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Still Discovering Spain...

Here for over 25 years and I still discover new things every day...

The Cristo del Otero
Wednesday, May 18, 2022


In the proud tradition of such colossal Christs such as the Christ of the Ozarks and the Christ of Vung Tau, in Palencia, Spain's Cristo del Otero (Christ of the Knoll) is a huge stone messiah that looks out over the city in benevolence and supplication, however, the harsh modern style of this statue is far more frightening than enlightening.

Built in 1931 by famed local sculptor, Victorio Macho, the giant Jesus was inspired by brutalist art deco lines and sharp modern angles. The saviour's face is sunken in and as opposed to the more standard pose of open-armed acceptance (which also mirrors the crucifix), Macho's figure has his hands up in almost halting motion, either displaying his stigmata or in a signal of caution. The odd pose is a result of a compromise meant to make the entire statue lighter. Other than the stark forms, the figure is largely free of decoration save for a lightly etched sacred heart on his chest.

Though the most striking feature of the Christ is his hollow eyes. Staring like bottomless pits, the eye sockets were originally supposed to be filled with ivory and marble, but in yet another budgetary compromise they were simply converted into windows. However, from the exterior they tend to simply look empty.

 

 

 

Despite the strange design of the Christ figure, it is still one of the tallest of its kind in the world topping out at over 70 feet tall.  The Cristo del Otero is also beloved by the city over which it watches, acting as a symbol of Palencia. The base of the statue also features a museum to the statue's history and Macho's works in and around Palencia.

Victorio Macho was born into a family of modest means in Palencia, Spain in 1887. His parents enrolled him in the school of Fine Arts and Crafts of Santander, where he learned to sculpt. In 1903, at the age of 16, he moved to Madrid continuing his studies at the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. He first became famous with a monument to Galdós. It is a consecrated from his exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, 1921.

        

 

 

He left Spain during the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera and went to live in Hendaye, just over the border in the Basque region of France. He sculpted monuments for Unamuno and Ramón y Cajal. In 1936 he was elected into the Academy of Fine Arts of San Fernando. The outcome of the Spanish Civil War pushed him to exile in France, Russia, and finally to America. After living six months in Colombia, he began an extended stay in Lima in Peru, where he married Zoila Barrós Conti. He finally returned to Spain in 1952.

He established his home and workshop in Toledo in central Spain. Since 1967 this same building houses the Victorio Macho Museum, created from Zoila's generous donation to the Spanish State. The name of the house is Tarpeian Rock.

In 1964 he received the Grand Cross of the Order of Isabel la Católica. He died in Toledo on July 13, 1966, and his remains were returned to Palencia, the city of his birth. He was buried at the foot of his Cristo del Otero.



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What is the furthest point in Spain from the sea?
Wednesday, May 11, 2022

 

Located near the "triple border" between Ávila, Toledo and Madrid, a small municipality of 800 inhabitants has the peculiar condition of being the furthest point from the sea in the entire peninsular territory. A recognition that does not coincide with that of the geographic centre of the Iberian Peninsula, located in the municipalities of Getafe or Pinto, according to the different existing interpretations and measurements in this regard.

In the case of the furthest point from the sea in all of Spain, the experts agree on placing it in the municipality of Nombela. It is located near the confluence of three autonomous communities, specifically the provinces of Madrid, Ávila and Toledo. It also happens that the cities of Ávila, Toledo and Madrid are, in turn, the three provincial capitals farthest from the sea in all of Spain. In the case of the city of Madrid, for example, the closest beach, located in Valencia, is 372 kilometres away. This is Playa Las Arenas-Malvarrosa.

In the case of the municipality of Nombela, which is the furthest point in Spain from the sea, it should be noted that it is an enclave whose foundation could be Iberian or even Hebrew. Historically it is a municipality that has based its economy on agriculture. As far as its population is concerned, until the 1960s it maintained a census of around 2,000 inhabitants. However, since then it has steadily lost population, reaching, according to 2021 data, 877 residents.

 

 

Why does it not coincide with the geographical point of the peninsula?

As the Iberian Peninsula is an irregular territory, the furthest point from the sea does not have to coincide with the geographical centre of the peninsula. This other recognition is, according to most experts, in the Madrid municipality of Getafe, specifically in the Cerro de Los Ángeles. However, based on historical documentation, there are also those who maintain that the geographical centre of peninsular Spain is in the municipality of Pinto, whose Latin name "Punctum" refers precisely to this condition. In recent decades, some measurements and studies have given way to alternative theories that would place the geographical centre of the peninsula in the Toledo municipality of Méntrida.



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Discover the Oldest Cities in each Spanish Province
Friday, May 6, 2022

In case you did not know, in Spain, any population centre that exceeds 10,000 inhabitants is considered a city, therefore, according to the National Institute of Statistics (INE), Spain has a total of 8131 municipalities distributed throughout the territory.

I thought it would be interesting to list which are the oldest cities in each province of Spain to give you an idea of the country's widespread heritage. Keep in mind that cities have not been founded on a specific day, but may have been built over several days, weeks or months. That is why the dates that appear are a year or a century since it is very difficult to specify the exact moment of its creation.

 

 

The oldest municipality in each province of Spain



1. Andalusia

- Almería: Adra (8th century BC).

- Cadiz: Cadiz (1104 BC)

- Córdoba: Córdoba (169 BC)

- Granada: Almuñecar (8th century BC)

- Huelva: Huelva (10th century BC)

- Jaén: Jaén (10th century BC)

- Malaga: Malaga (7th century BC)

- Seville: Seville (8th century BC)

 

2. Aragon

- Huesca: Huesca (179 BC)

- Teruel: Teruel (1,171)

- Zaragoza: Zaragoza (3rd century BC)

 

3. Asturias

- Asturias: Gijón (5th century BC)

4. Balearic Islands

- Balearic Islands: Ibiza (654 BC)

 

5. Canary

- Las Palmas de Gran Canaria: Las Palmas de Gran Canaria (1,478)

- Santa Cruz de Tenerife: Santa Cruz de Tenerife (1,493)

 

6. Cantabria

- Cantabria: Santander (26 BC)

 

7. Castile-La Mancha

- Albacete: Albacete (12th century)

- Royal City: Royal City (1,255)

- Basin: Basin (784)

- Guadalajara: Guadalajara (8th century)

- Toledo: Toledo (192 BC)

 

8. Castile and Leon

- Ávila: Ávila (1st century BC)

- Burgos: Burgos (884)

- Leon: Leon (29 BC)

- Salamanca: Salamanca (4th century BC)

- Segovia: Segovia (1st century)

- Soria: Soria (1,109)

- Valladolid: Valladolid (1,072)

- Zamora: Zamora (852)

 

9. Catalonia

- Barcelona: Barcelona (3rd century BC)

- Girona: Girona (79 BC)

- Lleida: Lleida (6th century BC)

- Tarragona: Tarragona (5th century BC)

10. Extremadura

- Badajoz: Medellin (79 BC)

- Cáceres: Coria (8th century BC)

 

11.Galicia

- A Coruña: Santiago de Compostela (820)

- Lugo: Lugo (1st century BC)

- Ourense: Ourense (1st century)

- Pontevedra: Vigo (2nd century BC)

 

12. Madrid

- Madrid: Alcalá de Henares (1st century)

 

13.Murcia

- Murcia: Cartagena (227 BC)

 

14. Navarre

- Navarre: Pamplona (74 BC)

 

15. Basque Country

- Álava: Victory (1181)

- Guipuzcoa: San Sebastian (1,180)

- Biscay: Bilbao (1,300)

 

16. La Rioja

- La Rioja: Calahorra (182 BC)

 

17. Valencia

- Alicante: Elche (5th century BC)

- Castellon: Castellon de la Plana (1,251)

- Valencia: Valencia (138 BC)



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The Ball Run....or the Bull Run?
Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Back in late 2011, with Spain mired in nationwide economic malaise, a town north of Madrid learned it didn't have the funds to hold a key part of its annual festival: the bull run. 

Rather than scrap the event entirely, the town's mayor, Javier de Los Nietos, hit upon another, cost-effective solution. Great ideas often come from hard times and this was one of them.

Residents of the town of Mataelpino replaced the bulls that charged after revelers with a 3-meter wide, 200 kg polystyrene ball, creating the 'Boloencierro', a combination of the Spanish words "bolo," or ball, and "encierro," or bull run. It somewhat reminds me of the famous boulder scene from Indiana Jones, as he runs out of the cave in Raiders of the Lost Ark

The Boloencierro took advantage of the winding, up-and-down street layout of the town of 1,700 people, which is about 3,700 feet above sea level in the hills outside the Spanish capital.

The town hosted its seventh iteration of the boloencierro this year (the ball broke in half last year), and previous years have already given the town a boost in tourism. The event has won Mataelpino publicity from as far afield as China and Japan. In Spain alone, four other towns will host versions of Mataelpino's boloencierro this year. 

While it doesn't have the same dangers as running with actual bulls, injuries can still happen during the boloencierro. In addition to cuts and scrapes from falls, those who don't dodge the bolo can be knocked down and concussed.

"You feel very small, and you have to keep your wits about you," de los Nietos said "because if the boulder cracks you on the back, it can push you against the walls or onto the ground."

Animal-rights groups are among those who welcome the new take on an old tradition. "Each year, people are gored or trampled while they run with the bulls, Boloencierro is fun, for all the family and a great alternative for the growing number of people who oppose bullfighting and bull runs," said the group, which also offered to cover the costs for other towns in Spain and Portugal that replaced the traditional bull run with a ball run.

The prevalence of bullfights has declined in recent years, particularly in Spain, where the event has attracted public protests as well as political and financial pressure from municipal governments. 

Despite Boloencierroes being hailed as an alternative to regular encierros, to Mayor De Los Nietos, this version will be no substitute for the real thing. "It’s not something that divides bullfighting aficionados from opponents: in fact, it brings them both together; everybody enjoys the party," 

What do you think?....



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The Spanish professors who "invented" the Gregorian calendar and forever changed the way of measuring time
Tuesday, April 19, 2022

The history of humanity has thousands of ins and outs that have changed our way of living. The year we find ourselves in, for example, is a number that we accept and celebrate every January 1 to welcome another 365 days or 366 every four periods.

Thus, since last January 1, the Western world entered the year 2022. This was taken naturally by the majority of the population, although not all places on the planet entered the same way when they circled the sun that day.

The Chinese calendar, for example, is currently in the year 4719 where, according to the most extensive studies, its origin would be 2679 before ours, the Gregorian calendar. Its establishment meant such an important change in the life of a large part of the planet that it regulates today the year in which we live.

About 500 years ago the months were not structured as they are today. The world was regulated by the Roman calendar, which was the first system to divide time in Ancient Rome, whose legend states that it was created by one of the two founders of the city, Romulus. This was based on months of 29 days, 12 hours and 44 minutes that, according to the moon, could amount to 30 days.

But this almanac underwent various changes such as the one introduced by Julius Caesar, influenced by Sosigenes of Alexandria who decided to establish modifications to this system. Thus, a new calendar, called Julian in honour of the president, was implemented in the year 46 BC and established years of 365 days where every 4 years the leap figure would appear.

But the most important change to the way of structuring the days and months until today would occur in the sixteenth century. Pope Gregory XIII decided to establish what is today our almanac and January 1 was considered the beginning of the year, something ingrained in society.

Although the initiative was approved by the pontiff, the origin of this calendar has its home here in Spain. Spain was in charge of creating the day manager used by most of the planet thanks to research carried out by the University of Salamanca that would revolutionise calendars forever.

The study was carried out by a commission of professors from the institution appointed by the Pope and directed by Pedro Chacón, one of the most important mathematicians in Spain during that century. He, unfortunately, died in 1581 without being able to see the adoption of the calendar.

The page specialising in historical issues on the Twitter social network "theespanishlegacy" exposes how Pope Gregory XIII turned to the teachers of the Spanish university because this was "one of the main centres of knowledge in the world." In this sense, it should be noted that it only took three years to prepare the investigation, a milestone for the time.

After the publication, it was Philip II himself who pressured the highest pontiff to establish the new calendar, leaving behind the Julian calendar, which had been lagging behind ten days since its creation. Thus, after various deliberations, the pope accepted the Spanish proposal and research and it was adopted by pioneering countries Spain, Italy and France.



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The Scallop Shell
Friday, April 15, 2022

The scallop shell is one of the most iconic symbols of the Camino de Santiago and today it is used, along with the yellow arrow, to guide pilgrims heading to Santiago de Compostela along its many different routes. Painted on trees, sidewalks, tiles, etc… the scallop shell (or ‘vieira’ in Galician and Spanish) will help travellers find their way.

There are many stories, legends and myths trying to explain the ancient link between the scallop shell and the Saint James Way. It is no coincidence that in French the scallop is called Coquille Saint Jacques, while in German scallops are called ‘Jakobsmuscheln’ (James mussels).

The scallop shell is said to be a metaphor, its lines representing the different routes pilgrims travel from all over the world, all walking trails leading to one point: the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela. However, it is open to interpretation. Which side points to Santiago? In some regions, the scallop’s longest line is considered the one pointing towards Santiago. This is the case in Asturias, for example, if you are walking the Camino Primitivo or the  Camino del Norte, and some parts of the Camino Portugues.

But don’t let this fact confuse you,  take the scallop shell as a symbol of the Camino, reassuring you are on the right path! The scallops are most of the time placed next to a yellow arrow so always follow the arrows (no confusion here!), as they are the most accurate ‘road signs’ to follow.

Medieval pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey to Santiago. More than being just a symbol or a pilgrim badge, the scallop shells also had a practical purpose: they were a handy and light replacement for a bowl so the pilgrims could use them to hold their food and drink on their long journey. Pilgrims would also be given food at churches and other establishments, and a scallop shell scoop was the measure for the food they would be donated.

Since the scallop is native to the coast of Galicia, the shell also became a memento, a physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage to Santiago (and quite often walked to or via Fisterra, on the Costa da Morte). The shells could be picked up at the very end of the journey in Fisterra but also became a popular souvenir and source of business for the shops near the Cathedral in Santiago and other establishments along the way.

 

  

 

There are many legends trying to source this old association of Saint James with the scallop shell: one of those legends says the apostle once rescued a knight covered in scallop shells, while a similar version of the same story explains that a knight’s horse fell into the water and emerged covered in scallop shells, while the remains of Saint James were being taken from Jerusalem to Galicia.

There are also many stories about the scallop shell believed to have a much earlier origin, dating to pre-Christian times. It is understood the Camino de Santiago had also become a kind of fertility pilgrimage, taken by couples in need of help to have children. This could be related to the fact that the scallop shell might have been a pagan symbol of fertility, originally.

The shape of the scallop shell also resembles the setting sun, which would have been an important daily event, full of symbolism in pre-Christian societies. It is probably not just a mere coincidence that the Saint James Way is a journey to the West, finishing at the ‘end of the world’ (the name given to Fisterra – Finis Terrae) and the setting sun.

 



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Lidl's Best Wines for under €5
Friday, April 8, 2022

LIDL is a supermarket chain that stands out above all for its low prices and sometimes for products that are normally more expensive, such as wine. For less than 5 euros, you can buy excellent wines with which you will be able to show off at a dinner with family or friends alike. LIDL offers a selection of very good quality wines and, what is better, at a more than affordable price. Here are some of them, including one that stands above the rest.

 

Coto de Ibedo (DO Ribeiro)

This white wine DO Ribeiro harvest of the year 2020 is the one that is qualified by experienced critics as one of the best in Spain. Its youth can be easily appreciated, as it has a pale yellow color with greenish reflections. It is a pleasant and very balanced wine: the fruity notes of the three types of grapes used in its production and the typical acidity of the DO company's products stand out. The bottle only costs 3.99 euros.

 

Tramuz (DO Ribera del Duero)

For just 4.99 euros, you can enjoy a delicious red wine aged for three months in barrels. Its colour is intense red and has purple reflections. In a few words, it is a rounded and very fruity wine. Pairing this wine with legumes and stews is highly recommended.

 

Gamellón Joven 2020 (PDO Jumilla)

Another red wine, but this time cheaper: it is only 2.49 euros. The most noteworthy of this is its freshness and its fruity aroma, obtained from the Monastrell and Syrah grapes used in its preparation. It is ideal to accompany with pasta and rice.

 

La Bien Pintá (DO Rueda)

It costs 3.99 euros, so it is a real bargain. It is a really good white wine, with a bright yellowish colour and medium aromatic intensity. It has hints of tropical fruit, and aromatic herbs... making it a rather exotic wine. It is perfect to accompany different dishes: red meats, pasta, rice dishes, pâté, shellfish, fish...

 

Fincas del Lebrel 2020 (DOCa Rioja)

It is a powerful cherry red Tempranillo. Above all, you will enjoy its freshness and its intense flavour. It is only worth 3.49 euros, which makes it a bargain that is not easily found.

 

 

Don’t take my word for it. One of the most prestigious winemakers in Spain, Jon Andoni Rementeria, who is also the 2018 Spanish Sommelier Champion (among other awards), assures that, for less than 5 euros, you can buy great wines at LIDL. Rementeria is more than an authorised voice in the wine world, as he has tasted and continues to taste excellent quality wines that are not sold at such modest prices and recommends each and every one of the wines on this list.



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The least known medieval town in Spain, chosen as one of the most beautiful in Europe
Friday, April 1, 2022

 

In Spain, there are a large number of towns of medieval origin that have great historical and cultural value. There are some that are well known to everyone, such as Olite (Navarra), Pals (Gerona) or Sigüenza (Guadalajara). However, CNN has listed a rarely visited medieval town as one of the most beautiful in Europe. This is Regencós, located in the province of Gerona.

The municipalities on the list are Guimarães (Portugal), Roscoff (France), Anghiari (Italy), Nafplio (Greece), Mostar (Bosnia and Herzegovina), Mazara del Vallo (Sicily), Giethoorn (Netherlands), Clovelly (United Kingdom), Dinkelsbühl (Germany), Korčula (Croatia), Kenmare (Ireland), Piran (Slovenia), Reine (Norway), Regencós (Spain), and Tarnów (Poland).

On the CNN website, the description of Regencós says: «As it goes for the tourist coasts of Spain, the Costa Brava, in Catalonia, is relatively quiet. Regencós is just south of the 'Triangle Dalí', the area where the artist lived and worked, a hilly area of ​​sleepy medieval villages. Regencós, somewhat older, has remains of its medieval walls, a beautiful church, and traditional stone houses».

What is there to see in Regencós?

Regencós is a small town, with just 276 inhabitants, located in the Bajo Ampurdán region, very close to Bagur and Pals.

One day is more than enough to get to know all the attractions of the town. The most important monument is the Church of San Vicente, built at the beginning of the 19th century on the remains of the old Parish of Begur.

It is also interesting to see the remains of the medieval wall from the end of the 14th century and the beginning of the 15th. Very few remains are preserved because most of the wall was demolished or annexed to the houses of the municipality.

Surroundings

To take advantage of the getaway, there are several very interesting towns a few kilometres from Regencós, such as Peratallada. A medieval town that has maintained its structure and its most traditional essence. Strolling through its narrow cobbled streets is like taking a trip back in time to the Middle Ages.

To enjoy the Mediterranean Sea, Calella de Palafrugell is a privileged destination on the Costa Brava. Port Bo Beach is fantastic, located in the heart of the old town and where the small fishermen's boats rest on the sand.

Begur is also very close, with the Castle as the emblem of the town. Declared an Asset of Cultural Interest, and built-in the 16th century, it offers impressive views of the sea with the Medes Islands.

 



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The World According to Putin
Tuesday, March 29, 2022

When Vladimir Putin justified his annexation of Crimea on the grounds that he owed protection to 'Russian speakers' everywhere, The Economist pointed out that since linguistic borders do not match those of states, it would lead to total chaos. Naturally, The Economist said that this approach to international relations betrayed a deplorable conservatism and decided to redraw the world’s boundaries according to Mr Putin’s ridiculous principles:

 

 



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Madrid's Museum of Anatomy
Thursday, March 24, 2022

 

An incredible collection of anatomical models, mummified body parts, and human bones can be discovered in one of the world's oldest universities. 

The Universidad Complutense of Madrid is one of the oldest universities in the world. Its story begins as far back as 1293 when the Archbishop of Toledo was granted a charter by King Sancho IV of Castile to found a “studium generale.” Two hundred years later, in 1499, Pope Alexander VI granted a papal bull, which expanded the Complutense into a full university.

Today, the best reason to visit the University is its Museum of Anatomy, “Javier Puerta,” created in 1787 by royal decree of King Charles III, who was known for his contributions to science and research.

 

Part of the college of medicine, the museum is made up of anatomical models, mummified and artificial body parts, and three sculpture collections. The wax polychrome sculpture collection displays a series of anatomically precise wax models, representing the stages of pregnancy from conception to childbirth, the oldest of which dates back to 1794. The plaster polychrome sculpture collection is essentially a collection of plaster sculptures of human body parts. The ominous-sounding bone collection is comprised of thousands of skulls and two skeletons. 

One of these, which dates back to the Spanish War of Independence (1807-1814), is the skeleton of a French farmer and grenadier who, due to the mercury salts in his bones, is speculated to have been killed by mercury poisoning. The other is the skeleton of the so-called Extremeño Giant, said to have been brought to the museum alive by Pedro Gonzalez de Velasco, the museum’s director at the time.

 

 

To be sure that the museum is open at the time you'd like to visit, give them a call at +34 913 94 13 74, or request an appointment by email at fviejo@med.ucm.es.

 

 



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