Sunday, December 13, 2015

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

by Robert Bovington

Córdoba was once the most important city in Europe. It was the centre of the medieval Caliphate of Córdoba and capital of the western Islamic Empire. It reached its peak in the 10th century when it rivalled Baghdad and Constantinople as one of the great cities of the World. Its greatest surviving monument to the city's magnificent past is its Grand Mosque – the Mezquita. 

Córdoba Mezquita © Robert Bovington

Work on the mosque actually started in 786 when it was built on the site of an old Visigothic church. However, it was enlarged three times before reaching its present size in 987 when it became the largest sacred building in the Islamic world.

And big it most certainly is - so massive that a Gothic cathedral was built inside the mosque - and lots of chapels!

Following the Christian Reconquest of Córdoba in 1236, the mosque was consecrated as a Christian cathedral. During the 14th century, the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Capilla Real were built and then in 1523, work on the cathedral started with the building of a huge nave inside the mosque.

The interior of the mosque is spectacular – a forest of pillars and arches. 856 of the granite, jasper and marble columns remain – some were removed to make way for the Christian parts of the building. Horseshoe-shaped arches consisting of alternating red brick and white stone were placed above the lower pillars, which has given the Mezquita its distinctive character. 

Córdoba Mezquita © Robert Bovington

Of course, there is much more to this magnificent building than pillars and arches! The Mihrab is particularly magnificent with its intricately carved marble ceiling and exquisitely decorated chambers with their Byzantine mosaics. All this ornamentation is in great contrast to the worn flagstones – an indication that many Muslims prayed here.

The Villaviciosa and Capilla Real chapels are both quite splendid and are good examples of Mudéjar architecture.

There used to be many entrances into the mosque but nowadays, the only one open to the public is the Puerta del Perdón.

No self-respecting mosque should be without a patio where prospective worshippers can perform their ritual ablutions. The Patio de los Naranjos was used for this purpose. Visitors still pass through this delightful courtyard with its orange trees and fountains on their way into the Mezquita.

Patio de los Naranjos  © Robert Bovington

The minaret of the mosque is no longer visible. It is enveloped in a Baroque bell tower – the Torre del Alminar.

Torre del Alminar  © Robert Bovington

Finally, there is the Cathedral. Charles V later regretted the decision to build it within the Mezquita and many people since have agreed that its construction has devalued the mosque’s simple beauty. Nevertheless, the Cathedral has many impressive features, particularly the choir with its Baroque mahogany choir stalls that were carved by Pedro Duque Correjo in the 18th century. 

Mezquita Cathedral - part of the choir © Robert Bovington

Anything this special ought to be afforded special protection and it is – UNESCO has declared the Mezquita a World Heritage site.

more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Pablo Picasso museum in Málaga

by Robert Bovington

Pablo Picasso was born in Málaga in 1881 and is perhaps the best known of modern painters - certainly he was one of the pioneers of Cubism.



He had a bit of a head start with his painting career because his father was an art teacher so no doubt he was already skilled in the basics when he entered the Academy at Barcelona in 1895 at the age of 14!

Whilst there, he painted 'Barefoot Girl (1895)'. Later, he studied in Madrid and won a gold medal for 'Customs of Aragón (1898)'.

In 1901 he started working in his studio in Paris - in the Montmatre area. He worked for many years there and, after mastering the traditional forms of art, he started developing his own style.

He went through his 'Blue' period - in colour as well as mood and then broke with tradition with his Cubism work.

One of his masterpieces, in Cubism style, was 'Guernica (1937)' - Picasso's horror at the bombing of the Basque town during the Spanish Civil War was expressed in this spectacular canvas.



His home city of Málaga has honoured him by opening the Picasso Casa y Museo in the city and very interesting it is too. When I visited the gallery recently, I was surprised how much I enjoyed the museum. Beforehand, I did wonder whether I would appreciate the exhibits there. I like a cow to look like a cow so artists like Constable are more my cup of tea. My perception of Picasso women was that they were too abstract for my tastes. Well, on my visit to the Picasso Gallery, I was pleasantly surprised. Yes - many of his works are abstract but nevertheless most are strangely attractive and most certainly I could appreciate that here was a true artist - the exhibits were true works of art unlike most of the garbage in Tate Modern where unmade beds and the innards of cows seem to be the norm. 

Picasso Museum Málaga © Robert Bovington

Picasso painted his first picture at the age of 10 and went on to produce over 20,000 paintings, sketches and sculptures. Some are in the museum in Málaga - well about 200 are! The artist's daughter-in-law has donated them. Many of Picasso's works displayed in the museum in Málaga are abstract and many are of his second wife, Jacqueline. I particularly liked one of Picasso's paintings of her - "Señora Z (Jacqueline con flores) 1954", which is an abstract but not so 'way out' as many of his works.

Another painting in the museum that I liked was "Olga Koklova con mantilla 1917". Olga was a prima ballerina who Picasso had met in 1916. They were married in 1918.

The artist shared his life with a number of women - he had a number of mistresses - and all featured prominently in his works. These paintings had varying degrees of abstractness - some like "Woman in Red Chair 1932" were painted during the artists surrealism period and bear little resemblance to real women. Other works by the artist do capture the likeness of the subject but exhibit Picasso's fondness for disfiguring part of the human form. "The Yellow Pullover 1939" is one such work. It is a portrait of Dora Maar, one of the artist's mistresses.

Picasso - "The Yellow Pullover" (1939)

Following my visit to the museum in Málaga, I determined to find out more about the artist. I discovered that there are many paintings by Picasso that I actually like - even some of the abstract ones but then, during his long lifetime, he had produced a tremendous variety of work and contributed greatly to the development of modern art in the 20th century!

more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Costa del Sol

by Robert Bovington

The Costa del Sol is essentially the coastal areas of Málaga province in the south of Spain. This 'Sun Coast' stretches from Estepona in the west to Nerja in the east of the province.

Originally, it was a region of quiet fishing settlements but since the 1950s, it has become a massive urban abomination - sorry - agglomeration of high-rise hotels and apartment blocks running the length of the coastline.


This Mediterranean coastline includes the towns of Nerja, Vélez-Málaga, Torremolinos, Benalmádena, Fuengirola, Mijas, Marbella, Puerto Banús and Estepona together with the city of Málaga.


Benalmadena harbour © Robert Bovington
In my opinion, this coastal region suffers from all the worst excesses of mass tourism - a concrete jungle with parades of bars, supermarkets and shops selling cheap souvenirs and beachwear. 'Full English Breakfast', 'Fish n Chips', 'John Smiths Smooth Bitter', 'Football on Sky TV tonight!' appear on the signs outside many establishments. I think Spain is a fantastic country with beautiful cities and spectacular natural parks and yet the majority of British visitors to Spain head for the Costa del Sol. The good news, of course, is that it leaves the other areas of Spain free from beer swilling, football shirt-clad morons!

To be fair, not all the towns in this coastal strip are that bad - some are rather pleasant to live or visit including Marbella, Nerja and Mijas.


Marbella is rather swish. It is a jet-setting resort with many luxurious holiday complexes, mansions and shops yet despite this opulence it has managed to preserve its old Moorish quarter with its maze of winding streets and whitewashed houses.


Marbella © Robert Bovington

Nerja too consists of whitewashed alleyways, though the old Moorish houses here are perched on a rocky promontory. There are magnificent views of the Mediterranean below especially from the Balcón de Europa.


Nerja - Balcón de Europa © Robert Bovington

Mijas is one of my favourite places. It is situated in the foothills of the coastal mountain range that overlooks the coast - from the gardens of 'La Muralla' there are magnificent views of the coast below. This park is a quiet oasis away from the bustle of tourists, yet is only a few minutes walk to the centre of the village. Its maze of old Moorish streets are awash with colour - pottery, basketwork and other goods are displayed in the many shops and colourful floral displays adorn the walls of the houses. Mijas is a good place to get away from the urban sprawl of Fuengirola.

a street in Mijas © Robert Bovington

Another delightful place to visit is Puerto Banús. It is a magnificent marina filled with the most luxurious yachts imaginable. Alongside the moorings stand a huge array of luxury shops and plush restaurants where it is quite common to see Ferraris, Mercedes and other luxurious cars parked.

The main city in these parts is Málaga. Even though it is the international gateway to the Costa de Sol, Málaga has escaped the depressing image of brash tourism. In fact, it is refreshingly Spanish and has many examples of historic architecture, excellent museums and leafy parks and gardens. Just some of the sights on offer are the Alcazaba, Gibralfaro Castle, the Cathedral and the Palacio Episcopal. The Picasso Museum is well worth a visit.
 


more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Friday, December 4, 2015

Vitoria-Gasteiz

Basque place names can be confusing. Elburgo is Burgelu in Euskadi, Elvillar is Bilar, Guernica is Gernika-Lumo and there are many more places where the Basque name is different to its Castilian appellation. There is no such problem when visiting the capital as in both languages it is known as Vitoria-Gasteiz. Vitoria, to give it its Castilian name, is situated in the province of Álava (Araba). As well as being the capital of the whole of Pais Vasco, it is also capital of the province. 

Plaza de la Virgen Blanca en Vitoria-Gasteiz
photo: public domain by Guyletsbuild
 Vitoria has many architectural gems - many of them in the old town - thanks to the city's historical development. Well over 800 years ago, a small hamlet stood on the hill where the historic centre of the city now stands. It was known as Gasteiz. In 1181, Sancho VI the Wise, the King of Navarra, founded 'Nueva Victoria'. In 1200, Alfonso VIII of Castile captured the town and incorporated it into his kingdom. Over the succeeding years, the town grew and, in 1431, King Juan II granted Vitoria the title of city. On 21 June 1813, the armies of Napoleon were defeated at the Battle of Vitoria - the defining moment of the Peninsula War. The British army, led by the Duke of Wellington, comprehensively beat the French whose control of Spain was finally ended. In 1980, Vitoria-Gasteiz was chosen as the capital of the Basque Country.  

The city still conserves much of its medieval layout that, during the time of Sancho the Wise, was surrounded by a wall. As Vitoria grew the urban centre spread down the sides of the hill. In spite of this growth, the city is remarkably green with tree-lined avenues, pedestrian and cycle paths and open countryside within walking distance of the historic centre.

To begin our exploration of the city, let's start at the top - at the Cathedral of Santa María. It was built as a church-fortress in Gothic style in the 13th century. Further additions were made in the 14th & 15th centuries and, in 1496, it became a collegiate church. Finally, in 1861, it obtained the rank of cathedral. It is known as the Old Cathedral because there is a newer one down in El Ensanche the 19th century suburb. The Cathedral of Santa María has been declared a Historic-Artistic Monument. 

In the area around the Cathedral are the oldest streets in the city. They have names like Cuchillería (knifesmiths), Herrería (blacksmiths), Zapatería (shoemakers) and Pintorería (painters) reflecting the craftsmen's guilds that thrived there. In this medieval area there are a number of Renaissance buildings including the Palace of Escoriaza-Esquibel with its picturesque courtyard. Other palaces include those of Urbina Zárate, Bendaña, Villa Suso and the Casa del Cordón, which was built in the 15th century in late Gothic style. This Historic-Artistic Monument has an attractive façade that includes the coat of arms of the Catholic Monarchs. 
In the Plaza de la Virgen Blanca is a monument to Wellington's victory at the Battle of Vitoria. The Church of San Miguel is located in this square. It was built between the 14th and 16th centuries and is a mixture of Gothic and Renaissance elements. It houses the image of the White Virgin, the patron saint of the city. The Gothic portico of the church leads to Los Arquillos, an arcaded walk that connects the historic quarter with the nineteenth century new suburb. Here, too, there are fine palaces, churches and civic architecture but they are more modern, having been built in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Monumento a la Batalla de Vitoria (1813), en la Plaza de la Virgen Blanca
photo: public domain by Zarateman

The new cathedral is called Concatedral de María Inmaculada. It is a Neogothic building that was started at the beginning of the 20th century. Next door, is the 19th-century Basque Parliament. Of the palaces built in this area of Vitoria, the Augusti Palace is yet another building that has been declared a Historic-Artistic Monument. It houses the Museum of Fine Arts, one of many museums in the city.


Catedral Nueva de Vitoria-Gasteiz
photo: public domain by Zarateman

Other museums in Vitoria-Gasteiz include the Museum of Archaeology; the Arms Museum which contains weaponry rather than body parts; the Natural History Museum and the Museum of Natural Sciences which is housed in the Torre de Doña Otxanda, a slender tower constructed in the 15th century. A museum with a difference is the Museo Fournier de Naipes. It is a museum of playing cards. It contains - um - playing cards - lots of them - 18,500 decks to be precise. They cover a vast range of subjects and are made with different types of material. All the different printing techniques used by card-makers over the years are represented in this delightful museum.

With all these medieval monuments and museums, some of you may be forgiven for thinking that Vitoria is a dull boring city - it is not! There are many green spaces - more than other cities in Spain. Only minutes from the historic quarter is Parque Florida - a 19th-century garden with bandstands, statues, ponds and, of course, plants. Other parks include San Juan de Arriaga Park, the largest in the city. Only half an hour's walk from the city center is the Forest of Armentia - a vast parkland crisscrossed by cycle paths. And that is another thing; the city of Vitoria-Gasteiz has promoted the use of bicycles. There are many cycle routes both within and without the city and, what's more, the Vitoria-Gasteiz Town Council has decreed that there is no charge for hiring the bikes. It is just one of a number of environmentally friendly schemes drawn up by this forward thinking band of politicians - like rubbish collection - rubbish is efficiently disposed of through underground tubes to distant incinerators. No wonder that the city has won prizes for its cleanliness and its greenness. A vast green belt completely surrounds the city and the citizens enjoy more open space per head of population than any other city in Europe. 

Kiosko del música en el Parque de la Florida
http://www.euskoguide.com/es/lugares-pais-vasco/espana/vitoria-turismo/



more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Thursday, December 3, 2015

Vizcaya

by Robert Bovington

The area of northern Spain that we British know as Biscay is called Bizkaia by the people who live there - but then they are Basques! The Spanish people as a whole call it Vizcaya. Be that as it may, what isn't in dispute is that it is a province in the autonomous region of the Basque Country - known as País Vasco by the Spanish and Euskardi by the Basques. 

Its fellow Basque provinces of Guipúzcoa and Álava share its eastern and southern borders whilst the provinces of Cantabria and Burgos lie to the west. The Bay of Biscay lies to the north, although we had better call it by its Spanish name of the Golfo de Vizcaya. The only sizeable town is Bilbao, the capital of the province although Guernica is regarded as the spiritual centre of the Basque Country. 

Bilbao is a major seaport and is the industrial heartland of the Basque Country. Notable landmarks include the 14th century Gothic Cathedral of Santiago, the Plaza Nueva, the Baroque Town Hall and the Guggenheim Museum.

Bilbao by Zarataman

Guernica lies northeast of Bilbao and was the capital of the former Lordship of Vizcaya. In 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the German Luftwaffe bombed the town causing great devastation and loss of life. Despite that, there are a number of architectural highlights including the 15th-century Church of Santa María la Antigua, the Museum of Euskalerria and the Casa de Juntas del Señorío de Vizcaya which is the Parliament House. 

Guernica - Parliament House by Zarataman

Just outside the town are the Caves of Santimamiñe - the cave paintings there demonstrate that this area was inhabited in prehistoric times.  

The Urdaibai Nature Reserve is near Guernica. It is a large marshland formed by the Riva Oca and is home to a large variety of seabirds. In 1984, UNESCO awarded it Biosphere Reserve status.

Vista de la Reserva de la Biosfera de Urdaibai desde Oiz.by Txo
 
more blogs by Robert Bovington... 

"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Zaragoza


Zaragoza is one of the principal cities of Aragón, that historic region in north-eastern Spain. In fact, it is the capital of the autonomous community of Aragón and of the province of Zaragoza itself. Like other provincial capitals in Spain, the city has countless beautiful buildings, many of which reflect its glorious history. 


It is the fifth biggest city after Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia and Sevilla.

Zaragoza has lots of monuments to its illustrious past, many of them are in the 'casco viejo' - the historic city centre. Churches, basilicas, palaces, stately homes and plazas are all to be found within the city walls. 

Zaragoza and the River Ebro
A most appropriate place to begin a discovery of the city is in the Plaza del Pilar. In this beautiful square, standing beside the Ebro River, are two of Zaragoza's most important buildings - the Basilica de Nuestra Señora del Pilar and La Lonja Palace. The Cathedral de la Seo is also nearby. These are just three of the 'must see' sights in the city but also in this square is the Municipal Tourist Office, which is worth visiting if you wish to take guided tours of the city. 

 If, like me, you prefer to amble around the streets of the medieval quarter under your own steam then the tourist office can provide you with a map or even a little booklet, which might include a guided walk. Whatever you do, though, ensure that you have enough time to visit one of Zaragoza's star attractions - the Aljafería Palace which is located a little further out than many of the attractions.

It could be said that Zaragoza has two cathedrals because the Basilica del Pilar is often called the Catedral de Nuestra Señora del Pilar. Be that as it may, it is one of the most famous sanctuaries of the Virgin Mary in the World and commemorates her alleged appearance on January 2, AD 40. It is said that the Virgin Mary was standing on a pillar when she appeared before the Apostle St. James who was apparently busy in the city converting some of the locals to Christianity. 

Zaragoza - Basilica del Pilar
The Basilica is an enormous but attractive Baroque structure with four towers. The inside is pretty impressive too, with a Gothic altarpiece in alabaster, Renaissance choir-stalls, frescoes by Goya and Velásquez and - the star attraction - the Santa Capilla or Holy Chapel that enshrines the statue of the Virgin del Pilar. The Basilica has been declared a National Monument.

The other cathedral is pretty impressive too! The Catedral de La Seo, as it is sometimes called, mirrors the history of the city because it has grown through the centuries and reflects different architectural styles. Even before the building of this impressive structure started, there had been previous temples including a Visigothic church followed by a Grand Mosque and then a Romanesque church. Construction began in 1119. It was originally Gothic but further changes resulted in Mudéjar, Renaissance and Baroque styles. The cathedral is also known as the Catedral del Salvador. Inside there is a tapestry museum.

Between the two cathedrals is a beautiful Renaissance building - La Lonja. It was built in the 16th century as a public place where merchants could carry out their commercial transactions. The remains of the 1st-century Roman Forum are displayed in this fine building.

La Lonja Zaragoza

Opposite the Plaza del Pilar is the oldest bridge on the River Ebro - El Puente de Piedra- the stone bridge built in the 15th century.

Another fine church is the Basilica de Santa Engracia, which has an extraordinarily beautiful façade. The church was built in the 16th century in Renaissance style. Inside there is a crypt housing Paleo-Christian sarcophagi and the remains of the Martyrs of Zaragoza. There are many other churches in the city including the 14th-century Gothic churches of San Pablo and Magdalena.

There are many stately houses and Renaissance palaces too, including the Los Pardos Palace that, nowadays, houses the Camón Aznar museum. It is a treasure house of Art with paintings by Rubens, Rembrandt, Van Dyck, Velazquez, Goya, Renoir, Manet and Sorolla. The Museum of Fine Arts has an impressive range of pictures too, with paintings by early Aragónese artists as well as masterpieces by El Greco, Ribera and Goya!

There is much else to see in Zaragoza - the University, the Town Hall, beautiful parks, Roman remains, historic towers, arches and gates, and beautiful plazas. I could describe some of the Modernist architecture like the Post Office and the Central Market - but I won't! Instead, I will mention one of the most impressive of all the palaces in Zaragoza - the Aljafería Palace!



Aljafería Palace by  Escarlati

La Aljafería is probably the best Moorish monument outside of Andalucía! It is part palace, part castle - from the outside it looks like a fortress with strong walls and rounded towers. However, if you cross the moat, which is now a sunken garden, you enter the world of Muslim Spain - or, at least, partly - apart from the Arab architecture that includes the Moorish Palace there is also the palace of the Catholic Kings. The much-restored Muslim Palace of the Aljafería was built in the 11th century as both a place of recreation and as a defensive stronghold. Nowadays, it is the seat of the Aragónese parliament. However, it is open to visitors who can follow in the footsteps of the Catholic Monarchs by visiting Santa Isabel's Courtyard or admiring the beautiful coffered ceiling of the Throne Room.


more blogs by Robert Bovington...
"Photographs of Spain"
"postcards from Spain"
"you couldn't make it up!"
"a grumpy old man in Spain"
"bits and bobs"
"Spanish Expressions"
"Spanish Art"
"Books About Spain"