. Opposition voices were repressed through prison and execution, while the language of the Catalans and Basques were banned. Franco’s Spain stayed largely neutral in World War 2, allowing the regime to survive until Franco’s death in 1975. By its end, the regime was increasingly at odds with a Spain which had been culturally transformed.

Return to Democracy 1975 – 78

When Franco died in November 1975 he was succeeded, as planned the government in 1969, by Juan Carlos, an heir to the vacant throne. The new king was committed to democracy and careful negotiation, as well as the presence of a modern society looking for freedom, allowing a referendum on political reform, followed by a new constitution which was approved by 88% in 1978. The swift switch from dictatorship to democracy became an example for post-communist Eastern Europe.

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An English Home on a Spanish Coastline
07 May 2020


If you have ever been to San Sebastian you may have seen this property overlooking the bay that looks slightly out of place...

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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