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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.

Spain's Leonardo
Thursday, June 2, 2022

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

 

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



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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

Here are a few more:

 

The Impotent - El Impotente

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

The Sufferer - El Doliente

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

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

 

 

The Careless - El Descuidado

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

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

 

 

 

 

The Summoned - El Emplazado

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

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

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

 

The Astounded - EL Pasmado

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

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



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Paracuellos - The Airport Cross
Wednesday, April 6, 2022

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

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

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

 

 

 

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

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



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The Feria de Abril - Seville
Thursday, March 24, 2022

Ever wondered why they celebrate the April Fair in Seville?

The Feria de Abril is just around the corner and really should be enjoyed by everyone living in Spain. The origins of this Fair date back to 1846 when councillors José María Ibarra and Narciso Bonaplata had the idea of holding an annual, three-day trading fair, to take place in April, for the purchase and sale of livestock. Once approved by Queen Isabella II, the first Fair was inaugurated on 18th April 1847, at Prado de San Sebastián. Close to 25,000 people attended.

 

 

As time went by the fair became one of the most important fiestas on the city’s calendar, and changed from a trading to a social occasion. It was only interrupted for two years during the Civil War, and in 1973 it had to be moved to its current location on account of a large number of visitors. 

The fairground now covers 1,200,000 m2, divided into three different areas: La Calle del Infierno, El Real de la Feria and the car parks. The “Real” is divided into fifteen streets named after major figures from the world of bullfighting. On the back of the street signs, you can read a short biography of the bullfighter in question. La Calle del Infierno is where all the fairground attractions and rides are.

During the Fair, the people of Seville make their respective marquees their homes, playing host to receive and entertain friends and family.

The marquees are simple and beautifully decked out. There is no shortage of Fino sherry from Jerez and Manzanilla sherry from Sanlúcar de Barrameda, ham, prawns, dancing, Sevillana music, clapping, guitars, and even bagpipes and Rocío drums... and one thing that should never, ever be lacking, is a good stew broth with a dash of sherry to make you feel like new...

The Seville Fair (Feria de Sevilla), also called the April Fair (Feria de Abril), is held a week or two after Easter and this year it actually kicks off in May, the 1st of May to be exact at 00:00! with the traditional turning on of the street and decorative lighting. Its entrance, decked out with thousands of bulbs and lamps is switched on, becoming a brilliant array of light. After endless days of happiness, luxury and stately traditions, horsemen and women, and rides in stunning carriages, the fair will come to an official close on the 7th May, at midnight, with a fireworks display on the banks of the Guadalquivir River.

 

 

At the fair, you have to distinguish between private and public 'casetas' (marquees). Only members and guests can gain access to the former. If you know someone it will help, and you will be able to get in without problems.

Nevertheless, there are public marquees and plenty of them. They are open to all from midday into the early hours of the morning. The private marquees can close whenever they choose.

At the majority of marquees, drinks are pre-paid with tickets on sale at windows within the marquee or at the bar itself.

If you happen to be in the area it really is worth a visit.

 



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What does the adjective "Spanish" mean?
Wednesday, March 9, 2022

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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How Napoleon wanated to change the Map of Spain
Tuesday, February 22, 2022

In the year 1810, José I, brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, the victorious French general who ended up proclaiming himself emperor until his defeat by the British and Prussians at Waterloo, reigned in Spain.

Spain had suffered the French invasion, from which it would manage to free itself in 1814 at the end of the War of Independence and which, according to many analysts, was the beginning of the end for Napoleon.

During this French occupation, the Spanish government sponsored by Paris wanted to administratively reorganise the entire country, and among other changes, wanted to impose a division by provinces very different from the current one.

The design was carried out by José María de Lanz and Zaldívar, who was inspired by the administrative division of France. The idea was to take advantage of natural features and try to make each province approximately the same size.

Lanz did away with historical names and wanted each province to be named after the dominant river or rivers. Thus, there were Ebro and Jalón, Guadalquivir Bajo, Duero and Pisuerga, Segura or Miño Alto.

In addition, new, not necessarily traditional, capitals were established: towns such as Astorga, La Carolina, Ciudad Rodrigo or Jerez became provincial capitals.

 

          Napoleon's Map of Spain

Napoleon's Map of Spain

 

The problem is that this method ignored historical realities and decisions were made such as dividing Zaragoza into two provinces. Finally, the end of the French occupation put an end to this scheme and in 1833 one very similar to the current one would be adopted.

 

                  VIDEO IN ENGLISH



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Why is Spain Made Up of Autonomous Communites?
Friday, February 18, 2022

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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Morella, a town of privileges.
Thursday, February 3, 2022

 

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

 


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

 

 

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


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

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


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

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

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

 

 

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

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

 


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

 

 

Tourist Info Morella
San Miguel square
Tel. 964 173 032
e.mail morella@touristinfo.net



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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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