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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 Shearing of the Beasts
31 July 2019

Earlier this month, the young “aloitadores” of Sabucedo, Pontevedra, gathered the wild horses, placed them in a “curro”, shaved them and branded them...

La Rapa das Bestas (The Shearing of the Beasts) is a popular festival which has been in existence since the 18th century. It consists of gathering the wild horses in the mountains, placing them in a “curro” (corral or enclosure), shaving them and branding them. All of this is held in Sabucedo (Pontevedra, Galicia) on the first Saturday, Sunday and Monday of July.

The “curro” in Sabucedo is the most famous of its kind, and its unique feature is that no ropes, sticks or other devices are used to tame the animals. The “aloitadores”, the ones charged with holding the beasts while they are being shaved, may only use their skill and body to perform the job.

Another specific feature of La Rapa das Bestas in Sabucedo is that the “bajada”, or the leading of the horses to the place in Sabucedo, is an integral part of the celebration itself, and hundreds of people from Galicia and beyond participate in it. In 2007, La Rapa das Bestas was declared a Festival of International Tourist Interest.
On Saturday morning (the first day), very early and before climbing the mountain, a stirring mass is held where they address prayers to Saint Lawrence, the patron saint of Sabucedo, to ensure that no accidents or other unfortunate events happen during the festival.

 



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Look Closely!
26 June 2019

At a small museum in the small village of Ordino in Spain's neighbouring country of Andorra, you’ll find some of the smallest works of art in existence. Visitors must look through microscopes that magnify the artwork 300 times in order to see these tiny masterpieces that are otherwise nearly invisible to the naked eye.

 


The Miniature Museum features the works of Ukrainian microminiaturist Nikolai Syadristy, an artist who is renowned for being the best in the world at miniature art. In fact, the word “microminiature” was invented because of the pieces of art he created. From signatures on the tip of a human hair to a bottle on a single grain of sand, to a caravan of camels inside the eye of a needle, you’ll find 13 very impressive Syadristy works at this museum.

 

 

 


Unrelated to the miniature art, the museum has also thrown in an impressive collection of crucifixes from throughout the centuries and heaps of handmade Russian nesting dolls along with a few other miscellaneous artifacts. Although Syadristy’s works have significant monetary value, he does not sell them as he wants them to remain on public display.

 



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A Brief History of Spanish Serrano Ham
28 May 2019

Generally speaking, the term jamón serrano refers to a leg of pork that has been preserved in the traditional way – first salted and then cured by exposure to mountain breezes for a period of between six and 36 months.

In common usage, in order to differentiate between hind-quarters (on which there is more, and better, lean meat) and fore-quarters, the word ‘jamón’ is used for the former and ‘paleta’ or ‘paletilla’ for the latter. On the evidence of the Real Academia Española database, it can be inferred that, although the word ‘jamón’ appears in Spanish texts from the late 16th century on, this Frenchified neologism (derived from the French ‘Jambon’) did not pass into general currency until the closing decades of the 19th century. However, it was then adopted so enthusiastically that it completely supplanted the traditional term ‘pernil’ (which appears in the occasional text from 1490 and is derived directly from the Latin ‘perna’, meaning : leg).

As for different categories of jamón, historical references do not differentiate between one breed of pig and another, but rather identify perniles by their place of provenance. This is because, until the 19th century, Spanish pigs were almost exclusively of the breeds known as ‘Ibérico’, and were raised on the extensive principle, feeding largely on acorns in the natural environment of the dehesa (wooded scrubland). In the last few decades, the term ‘Ibérico’ has come to denote products of a quality superior to those derived from other, intensively farmed, breeds. In the mid-20th century, foreign cross-breeds invaded the Spanish market, overtaking the native breeds and relegating them to a few pockets of traditional resistance.

The prehistory and history of serrano ham in Spain is, therefore, primarily the history of Ibérico ham, which I will go into more detail about in another post.

Nowadays, technically and legally speaking, the term ‘jamón serrano’ refers to a Guaranteed Traditional Specialty (GTS), a specific designation protected by EU Regulation 2082/92 in which a set of characteristics is defined, including both traditional and modern production techniques, and always with reference to non-Ibérico, white pig breeds. That said, some Protected Designations of Origin are recognized as guarantees of fine quality: Jamón de Teruel (from the Autonomous Community of Aragón) and Jamón de Trevélez (from the heart of the Granada’s Alpujarras, in Andalusia) are examples of quality products with a long tradition behind them, and that stand out from ‘jamones serranos’ in general.

Although American-bred pigs were imported into Spain and other parts of Europe from the 16th century on, all were descendants of the Ibérico. The first Asian pigs (which fattened more readily), and other European varieties (Belgian White, Duroc-Jersey, Landrace, Large White, Pietrain…) for cross-breeding with Ibérico pigs, started arriving in the mid-18th century and throughout the 19th. Indeed, livestock farming made a gradual recovery between 1917 and 1936, with the selection of breeds, both Spanish and foreign, increasing and herds becoming larger.

After the Spanish Civil War (1936–1939), the process went into reverse: between 1942 and 1950, the nation’s pig herd diminished by 20%. Improved economic conditions from the late 1950s on were reflected in an increasing demand for meat, especially pork, which was cheaper. Bigger demand resulted in extensive farming systems being thrust aside while fattening stations multiplied, so that from 1959 to 1985 the situation known as the ‘traditional livestock crisis’ occurred, and within that the ‘Ibérico pig crisis’. Pork consumption increased spectacularly, as did the intensive production and industrialization required to achieve it, to such an extent that traditionally produced Ibérico ham accounted for a mere 5% of the total by 1985.


Significantly, in 1955, pregnant sows of foreign breeds Landrace and Large White represented only 1% of the total, while in 1974 they represented 81%, and in 1986 90%. Between 1986 and 2006, Spain’s total pork production increased by 44%, making it the second biggest pork producer in the EU (15%), after Germany (22%).



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Coffee in Spain - How do you like yours?
16 May 2019

One of Spain’s greatest pleasures is sitting outside and enjoying a relaxing cup of coffee. Coffee plays an important role in many countries and Spain is not different with a very strong coffee culture. The weather all year round makes for an enjoyable coffee sitting out under a clear blue sky soaking up the sun even on a chilly winter day. However, customs as always have been engrained on how and when coffee is enjoyed. For example, it is unthinkable for a Spaniard to order a café con leche after a meal, that is reserved for breakfast or maybe the "merienda" – the afternoon snack. After a meal, it would be a ‘Cortado’ or a ‘Bombón’ or a ‘café solo’ or a "Cortado tocado de Baileys" or a Carajillo if you prefer something a little stronger.

As you can see the options are endless and whichever region you go to they will have a name for a certain type of coffee. For those coming to Spain for the first time, this can get a little confusing as the options are endless. It all comes down to offering the customer the opportunity to enjoy a coffee as they like it, allowing them to personalise their coffee as they wish. This can get extremely confusing for a waiter who is not experienced, as a simple table of 4 can become a real tongue twister when repeating the order. In the summer it is common to hear: 

I want a ‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente en vaso de cristal’ 

And that’s just one order, multiply it by 4 and ask the guy to repeat the order without taking note and it requires a little practice, especially if everyone has their own way of ordering coffee. But that’s the beauty of Spain, don’t be afraid to ask for it the way you want it. In some places like Málaga they have established a system of 9 variations for the combination of coffee and milk, originally designed to avoid wasting coffee in times of need when coffee was very expensive such as after the civil war; some like it stronger and some prefer it weaker, but who would have thought that you would need to establish nine variations to content the customers, have in mind that we are talking about a small glass here of about 120ml so there isn’t much room for error. Throughout my time in Spain I have come across many different ways of having a coffee and I thought I would pull together all the ones I can remember, I am sure there are many missing from the list but maybe you can help to add to the list by kindly leaving a comment at the end of the post. So here goes, the first list are established names, some particular to a region and the second list are the different ways to personalise how you coffee is served :

    
1.    Café Solo: Same as an espresso
2.    Café Americano:  Half a glass of coffee and then topped up with hot water
3.    Café con Leche:  Standard white coffee normally 50/50 coffee and milk. Normally for breakfast/mornings. Served in a cup.
4.    Café con leche corto de café: White coffee with slightly less coffee in it 30/70   coffee and milk. 
5.    Café Cortado: Coffee with milk served in a small glass, normally for after meals. 50/50 Coffee and milk

In Málaga and areas in the region, these are the 9 variations established originally by the bar Café Central -

 

 

6.    Café Bombón/Biberó/Goloso: Served in a small glass. Condensed milk is poured into the bottom of the glass and the coffee is added on top. Same glass as a Cortado. You mix it with the spoon.

7.    Carajillo / Café Brulé: Coffee with a dash of Brandy – the proper version of this involves heating up the brandy with a lemon zest and 4 coffee beans, it is then passed through a small sieve and added to the black coffee.

8.    Asiático: Typical in Cartagena and other areas of Murcia. It is a black coffee with Condensed milk, Brandy, Licor 43 and cinnamon.
9.    Belmonte/ Trifásico: Black coffee with condensed milk and Brandy
10.  Barraquito: Popular in the Canary Islands. It has Coffee, milk, and condensed milk. It can also include, cinnamon, lemon and liquors.
11.    Manchado: in Murcia this is a Bombón with less coffee.
12.    Suau: A Catalan summer drink – Coffee, Soda, sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. Served with ice.
13.    Café Granizado – Iced coffee with crushed ice in a slush drunk with a straw

 

 

Personalising your coffee:

Del tiempo ó con hielo: served with a glass of ice to pour the coffee into and drink it cold.
Descafeinado de máquina: Coffee machine decaffeinated 
Descafeinado de sobre: Nescafé in a sachet.
Tocado de ………… – add any liquor/spirit such as Bailey’s or whisky
Temperatura del leche – leche caliente / leche natural
Corto de Café – Just over a half measure of coffee.
En vaso (de cristal) – served in a glass
En taza -  served in a cup


So you can see how easy it is to order a : 

‘Cortado del tiempo, Descafeinado de máquina, corto de café y tocado de Bailey’s con la leche muy caliente, en vaso de cristal, por favor’ !

How do you like yours?

 

 



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What's the story behind the 'Capirote' - Spain's conical hat at Easter?
18 April 2019

 

A capirote is a pointed conical hat that is used in Spain. It is part of the uniform of some brotherhoods including the Nazarenos and Fariseos during Easter processions and reenactments in some areas during the Holy Week in Spain. 

Historically the flaggelants are the origin of these current traditions, as they flogged themselves to do penance. Pope Clemens VI ordered that flagellants only under control of the church could perform penance; For this he decreed "Inter sollicitudines". This is considered one of the reasons why flaggelants  often hide their faces.

The use of the capirote or coroza was proscribed in Spain and Portugal by the Holy Office of the Inquisition. Men and women who were arrested had to wear a paper capirote in public as sign of public humiliation. The capirote was worn during the session of an 'Auto-da-fé'. The colour was different, conforming to the judgement of the office. People who were condemned to be executed wore a red coroza. Other punishments used different colours and drawings to show the punishment to be received.

 

When the Inquisition was abolished, the symbol of punishment and penitence was kept in the Catholic brotherhood. However, the capirote used today is different: it is covered in fine fabric, as determined by the brotherhood. Later, during the celebration of the Holy Week/Easter in Andalusia, penitentes (people doing public penance for their sins) would walk through streets with the capirote. The capirote is today the symbol of the Catholic penant: only members of a confraternity of penance are allowed to wear them during solemn processions. Children can receive the capirote after their first holy communion, when they enter the brotherhood.

Historically the structure is called the capirote, but the brotherhoods cover it with fabric together with their face, and the medal of the brotherhood that is worn underneath. The cloth has two holes for the penant to see through. The insignia or crest of the brotherhood is usually embroidered on the capirote in fine gold.The capirote is worn during the whole penance. In Sevilla, it is not allowed to enter the cathedral without the capirote.


In New Orleans during the period between the Rebellion of 1768 and the abolishment of the Spanish cabildo, the more risqué Mardi Gras celebrations of the traditionally French Catholic residents were strictly curtailed by incoming Spanish clergy. The anti-Catholic 'second' Ku Klux Klan that arose at the beginning of the twentieth century may have modeled part of their regalia and insignia on the capirote and sanbenito as a sardonic nod to the enforcement of these restrictions on masquerades a century earlier.

 



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The Worlds Most Iconic Sweet
15 March 2019

Up until the late 1950s, sweets were different shapes and colours. But children, being children, would pop them in and out of their mouths regularly to examine them, to talk to friends, to hide them from parents or to put them in their pockets for later. This meant that kids and sweets were a messy mix.

 In 1958 Enric Bernat created a universally appealing sweet that would make kids and parents happy.

In the early 1950s, Bernat worked for an apple jam factory called "Granja Asturias". After he proposed the idea of making lollipops, the investors left so Bernat took over the company in 1958. He built the production machines and sold a striped bonbon on a wooden stick for one peseta each.

Bernat’s original idea was a piece of candy on a fork. After several experiments with small forks, Bernat saw the opportunity for production on a larger scale. Before the first Chupa Chups lollipop hit the market, however, the fork was substituted with a wooden stick as a safer and less expensive alternative

Bernat got the idea of a "bonbon with a stick" from a cursing mother as her child got sticky hands from melting sweets. Bernat felt that at that time, sweets were not designed with the main consumers — children — in mind. Shopkeepers were instructed to place the lollipops near the cash register within reach of children's hands, instead of the traditional placement behind the counter and Chupa Chups stood out from other sweets with displays that were cute, curious and creative.


At first, he decided to call it “GOL”, imagining the sweet was a bit like a football and an open mouth was a bit like a football net.

But it wasn’t quite catchy enough, so he hired an advertising agency to come up with a creative new name for him, Chups.

Then, consumers stepped in. The catchy jingle used to market Chups proved so successful, that it changed the name of the sweet! 

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

Get something sweet to lick, lick, lick, like a Chups.

It’s so round and it lasts so long.

“Lick, lick lick a Chups”     [“Chupa, chupa, chupa Chups”]

 

 

Sales of Chupa Chups lollipops abroad prompted the need for a modernised wrapper design. For this important task, a visit was paid to Salvador Dalí, who, in less than an hour created the famous daisy logo. He also changed the logo to only two colours and insisted that his logo be positioned on top of the lollipop so that it could be seen perfectly from every angle. This very logo is still pretty much the logo in use today. And these little changes made it iconic.

In 1988 it was revamped a little and that is the design that has stuck till today. Bright, cheerful and unique, it has proven universally popular with the public. It has become the definitive icon for a world famous brand. 

 

 

The Chupa Chups Company was a success. Within five years Bernat's sweets were being sold at 300,000 outlets. After the end of the Francisco Franco dictatorship (1939–75), the self-funded private company went international. In the 1970s the lollipops appeared in Japan and Southeast Asian countries such as Indonesia, Singapore, Philippines and Malaysia, as well as Australia. In the 1980s it expanded to the European and North American markets, and in the 1990s to most Asian countries, including South Korea and China. Nowadays billions of lollipops a year are sold in over 150 countries.



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What does the adjective “Spanish” mean in other languages?
07 March 2019

In the Spanish language, a wide range of objects and ideas are defined by a nationality, from the so-called Russian salad (ensaladilla rusa) to the English wrench (llave inglesa), and expressions such as “voting like a Bulgarian” (votar a aprobación a la búlgara), which refers to decisions that receive unanimous approval, typically out of fear.

But what does the adjective “Spanish” mean in other languages? When, and for what reason, is “Spanish” used as a descriptor? 

A group of phrase-lovers points out that the word Spanish and Spain appears in many expressions in foreign languages. On the one hand, certain languages associate Spain with the strange and incomprehensible. For example, in Slovak, saying that something is “a Spanish town” (To je pre mňa španielska dedina), means it doesn’t make any sense. The same expression exists Czech (španělská vesnice).

In German there is a similar association; if something sounds strange and unreliable, then it “sounds Spanish” (das kommt mir spanisch vor). And in French, “speaking like a Spanish cow” (parler comme une vache espagnole) is to speak very bad French.

However, when we cross the Atlantic Ocean to the United States, the word carries a completely different meaning, particularly in the world of viral memes and social media jokes. Saying a person “cries in Spanish” means they are over-the-top and exaggerate their feelings of distress. And the expression “speaking in Spanish” refers to all kinds of seduction abilities, associated with the stereotype of the “Latin lover.”


A second group points out that “Spanish” often has negative connotations, with the adjective unfairly used to describe unwelcome events and problems.

The most obvious example is the so-called Spanish Flu a reference to the 1918 flu pandemic, which killed 40 million people (including Austrian painter Gustav Klimt). Although the pandemic did not break out or spread from Spain, it is described as the Spanish flu in English, Slovak (španielska chrípka), Portuguese (gripeespanhola) and German (Spanische Grippe).

The flu was given this title because of the attention it received in the Spanish media. Other international media filled their pages with news of the First World War and censored information about the effects of the disease so as to not appear weak before their enemies. But Spain, which did not participate in this war and did not have to worry about its image, faithfully reported the news on the flu and paid for it with its name.

The adjective “Spanish” is also negatively used in the French phrase a “Spanish hotel” (l'auberge espagnole), which describes a place that is messy and disorganized. This was the title of a 2002 French film by Cédric Klapisch about a chaotic student apartment belonging to a group of European students in Barcelona on their Erasmus year (known as The Spanish Apartment and Pot Luck in English). Meanwhile, the French phrase to “make castles in Spain” (faire des châteaux en Espagne) is the equivalent of saying something is pie in the sky.

Other negative uses of the adjective are related to the Spanish Inquisition. For example, certain torture methods used during the Inquisition are described as “Spanish” in other countries. In Slovak, a “Spanish boot” (španielska čižma) refers to the iron casting that was placed on a person’s leg to crush their bones.

In English, a Spanish tickler is the name given to a metal claw that was used to rip flesh away from the bone. Another example is the English phrase “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition,” which refers to an unexpected visit from a threatening figure. This phrase comes from a well-known episode of Monty Python.

Other uses of “Spanish” in foreign languages are less negative. In ancient battles, to defend a strategic area, sharpened stones were stuck into the ground with their points facing outward. This made it hard for horses to walk and forced riders to take the road by foot. Examples of this are seen on pre-Roman walls in Celtic and Iberian areas. The invention has been called the “Spanish rider" in German (Spanischer Reiter) and in Slovak (španielsky jazdec).

Interestingly in Spain however, this defense mechanism is called “fields of stones” or the “horse of Friesland,” an allusion to Friesland, a province in the Netherlands.

When it comes to food, the word “Spanish” has a variety of meanings. Unsurprisingly, Andalusian olive oil is called Spanish oil outside of Spain (sometimes, sadly, Italian olive oil). But it also has more unexpected uses. In Germany, “Spanish” is used to describe paprika (spanischer Paprika); in Italy, ice cream with sour cherries is called spagnola (even though the berries are not eaten in Spain); in the Czech Republic and Slovakia, a meat roll stuffed with vegetables is known as a “Spanish bird” (španělský ptáček and španielsky vtáčik respectively).

Generally speaking, what is “Spanish,” according to others, tends to be associated with the outrageous, the exotic or based on common stereotypes.



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The history of the Spanish Flu
26 February 2019

Did the so-called “Spanish flu,” an epidemic that killed more than 50 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919, really start in Spain? For almost a century Spaniards have either borne this mark of shame with resignation, wearily telling the world that it had to start somewhere, or have put the blame on neighboring France.

A study by Spanish and US scientists points out that the pandemic was dubbed “Spanish Influenza” by the world because the press in Spain widely reported the outbreak in its early stages between May and June of 1918. Spain was not involved in World War I, and its media had no restrictions, while the main European nations and the United States, embroiled in the conflict, censored all news relating to the pandemic for fear of a decline in troop morale.

That said, the team of researchers, from the University of the Basque Country, Madrid’s Complutense University, and the Bethesda National Institutes of Health, as well as Arizona State University, are not ruling out the possibility that the pandemic may have originated in Spain. The paper, published in BMC Infectious Diseases, is the most detailed study of Spanish flu ever carried out, and establishes that Spain was certainly very badly hit by the pandemic and that Spanish cities were definitely early sources of the virus.

As yet, there is no incontrovertible evidence that the virus emerged in Spain, although some of the authors believe it may well have. Antón Erkoreka, the director of the Basque Museum of the History of Medicine, says that such a hypothesis is perfectly possible, “but it has yet to be proved: perhaps the newspapers were right when they called it Spanish flu.”

In fact, the accepted version of events traces the first case of Spanish flu a long way from Spain, and before the first cases were reported in Spain: to March 4, 1918, at Camp Funston, Kansas, where US troops waiting to be sent to fight in Europe were stationed. Although the flu spread rapidly, it was no more lethal than any recorded in previous years. To begin with, the worst symptoms of the new epidemic were mild respiratory problems of the kind that still kill around half-a-million people every year around the planet.

But the virus that came to be known as Spanish flu had its own plans to enter the pages of infamy. At a certain point during the summer of 1918, it underwent a mutation, or a group of them, which converted it into the most efficient agent of death in history. Again, according to historical reconstructions used to this day, the first case of the second wave was not recorded in Spain, and dates to August 22, 1918, in the French port of Brest, used as the entry point for around half the US troops that had joined France and Britain in fighting Germany in April 1917.

“By April of 1918, the virus was in Europe,” says Erkoreka, “both among the troops as well as the civilian population; but this wave didn’t result in many deaths. Later though, the outbreak in Madrid that May was significant, both in terms of the high death rate, as well as the way that it affected people across class barriers: even King Alfonso came down with it between May and July,” he says, noting that the Spanish monarch did not belong to a high-risk group: he was aged 32, well-fed, and in good physical shape, but the virus was no respecter of palace walls.

The flu spread rapidly through Spain: the authors estimate that up to 237,000 people died out of a total population of 20 million. But by the autumn of that year, the mortality rate in Madrid had begun to fall in comparison to the provinces. This is an effect well understood by epidemiologists: the population of the capital had been exposed to the virus, and was by now immunized against its variants, but was now also able to help spread it. This process, say the researchers, shows that the virus had mutated during the summer. Those infected during the early stages were relatively fortunate because they developed immunity to the second stage of the virus.

Previous studies of Spanish flu have generally discarded the idea that the pandemic originated in Spain, suggesting that it was already present in France in 1916 and that it was brought to Spain by unskilled Spanish and Portuguese labourers working in France. But these workers may well have taken the deadlier mutation of the virus back with them to France after the summer of 1918.

The Spanish-US team’s work, supported by a wealth of statistics, shows that just about every province in Spain was hit by the flu. There were three viral waves between January 1918 and June of 1919, moving from north to south, a process that can only partly be explained by socio-economic factors says the team.



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The Aljafería in Zaragoza
21 February 2019

 


  

The Aljafería in Zaragoza was declared a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest on the 4th June 1931. In 1947, however, it still remained a woeful sight in rags, according to the architect Francisco Íñiguez Almech, who for over thirty years undertook a slow and thorough recovery task. After his death in 1982, this was continued by the architects Ángel Peropadre Muniesa, Luis Franco Lahoz and Mariano Pemán Gavín. The result of all these alterations, backed by several archaeological digs, has led to the present-day appearance of the building, in which the original remains can be distinguished from the reconstructed part.  

Moreover, the Regional Assembly of Aragon has its seat in one section of this collection of historical buildings. Work on the Assembly building was started in 1985 by the architects Franco and Pemán. This work is part of the aesthetic trends of contemporary architecture, and its authors have avoided including historical elements that could lead to possible mistaken interpretation. In 2001, UNESCO declared the Mudejar architecture of Aragon a World Heritage site, and praised the Aljafería palace as one of the most representative and emblematic monuments of Aragonese Mudejar Architecture.

 

 


This retains part of the primitive fortified enclosure on a quadrangular floor plan reinforced by great ultra-semicircular turrets, together with the prismatic volume of the troubadour Tower, whose lower part, which dates from the IX century, is the most ancient part of the architectonic building.

The Islamic Palace enclosure houses residential quarters in its central area which are similar to the typological model of the 'omeya' influenced Islamic palaces, just like those that had developed in the Moslem palaces in the desert (which date back to the VIII century). So, in contrast to the defensive spirit and the strength of its walls, the 'taifal' palace, which is of delicate ornamental beauty, presents a composite plan based on a great rectangular open-air courtyard with a pool on its southern side. Next come two lateral porticoes with a polycusped mixed line series of arches that acts as visual screens and at the far end some tripartite rooms, which were originally intended for ceremonial and private use. There is also a small oratory in the northern portico, with a small octagonal floor plan, in whose interior fine and lavish plaster decorations can be seen (with typical ataurique motifs) as well as some brightly coloured well contrasted pictorial fragments, which are of particular interest. All of these artistic achievements correspond to the work carried out during the second half of the XI century under the command of Abu-Ya-far Ah-mad ibn Hud al-Muqtadir, and they serve to highlight the cultural importance and the rich virtuosity of his court. Furthermore, the Aljafería is thought to be one of the greatest pinnacles of Hispano-Moslem art, and its artistic contributions were later copied at the Reales Alcazares in Seville and at the Alhambra in Granada.


The palace of the Catholic King and Queen was erected on top of the Moslem structure in around 1492, to symbolise the power and prestige of the Christian monarchs. However, the direction of the work fell to the Mudejar master, Faraig de Gali. The work blended the medieval artistic inheritance with the new Renaissance contributions. From this origin came some of the most significant examples of the so-called Reyes Catolicos style (that of the Catholic King and Queen).
 

The palace comprises a flight of stairs, a gallery or corridor and a collection of rooms known as The Lost Steps, which lead to the Great Throne Room. Of these, the most interesting are, on the one hand, the paving made up of small paving tiles and the tiles from Muel, and on the other, the gold and polychrome wooden ceilings among which the magnificent coffered ceiling in the Throne Room is especially remarkable.

From 1593, by order of King Phillip II, the Siennese engineer Tiburcio Spanochi drew up plans to transform the Aljafería into a modern style fort or citadel. Consequently, he provided the buildings with an outer walled enclosure with pentagonal bastions at the corners and an imposing moat surrounding it all (with slightly sloping walls and corresponding drawbridges). However, the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in the face of the Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as the monarch’s wish to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza. After this first military renovation, throughout the XVIII and XIX centuries, extensive alterations were made to the building to adapt it for its use a barracks. To this day the blocks built during the reign of Charles III remain, along with two of the NeoGothic turrets added during the time of Isabel II.
 

Lastly, it must be must be pointed out that very few Aragonese monuments have as many excellent architectonic examples such as those at the Aljafería in Zaragoza, summing up ten centuries of daily life as well as historic and artistic events in Aragon.

 

 



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Ever wondered why Spain has so many autonomous regions? 
12 February 2019

For many years the Spanish monarchy and the dictatorships which followed (Primo de Rivera and Franco) maintained the position that Spain was a unified nation, the legacy of the Roman province, Hispania. In reality, Spain is and has long been quite divided. Currently, Spain is divided into eighteen regions, which are themselves composed of fifty provinces.

The most relevant part of Spain's early history is that the whole Iberian Peninsula became part of the Roman Empire. The Romans, who divided the peninsula into different provinces, introduced the Latin language, Roman law, and Christianity to the majority of the peninsula, were succeeded by a couple different Germanic tribes. The most significant of these was the Visigoths, who attempted to unify the disparate parts of Iberia, focusing on the Roman legacy, especially the Roman law. 711AD marks the beginning of the Moorish period. The vast majority of Iberia came under Islamic control fairly quickly, and gradually receded over time. Over the next couple hundred years, the rulers of Muslim Spain (that is, the still largely Christian part of the peninsula which had Muslim rulers), especially the Caliphate of Cordoba, were consolidating power and patronizing the arts and sciences, as well as experiencing relative religious tolerance. In the mountainous, rural northern regions to the north, the Christian rulers were regaining their footing, despite numerous internal conflicts. The next couple hundred years can largely be described as a period of intermittent aggression balanced with wary tolerance.

The Christian kingdoms gradually expanded at the expense of the Caliphate of Cordoba and sometimes of each other in a process known as the Reconquista. With the disintegration of the Caliphate into the “Taifa States,” the Christian kingdoms were able to more easily expand by means of shifting alliances. A couple of successive fundamentalist Islamic regimes (primarily the Almoravids followed by the Almohads) invaded from North Africa and imposed unity on the Taifa kingdoms at the expense of tolerance and intellectual livelihood. The thirteenth century saw a drastic expansion in which the Christian kingdoms approximately doubled their territory, leaving Granada as the only independent Muslim state, albeit a highly bullied one. That was finally conquered by the Kingdom of Castile in 1492. Just as Christians remained in Moorish Spain after that conquest, so too did Muslims and Moorish culture remains after the Christian conquest.

 

 

 

Spain was, and still is a diverse country integrated by different contrasting regions that show varying economic and social structures, as well as different languages and historical, political and cultural traditions. According to the Spanish constitution, the Spanish nation is the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards, which is integrated by nationalities and regions to which the constitution recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government.

The terms "nationalities" or "historical nationalities"(Spanish, Galician, Basque, Catalan) though never defined officially, are territories whose inhabitants have a strong historically constituted sense of identity, or more specifically, certain autonomous communities whose Statutes of autonomy—their basic institutional legislation—recognizes their historical and cultural identity.

The formation of Spain can be viewed as an alliance and progressive union of several peninsular kingdoms, and it can be said that the nationalist or regionalist tradition in Spain has its roots in Spanish history. In fact, no serious attempt was made to centralize the administration until the reforms of the eighteenth century. By the beginning of the nineteenth century, though, the Spanish government was heavily centralized and the State did not recognise the nation's regional diversity. It was also, later during this same century, that as Catalonia and the Basque Country became rapidly industrialised and areas where commercial capitalism made swift progress while the rest of the country followed at a much slower pace, nationalistic sentiments began to grow, and it was not unusual that some writers of the time would express their concepts of a Catalan or Basque fatherland or even nationhood.

Both nationalist movements had much in common, in that both arose in areas that enjoyed higher levels of prosperity and were the only areas in the country to develop modern industry, and both possessed a linguistic tradition of their own both the Catalan and the Basque languages began to experience a strong revival, as was the case with the Galician language. As nationalistic sentiments grew, sometimes within conservative ideals and afterwards with the left, their demands for self-government also grew, and in some sectors, separatism — outright independence — was preferred.

The appearance of the so-called peripheral nationalism in the aforementioned regions of Spain occurred in a time where Spain itself as a whole first began to look into its own concept of nationhood, and where Spaniards began to study their own nationalism between two competing views, the traditionalist, where religion played a significant role in defining the Spanish nation, intrinsically and traditionally Catholic, and strongly monarchical, and the liberal view where sovereignty resided in the nation — the people, as opposed to the monarch — and where some advocated for a uniform centralized State while others preferred decentralization and even republicanism.

Spain experimented with decentralization during the First Spanish Republic (1873-1874), but social and political chaos, which had started even before the change of regime with a change of monarchical houses, led to its failure.


At the beginning of the twentieth century, the two political discourses of Spanish nationalism, the traditional and the liberal, continued to be present and opposing, advocating for different political regimes.

During the final stages of the 'turno pacífico', a staged pacific alternation of power between liberals and conservatives in the Spanish Parliament, Catalonia was granted a limited form of self-government, and the Commonwealth of Catalonia (Catalan: Mancomunitat de Catalunya) was established in 1913, with its own Regional Assembly. The Assembly drafted a Statute of Autonomy that was, however, rejected by the General Courts (the Spanish Parliament). The Commonwealth of Catalonia was dissolved during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera (Marquis of Estella) in 1923. Primo de Rivera was a dictator, aristocrat, and military officer who served as Prime Minister of Spain from 1923 to 1930 during Spain's Restoration era. He deeply believed that it was the politicians who had ruined Spain and that governing without them he could restore the nation. His slogan was "Country, Religion, Monarchy." Historians depict him as an inept dictator who lacked clear ideas and political acumen, and who alienated his potential supporters such as the Army. He did not create a base of support among the voters and depended instead on elite elements. His actions discredited the king and ruined the monarchy, while heightening social tensions that led eventually, in 1936, to a full-scale Spanish Civil War.

In 1931, the Second Spanish Republic was established, and a new liberal constitution allowed the "regions" of Spain to attain self-government and created the "autonomous region" as a first-order administrative division. Catalonia was the first to approve a Statute of Autonomy and the Generalitat, the Catalan institutions of government that operated since medieval times until the early eighteenth century, was restored. The Basque Country and Galicia followed suit in 1936, but only the Statute of Autonomy of the first was approved before the Spanish Civil War erupted.

After the war, centralism was most forcefully enforced during Franco's regime (1939-1975) as a way to preserve the unity of the Spanish nation. His attempts to fight separatism with heavy-handed but sporadic repression and his oftentimes severe suppression of language and regional identities backfired: the demands for democracy became intertwined with demands for the recognition of a pluralistic vision of the Spanish nationhood. When Franco died, Spain entered into a phase of transition towards democracy, and all democratic groups were forced to face the Catalan, Basque and Galician question.


On 11 September 1977, more than one million people marched in the streets of Barcelona (Catalonia) demanding "llibertat, amnistia i estatut d'autonomia", "liberty, amnesty and Statute of Autonomy", the biggest demonstration in post-war Europe. A decree-law was passed that allowed for the creation of pre-autonomías, "pre-autonomies" or provisional regional governments for all regions, the "historical nationalities" included. Catalonia was the first to be so constituted, reviving again the Generalitat. The Basque Country quickly followed suit. In the 1977 election to the first democratically elected Parliament since the times of the Republic, regional Catalan socialists (Socialists' Party of Catalonia) and Basque nationalists (Basque Nationalist Party) both won significant positions in representing their regions and their aspirations. This newly elected Parliament was entrusted to formulate a new constitution.

The demands for the recognition of the distinctiveness of Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia, within the Spanish State became one of the most important challenges for the newly elected Parliament. In fact, the writing of the second article, in which the "nationalities and regions" of Spain were recognized, was the most hotly debated in Parliament. Its acceptance was not smooth: the right vigorously opposed it, while the nationalists and the left firmly objected leaving it out. The natural corollary to debating the term "nationalities" was debating the term "nation". At the end of the spectrum there were those who thought the term "nationalities" was unnecessary, or that there was only one "nation" and "nationality"— Spain — while at the opposite end of the spectrum there were those who advocated for defining Spain as a plurinational State, that is, a State integrated by several nations. In the end, the second article was passed along with the term "nationalities" but firmly stressing the indivisible unity of the Spanish nation. It reads:

"The Constitution is based on the indissoluble unity of the Spanish Nation, the common and indivisible homeland of all Spaniards; it recognizes and guarantees the right to self-government of the nationalities and regions of which it is composed and the solidarity among them all"

The Preamble to the constitution explicitly stated that it is the Nation's will to protect "all Spaniards and the peoples of Spain in the exercise of human rights, their cultures and traditions, languages and institutions". This was a significant move since for the "historical nationalities" part of their distinctiveness lies on their own regional languages. Furthermore, the nation became openly multilingual, declaring Castilian — that is, Spanish — the official language of the entire country, but declaring that the "other Spanish languages" will also be official in their respective autonomous communities. The third article ends up declaring that the "richness of the distinct linguistic modalities of Spain represents a patrimony which will meet the object of special respect and protection."

The constitution aimed to devolve self-government to both nationalities and regions, if the latter so desired, which were to be constituted as autonomous communities, yet making an implicit distinction between the two groups in the level of competences that were to be devolved, and in the way they were to attain self-government — the three "historical nationalities" (Catalonia, Galicia and the Basque Country) were granted a simplified "fast-track" process, while the rest of the regions had to follow a specific set of requirements. Thus the process was purposely intended to be asymmetrical in nature. The autonomous communities were to be formed from the existing provinces, a division of the centralizing regime of the early nineteenth century: an autonomous community could be created by a province or group of provinces with common historical, cultural and economic features. Yet, the outcome was not predictable; First, it did not specify the name or number of the autonomous communities that would integrate the Spanish nation, and secondly, the process was voluntary in nature: the regions themselves had the option of choosing to attain self-government or not.

While the constitution was still being drafted, there was a demonstration in Andalusia, which sought to be recognized as a "nationality" as well, and to be granted self-government also through a rapid process. This opened a phase that was dubbed in Spanish as "café para todos", "coffee for all", which meant that all regions would be "served the same" — that is, that all nationalities and regions would accede to self-government in roughly the same degree, even if at different paces. Catalonia, the Basque Country and Galicia acceded to autonomy via the fast-track route established in the 151st article of the constitution, with all competencies granted, because in the past they had approved a Statute by referendum and they had already established a pre-autonomic provisional government. Andalusia was able to take this route after a referendum in 1980. The rest had the opportunity to accede to autonomy via the slower route established by the 143rd article, with a lower level of competences during a provisional period of five years, after which there was to be a progressive transference of competences, that would roughly equalize all communities. One particular exception was granted to both the Basque Country and Navarre in that their fueros or "medieval charters" that had granted them fiscal autonomy were restored. While Navarre, a province with a Basque-speaking minority, chose not to form part of the soon-to-be-formed autonomous community of the Basque Country, it followed a different route of devolution, precisely because of the reinstitution of the medieval charters, and it is nominally known as a "chartered community", as opposed to an "autonomous community". (Both the Basque Country and Navarre are considered "communities of a chartered regime", that is, with fiscal autonomy. They collect their own taxes and send a prearranged amount to the central government. The rest of the communities are considered to be of a "common regime"; currently they administer taxes only partially. The taxes collected from "common regime" communities are administered centrally and distributed amongst them all for fiscal equalization).

The "autonomic process", that is, the process whereby the nationalities and regions would accede to autonomy was partially concluded in 1983 when 17 autonomous communities covering the entire Spanish territory were created. (It was finally completed with the creation of two autonomous cities in Northern Africa, Ceuta and Melilla). All autonomous communities follow the provincial limits established in the 1833 territorial division of Spain, that is, no province has been partitioned between communities. Moreover, many communities roughly coincide with the pre-provincial historical regions of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, which in turn reflected, to some extent some of the historical medieval kingdoms or administrative regions of the past.

On the other hand, some autonomous communities are new creations. For example, autonomy was granted to Cantabria and La Rioja, both of which were historically part of Castile. Despite the lack of a historical base for both communities and the fact that the Spanish government favoured their integration in the larger Castile-León, the local population overwhelmingly supported the new entities.


The province of Madrid was also separated from New Castile and constituted as an autonomous community, in a way in recognition of its status as the capital of the nation, but also because it was originally excluded from the pre-autonomic agreements that created the community of Castile-La Mancha, to which it naturally belonged. Some peripheral nationalists still complain that the creation of many regions was an attempt to break down their own ‘national unity’ by a sort of gerrymandering thus softening the impact of the distinctiveness of their own nationalities.

As competencies were eventually transferred to all communities in roughly the same degree, some nationalists view that there is a vanishing practical distinction between "nationality" and "region", regardless of how the autonomous community defines itself, a dilution that is welcomed by some political parties at the national level. In fact, other communities have chosen to be identified as "nationalities" besides the "historical three" (such as Andalusia, Aragon, the Balearic Islands, the Canary Islands and the Valencian Community). Also, most communities that do not enjoy fiscal autonomy — the "common regime communities"— typically tend to follow Catalonia's lead in their demands for more competences or self-government. This has caused a movement for further recognition of the distinctiveness of the "historical nationalities" as "nations" resuscitating on many occasions the debate between "nationality" and "nation" or the concept of a "Plurinational State".

Spain as it is today :

 



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