Esgrafiado

Esgrafiado, applied to architecture, describes the technique of creating 3-d patterns on walls. We loved seeing buildings with this decoration. Segovia must have hundreds of them; we saw maybe half. Once we’d noticed them, we searched them out.

Although I don’t know – yet – exactly how these esgrafiado – walls are created, essentially what happens is that a smooth surface of some kind of plaster or cement is laid on the wall and the design then cut out of it. The result is a smooth design on a rough surface where the material has been removed. Every design we saw was unique; no duplicates as near as we could tell.

Esgrafiado buildings also exist in Barcelona, but Segovia must be the prime place to see them in Spain. Here are pictures of some Segovia esgafiado buildings.

A old esgrafiado wall.

Probably the oldest design we saw.

This shows a wall with part of it repaired. The lighter area has been renovated, while the darker area has, over many years, eroded.


Tired of esgrafiado? Because if you’re not, I’ve got about 50 more pictures to show you.

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Segovia

The last stop on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour is also the place I’ve known longest in Spain, not counting Madrid: Segovia. It is also a place with which I have some emotional ties.

In the late 1970s/early 1980s I came to Madrid half a dozen times in my work at Boeing. The people I worked with at Iberia Airlines knew I brought an expense account with me, and they loved to go to Segovia for lunch. So the Boeing salesman, Pat Finnigan, three Iberia folks and I would pile into Pat’s tiny SEAT 124 and drive 90 minutes to Segovia for lunch at a famous restaurant there, Duque. Pat Finnigan was by no small measure the best person I ever worked for or with, and we became good friends. He died four years ago, and I can tell you that I felt his presence the whole time we were in Segovia, especially when Laurie and I had lunch at Duque.

The other connection I have with Segovia is Queen Isabel – she of Isabel and Ferdinand, Christopher Columbus and all that. After I went to Madrid I started to read about Spain and quickly became interested in Isabel, reading everything I could about her. She conducted her monarchy in an almost revolutionary way. The Segovia connection comes because she lived here for quite a while, and was here when her father died. To cement her claim to the throne, she got the local church and government officals to crown her in a church in Segovia’s Plaza Mayor. It’s possible to walk the same streets she walked, and stand in that Plaza Mayor. History; gotta love it.

The Big Three

Segovia is known for three monuments: the amazing Roman aqueduct, the castle (actually, the Alcázar), and the Cathedral.

Segovia Sights – the Aqueduct

Pretty impressive. The aqueduct was built around 100 AD, when Spain was part of the Roman Empire. It stands 98 ft high at its highest point, and consists of 167 arches. Built of granite blocks, it uses no mortar to hold it together. It has been reconstructed a couple times, but is essentially as it was when finished.

I first saw the aqueduct in 1980, give or take a year. It still carried water into the old part of Segovia then. That stopped about ten years later, but think about that: this thing carried water into Segovia for somewhere around 1800 years. Amazing.

Segovia Sights – the Alcazar

This building has historic significance: in 1474, the king of Castille and León (then the biggest and most powerful part of Spain) died, and his daughter Isabel claimed the throne. She was living in the Alcázar at the time and she knew that her half-brother would also claim the throne, so it was important that she be crowned first. She gathered the local aristocrats and government officials, left the Alcázar and they all walked to Iglesia St. Miguel, in the Plaza Mayor, where she was crowned Queen of Castille and León – effectively, Queen of Spain. (Her half-brother did, indeed, also claim the throne; it took a couple battles between the armies of Isabel and Juan for her to fully claim her title.)


Inside the Alcázar is a museum and rooms furnished in period furniture. It’s interesting, but as we had visited it on a previous visit, we skipped it this trip.

Segovia Sights – the Cathedral

The Segovia Cathedral is the last major church in Europe built in Gothic style. It’s huge, but honestly, not all that interesting.

The Segovia Cathedral, from our hotel room window.

Same view, at night.

Other Segovia sights – the paseo

My friend Pat Finnigan said he believed  that Segovia keeps the tradition of the paseo, the evening walk, better than any other Spanish town. Starting about 7 p.m. folks start the walk, between the Plaza Mayor and the Aquaduct. It starts to peter out about 10 p.m.

Segovia’s famous Roman aqueduct, with the paseo in full swing.

It’s not all walking – sometimes you just have to sit and rest and watch the world go by.

Other Segovia Pictures

Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (“true cross”), outside Segovia. We walked out to visit it. Built in the 1100s, it is said to have once contained a piece of the “true cross.” If every place that says it had a piece of the “true cross” really did have a piece, that cross must have been 800 ft tall.

At the weekly market in the Plaza Mayor: that’s what I call a licorice stick. It was about three feet long and an inch thick. Oh, my aching molars.

A typical street in the old city of Segovia.

The capitol on a column in a residential house.

A wall with escrafiado on it. This wall decoration is everywhere in Segovia and we loved finding buildings decorated this way. I’ll do a separate post on this beautiful art.

The Route into Segovia

Laurie believes that I try to take the narrowest route possible into any town we visit. That is, of course, completely wrong. In Segovia, it wasn’t my fault. I knew exactly how to get to our hotel on the Plaza Mayor, having done it a few times. Besides, the GPS agreed with me on the route. So we arrived at the main entrance to the city and, whoops:

Ok, so we can’t drive to our hotel by the normal, easiest, GPS-mapped route. I know another way.

I found the other route in, and it starts by going through this gate. Easy! Yes, it is two-way, but still, no problem.

This is practically a freeway. No problem!

Ok, a little narrower…

Hmmmm. I’m still okay with this, but Laurie is starting to simper.

Getting a little narrower ahead…

Watch out! I’m coming through!

Ok, seriously narrow. I’m thinking about retracting my side mirrors, but the guy ahead of me didn’t so it must be okay. Laurie has her head between her knees by now.

Plaza Mayor straight ahead…almost there.

Ignore the “do not enter” signs and we’re in the Plaza Mayor, 50 yards from our hotel. Piece of cake!

See? Nothing to it! I’ve done this enough to not get puckered up over driving down streets like this. I’ve come to understand that I’m not the first driver to go through these streets and if the others could do it, I can do it. Laurie politely disagrees.

I’ve rambled on enough about this wonderful city. We stayed three nights and headed back to France. I’ll do one more post about the escrafiado walls of Segovia, and maybe one Spain wrap-up post. Honestly, if you could visit only one small town in Spain, Segovia would be my recommendation. Of course, you should also visit Toledo, Trujillo, Úbeda, Zamora, Santiago de Compostela, Arcos de la Frontera and any other place that looks interesting.

 

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Úbeda

Úbeda has an unusual claim to fame: in the middle of Moorish Spain, Úbeda has what many claim to be the most beautiful Renaissance square in all Europe, and has many other Renaissance buildings scattered throughout the city. We’ve been here a couple times before and knew that Úbeda belonged on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour.

I might mention that Úbeda also serves great tapas everywhere; that might have played into our decision to return.

How did it come about that these beautiful Renaissance buildings were built here? In the first half of the 16th century, Francisco de los Cobos, born in Úbeda, became secretary to the Spanish king. But as that king was out of the country almost all of his reign (he was also Emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, which took all his time), Cobos was effectively head of the Spanish government from 1533 to 1547. For some odd reason, during that time Cobos found a ton of money to build beautiful buildings in Úbeda. He decided to have those buildings designed by architects who built Renaissance buildings. Once he’d started, several other noble Úbeda families followed suit, trying to keep up with the neighbor; Cobos, that is.

Úbeda is a great place to just walk around, because on almost every street is a surprise building.

This is our third visit to Úbeda and we enjoyed it more than ever. For one thing, we did our homework: we had some excerpts from guidebooks, we visited the Oficina de Tourism, which gave us a terrific map and a guide to walks, with information about many of the buildings we’d see. Úbeda has something like 45 buildings classified as historical monuments and I think we saw at least three-quarters of them.

We stayed at a Parador here, too; our fourth of the trip. We opted for an upgraded room because we knew we could have a room with a small patio in a garden. This is where we relaxed:

Laurie and her best Úbeda friend: a geranium in the patio.

The Renaissance Buildings of Úbeda

I could probably write a bit about each building we saw, but that would bore you and me, so I’ll just throw in some pictures.

Our hotel. It was once the residence of the Bishop. Kind of makes you wonder about those vows of poverty…

The “chapel” that went with the Bishop’s house. The main church burned down centuries ago, but surely was much larger and more ornate than this.

The courtyard of the Úbeda City Hall.

The portal of Iglesia San Pablo.

A chapel in San Pablo. San Pablo had Romanesque, Gothic and Renaissance aspects, from things being added to it from the 12th century to the 18th.

The town hall. The geometric design and plain facade are indicators of Renaissance architecture.

Úbeda wasn’t all Renaissance: this is a gate to the city. The horseshoe arch reveals its origin in the 10th or 11th century, when the Islamic Moors controlled this part of Spain.

Miscellanous Pictures of Úbeda

Sitting and talking is a Spanish tradition, particularly in hot weather when no one wants to be in their non-air-conditioned apartment.

Other Úbeda sights:

We loved this store. Look at the name of the store, and what it sells.

Most apartment and house entries have beautiful tiles on the walls.

The roof of Iglesia la Trinidad.

Úbeda was hot! The day we arrived was 100° and the next two days in the mid-90s. The whole Spain sojourn has been hot: the day we left Úbeda the forecast was for a high of 89°, which is the coolest day of the trip. We hoped for cooler weather in Segovia, our last stop!

As with the first three stops on our quick tour of Spain, we loved Úbeda. It’s not at all a tourist destination, just a beautiful place.

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A Night in Vejer de la Frontera and Two Days in Arcos de la Frontera

Vejer de la Frontera

We headed south from Trujillo, where it was hot, to Vejer de la Frontera, where it was hotter – approaching 100°. Vejer is a “pueblo blanco” – a white town, so named because it has been here for a thousand or more years and every building in the town is stark white, an effort to live with the hot sun here. There are many pueblos blancos in southern Spain and Vejer has been one of our favorites on two previous stays here. It’s small, not overrun with tourists, quiet, with a hotel that we really liked.

This time: not so much. First, I made reservations at the hotel and chose to take an apartment the hotel offered.  It looked beautiful in the pictures and had a private terrace overlooking one side of the city. Great…in theory. When we checked in we found the apartment was tiny (probably not more than 200 sq ft living space, on two levels); the bedroom had one small window that looked out, at foot level, on a busy pedestrian street and another window that looked onto the front door of a house; the stairs in the place reminded me of stairs on a ship: steep and narrow; and…well, a several other problems.

We immediately went back to the desk and said we were not happy with the room, but the place was full (it has only ten rooms plus the apartment). So we were stuck. We said, “Well, let’s see how it goes, see how we feel in the morning.” Then we walked out into the quiet town and found it was overrun with tourists. Our previous stays here were in September and now, in late August, tourist season was still in full swing. It was awful. (I am, of course, aware that two of this horde of tourist were Laurie and me, but we’re different, I’m sure.) At that point we knew we were not going to stay and I started looking on-line for alternatives. One that we liked: the parador in nearby Arcos de la Frontera – another white town that we’d visited years before and liked a lot – had rooms available.

The night was as bad as we feared. The bedroom was like a tomb, really. We couldn’t open the windows much, so it was hot-hot-hot, and claustrophobic to boot. Decision made! I went online and made a reservation at the Arcos parador, we packed up, checked out two days early (credit where credit is due: the manager of the hotel understood our concerns and was gracious and apologetic; she said she would help us find another hotel if we wanted and reduced the price on our room for the night we were there.)

Off we went to Arcos de la Frontera.

I’m not saying the streets in Vejer are tight, but the receptionist told me to drive down this road to a place where we could unload our bags. I got about a hundred yards down a steep hill on this very narrow street and found this car nicely parked. Now, I’ve become almost fearless about driving these streets, but I backed up those 100 yards rather than try to get around this car. Laurie kept her head between her knees the entire time.

The only nice thing about our 18 hours in Vejer: this view from our terrace.

Arcos de la Frontera

When we arrived at the Arcos parador, the nicest woman in the world checked us in. We decided to opt for an upgraded room with a view and were glad we did. Here’s the view from our room’s balcony, which was about 6 ft by 20 ft.

We came to Arcos on one of our first vacations trips to Spain, maybe 16-18 years ago and enjoyed it. It also is a pueblo blanco, set on a high ridge, so the houses pour down one side and a cliff, on which our hotel sat, forms the other side. It’s a beautiful town. Going from a dump of a room to a beautiful room with a view didn’t hurt, either.

That first time we were here we stumbled onto a small bar/restaurant, Bar San Marcos. It was still there and still great. We had tapas for dinner there the first night and went back for lunch the next. That first night dinner was two tapas each, then two raciones (tapas but a much larger portion, and really, way more food than we needed) and a bottle of wine: $30. Next day’s lunch was three courses: a chicken and guacamole salad for a starter, grilled calamari for Laurie and pork steak for me for the main plate, and tocino de cielo (a wonderful custard) for dessert. With two beers each: $24. Really, $24 – not each, total for both of us. This wasn’t gourmet food, but it was good and tasty and well-cooked. $24.

We walked around Arcos and just took in the sights, doing nothing special. We’ll come back, even if just to stay in that beautiful parador again.

Arcos has some tight streets, too. This is the main street to the parador and a viewpoint at the top of the town. We saw a woman driving a small car stop, cross herself, and then enter this section of road. Really!

Many Spanish churches display a style called Spanish Baroque, typified by extremely ornate and ostentatious decoration. We saw some of this in Zamora, none in Trujillo (too poor, I think) and lots in Arcos de la Frontera. The apogee (nadir?) of this style is in Santigo de Compostela, but Arcos holds its own.

Some sights from being out and about in Arcos:


Parking space was at a premium. Note that the two cars farthest away cannot move forward because there’s a foot-high wall in front of them. I have no idea what happens when one of those two need to leave.

A note about the “...de la Frontera” of these two towns. There are probably thirty or forty towns in southern Spain with “de la Frontera” attached to them. Eight hundred years ago the Spanish monarchs started to push the Arabic Moors from Spain. It took 300 years, culminating in the surrender of Granada to Ferdinand and Isabela in 1492. During that 300 years, the border – the frontera – continually and sporadically moved first south and then east. For years a town could be on that border and so add “de la Frontera” – “on the border.”

That’s it for Arcos de la Frontera. Although we did not plan to be here, we’re glad our Vejer challenge worked out as it did.

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Monfragüe

I’ll forgive you if you’ve never heard of Monfragüe – we had not until the woman at the Officina de Tourism gave us a brochure on the new Monfragüe National Park, about an hour north of Trujillo. We decided this would make a good day trip, with the bonus of spending time in our air-conditioned car; temps were forecast to be in the upper 90s that day. So off we went.

Driving north showed how hard this land is. No crops growing, just livestock, including the famous pigs that eat acorns and are prized for the flavor from that diet.

Now, one of the things that intrigued us in the brochure was a castle named Castillo Monfragüe, in the park. We wanted to see that and when we reached the place where a road went up to the castillo, we found…a large parking lot, and a sign saying the mini-bus arrives every hour to take folks to the castle. Fortunately, our timing was good and we waited about ten minutes when, sure enough, a mini-bus arrived. We boarded and up the mountain we went.

The site of Castillo Monfragüe is amazing. Situated on a high point of land overlooking the Tajo River, it has controlled passage down the river for thousands of years. There was a fortified site here when the Romans arrived two centuries BC. The Romans fortified it further, as did the Visigoths, the Moors and the Spanish armies. Then the Catholic Church built an ermita here – a site of worship dedicated to Santa Clara. So this place has it all!

The last couple hundred feet are all uphill. In the 95° weather, we took it slow and easy.

Here’s why this castillo could control passage of opposing armies for thousands of years.

The only residents…

The castillo and ermita…

The Ghost Town of Monfargüe

After leaving the castillo of Monfargüe, we wanted to take a back road returning to Trujillo. I’d found one on Google Earth that looked interesting so down it we went. Unfortunately, after about a mile it turned to gravel and dirt and we definitely did not want to drive 40 miles on that. So I screeched to a halt, turned around and out of the corner of my eye noticed an unexpectedly large and older building a few hundred yards away. Since we were in the middle of freaking nowhere, I wondered what that building was. I found a road which led to it. What we discovered was a ghost town.

The railroad station, which now serves as  offices for the railroad.

The rest of the “town” is deserted homes and apartment buildings, all built in the same style and likely at the same time. My surmisal is that this was a home for railroad workers and their families, and at some point the railroad closed it down and moved them somewhere else. What remains is truly a ghost town, with just a couple houses on the outskirts that appear to still be occupied.

A remnant of a better time.

The main Madrid-Extremadura-Portugal railroad line runs through this station, so at one time it was an important and active place. Now, not much at all. The trains still roar through, but none stop.

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Trujillo

After Zamora we drove four hours south to Trujillo.

We’ve visited Trujillo at least twice before (we think maybe three times, but we’re old: our memories aren’t what they used to be). Now, most people would look at Trujillo and give it an afternoon, at most. We understand that, but Trujillo is a perfect example of an old Spanish town, in a region that is harsh; for some reason this place captivates us.

Trujillo is in the region of Extremadura, the western-most area of Spain. Its name comes from Latin and means, essentially, “the hard border.” That’s an accurate name: this is a pretty harsh area. Few crops are grown here; we see cattle, sheep, horses, hogs and goats here. The harshness of this area had a huge effect on South and Central America: Francisco Pizarro, who led the expeditions that conquered Peru in the 1500s, was born and raised in Trujillo. Hernan Cortez, conquerer of Mexico came from near here, and his half-brother, who was in Cortez’s army, was born in Trujillo. Many of the conquistadores, as we have come to call them, were from Extremadura. There was nothing here for them, so they went off to conquer other lands.

We first came to Trujillo because I’d read in a guide book that it is a “perfect set piece of a rural Spanish town.” Yes, but…this is a living set piece and that makes it really interesting to us. Some pictures are called for, methinks…

Trujillo sits on top of a hill, which means views of the countryside for miles around. There isn’t much to see…

I know panorama pictures don’t work well in a blog format, but here’s one of the countryside surrounding Trujillo. Harsh.

An overview of Trujillo from the castillo above the town. The big building is the parador where we stayed.

Those are stone walls you see. There are miles and miles of stone walls here. The stones came from trying to clear the fields enough to make something grow on them to feed livestock. And I can guarantee that those stones weren’t dug up or carried to the fences by some tractor; talk about back-breaking work!

That’s a hot sun – it was high-90s in Trujillo.

Rare in Trujillo: a bright color. Most buildings are unpainted, showing the native stone, or white.

There’s a funny story about the statue of “Pizarro” below. The scuptor, an American named Charles Rumsey, did this statue to honor Hernan Cortez, conqueror of Mexico. Then he went to Mexico to tell them he had this great statue of Cortez he wanted to give to them. Well, Cortez is not exactly a hero in Mexico, given that he conquered the country and essentially enslaved the population and stole all its treasures. So Mexico declined his offer. Then Rumsey came to Extremadura and said he had this great statue of Pizarro, who was born here, and he wanted to give it to Trujillo. Trujillo was happy to take it to honor its most famous native son.

“Pizarro” statue.

Trujillo has a great Plaza Mayor, with restaurants and bars and lots of folks just being there. There is always activity here.

Big Goings-on in the Plaza Mayor

This was a big week for Trujillo, in that the week was a festival associated with the church that sits in the Plaza Mayor. Every night there was a mass in the evening, and every night there was a comedy/puppet show for the kids. Now we couldn’t figure out how they were related, but here are the kids ready for the show to start (this picture was taken about 10 o’clock at night):


The service in the church ended at 10:15 and about 10 seconds later, with a burst of noise and music, the kids’ show began, with kids cheering and yelling and having a great time. The second night many kids came in costumes and the MC called them on stage, said a sentence or two to them, got them to make crazy movements or expressions and gave each a certificate of some sort as they left the stage. It was great fun to watch.

We’re staying at a Parador again. This one has a new wing and a wing in a 17th century convent. Proof that it was a convent: a torno, which is a turntable on which women could place an unwanted baby or a baby for which they simply couldn’t provide, and then turn the torno to send the baby into the convent where the nuns would care for it. Most convents (and convent buildings converted to another use) still have a torno, and most have maintained them as a sign of respect for the past.

In fact, tornos now have another use in many active convents. These convents are known for making and selling dulces: sweets, usually cookies and small cakes. When you go to buy dulces you stand at the torno, press a button to summon a nun, and wait. The nun talks to you from behind the torno, takes your order, and tells you the amount it will cost. You put your money on the torno and turn it. Your money goes inside, the dulces come to you. You never see the nun, which is what they want, as they have taken a vow to remain out of public view.

I think that’s it for Trujillo. Next is a post about an interesting and enjoyable daytrip we took from here.

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Zamora – Part 3

Santa Semana

The week before Easter is a big deal in Spain. No, let me correct that: a huge deal in Spain. In many cities and towns little else happens during Holy Week except Holy Week activities. Seville is said to be the biggest, and Zamora has to have the most intense celebration for a smaller place. Zamora even has a museum dedicated to Santa Semana, which we visited and at which we were amazed/astonished/fascinated!

Starting Palm Sunday, cofradias (essentially religious fraternities) carry huge statues and tableaux through the streets of the city. These pasos, as they are called, depict scenes from the week before the cruxificion of Jesus. They are huge, some of them requiring more than 30 people to carry them. They wend slowly through the streets, watched by huge crowds at every step of the way. The pasos start their journey late in the afternoon and usually take somewhere around 4-5 hours to reach their destination. (On Good Friday the pasos for that day start at 5 a.m. and travel until 2 – 3 a.m. the following morning!) For the members of the cofradias, and for the people watching, this is a mark of their devotion.

The Museo Santa Semana here has many of thepasos used in Zamora’s Holy Week processions, as well as the costumes worn by the cofradias, and explanations of the week. It is pretty amazing!

A paso in the Museo Santa Semana. You can see the base here.

The bases are beautifully carved from walnut. Under them, 30-35 men walk in unison for hours.

Pasos used in the Santa Semana processions in Zamora.

The picture above shows three pasos. As the people under them walk, they move in a slow swinging gait that makes the paso move as though alive.

I thought that all the pasos would be old, but in fact, a number of them were created and introduced into the processions over the last twenty years. Others have been used for over 150 years, and several were old ones re-created and renovated in the last forty-fifty years.

The Muséo Santa Semana also has costumes worn by the members of the cofradias as they process through the streets. Some are, um, eerie:

I have no idea why when the Ku Klux Klan got going in the United States it took its well-known hooded costume from the cofradias of Spain. I wish it hadn’t. But then I wish the KKK had never existed.

The Cathedral

Zamora’s Cathedral is unusual in that it is Romanesque – most cathedrals in Europe were replaced with Gothic buildings as that form of architecture spread from France. But it took hundreds of years to reach Spain and be accepted here; the Seville Cathedral, the largest in the world, is purely Gothic but was built almost 400 years after the first French Gothic cathedral. Zamora’s Cathedral itself is interesting, and it has a small but quite nice museum attached. We spent a lot more time here than we planned!

In the museum, we came across this bust of Mary holding Jesus. It’s carved in wood and painted. The face is just breathtakingly beautiful.

The Cathedral museum also has a series of beautiful tapestries created in the 1500s that are amazingly well kept.

One of the smaller tapestries, about 15 ft by 15 ft.

Here’s a detail of one (a detail because they are all huge)!

A detail of the border.

Today’s interesting tapestry fact: a few years back I did some reading about tapestries and learned that with a tapestry of this quality, a skilled tapestry-maker could do about a square yard per year! These tapestries would take years, with several people working on them at the same time. No wonder they were so valuable.

The Cathedral itself had some interesting aspects. Our favorite was this:Built into a wall and part of a sepulchre, this was created in 1402, and, for an unknown reason, covered up at some later date. It was rediscovered during a 2010 renovation. The colors are original: this is a 800-year-old unrestored work of art.

And a simple but elegant altarpiece of silver:

Laurie liked this candlestick.

This thing would light up a stadium.

Okay, enough about Zamora for now. We love this place and will definitely return, more than once, we hope.

Okay, two more Zamora pictures.

Laurie would like to find a sweet little girl for whom she can buy a pair of one of these shoes. You choose which color.

Or the dress here. We thought about buying the boy’s outfit for Henry, but, somehow, it didn’t seem right for him.

 

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Zamora – Part 2

We were in Zamora for three days and think it might be our favorite place in Spain. The old city of Zamora (casco antiguo), in which our hotel was located, is the most fascinating place. Within easy walking distance of our hotel were a dozen Romanesque churches, all built in the 11th – 14th centuries. There was a fortress, a beautiful river walk, lovely streets, lively plazas with many restaurants and tapas bars. Other than that, the place was totally boring.

First, some general thoughts and pictures about Zamora.

For centuries Spanish towns and cities have held onto the tradition of the paseo – the evening walk. Though it is disappearing in places, especially the cities, many places hold onto it, and Zamora falls into this category. Here’s a picture, taken at about 8:30 in the evening, of the main street through the old part of the city.

The paseo in Zamora.

The Duero River runs through Zamora and, of course, has an old bridge across it. This one has an inexplicable name: “The Stone Bridge.” Ok, maybe not inexplicable.

The Casco Antiguo from across the Duero River.

Romanesque Churches

Zamora has so many churches of the Romanesque architectural style that the city is called The Romanesque City. Before showing some pictures, a little background on Romanesque:

Romanesque architecture started to appear in the 700s throughout Europe. Architects of the time had not solved a key problem that later architects did solve, resulting in the soaring Gothic cathedrals: how to support the weight of high walls and roofs required in the larger churches they were building. Their solution was to build thick walls, and thick walls meant no ability to add stained glass windows or lift the building height. Also, the only arch available to them was a rounded one, which is not as strong as the pointed arch that later allowed Gothic buildings to rise to great heights. So Romanesque architecture is marked by thick walls, rounded arches and small windows.

But if Gothic buildings, which started to appear in France in the 12th century, are soaring and graceful, Romanesque buildings have their own beauty. They are simple and solid and powerful. I think there’s no place better than Zamora to get your fill of Romanesque.

Thick walls, small windows, kind of fortress-like.

Rounded arch gives this away: Romanesque

Solid – that’s Romanesque.

Capitals in a Romanesque church.

A late Romanesque church – the main arch has a bit of a point to it.

A beautifully restored church. I guarantee it didn’t look this good when it was built.

Each of these churches has a person just kind of watching over them and answering questions. We visited one church where the fellow told us that it was the oldest church in Zamora. At the next one, the woman there told us her church was the oldest church in Zamora. I looked them up: turns out either could be, as the dates of their construction are not known. Both, however, are referenced in city records in the mid-1100s, so maybe they both deserve the title “oldest.”

This is just a taste of the Romanesque churches in Zamora. There are twelve of them within 10 minutes of our hotel. We visited probably seven or eight; the others were not open when we arrived. Next trip…

Modernist Buildings

In the late 1800s/early 1900s, an architectural style that came to be known as Modernism arose in the northeast part of Spain, centered in Barcelona. Modernism revolted against the established and accepted architecture of the time by basing its designs on nature: buildings became curvy, with plant and animal motifs everywhere. In Barcelona this style was best represented by Antoni Gaudi.

For some reason, Zamora became the Spanish center of Modernism, but definitely a Modernism that incorporated features from other styles. One of the main features seen here and in Barcelona is the oriel window, a bay window that does not extend to the ground floor (there’s a picture below of an oriel window). There are many buildings here with oriel windows, and many with the organic designs of Modernism. Throw in some influences of Art Deco, with its straight lines and geometric designs, and you have a most interesting architecture here in Zamora. Almost every street has a surprise, and we stopped in amazement to look at many buildings.

An Oriel window – common in many Modernist buildings here and in Barcelona.

That wraps up Part 2 of our Zamora adventure. More to follow; soon, as I’m writing these from Trujillo and that’s a whole ‘nother story.

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Back in Spain

We came from Saint-Jean-de-Luz in France yesterday to Zamora, Spain. Now, I know I owe you posts on some day-trips we took last week, and one on Saint-Jean-de-Luz (“appalling” might sum it up), but our return to Spain has been pretty amazing, so I’m going to skip ahead. I will fit in those last two France posts Real Soon Now.

We stayed in Zamora ten or twelve years ago and decided to make it our first stop on our “Greatest Hits of Spain” tour this year: towns we’ve visited and loved in the past. No big cities or new places this trip, just smaller, loved places. Honestly, we had not expected Zamora to be as great as we’ve found it already.

Our first experience: we went out for a walk after we arrived and as it was a little warm (about 88F) we soon got to a point where we were tired, thirsty and hungry: time for refreshment and a sit-down. We found a small bar which was, miraculously, air-conditioned, and ordered two beers and some tapas. Over the next 45 minutes or so, we had those beers (muy frio) and eight tapas – four each. When the bill came I was shocked: 9€, about $11. And the tapas had been substantial enough that we skipped a full dinner. Not a bad start.

Then we walked down to the castillo at the western end of the old town to see the sunset. While there we heard from inside the castillo the overture to the famous opera Carmen (set in Spain), then the sound of flamenco dancers warming up. As there was a line of people at the entrance to the castillio (at 9 o’clock at night) we wondered what was up. So we joined the line, entered and found that we were part of the audience for a flamenco performance by a famous mother-daughter team of bailoras (women flamenco dancers) and their students. It was fabulous. Laurie and I know enough about flamenco to know good from mediocre, and this was far better than good. The daughter was great, and the mother absolutely hypnotizing. When she finished her dance, the audience went nuts. She is evidently quite famous in Spain (she’s from Seville, a center of flamenco), as we mentioned her to someone we met the next day and he was was amazed that we’d seen her. The cost for this performance, performed in a courtyard of a thousand-year-old castle, under beautiful warm skies, was extravagant: 0 Euros. Converted to dollars, that’s $0. Pretty amazing, we think.

The castillo of Zamora. We were watching this beautiful sunset when we heard flamenco dancers warming up inside the castillo.
Sure enough, there was flamenco! Really good flamenco at that.

Our hotel here is one of Paradores chain, in a converted convent from the 1700s. It’s nice. Very nice. As in, 4-star nice. After where we stayed in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, it’s a freaking palace.

So, we love Zamora! More tomorrow on the eleven Romanesque churches within ten minutes of our hotel, the walls, the plazas, the…whatever we find!

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Léhon

On the boat ride described in the Dinan post, I showed some pictures of Léhon, which we passed on the ride. The town, especially the abby there, intrigued us and so the next day, we took the 20-minute walk from our hotel to Léhon. We found the abby, walked around it and the town, then walked along the Rance river back to Dinan.

Abbaye St. Magliore

The Abbaye of Saint Magliore was founded in the 12th century and survived until the French Revolution (1789). Since then it has gone through several lives and now survives as the church, where services are still held (occasionally) and a conference/exhibition center, using the other buildings that were part of the Abbaye. We found it to be a beautiful and peaceful place and were glad that we’d seen it the day before and made the effort to visit it.

Stained glass window behind the altar at St. Magliore
Gotta love it: this stone honoring someone was placed in the church in 1611.
Stair decoration.
Decoration on a railing honoring Charles of Blois, whoever he was.
Cloisters – we love ’em. This one has no roof, but is still beautiful to us.
More cloisters.
St. Magliore and its sunflowers.
This wall houses the refectory (dining room) of the Abbaye. It is unusual in that it has many windows; refectories were often windowless.
Inside the Refectory with its windows. This is a beautiful room.
Remember the bridge we saw on our boat ride? Here it is again.
The “main street” of Léhon.

We see this a lot: campers (called caravans here) with all that’s needed for any opportunity. Find a nice place to picque-nique? Pull out the table, the chairs and you are ready!

French camping: bring a table andchairs so you’ll be able to have a picque-nique anywhere.

All in all, a very pleasant day!

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