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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.

A little history of Spanish Cured Ham - Jamon Serrano
Wednesday, January 12, 2022

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As for different categories of jamón, historical references do not differentiate between one breed of pig and another, but rather identify perniles by their place of provenance.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.

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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Why do the Spanish eat 12 grapes on New Year's Eve?
Tuesday, December 28, 2021

 

Traditions have always aroused a lot of curiosity in me because there is always a reason for them, nothing just happens by chance. Every year I celebrate the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes and many years ago I wondered why they actually did this and nobody really seemed to know why. Still, to this very day, I am yet to meet a Spaniard who knows the story..... so I always end up telling it, every year!

The very short version of the story, which is pretty much common knowledge, is that wine farmers from Alicante and Murcia promoted the tradition in 1909. They were eager to sell on their large surplus of grapes from the incredible harvest they had had that year. However, although this story has some truth to it, the real origin dates back even further.

If we define the tradition of the New Year's Eve grapes as when twelve grapes are eaten in the Puerta del Sol at 12 am on December 31, which is basically the general understanding, the first written testimony of this goes as far back as January 1897 when the Madrid Press published that in "Madrid it is customary to eat twelve grapes as the clock strikes twelve, separating the outgoing year from the incoming year…" this means that at least in 1896 it was done, and probably many years before that for it to be considered  “customary” by the local press.

The plausible explanation for why someone decided it was a good idea to get cold the last night of the year waiting for a clock to strike 12 strokes and choke on a dozen grapes goes back to 1882. That year the mayor of Madrid, José Abascal y Carredano, decided to impose a tax of 5 pesetas for all those who wanted to go out and celebrate the Three Kings on the night of January 5. The purpose of this was not to stop any tradition or start any new ones but to stop the general public from raising hell and getting drunk through the night – this should not be confused with the festive floats and processions which were in the afternoon and open to everyone. 

However, it did deprive the vast majority of the locals of partying that night, except for those that were well off, of course. This obviously led to the people rebelling and trying to find a way to let off steam so New Year’s Eve became the night of preference for partying and an opportunity to make a mockery of the recent bourgeois traditions imported from France and Germany. The local newspapers frequently published how the upper class now celebrated the New Year by drinking champagne and eating grapes during the New Year’s Eve dinner, so as an act of protest the working class would congregate in the Puerta del Sol and eat grapes as the clock struck twelve.

This behaviour quickly spread and popularised in the capital, to the point that in 1897 the merchants of the city advertised the sale of “Lucky Grapes” and within just a few years it was known as far away as Tenerife.  Now, this is when the Levante wine farmers come on the scene, taking advantage of their surplus production in 1909, they carried out a national campaign to embed and enhance the custom throughout the country and were thus able to sell all their harvest.

Clearly, it worked and today there are few who do not welcome the New Year with 12 grapes in their hand and eat them to the sound of each stroke as it counts down to the New Year. Rare is the Spaniard who will risk poisoning their fate for the coming year by skipping the grapes, many don’t finish them in time and it does take a bit of practice but it is the effort that counts, no effort – no luck, well at least that’s what those who don’t succeed tend to say… 

For those who cannot be in the Puerta del Sol, they will follow it on television, normally on La Primera which tops the national audience ratings year after year with around 8 million viewers, some 6 million more than second place. Being such an important occasion some people spend a few extra minutes to remove the seeds or peel the skins off their grapes all in an attempt to improve their chances of swallowing them in time. My best piece of advice is: buy small seedless grapes and you’ll have no problem but they are not easy to come by as the traditional grape variety for New Year's Eve is the Vinalopó from the Valencian Community, the one promoted by the wine farmers back in 1909, so if you can't find seedless try to avoid the large juicy ones or you’ll be in trouble and may well choke your way into the New Year, try and pick the smaller ones and at least remove the seeds…. Good Luck and wishing you all a Happy New Year!

 



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Spain's Christmas Characters
Friday, December 10, 2021

Santa Claus and the Three Wise Men have earned their well-deserved reputation, but they are not Spain's only protagonists during Christmas. Although less known, there are other very peculiar characters who always visit us around these times. From the Olentzero to the Caga Tió, the one who doesn't bring gifts still brings peace and love, something less materialistic but equally important. Discover more about these interesting Christmas characters, maybe one of them will visit your home in the coming weeks....

 

Basque Country: Olentzero

Olentzero is a coal miner who brings presents on Christmas Eve to those living in the Basque Country and Navarre. Towns, cities, and neighborhoods normally have a procession the day before Christmas with a doll that represents him. Although the origin of this tradition is unknown, some sources indicate that it comes from the winter solstices, when the doll would be set on fire to symbolize the burning of the old to make way for the new; a renewal for the following year. The tradition of fire still continues today but in the modern version the character is someone who comes down from the mountains to announce the birth of Jesus.

 

 

Asturias: Guirria and Anguleru

This is said to be one of the oldest traditions of the municipality of Ponga. Every New Year's Eve, the boys ride out on horseback accompanied by this half man-half demon character and they roam the streets looking for single women. The character kisses these women as it throws ashes at the boys. But it's not only the Guirria who steals kisses. Single people over 15 years old, both men and women, are paired up by pulling names from jars and they promise to have dinner together one night. Another tradition that still remains today despite the passage of time occurs on the last night of the year and that is when the Guirria and his court go door to door asking for a Christmas bonus. Asturias also has another character who is called l'Anguleru. This character comes from the Sargasso Sea and, like Santa Claus, arrives on Christmas Eve bearing gifts for the little ones. 
 
 

Catalonia: Caga Tió and Caganer

 

 

Although it may be a bit difficult for the rest of us to understand, in Catalonia children not only receive a visit from Santa Claus and the Three Kings, but also that from a log. It is not just any log, in fact, it is magical and it's called the Caga Tió. It arrives at homes on December 8th and stays until Christmas. During this time, it is always covered by a blanket and is fed daily with food scraps, fruit, and bread. On Christmas Eve, the children sing a traditional song while they hit the Caga Tió with a stick. As a result, this curious character "poops" gifts. The origin of the tradition is said to have come from the logs burned in the earthen fires at home since they provided everything the home needed: heat, light, and even a place to cook. Although the gifts were initially little things like sweets or candies, today the Caga Tió gives all kinds of presents. 

This character, however, is not the only one with a scatological nature in the Catalan Christmas. Every year the famous Caganer, the figurine of a young herder defecating, appears in the nativity scene. In recent years caganers have been characterized as some of the year's most famous people. This is a tradition that now appears in nativity scenes throughout Spain.


Galicia: O Apalpador

Galicia also has a curious character whose presence during the holidays has recently reappeared although its origin is very old. It is Apalpador, a first cousin of Olentzero, who has the strange habit of coming down from the mountains to pat children's bellies and see if they have eaten well during the year. The figure of this coal miner with a big belly and a red beard lives in the Galician mountains near the regions of O Cebreiro, Os Ancares, and O Courel. He comes down from here on Christmas Night and New Year's Eve. Originally, it was said that he visited homes on these special days to see if children were being well fed and if not, he would leave some chestnuts for them to eat (now he usually brings an extra present too). We can find a very similar character in Ecija, Seville. We are talking about Tientapanzas, the character who visits children at night to see if they have eaten well and then informs the Three Wise Men whether or not they deserve gifts. This tradition resumed in 2004 and since then even a parade through the village streets is held to greet him. 

 



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Who Founded El Prado Museum?
Tuesday, November 23, 2021

 

Last Friday it was 202 years since the Prado opened its doors for the first time. It was on November 19, 1819, and it was built as a museum with funds from the painting and sculpture collections collected by the kings of Spain for more than three centuries.

Many attribute this merit to Fernando VII, but it should be noted that the one who really had the idea was his wife, María Isabel de Braganza. Something that Nieves Concostrina claims in her book La Historia en Apuros (Montena). In a recent interview, the writer and journalist regretted that people did not know the figure of the main promoter of it, because "it was she who changed the initial destiny of the Cabinet of Natural Sciences to the Royal Museum of Painting and Sculpture."

She never got to see it. Shortly before its inauguration, she gave birth to a girl and both died. She was only 21 years old. By the time the museum doors opened, Fernando VII had already married his third wife and took credit for creating the art gallery.

 

 

However, according to Carlos Navarro, the museum's 19th-century curator, he always recognised the work of the one who was his second wife. Fernando VII spent a vast amount of money to make the museum a reality, but he never hid the fact that for every penny he put in Isabel matched that amount out of her own her pocket. Something that gave her full rights as founder.

The museum opened with only 311 works. However, Isabel managed to include among them some of the most important and representative Spanish paintings, such as Las Meninas, by Velázquez or La Familia del Pajarito, by Murillo.

 

 

The idea for the project was given to her by Francisco de Goya after the queen visited the El Escorial monastery. She left there concerned by the fact that there were a large number of works that had been neglected since the War of Independence. She decided to take them out of there to expose them in the royal palace of Riofrío, in Segovia. Finally, the idea did not prosper and they refurbished the Prado palace to make the art gallery a reality there.

If you visit the Gallery, in room 39 you will see a gigantic oil painting that has hung for at least half a century. It was painted by Bernardo López Piquer in 1829 ten years after the death of the queen and named it "María Isabel de Braganza as the founder of the Prado Museum". Despite the evidence of her title, many visitors are still unaware that, without her, all those creations that they admire so much would not be there.

It is interesting to remember that in her day the room where Las Meninas is located also bore her name but, over the years, the rooms ended having their names changed to numbers.

 



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Halloween in Spain
Friday, October 29, 2021

 

All of you who know Spanish culture will agree that it revolves around festivals and parties. Most of the world knows about the British way of celebrating Halloween, but if you are in Spain on October 31 this year, you will realise that it is quickly becoming an important affair here. The festival which originated from the essence of remembering the dead, including saints (hallows), martyrs, and all the faithful departed is fairly common in most of the civilizations across the globe.

When it comes to festivities the Spaniards like everything to be grand and elaborate. So now Halloween has become a three-day event starting with the night of Halloween. The second day (November 1st) is Dia de Todos Los Santos (All Saints Day) a day that has always been celebrated as far as can be remembered. Finally, on November 2nd, the concluding day of this festival is known as the Dia de Los Muertos (the Day of the dead) a holiday that is being borrowed from the Mexican tradition. This festival is all about honouring the dead and celebrating the continuity of life and thanking the Lord for giving us this life.

 

 

Different provinces and parts of Spain follow different rituals on these three days. Halloween in Galicia in Northern Spain is celebrated with more enthusiasm and pumpkin carving competitions, costume parties, bonfires fill the entire area. People happily sip a strong alcoholic drink named Quemada after reciting a spell (esconxuro).

Halloween in Barcelona and Catalonia is a little different affair and the bars and clubs are full of special nights and costume parties. Enjoy the Catalan tradition of La Castanyada and eat the small Catalan cakes ”panellets” made of marzipan, almonds, nuts and various other foods. Also be a part of various events, game shows, music concerts and other activities. You can eat in the local stalls which will be filled with seasonal delicacies such as castanyes (chestnuts), sweet wine, savouries, sweet potatoes and other delicacies.

 

 

There might be other fun activities in Barcelona during this time, but the locals do not forget to pay respect to their dead. Make sure you visit the city’s magnificent cemeteries to witness these mass gatherings. Some of the popular cemeteries are Montjuïc, Poblenou, and Les Corts.

Even though Halloween in Spain certainly has a commercial side, you will witness families gathering at the graves of deceased loved ones with flowers, offerings, holy water, food and drink on the second day of the festival. This is very much rooted in their culture and most will place at least flowers on family members' graves.

Halloween and the cut-outs of pumpkins go hand in hand in the memory of everyone who celebrates it or has witnessed it in movies and TV series. Just like in Britain and the US, on the first day of Halloween, around the country, you will now see children carving pumpkins and illuminating them with candles. It is now common to see pumpkins on sale in all supermarkets, something that wasn't so common 10 years ago. 

 

 

In the Southern part of Spain, in the city of Malaga, Halloween is marked with a large zombie march through the streets. You can witness the participants dressed up as witches, ghosts, goblins, zombies, vampires, Dracula, Frankenstein etc. roaming around on the streets and scaring people. There are competitions organised to tell scary stories and there is an eerie environment all around. This air of carnival can be seen in most cities around the country nowadays especially in University cities where you will see hundreds of students dressing up and roaming the streets.

In the city of Cadiz, during the Halloween holidays, street performances and concerts are organised. Also, you can enjoy the fruit and vegetable stalls which will display characters from some recent political scandals. The cut-outs and models made out of fruits and vegetables are quite mind-boggling. 
Tosantos in Cadiz also celebrates what is possibly the world’s weirdest Halloween gastro fest where market stallholders dress up their merchandise in fancy dress, so long as it’s entertaining and made out of food, anything goes. 

 

 

 



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Spain's Changing of the Guards Returns after 14 months
Tuesday, October 12, 2021

 

Behind the gates of the Plaza de la Armería at the Royal Palace, everyone struggles to get the best spot. The stalls in the venue have been taken long before - you have to be on the ball and get there very early- and the steps leading to La Almudena Cathedral are packed out. The clock is about to chime and the horses can be heard trotting in the distance. It's a bright, sunny day and the rays shine off the soldiers' silver armour. The Changing of the Guard has begun.

A spectacle that is more commonly associated with Buckingham Palace also has its version in Spain and after 14 months of cancellations, it finally returns.

The Music Unit kicks off the Solemn Changing of the Guard, which is performed on the first Wednesday of each month (except July, August and September and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting). The strains of El Almirante, Doña Francisquita, España Cañí ring out. The fifes and drums accompany the marches, as the guards stand to attention, incoming and outgoing soldiers waiting with their weapons on their shoulders.

The lancers and cuirassiers parade with rifle companies, and soldiers -men and women- in charge of the artillery and the ammunition carriages for almost an hour. In total, 400 people and 100 horses stage the changing of the guard as it was performed in the times of King Alfonso XII and King Alfonso XIII, wearing the same uniforms.

 

 

A veritable show, which is complemented each Wednesday and Saturday of the year, at 11 am (except July, August and September: from 10 am to 12 noon) at Puerta del Príncipe. Every half an hour (infantry) and every hour (soldiers on horseback) until 2 pm, four members of the Royal Guard are relieved of their positions, dressed in their gala uniforms -red, white and blue-. Soldiers march to the beat of a fife (a very high-pitched piccolo used in military bands) and a drum, following official orders and commands.


A different way to enjoy Madrid and its traditions.


QUICK INFO:

Solemn Changing of the Guard: On the first Wednesday of each month at 12 o’clock midday, (except July, August and September and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting). Approximate duration: 50 minutes. Free entry via the Puerta de Santiago gate which leads into the Plaza de la Armería from Calle Bailén. The event is usually rounded off by a concert on the Puerta del Príncipe esplanade (Calle Bailén) offered by Unidad de Música. 


Changing the Guard: Every Wednesday and Saturday of the year from 11 am to 2 pm (except July, August and September: from 10 am to 12 noon, and those days on which an official act is being held or weather permitting) at the Puerta del Príncipe (Calle Bailén).  



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Canary Island Potatoes with Mojo Picon!
Tuesday, October 5, 2021

When visiting the Canary Islands one must sample the local cuisine. There are similarities with Spanish food, with meat and fish in flavourful sauces and small tapas-like portions; however, the islands do have several uniquely local specialities. Oddly enough, the islands’ signature dish is not some overly complicated display of cooking, but rather a simple potato recipe.

 

 

Papas Arrugadas (literally “wrinkly potatoes”) are small, young potatoes that get cleaned (but not peeled), then cooked in saltwater. Traditionally, this was seawater, but now some people use tap water with a very generous amount of salt. The salty environment sucks out most of the water from the potatoes as they boil, shrinking them in size and giving them their signature wrinkly skin. The process also leaves the inside of the potatoes quite dry, imparting a texture more like baked potatoes than boiled ones.

Once the water has evaporated, the potatoes get covered by a thin layer of salt. They’re often served accompanied by an equally traditional and local sauce called mojo. This is made by mixing bell peppers, garlic, various spices, and a generous amount of oil. The potatoes can be eaten as a starter or a side dish. They can be found in almost any restaurant on the island. It is a uniquely a Canarian dish that tastes great despite its seeming simplicity. 

 

 

 

There are many ways to "wrinkle" potatoes. This is one of the simplest, most efficient and widely used...

Preparation: Put the unpeeled potatoes in a large, deep pan and fill with enough water to cover them (seawater is even better). For every kilogram of potatoes add a quarter of a kilogram of salt - it doesn't matter if you put in more, as the potatoes absorb only what is necessary. Put the pan on the flame and cover it with a clean cloth or wrapping paper on top of which the lid is placed.
Wait while the potatoes boil for between twenty minutes and half an hour, time enough for them to soften. Then pour away the water and drain the potatoes well. Without taking them out of the pan throw another handful of salt over them and dry them on a low flame while shaking them inside the pot for a short time (usually just under a minute).

The popular sauce to accompany the potatoes, as mentioned, is "mojo". The basis for these sauces tends to be what they call on the islands "pimienta picona" (chilli peppers).

Preparation: Crush half a dozen garlic cloves, half a teaspoon of cumin and a pinch of cooking salt. When this is done, add half a chilli pepper and continue crushing. Next, add a little paprika and then finish by soaking everything in oil and vinegar, approximately 3 parts oil to one part vinegar, until reaching the right consistency. (Before adding the oil, you can put a piece of bread previously marinated in vinegar for a while depending on the tastes of those who are going to eat it).


The famous "mojo picon" (spicy red sauce) is made in more or less the same way, but using La Palma peppers, larger than those used in the rest of the Archipelago. These should be softened before using them by placing them in hot water.



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Spain's Safest Safe
Tuesday, September 28, 2021

"Next stop, Banco de España." When you travel on line 2 of the Madrid metro and approach this station, little would you know that just a few meters away you can find one of the best-kept treasures in Spain, the Bank of Spain's gold deposit chamber? A chamber that contains a third of Spain’s total reserve of this precious metal.

 

The central headquarters of the Bank of Spain is one of the most representative buildings of Madrid and of the Spanish architecture of the 19th and early 20th centuries. For the construction of the current headquarters of the Bank of Spain, the palace of the Marquis of Alcañices was acquired in 1882, located on Calle de Alcalá around the Paseo del Prado. The first stone was laid on July 4, 1884, in a ceremony attended by King Alfonso XII and the monumental building was inaugurated in 1891.

 

 

Construction of the vault for the safekeeping of the gold began in late 1932 and was completed in two and a half years, with 260 workers working three shifts. Its approximate cost was nine and a half million pesetas. The inauguration took place shortly before the Civil War, during which it served as a refuge from the bombings for the families who inhabited the bank building.

The chamber is 35 meters deep and its surface is 2,500 square meters. Its design seems to be inspired by a similar construction of the vault of the Vienna Savings Bank.

 

The construction is made of reinforced concrete and molten cement, and to carry it out it was necessary to pipe and divert the waters present in the subsoil, some 25 meters deep, as it pressed on the walls of the chamber. This water corresponds to the Las Pascualas stream, which runs almost at surface level along the Castellana and which was, in its day, channelled underground, running down Calle Alcalá and feeds into the fountain of Cibeles.

Access to the chamber is through several armoured doors, the first of which weighs around 16 tons and was manufactured in Pennsylvania, USA, by Cofres Forts York (York Safe & Lock Company). The other smaller doors, but also armoured, were manufactured by the same company. Its weight ranges between 15 and 8 tons. To carry out the descent of these doors down into their position, steel cables were used that could only be used once, due to the wear they suffered when supporting the immense weight of the doors.

The armoured door has a very small tolerance, of tenths of a millimetre, so that even the slightest impurity in the arch prevents it from fitting correctly and the anchor points from being activated. In addition, the door is made of steel, but not stainless, so care must be taken to maintain it, and it should always be covered with a thin layer of petroleum jelly to prevent it from rusting.

The gold chamber houses the numismatic collection of the Bank of Spain, only comparable to the collections of the Archaeological Museum or the Royal Mint, and part of the gold reserves. Inside it, a third of the Spanish gold reserve is stacked on shelves made by the engineer Eiffel. Some even say that the chamber could contain 38 Nazi gold bars with which Switzerland paid Spain between 1941 and 1945 and that they have the III Reich shield with its swastika printed on them.

What is clear is that most of the coins that make up this collection come from popular subscriptions made during the Civil War, donations, sometimes voluntary, for the financing of the army and the deposits constituted from 1937, as a result of the Decree of Nationalization of Foreign Exchange and Gold. This Decree obliged all citizens to deliver the gold in paste or coin that they had in their power to replace the gold reserves that the republican government had sent to Moscow as payment for war supplies.

These deliveries were made in the form of deposits and most of them are not recoverable because the depositors chose to collect in cash the gold value of their coins. Others, whose coins had a higher numismatic or sentimental value, preferred to keep the deposit in the hope of recovering them when the regulations allowed. Some of the latter are still being returned, provided that the claimant can prove his right to the deposit.

The collection, of great numismatic value, is made up of more than half a million pieces and includes coins of very diverse origin since it collects not only the numismatic history of the Iberian Peninsula but there are also Greek, Roman, Byzantine pieces, from Hispanic America, French or British. It also has a complete collection of gold dollars, minted since the 17th century. There is also a less numerous collection of silver pieces.

 

 

The Bank of Spain owns 9.1 million troy ounces of gold, according to 2014 data, which are deposited in its own vaults and in three other places abroad, including the Bank for International Settlements in Basel, for reasons of logistical ease, in case it was necessary to mobilize these reserves. Another place where part of the gold is conserved is Fort Knox, in the United States. A standard gold bar weighs 400 troy ounces, just under 12 and a half kilos.

 

 

To get to the vault, you have to overcome various obstacles and as you can imagine, it is not very easy. That said, it sounds like an adventure for Indiana Jones and this location is the used in the new season of the Money Heist!

  • The first obstacle is a 16-ton steel door. To open the door, three keys are necessary: ​​those of the general manager, the controller and the cashier.
  • Then you reach a fortified elevator that is the only way to descend through a vertical tunnel of 36-38 meters. Of course, you need a different key to use the elevator.
  • Once down, you go through an underground corridor until you reach another 14-ton steel door.
  • Once through that door, there is a moat. To cross it you have to use a retractable bridge as in the Middle Ages.
  • Behind the bridge is another 8-ton armoured door. This is the access to the vault that contains the gold. In addition to this, there are sensors, cameras and all kinds of surveillance devices.

If an alarm were to go off, all doors would automatically close and the moat would be completely flooded within minutes thanks to the underwater stream channelling into the fountain of Cibeles. The police or the army would arrive in less than 5 minutes and it would all be over.

But ultimately it is Cibeles who is safeguarding Spain’s gold!

Not once has anyone ever attempted to rob the Bank of Spain.

 

 

 

Inside the original building from 1891, the main staircase and the patio stand out, which was the general reception area and which today occupies the library, to which a cast-iron structure was added, commissioned from the Mieres Factory.

 

 

The monumental Carrara marble staircase, which is accessed from the Paseo del Prado door, is a sample of the most traditional architecture, designed by the Bank's architects and executed by Adolfo Areizaga from Bilbao. Next to it are magnificent Symbolist-style stained glass windows commissioned from the German company Mayer, with numerous allegorical figures.

With the expansion decided in 1927 and completed in 1934, the new operations yard, with a height of 27 meters and an area of ​​about 900 square meters, departs from the classic concepts and includes some examples of Art Deco, such as the upper window or the clock, a decorative and functional piece located in the centre of the patio. Also noteworthy is the roundabout, which serves as an interior link between the two buildings.

 



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Do you know which Spanish town gets the most rain? And it's not in Northern Spain!
Friday, September 10, 2021

Would you live in a town that rains every other day? If you are one of those people who love the rain, this town may be perfect for you. This Spanish town in the province of Cádiz is located in the northeast of the province, in the reserve area of the Sierra de Grazalema Natural Park.

The name of the town is Grazalema and its rainfall rate is the highest in Spain, registering more than 1,962 mm of average annual rainfall in the municipality. To put that into perspective London has an annual rainfall of around 592mm!  And the average for the whole of the UK is 885mm per year. So more than double the UK average. In addition, it is unsurprisingly the home to the source of the Guadalete River.

It is the first mountainous area to encounter the humid Atlantic winds which enter from the southwestern coast, causing the town of Cádiz to have high rainfall. As the water passes through the low and warm lands, this air cools as it increases in altitude, causing the clouds that will later drop the rain.

 

 

Grazalema has a considerable variation of monthly rainfall according to the season. The rainy period of the year lasts for 8.5 months, from September 10 to May 28, with a sliding 31-day rainfall of at least 0.5 inches.


Within the municipality, we encounter a Cadiz village with its urban centre that was declared a Historic Site, where you can see various buildings built according to the typical popular architecture.

It also boasts several churches that must not be missed. The first of them, and the most important, is the 18th century Baroque Church of Nuestra Señora de la Aurora, accompanied by the Church of the Incarnation, from the 17th century but renovated in the 19th. We can also find the Church of San Juan, from the 18th century, followed by the Church of San José, from the 17th century. Without forgetting its only hermitage from the 20th century, under the invocation of Our Lady of the Angels.

Benamahoma is the name of the district which the arabas called 'Ben-Muhammad', meaning "sons of Muhammad." In this municipality, the Islamic influence can be seen in the peculiar layout of its streets. You can also go through the Museum of Textile Crafts where you can see artisan objects such as numerous collections of blankets. The town is famous for its traditional handmade blankets.

 

Without forgetting the fabulous traditional Cadiz cuisine, in Grazalema, you can taste numerous typical dishes. A wonderful example would be the Grazalema soup, a stew broth made with egg, chorizo, bread and mint. Some of its other specialities are the 'tagarninas' or the very typical roast lamb.

 

 



Like 2        Published at 8:25 PM   Comments (2)


Espadrilles - A Summer Classic
Thursday, September 2, 2021

You may swear by them or recently discovered them this Summer, but shortly it will be time to put them away for next year. I have a couple of pairs, and I just love them. They are so simple yet so versatile in style. The espadrille has been around for centuries maybe even thousands of years. The Archaeological museum of Granada owns a pair of espadrilles that were found on human remains inside the “cueva de los murcielagos” (the bat-cave). It is estimated that these shoes are around 4000 years old. Clearly, they are a very primitive version of today’s 'alpargatas'.

 

 

This light sandal, as we know it today, made with jute rope or braided hemp and with linen fabric, originates from Spain, where, already, they were being worn around the XIII century by the King of Aragons’ infantrymen. Its name is derived from “esparto” which is a kind of plant that was originally burned then braided to make the soles. The town of Cervera del Rio Alhama in La Rioja is considered the birthplace of Espadrille manufacturing.

It was during the XIII century that the production of these shoes truly spread. Since it is a handcrafted shoe, making the treads employs many workers. The alpargatero’s (or Espadrille maker) only job was to make the rope soles, while the seamstresses sewed the fabric and the band. At the beginning of the XIX century, Mauléon (a French city located in the Atlantic Pyrenees) began selling them in vast quantities. The first people to wear them were the catalano-aragonese military soldiers then subsequently by the priests. Around 1880, most espadrilles were sold to mine workers, but they were also exported to South America. It was the time of the “hirondelles”, which were young girls from the aragonese valleys who came to work in the espadrille factories between the fall and winter seasons.

 

Around 1950, fashion evolved and this forced alpargata makers to reinvent the shoe with a more sophisticated design that was better suited to the times. This contributed, during the 1960s, to a special order of shoes for the Parisian festivities by the most celebrated designer of the time, Mr. Yves St-Laurent. He asked for an espadrille with a heel, which had never been done before. Suddenly, it was all the rage! Today, almost all the women who live in the southern regions have a pair of alpargatas with heels and ribbons that tie around the ankle.

Today, espadrilles are still extremely popular both in France and in Spain, especially in the summer. People seemed to like it because of the sole, which is 100% natural, molds itself to the shape of the foot, and allows the skin to breathe. The simplicity of this shoe makes it very versatile and therefore easy to match with all sorts of different styles. If the espadrille has already been around for 4000 years then it’s not about to go out of fashion now!!

 



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