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The First Map Showing America
03 July 2020

Although Columbus was a mapmaker in his pre-expedition days, he left behind no known maps of his explorations. Luckily for us, Juan de la Cosa, who sailed with Columbus on three journeys, did - leaving us with the oldest known map showing America.

De la Cosa was the captain of the Santa Maria, and later, after she was shipwrecked, the master of the Marigalante, and finally sailed on La Nina. He also explored the lands of Colombia and Panama with Vasco Nunez de Balboa. He returned to Spain with his famous map but died in the New World after being fatally shot by a native with poisoned arrows in Turbaco, Colombia in 1509.

Drawn in or around the year 1500, this early style of map is known as a "Mapa Mundi" or "world map." Maps like this were highly valuable pieces of maritime information, each new map adding to the store of knowledge that kept ships from wrecking on uncharted hazards. They were also closely guarded state secrets, as they held the keys for one nation's superiority over another in maritime trade.

De la Cosa's map incorporates older information as well as the recent voyages of Vasco de Gama to India in 1498. Drawn on ox-hide, it measures 72" x 37 1/2".

 

The map was unknown before 1832 when it was discovered in a Paris shop by the French scientist and map enthusiast Charles Walckenaer. It is thought that the map had been taken from the Secret Archives at the Vatican in 1810 by Napoleon, and found its way into a bookshop after his fall. After Walckenaer death in 1853, the map was bought by the queen of Spain, and brought back to Madrid.

In 1839 Walckenaer went on to become the conservator of maps for the Department of Maps at the Royal Library in Paris.

 

 



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Imagine if this was your village church...
24 June 2020

 

The Sagrat Cor de Vistabella church is thought to be one of the Modernist architect Josep Maria Jujol’s masterpieces. It is a wonderful example of ecology applied to architecture and building construction. Jujol was fascinated and obsessed with nature and the environment and its potential and thus used simple materials to build the church, such as wood, forged iron, stone and brick.

The interior of the church is rather unusual and to create the design, he used techniques such as stuccowork, sgraffito and exposed brick, so that the decorations would blend into the building’s structure and share its originality. All of the church's furnishings and accessories were also made of simple, recycled materials.

 

 

  

 

According to the art historian Montserrat Duran, author of the biographical and artistic study Josep M. Jujol. L’arquitectura amagada, «his imagination for covering both the interior and the exterior with simple materials crafted completely by hand, makes this building a unique work of art, fitting of his understanding of art joining with its natural environment. In other words, entirely economic architecture».

Jujol´s intention, apart from reducing the budget — the project was financed by just one family and from contributions made by the inhabitants of the town—, was to make the most of the natural elements provided by the environment. Jujol’s work, therefore, became a perfect combination of functionality, saving and sustainability.

Built approximately between 1917 and 1924, Sagrat Cor church has a square floor plan. The ceiling is a groin vault made of parabolic arches. The cupola is hexagonal and there is a spectacular triangular bell tower.

 



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Motilla del Azuer
19 June 2020

 

The brochs of Northern and western Scotland form some of the most remarkable and distinctive defensive structures in Europe.

A similar, though much earlier form of structure was discovered not so long ago in Spain at the settlement of Motilla del Azuer (Daimiel, Ciudad Real), located in the central area of the Iberian Peninsula.

Artificial mounds known as motillas are found throughout the plain of La Mancha. Dated to between 2200 and 1500 BC, they tend to be situated 4-5km from one another and rise to 4-10m high. People have written about motillas since the end of the 19th century but they were erroneously considered to be burial mounds until the mid 1970s when work began on the Motilla del Azuer.

 

 

The excavations at Motilla del Azuer, directed by Profs Trinidad Najera Colino and Fernando Molina Gonzalez, have revealed that this motilla was in fact a fortification surrounded by a small settlement and a necropolis. It is the first site of its kind to be excavated in a scientific and systematic way. The first research phase took place between 1974 and 1986; following a break, fieldwork then restarted in 2000 and is still in progress. Their work has revealed that Motilla del Azuer’s fortification mound measures about 50m in diameter with two walled enclosures and a large internal courtyard. In its centre stands a stone tower, quadrangular in shape and with walls measuring over 10m high. The walls have various reconstruction phases indicating that they were built and rebuilt during the whole occupation of the settlement. Access to the tower is by ramps located in narrow corridors.

 

Motilla del Azuer contains the oldest well known from the Iberian Peninsula and the archaeologists suspect that the walled enclosures were therefore used to protect and manage the livelihood of the people living in the settlement: to secure the well’s water, to store and process cereals on a large scale, to occasionally keep the livestock, and to produce pottery and other domestic artefacts.

The extra-mural settlement area spans a radius of c.50m. The people lived in oval and rectangular dwellings built with stone foundations and mud walls that tend to be associated with timber posts. There are wide open-air spaces between the houses that often contain high concentrations of pits, ovens and hearths related to storage and production activities. In one area the archaeologists even found large pits for animal waste. The erstwhile locals seemingly had a penchant for horses – the team found a high percentage of horse remains, mostly hooves, skulls, large bones and jawbones, probably from the butchering of these animals.

A necropolis is located within the settlement area. This is a usual feature of the Bronze Age on the Iberian Peninsula. Typically the archaeologists found individual inhumation in pits, occasionally covered with stonework or slabs.

 



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Are these really Bulls?
29 May 2020

 

Standing still in the middle of a Spanish field, the Bulls of Guisando are an unusual quartet of stone quadrupeds that are milleniums old, and though their features are not as defined as they once were, these carved creatures are still a sight to behold. 

The ancient statues now known as the Bulls of Guisando (Toros de Guisando), are thought to have been originally made back in the 2nd century BC. Their simple, abstract design is said to have been the work of a tribe of Celtiberians, which were literally Celtic peoples who lived on the Iberian Peninsula at the time. Since time has weathered and rounded many of the statues' finer features, it is unclear if they are actually meant to be bulls, or if they are pigs or lambs or some other type of livestock. However holes in the heads of the figures are thought to have been a place for horns to be inserted, so bulls are the generally accepted interpretation.

 

 

The statues gained a secondary fame in the 15th century when they became the backdrop to political intrigue. In September of 1468, Henry the IV of Castile signed a treaty with his sister Isabella, granting her certain titles and putting an end to a local civil war. The accord signed on the same grounds as the bulls came to be known as the Treaty of the Bulls of Guisando. With that association, the bulls became both an archeological treasure and a piece of Spanish national history.


Today, the bulls, if that is what they really are, are still standing strong on their hilltop, protected as a historic monument. If you get a chance to check them out, you can decide for yourself whether they are bovine or porcine or something completely different.

 

 



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70ft Up...
06 May 2020


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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A Frog in Madrid
30 April 2020

Why is there a giant frog in the street at 37 Recoletos Avenue? By the Gran Madrid Casino’s gate stands a big and seemingly outlandish frog. This bronze sculpture, created by Eladio de Mora (alias dEmo), was installed in April 2014 as a gift to the City of Madrid.

Spain’s last casino closed over 90 years ago when gambling was forbidden during the Franco regime. To honour the return of casinos to Madrid, the Gran Madrid Casino gifted the lucky frog to the city. Why a frog? A frog was chosen for its symbolic fortune in many cultures around the world, particularly in the Chinese Feng Shui tradition.

According to tradition, frogs have traditionally been animals that bring good luck. According to legend, the origin of this tradition came because frogs are found near water, which is essential to survival. The presence of a frog always indicated life-saving water was near, turning the animals into symbols of luck.

 

 

Eladio de Mora is a famous sculptor in Spain and his bronze frog sculpture measures 11,5 ft, tall enough for people to walk beneath it and marvel at the 34 lucky symbols and numbers engraved in its underbelly.

 

 

Carved into the great big frog are several numbers and representative figures including an Egyptian beetle, a four-leaf clover, a horseshoe with seven nails, a rabbit, a dolphin, an elephant, an owl, a witch with a broom, a heart, a key, a star, a moon, the yin-yang, an eye, an X, a chicken bone, the Chinese Do, the Hindu Ohm, the symbol of infinity, an open hand with an eye in the palm, amongst others. Quite clearly there is no excuse for not getting lucky when you walk past this frog, no matter which country you are from or whatever beliefs you have, this frog caters for them.

 



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Mercadona's Best Wines - According to the Experts
09 April 2020

Whether we like it or not, if you live in Spain, Mercadona is an inseparable part of our lives ... And, in recent years, the supermarkets of Juan Roig, one of the richest men in Spain, has focused on updating their suppliers so that they offer more and better gourmet products: cheeses, beers, chocolates, ice cream, sweets ... And, of course, their wines too.

The Mercadona wine line is full of references but… What are the best wines in the most popular supermarket? The ‘Guide to Supermarket Wines 2019’,  highlights up to 6 Mercadona wines that could well enter other more ‘premium’ lists, such as the best wines in Spain.

Whatever the case, these wines have a more than remarkable quality, enough to surprise you and also your guests ... These are the 6 best Mercadona wines (all red, I may add) that should be in your cellar ... And all of them at less than 5 euros the bottle! 

 

Mercadona's Top 6 Wines - according to the experts:

 

6. Estola Reserva

Bodegas Ayuso – DO La Mancha
4 stars
3,65 €

 

5. Torre Oria Monastrell Joven

Torre Oria – sin origen
4 stars
3,25 €

 

4. Comportillo Crianza 

Bodegas Ontañón – DO Rioja
4 stars
2,95 €

 

3. Torre Oria Viñedo Antiguo Roble

Torre Oria – DO Utiel-Requena
4 stars
2,90 €

 

2. Castillo de Liria Bobal Shiraz

Vicente Gandía – DO Valencia
4 stars
2,29 €


1. Vino Tinto Torre Oria Crianza

Torre Oria – DO Utiel-Requena
4 stars
2 €

 

 



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The Mysterious Pilgram
07 April 2020

Every night in a corner under the baroque clock tower in the Plaza de la Quintana, a hunched pilgrim appears. He stands life-sized and wears the traditional garb of the religious pilgrim: cloak, broad-brimmed hat, and a staff top-heavy with a gourd for water and the traditional scallop shell, which is the symbol of the pilgrim.

Upon closer inspection, the pilgrim is a trick of the light - and an unintentional one. His body is the shadow cast by the lightning rod pillar in the corner, and his staff is the shadow of the support column of the Berenguela clock tower. There are dozens of these lighting rods and hundreds of vertical supports in the cathedral exterior, but only one pilgrim.

According to local legend, the pilgrim is a local priest, who had fallen in love with a nun of the convent of San Paio, across the plaza. They met every night secretly, travelling through a secret passage under the Quintana stairs that join the convent to the cathedral. The two lovers planned to elope, and he promised to meet her in the plaza dressed as a pilgrim to conceal his identity. On the appointed evening, he waited in the shadows, but she never came. Since then, every night he returns, hoping to see her.

Dressing as a pilgrim is a good disguise in a city that has historically been flooded with them. Pilgrims have been coming to Santiago de Compostela for more than a thousand years, walking the miles from France through the well-worn route of the Camino de Santiago. They came to receive the blessings and forgiveness of sins from the body of the Apostle James, purportedly buried in the cathedral.

The story of the discovery of the bones of St. James (Sant-Iago) has the flavour of medieval fervor: In the year 813, when most of Spain was under Islamic rule, a hermit, guided by heavenly light (the Campus Stellae, or field of stars in the city name), discovered the previously unknown tomb of the apostle, somewhat improbably in far Northern Spain. The bishop at the time determined that the bones had arrived in 44 AD by an unmanned, rudderless boat following the decapitation of James in Palestine. A shrine, and then a church, and finally a cathedral was built over the site of the discovery, and the pilgrimages began.

 



If in Santiago de Compostela.....Walking from the north-east corner of the cathedral complex through the Plaza de la Quintana, towards the front of the cathedral, walk down the first set of stairs into the large plaza area. Look for the deep corner between the base of the clock tower and the Royal Door. The pilgrim is behind the lightning pillar as you can see in the photo.

 



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Spain's Roaring Twenties
03 April 2020

It is unknown to many, including car lovers. The circuit of Terramar is the third oldest in Europe after Brooklands and Monza, ahead even of the legendary Le Mans, and the first in Spain. 

The Roaring Twenties were the last time the Terramar race track heard the roar of engines. It opened on the 28th of October 1923, but a failure to pay the construction workers for an unforeseen overrun in construction costs, led to them seizing the money that was taken at the gate, and left the organizers with no money to pay the drivers. 

This disastrous inauguration, led to an immediate ban on the track hosting international events and while a few local automobile clubs held a few races here, they were unsuccessful, and the track was closed by 1925.  

The track has changed hands a few more times over the years, and despite a short-lived revival in the 1950s, it has long served as a chicken farm and a place to graze sheep.

The Autodrome has seen no structural intervention in the last 90 years but has held up incredibly well, a testament to the quality of its original construction. In fact, despite its degradation, Red Bull sponsored the circuit as a showpiece in 2012. 

 

 

Today, the track can be viewed from the road, surrounding hills and footpaths. It’s overgrown, banking corners reminiscent of dams that have long since cracked and displaced their water. It is rumoured that the current owner is seeking funding to repair and reinstate the Autodrome, but only time will tell….

 

 

In this unique environment that still keeps the greatness, it once had, two of the best riders of the moment, Carlos Sainz and Miguel Molina, tested their skills as drivers. The challenge: to overcome the rigours of the old track at the wheel of one of the fastest cars of the time (Audi R8 LSM).

 

 



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Asturias, one big nature reserve
25 March 2020

One thing Asturians are proud of is their region's nature: its mysterious forests and coastline left unscathed by the whirlwind of property developments, its salmon rivers and steep mountains, ideal for rock climbers and hikers. Arising from this pride is a magnificent conservation that has led to more than a third of Asturias' territory being declared as national and international protected areas and the best-preserved coastline in Spain.


The exploration begins with the 6 UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserves in the Principality.


The Picos de Europa's reserve was Spain's first National Park, protected since 1918. Rising up in the centre of this park is the Picu Urriellu, a real magnet for rock climbers, which then opens onto the Lakes of Covadonga. Fuentes del Narcea, Degaña and Ibias is a Nature Park with totemic fauna including the brown bear and capercaillie. Within this park you will also find the Muniellos Forest Nature Reserve and El Cueto de Arbás Partial Nature Reserve.

Only 20 people per day can enjoy the experience of travelling through the Muniellos Forest, the largest oak grove in Spain and one of the best-preserved in Europe. You need to book far enough in advance. The route is mapped out, is circular and is 20 kilometres long. It's free but you can pay for a guide. It takes about seven hours and covers an ascent of 600 m. 


The brown bear's habitat extends up to Somiedo which, as well as being a Biosphere Reserve, became the first Nature Park in Asturias (1988). Its lake, El Valle, is the biggest in the region and its brañas (high-mountain pasture areas) are dotted with teitos (thatched roof cottages). Las Ubiñas - La Mesa Nature Park contains the second largest mountain range in the region, the Peña Ubiña Massif and is full of natural monuments, such as the Huerta Cave, home to a large bat hibernation colony, or the Puertos de Marabio, with its peculiar karst complex. Redes is a refuge for all species native to northern regions, from the brown bear to the capercaillie or the wolf. Its complex terrain, also recognised as a Nature Park, is combined with spectacular mountains, valleys and limestone gorges that can be discovered on the River Alba Trail or in Los Arrudos.

Oscos-Eo  (GPS:+43.515568,-7.043293) is the biggest UNESCO-listed Biosphere Reserve. Running through this territory is the river corridor of the Eo River, a special area for bird watching.

Other networks of international protected areas are the European Union's Red Natura 2000 and Sites of Community Importance (SCIs). Following their trace, you can discover the Sueve Range, the Oneta Waterfalls, the Esva Basin, the Deboyo Cave, the Santiuste Blowhole, the Villaviciosa Estuary, the Caldoveiro Peak, the Pastur or Barayo Yew. Ponga Nature Park is made up of gorges such as the Ponga or Beyos gorges and lies within the Partial Nature Park of Peloño.

 

 

Hiking is possibly the best way to admire these lush spots In Asturias, there are trails suitable for all physical conditions and tastes and for those looking for only short excursions. And you don't even need to park the car. The intricate network of regional motorways allows you to combine visits and organise unforgettable excursions. Other options are cycling along the sign-posted and well-preserved greenways or taking a journey on one of the routes travelled by giant dinosaurs, using their ichnites carved on rocks as a guide. 

Wildlife watching tourism has opened up a new door of experiences: set off on an ornithological route, follow the footsteps of the brown bear, get a taste of nature on an excursion collecting plants that are used in cookery workshops or travel through folds used by shepherds keeping your eye on the sky to spot the bearded vulture, reintroduced into Picos de Europa, in flight. This way you will be able to experience the passion for  Asturian nature first hand.



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