Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Karen Toh's Travel Blog: Bruges (Belgium), Spain, Portugal & Gibraltar

The advantage of going on a packaged tour is that you get a feel of the country, culture and cover a large area in a short period of time. However, this may mean having a schedule that requires you to live out of suitcase, become exceedingly familiar with your tour bus aka second home while on tour, wake up before the cock crows, put your bags out so that the bellboy can load the bus and depart before the rush hour. :D

This year, we decided to break our journey by visiting a well known medieval city called Bruges, that is located on the north west of Belgium, before heading off to start our tour of Spain and Portugal.

P.S. Please note that some of the images in this blog are from http://en.wikipedia.org/. However, all other images are copyrighted © 2008, Karen Toh Guek Bee, and can be viewed at my Webshots Community Album. You can also read my other Travel Blogs here.

Travel Blog References
• Contents compiled and written by Karen Toh Guek Bee.
• Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/

Photography Images:
• Copyright © 2008, 2009, Karen Toh Guek Bee, http://community.webshots.com/user/karentoh/.
• Courtesy of Wikipedia.com, http://en.wikipedia.org/

Highlights of Bruges (Belgium)

Bruges (or Brugge) is one of the most popular destinations in the Flemish Region of Belgium. It is located in the northwest of the country and is a World Heritage Site of UNESCO.

An old medieval port, Bruges has a number of well preserved buildings, namely its 13th century Belfry (left), housing 47 bells complete with a full-time bell ringer; the Church of Our Lady that has a brick spire at 122m, making it one of the world’s highest brick towers/buildings.

The Church’s greatest treasure is the sculpture of Madonna and Child (right), and is believed to be Michelangelo's only sculpture to have left Italy within his lifetime.

View on the Groenerei and the Rozenhoedkaai, Bruges

View of one of Bruges' canals

Highlights of Portugal

Portugal is a country on the Iberian Peninsula, located in southwestern Europe. It is the westernmost country of mainland Europe, bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east.

Throughout the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailed the coast of Africa, establishing trading posts for several common types of tradable commodities, ranging from gold to slaves, as they looked for a route to India and its spices, which were coveted in Europe. In 1498, Vasco da Gama finally reached India and brought economic prosperity to Portugal and its then population of one million residents.

The early history of Portugal, whose name derives from the Roman name Portus Cale, is shared with the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. The region was settled by Pre-Celts and Celts, giving origin to peoples like the Gallaeci, Lusitanians, Celtici and Cynetes, visited by Phoenicians and Carthaginians, incorporated in the Roman Republic dominions (as Lusitania after 45 BC), settled again by Suevi, Buri, and Visigoths, and conquered by Moors.
  • Oporto

    Porto (or Oporto) is Portugal's second city, located in the estuary of the Douro river in northern Portugal. Historic references to the city go back to the 4th century and to Roman times, although Celtic and Proto-Celtic remnants of ancient Citadels were found in the heart of where Porto now lies. In the Roman period the city developed its importance as a commercial port, primarily in the trade between Olissipona (Lisbon) and Bracara Augusta (Braga), but would fall under the Moorish Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711.

    In 868, Vímara Peres, a Christian warlord from Gallaecia and a vassal of the King of Asturias, Léon and Galicia, Alfonso III, was sent to reconquer and secure from the Moors the area from the Minho River to the Douro River, including the city of Portus Cale, later Porto and Gaia, from where the name and political entity of Portugal emerged (Portucale).

    In 1095, Teresa of León, illegitimate daughter of king Alfonso VI of Castile, married Henry of Burgundy, bringing the County of Portugal as dowry. This Condado Portucalense became the focus of the Reconquista and later became the independent Kingdom of Portugal, after eventually expanding to its current frontiers into the south as it reconquered territory back from the invading Moors under the reign of King Dom Afonso Henriques, Conquistador in the beginning of the 1st millennium.

    In the 14th and the 15th centuries, the shipyards of Porto contributed to the development of the Portuguese fleet. In 1415 Henry the Navigator, son of João I, left from Porto to conquest the Muslim port of Ceuta in northern Morocco. This expedition led to the exploratory voyages that he later sent down the coast of Africa.

    Wine, produced in the Douro valley, was already in the 13th century transported to Porto in barcos rabelos (flat sailing vessels). In 1703 the Methuen Treaty established the trade relations between Portugal and England. It allowed English woolen cloth to be admitted into Portugal free of duty. In return, Portuguese wines imported into England would be subject to a third less duty in contrast to French imported wines. This was particularly important with regards to the Port industry. As England was at war with France it became increasingly difficult to acquire wine and so port started to become a popular replacement. In 1717 a first English trading post was established in Porto.
  • Fatima
    Fátima is a city in Portugal famous for the religious visions that took place there in 1917. The name of the town comes from the Arabic name Fatima (Fāţimah, Arabic: فاطمة ), and there is a legend that says it derives from a local Moorish princess named Fatima who, following her capture by Christian forces during the Reconquista, was converted to Catholicism, and was baptised before marrying the Count of Ourém in 1158.

    Fátima's claim to fame is the shrine called the Basilica, built to commemorate the events of 1917 when three peasant children claimed to have seen the "Virgin of the Rosary", Our Lady of Fátima. When the children asked for her name, she said "I am The Lady of The Rosary".

    The Blessed Virgin Mary appeared to three shepherd children at Fátima on the 13th day of six consecutive months in 1917, starting on 13 May.

    Lúcia Santos (one of the three children) described seeing the lady as "brighter than the sun, shedding rays of light clearer and stronger than a crystal ball filled with the most sparkling water and pierced by the burning rays of the sun.

    According to Lúcia's account, the lady confided to the children three secrets, known as the Three Secrets of Fátima. She exhorted the children to do penance and to make sacrifices to save sinners. Most important, Lúcia said that the lady asked them to say the Rosary every day, reiterating many times that the Rosary was the key to personal and world peace.

  • Batalha
    Mosteiro Santa Maria da Vitória, more commonly known as the Batalha Monastery, is a Dominican monastery in the Portuguese town of Batalha. The monastery was built to thank the Virgin Mary for the Portuguese victory over the Castilians in the battle of Aljubarrota in 1385, fulfilling a promise of King D. João I. The battle put an end to the 1383-1385 crisis.

    Prince Henry the Navigator, the third child of King John I of Portugal, the founder of the Aviz dynasty, and of Philippa of Lancaster, the daughter of John of Gaunt. Henry encouraged his father to conquer Ceuta (1415), the Muslim port on the North African coast across the Straits of Gibraltar from the Iberian peninsula, with profound consequences on Henry's worldview: Henry became aware of the profit possibilities in the Saharan trade routes that terminated there and became fascinated with Africa in general; he was most intrigued by the Christian legend of Prester John and the expansion of Portuguese trade.

    It is a common conception that Henry gathered at his Vila on the Sagres peninsula a school of navigators and map-makers. He did employ some cartographers to help him chart the coast of Mauritania in the wake of voyages he sent there, but for the rest there was no center of navigational science or any supposed observatory in the modern sense of the word, nor was there an organized navigational center. In “Crónica da Guiné” Henry is described as a person with no luxuries, not avaricious, speaking with soft words and calm gestures, a man of many virtues that never allowed any poor person leave his presence empty handed.

    Henry's tomb in the Monastery of Batalha.
  • Obidos
    Óbidos in Portugal, is located on a hill and is encircled by a fortified wall. The well-preserved mediaeval look of its streets, squares, walls and its massive castle have turned the picturesque village.

    The name "Óbidos" probably derives from the Latin term oppidum, meaning "citadel", or "fortified city". Roman occupation of the area has been recently confirmed by archaeological excavations, which revealed the existence of a Roman city very close to the hill where the village is located.

    Sometime after 713 the Moors established a fortification on top of the hill. The area was taken from the Moors by the first King of Portugal, Afonso Henriques, in 1148. Tradition states that one knight, Gonçalo Mendes da Maia, was responsible for the successful storming of the Moorish castle. The retaking of Óbidos meant the end of the Reconquista of the Estremadura region, after the conquests of Santarém, Lisbon and Torres Vedras. The village received its first foral (charter) in 1195, under the reign of Sancho I.

    In 1210, King Afonso II donated the village to his wife, Queen Urraca. Since then Óbidos has often belonged to the Queens of Portugal, giving rise to its informal title as Vila das Rainhas (Queens' village). Several Queens enriched the village with donations from the Middle Ages until the 16th century.

    The castle of Óbidos and the walls of the village were remodelled under King Dinis I. The village was also enlarged around this time, with settlements created outside the walls. The massive keep of the castle is attributed to a building campaign sponsored by Fernando I (late 14th century).

    The Santa Maria Church of Óbidos was the setting for the wedding of King Afonso V with his cousin, Princess Isabel, on August 15th, 1441, when they were both still children of 9 and 10.
  • Lisbon
    Lisbon is the capital and largest city of Portugal. Lisbon was under Roman rule from 205 BC, ruled by a series of Germanic tribes from the 5th century, before it was captured by Moors in the 8th century. In 1147, the Crusaders under Afonso Henriques reconquered the city for the Christians and since then it has been a major political, economic and cultural center of Portugal.

    Prior to the 18th century, Lisbon had experienced several important earthquakes, but on 1st November 1755 the city was destroyed by a major earthquake, killing between 60,000 to 90,000 people, destroying 85 percent of the city. As a result of the earthquake, tsunamis measuring as high as 30m destroyed coastal fortresses and buildings, killing many.

    After the 1755 earthquake, the city was rebuilt largely according to the plans of Prime Minister Sebastião José de Carvalho e Melo, the 1st Marquess of Pombal. Instead of rebuilding the medieval town, Pombal decided to demolish the remains of the earthquake and rebuild the downtown in accordance with modern urban rules.
  • Sights not to be missed:

    - Torre de Belém (Belém Tower) is a fortified tower, built in the early 16th century in the Portuguese late Gothic style, the Manueline, to commemorate Vasco da Gama's expedition. This defensive, yet elegant construction has become one of the symbols of the city, a memorial to the Portuguese power during the Age of the Great Discoveries. In 1983 it was classified, together with the nearby Mosteiro dos Jerónimos, as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

    The Belém Tower was built both as a ceremonial gateway to Lisbon and as part of a defense system of the entrance of the Tagus river and the Jerónimos Monastery, which was necessary to protect Lisbon.

    - Padrão dos Descobrimentos (Monument to the Discoveries) is a monument that celebrates the Portuguese who took part in the Age of Discovery of the 15th and 16th centuries. It is located on the estuary of the Tagus river in the Belém parish of Lisbon, Portugal, where ships departed to their often unknown destinations.

    The monument consists of a 52 metre-high slab of concrete, carved into the shape of the prow of a ship. The side that faces away from the river features a carved sword stretching the full height of the monument.
    The pavement in front of the monument features a mosaic decoration showing a world map with the routes of various Portuguese explorers and a wind rose. The mosaic was a gift from South Africa in 1960.

    The mosaic depicts all territories conquered by the Portugese, of which Malacca, East Timor and Macau are a part of.

    History states that Afonso de Albuquerque conquered Goa, in India, Ormuz in the Persian Strait, and Malacca in what is now a state in Malaysia. Thus, the Portuguese empire held dominion over commerce in the Indian Ocean and South Atlantic. The Portuguese sailors set out to reach Eastern Asia by sailing eastward from Europe landing in such places like Taiwan, Japan, the island of Timor, and it may also have been Portuguese sailors that were the first Europeans to discover Australia.

    - The Mosteiro dos Jerónimos (Hieronymites Monastery) can be considered one of the most prominent monuments in Lisbon and is certainly one of the most successful achievements of the Manueline style.

    The house for the Hieronymite monks was built on the same site of the Ermida do Restelo, a hermitage that was founded by Henry the Navigator at about 1450. It was at this hermitage, that was already in disrepair, that Vasco da Gama and his men spent the night in prayer before departing for India in 1497.

    The ornate main entrance (South Portal) to the monastery was designed by João de Castilho and is considered as one of the most magnificent of his time. This shrine-like portal is large, 32 m high and 12 m wide, extending up for two stories. It features, surrounded by an abundance of gables, pinnacles, many carved figures standing under a baldachin in exquisitely carved niches, around a statue of Henry the Navigator, standing on a pedestal between the two doors. Within the church, close to the western portal, are the stone tombs of Vasco da Gama (1468-1523).

    The architect Diogo de Boitaca, worked on the Hieronymites Monastery, which would become his best known work, as it is one of the most important buildings in Portugal. The monastry with the columns and the outlying walls finished when he was called on other projects. He was succeeded by his collaborator João de Castilho, who gradually moved from the Manueline style to the Plateresco style.

    - Cristo-Rei is a Catholic monument overlooking Lisbon. It was inspired by the Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and inaugurated on May 17, 1959. The monument was built on the left-bank of the Tagus river, facing Lisbon on the other bank.

Highlights of Spain (Part I)

Spain is a country located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Its mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar; to the north by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal.

  • Culture Shock:
    - Siesta: Due to the typically extreme heat, a "siesta" is observed during which majority of its residents take a break to cool off. A siesta is a short nap taken in the early afternoon, often after the midday meal. Such a period of sleep is a common tradition in some countries, particularly those where the weather is warm. Small stores are often closed during this period.

    - Bar Hopping & Late Meals: Madrid possibly has the largest number of bars per capita of any European city and a very active nightlife; Madrileños are known to stay up until as late as 5AM-7AM. It is quite common to see a crowded Gran Via on weekend nights.

  • Toledo
    When one mentions Toledo, the first thing that comes to mind is the armor that Toledo produces – Swords, Blades, etc. Toledo is 70 miles south of Madrid, and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, known for coexistence of Christians, Jewish and Moorish cultures. The city can even be traced back to the Visigoths, is strategically situated on a mountain top, surrounded on three sides by a bend in the Tagus River.

    Toledo was famed for religious tolerance and had large communities of Muslims and Jews until they were expelled from Spain in 1492 (Jews) and 1502 (Muslims). Today's city contains the religious monuments the Synagogue of Santa María la Blanca, the Synagogue of El Transito, and the Mosque of Cristo de la Luz dating from before the expulsion, still maintained in good condition.

    Damascene has become the trademark of Toledo, Spain for centuries - damaskeening is the application of interlacing gold on iron or steel to produce beautiful decorative designs.

    Toledo was home to El Greco, (a greek was a painter, sculptor, and architect of the Spanish Renaissance), for the latter part of his life, and is the subject of some of his most famous paintings.

    In 1586, El Greco painted his famous “The Burial of Count Orgaz (c.1586)” for the church of Santo Tomé, the success of which brought him a great number of commissions from the Church, the decoration of the new church of St. Domingo el Antiguo among them.

    The devout Count Orgaz was respected greatly for piety in his native Toledo; according to local legend, St. Augustine (on the right with miter and bishop’s cloak) and St. Stephen (the young deacon on the left) came from heaven themselves to lay the saintly count in his grave. The faces of the dignified Spanish gentlemen are clearly portraits of the people, who surrounded El Greco. A label with ‘El Greco made me’ sticks out of the pocket of the small boy in front. Some historians think that it is an indication that the child is El Greco’s son.

  • Ávila de los Caballeros
    Ávila is most known for the medieval city walls, that were constructed of brown granite in 1090: surmounted by a breastwork, with eighty-eight towers and nine gateways, they are still in excellent repair, but a large part of the city lies beyond their perimeter. The Gothic cathedral is integrated into the city's defenses. It was built between the 12th and 14th centuries, and has the appearance of a fortress, with embattled walls and two solid towers. It contains many interesting sculptures and paintings, besides one especially fine silver pyx, the work of Juán de Arfe, dating from 1571.
  • Salamanca
    Salamanca was founded in the pre-Ancient Rome period by a Celtic tribe, as one of a pair of forts to defend their territory near the Duero river. In the third century BC, Hannibal laid siege to the city. With the fall of the Carthaginians to the Romans, the city began to take more importance as a commercial hub. At this time it was called Helmantica or Salmantica.

    Salamanca surrendered to the Moors in the year 712AD. The defensive city wall was strengthened, with the Mozarabs (Christians under Muslim rulers) were relegated to living outside of it. It was, however, a time of constant fighting with the Astur-Leonese kingdoms, and the city was trapped on the line between Christian North and Muslim South, with the city being evacuated, as part of the depopulated no-man's land between the two sides. Christian forces, led by Ramón de Borgoa, son-in-law of Alfonso VI of Castile, retook the city in the twelfth century.

    One of the most important moments in Salamanca's history was the year 1218, when Alfonso IX created the University of Salamanca. Soon it became one of the most significant and prestigious academic centres in Europe.

    Salamanca is considered one of the most spectacular Renaissance cities in Europe. Through the centuries the sandstone buildings have gained an exquisite golden glow that has given Salamanca the nickname La Ciudad Dorada, the golden city. This golden glow is unique in Spain and is due to the "Villamayor Stone", a type of sandstone coming from a quarry situated in Villamayor, a village close to Salamanca.
  • Seville
    Seville is more than 2,000 years old. The passage of the various people instrumental in its growth has left the city with a distinct personality, and a large and well-preserved historical centre.

    The city was known from early Roman times as Hispalis. The nearby Roman city of Italica is well-preserved and gives an impression of how Hispalis may have looked in the later Roman period. Existing Roman features in Seville include the remnants of an aqueduct.

    After successive conquests of the Roman province of Hispania Baetica by the Vandals and Visigoths, in the 5th and 6th centuries, the city was taken by the Moors in 712 and became an important centre in Muslim Andalusia. It remained under Muslim control, under the authority of the Umayyad, Almoravid and Almohad dynasties, until falling to Fernando III in 1248. The city retains many Moorish features, including large sections of the city wall.

    Following the Reconquest, the city's development continued, with the construction of public buildings including churches, many in Mudéjar style. Later, the city experienced another golden age of development brought about by wealth accumulating from the awarding of a monopoly of trade with the Spanish territories in the New World. After the silting up of the Guadalquivir, the city went into relative economic decline.
    • - The Cathedral of Seville was built from 1401–1519 after the Reconquista on the former site of the city's mosque. It is amongst the largest of all medieval and Gothic cathedrals, in terms of both area and volume. The interior is the longest nave in Spain, and is lavishly decorated, with a large quantity of gold evident. The Cathedral reused some columns and elements from the mosque, and, most famously, the Giralda, originally a minaret, was converted into a bell tower. It is topped with a statue, known locally as El Giraldillo, representing Faith. The tower's interior was built with ramps rather than stairs, to allow the Muezzin and others to ride on horseback to the top.

      The Cathedral also has a large collection of religious jewelry items, paintings and sculptures, along with the tomb of Christopher Columbus.

      - Flamenco: Flamenco is a Spanish term that refers both to a musical genre, known for its intricate rapid passages, and a dance genre characterized by its audible footwork.

      Flamenco embodies a complex musical and cultural tradition. Although considered part of the culture of Spain in general, flamenco actually originates from one region: Andalusia.

      It is generally acknowledged that flamenco grew out of the unique interplay of native Arabic, Andalusian, Sephardic, and Gypsy cultures that existed in Andalusia prior to and after the Reconquest. Latin American and especially Cuban influences have also been important in shaping several flamenco musical forms. Flamenco is played with a flamenco guitar.

      Flamenco derives a lot of its music from classic popular arabic music, mainly Adani music, native of Aden in modern day Yemen.

      Flamenco music styles are called palos in Spanish. There are over 50 different palos flamenco, although some of them are rarely performed. A palo can be defined as musical form of flamenco. Flamenco songs are classified into palos based on several musical and non-musical criteria such as its basic rhythmic pattern, mode, chord progression, form of the stanza, or geographic origin.

      The rhythmic patterns of the palos are also often called compás. A compás (the Spanish normal word for either time signature or bar) is characterised by a recurring pattern of beats and accents.

      - The Alcázar of Seville (Alcázares Reales de Sevilla) is a royal palace in Seville, Spain. Originally a Moorish fort, the Alcázar (from the Arabic القصر, al-qasr, meaning "palace") has been expanded several times. The Almohades were the first to build a palace, called Al-Muwarak, on the site. Most of the modern Alcázar was built over Moorish ruins for King Pedro of Castile (also known as Pedro the Cruel) with construction beginning in 1364. Pedro used Moorish workers to build his palace giving it a distinctly Islamic design. The palace is one of the best remaining examples of mudéjar architecture, a style under Christian rule in Spain but using Islamic architectural influence. Subsequent monarchs have added their own additions to the Alcázar. Charles V's addition of gothic elements contrasts with the dominant Islamic style. The upper apartments of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence and are administered by the Patrimonio Nacional.

      The Courtyard of the Maidens (Patio de las Doncellas) refers to the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from Christian kingdoms in Iberia. The story of the tribute may have been used as a myth to bolster the Reconquista movement, but it may have had some truth to it in the sexual abuse of Christian women by powerful Moors.

  • Cordoba
    Córdoba was founded in ancient Roman times as Corduba by Claudius Marcellus. It was the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior Baetica. Great philosophers like Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, orators like Seneca the Elder and poets like Lucan expressed themselves in the palaces of Córdoba. Later, it occupied an important place in the Provincia Hispaniae of the Byzantine Empire (552-572) and during the Visigoth period.

    It was captured in 716 by the Muslims, and Córdoba became capital during the Umayyad Caliphate, the period of its apogee, with a population ranging between 250,000 and 500,000 inhabitants. In the 10th century, Córdoba – called قرطبة (Qurţuba) in Arabic – was one of the largest cities in the world, as well as a great cultural, political and economic centre. The Córdoba Mosque dates back to this time. In 1236 it was captured by the king of Castile.

    With one of the most extensive historical heritages in the world (declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO December 17 1984).

      - The Mezquita of Cordoba is a Roman Catholic cathedral and former mosque situated in the Andalusian city of Córdoba, Spain.

      Under the rule of Islam, it was built as the second-largest mosque in the world, and is perhaps the most accomplished monument of the Umayyad dynasty of Cordoba. After the Spanish Reconquista, it was transformed into a church, and some of the Islamic columns and arches were replaced by a basilica in early Baroque style. Today it houses the main church of the diocese of Cordoba in Spain.

Highlights of Spain (Part II)

  • Costa Del Sol
    The Costa del Sol ("Coast of the Sun") is a region Andalusia, in the south of Spain, comprising the coastal towns and communities along the Mediterranean coastline of the Málaga province and the eastern edge of the Cádiz province. Formerly made up only of a series of small, quiet fishing settlements, the region has been completely transformed during the latter part of the 20th century into a tourist destination of world renown, with a near-continuous urban agglomeration of high-rise settlements and resorts running along the length of the coastline.

    Torremolinos is a tourism-oriented city, located west of the city of Málaga. A poor fishing village before the growth in tourism beginning in the late 1950s, Torremolinos was the first of the Costa del Sol resorts to develop. It is very popular with British tourists and has a large British expatriate population.

  • Granada

  • The city of Granada is situated at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of three rivers, Beiro, Darro and Genil, at an elevation of 738 metres above sea level yet only one hour from the Mediterrean coast, the Costa Tropical.
    The city has been inhabited from the dawn of history. There was an Ibero-Celtic settlement here, which made contact in turn with Phoenicians, Carthagenians and Greeks. By the 5th century BCE, the Greeks had established a colony which they named Elibyrge or Elybirge. Under Roman rule, in the early centuries CE, this name had become "Illiberis". As Illiberis, the city minted its own coins. The Visigoths maintained the importance of the city as a centre of both ecclesiastical and civil administration and also established it as a military stronghold. It was also managed by Byzantines for 60 years.

    The Alhambra (Arabic: الحمراء = Al-Ħamrā; literally "the red one"; the complete name is "Qal'at al-Hambra", which means "The red fortress") is a palace and fortress complex of the Moorish rulers of Granada, occupying a hilly terrace on the southeastern border of the city of Granada.

    The history of the Alhambra is linked with the geographical place where it is located: Granada. On a rocky hill that is difficult to access, on the banks of the River Darro, protected by mountains and surrounded by woods, among the oldest quarters in the city, the Alhambra rises up like an imposing castle with reddish tones in its ramparts that prevent the outside world from seeing the delicate beauty they enclose.

  • Valencia
    The city of Valencia, now has a modern skyline.

  • - Some of it’s more popular attractions are the Ciutat de les Arts i les Ciències (Valencian), or City of Arts and Sciences is an ensemble of five areas in the dry river bed of the now diverted River Turia in Valencia, Spain. Designed by Valencian architect Santiago Calatrava in collaboration with Félix Candela, and started in July 1996, it is an impressive example of contemporary architecture.

    The "city" is made up of the following, usually known by their Valencian names:

      - El Palau de les Arts Reina Sofía — Opera house and performing arts centre
      - L'Hemisfèric — Imax Cinema, Planetarium and Laserium
      - L'Umbracle — Walkway / Garden
      - El Museu de les Ciències Príncipe Felipe — Science museum
      - L'Oceanogràfic — Open-air oceanographic park

    - Bull-fighting (corrida) in Valencia is still fairly popular. It is not a regular event, however. Spanish corrida is a deeply traditional event and as such it is linked to religious dates and festivals. Valencia has only three fairly short seasons of bull-fighting.

      - The Team of Torreros (Bull Fighters)
      1. The Matador: Dressed in gold, he is the principal bull fighter, normally seasoned and often famous.
      2. The Banderilleros: Named after "banderilla" (the short pike they used against the bull) these are less experienced helpers of the matador. They are 3 of them in a corrida, dressed in silver.
      3. The Picadores: Two men on horseback who briefly fight the bull with lances.

      - The course of Corrida (Bull Fight)
      1. The bull is released into the ring and is skirmished by the matador and his 3 banderilleros. This stage of the corrida lets the team learn the fighting tendencies of the bull.
      2. The matador moves with the bull one-to-one, to further understand the type of bull he is fighting.
      3. The picadores (pikemen) wound the bull with lances to damage his neck muscles and make him loose blood. This weakens the bull for the matador.
      4. The banderilleros stick 6-8 short decorative pikes into the bull's neck to further damage his muscles and nerves and cause more loss of blood.
      5. The main part of the bull fight - the matador performs his play with the cape one-to-one with the wounded bull. It is also the longest stage of the corrida.
      6. The matador goes for the kill - he sinks a sword between the bull's shoulder blades.
      7. The banderilleros come out and all 4 men make the bull move from side to side, causing the sword in his body to sever his internal organs. This finishes off the bull fight.
      8. Once the bull is on the floor, a banderillero severs the spinal cord in his neck with a dagger. This finally incapacitates the bull, although it will still take some minutes for him to die.
      9. The bull is dragged from the arena by a cart. Sometimes he is still conscious.

  • Peniscola
    Peníscola (Peñíscola in Castilian) often called the Gibraltar of Valencia, is a fortified seaport, with a lighthouse, built on a rocky headland about 220 feet (67 m) high, and joined to the mainland by only a narrow strip of land.

    Built originally between 1294 and 1307[1] by the Knights Templar, in the fourteenth century it was garrisoned by the Knights of Montesa, and in 1420 it reverted to the Crown. From 1415 it was the home of the schismatic Avignon pope Benedict XIII (Pedro de Luna), whose name is commemorated in the Bufador de Papa Luna, a curious cavern with a landward entrance through which the seawater escapes in clouds of spray.

    Benedict XIII, born Pedro Martínez de Luna, (1328 - May 23, 1423), known as el Papa Luna in Aragonese and Spanish, was an Aragonese, and is officially considered by the Roman Catholic Church to be an Antipope. Benedict should not be confused with the Roman Pope Benedict XIII, who reigned from 27 May 1724 to 21 February 1730.

  • Barcelona
  • Barcelona is the capital of Catalonia and the second largest city in Spain. It is located on the northeast coast of the Iberian Peninsula, facing the Mediterranean Sea, 160 km south of the Pyrenees and the Catalonian border with France.

    One of the highlights in Barcelona are the renowned architectural works of Antoni Gaudí. Antoni Plàcid Guillem Gaudí i Cornet (25 June 1852–10 June 1926) aka Antonio Gaudí – was a Catalan architect who belonged to the Modernist style (Art Nouveau) movement and was famous for his unique and highly individualistic designs.

    Casa Batlló - Much of the façade is decorated with a mosaic made of broken ceramic tiles (trencadís) that starts in shades of golden orange moving into greenish blues. The roof is arched and was likened to the back of a dragon or dinosaur. A common theory about the building is that the rounded feature to the left of centre, terminating at the top in a turret and cross, represents the sword of Saint George (patron saint of Catalonia), which has been plunged into the back of the dragon. http://www.casabatllo.cat/

    Park Güell - was originally part of a commercially unsuccessful housing site, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell, whom the park was named after. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent. The curves of the serpent bench form a number of enclaves, creating a more social atmosphere.

    The Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, often simply called the Sagrada Família, is a massive Roman Catholic church under construction in Barcelona, Catalonia, Spain. Construction began in 1882 and continues to this day. Originally designed by Antoni Gaudí (1852 – 1926), who worked on the project for over 40 years, devoting the last 15 years of his life entirely to the endeavor, the project is scheduled to be completed in 2026.

  • Zaragoza
  • Zaragoza is linked by legend to the beginnings of Christianity in Spain. According to legend, the Virgin Mary appeared miraculously to Saint James the Great in the 1st century, standing on a pillar. This legend is commemorated by a famous Catholic basilica called Nuestra Señora del Pilar ("Our Lady of the Pillar").

    According to ancient local tradition, soon after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, St. James was preaching the Gospel in Spain, but was disheartened because of the failure of his mission. Tradition holds that on January 2, A.D. 40, while he was deep in prayer by the banks of the Ebro, the Mother of God appeared to him and gave him a small wooden statue of herself and a column of jasper and instructed him to build a church in her honor.

    “This place is to be my house, and this image and column shall be the title and altar of the temple that you shall build.”

    The event, called "Las Fiestas del Pilar", is celebrated on October 12, which is a major festival day in Zaragoza.

  • Madrid
  • Madrid is the capital of Spain, and is Spain’s largest city. Madrid is located a little north east from the geographical center of the Iberian Peninsula, in the middle of the Spanish central Castillian plateau. It is by far the liveliest of cities, whose citizens refer to themselves as Madrileños or the more traditional and currently seldom used term "gatos" (cats), live by a daily routine that is heavily influenced by the climate.

  • Segovia
  • Segovia is an old city, located in the north of Madrid, situated along atop a long, narrow promontory. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it contains a wealth of monuments, including the cathedral, a famous ancient Roman aqueduct, the Alcázar, and various churches built in the Romanesque style including San Esteban, San Martin, and San Millan. The city is surrounded by walls built in the 8th century AD, probably on a Roman base, and rebuilt extensively during the 15th century.

    The Aqueduct of Segovia, typically the most recognized and famous symbol of Segovia, terminates at the entrance of the historic section. It was built at the end of 1st to early 2nd century BC by the Romans during their occupation of the Iberian Peninsula to bring water from the Río Frío (Cold River)(about 18 km away) to the city, requiring an elevated section in its last 1 kilometer (0.6 mi) from the Sierra de Guadarrama to the walls of the old town. This elevated section, largely dominating the nearby scene, is supported by an engineering marvel of 166 arches and 120 pillars in two levels. It is made of 20,400 large, rough-hewn granite blocks, joined without mortar or clamps. Its maximum height of 28.1 m (100.53 ft) is found at the plaza of Azoguejo. A raised section of stonework in the center once had an inscription. Today only the holes for the bronze letters survive.

    The Cathedral of Segovia stands in the city's central plaza. Constructed by architect Juan Gil de Hontanon in the late Gothic style between 1522 and 1577, it is widely considered Europe's last great Gothic cathedral. The kind of Gothic is called Isabelino.

    The Alcázar, or castle-palace is perched at the tip of the promontory and towers over the countryside below. The history of the Alcázar begins at the end of the 11th century, when king Alfonso VI reconquered lands to the south of the river Duero down to Toledo and beyond. The city of Segovia was repopulated. It is thought that the construction of the castle began in those times. During the Middle Ages, the Alcazar of Segovia was the favorite residence of kings of Castile, and almost each king added new parts to the building, transforming the original fortress into a courtier residence and prolonging the construction of the castle till 16th century, when King Philip II added the conical spires and the slate roofs. A fire in 1862 destroyed part of the roofs, but they were restored in the very same style they were built more than 300 years ago.

    The church of Vera Cruz, beyond the Alcazar and the city walls was founded by the Knights Templar. It is built in the circular style, a common design of the Templars, in recognition of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. It is currently owned and maintained by the Knights of Malta.

Highlights of Gibraltar (United Kingdom)

The Rock of Gibraltar is an impressive and towering sight. Now a British overseas territory, it shares the border with Spain to the north. Gibraltar has historically been an important base for the British Armed Forces and is the site of a Royal Navy base.

The Rock of Gibraltar was one of the Pillars of Hercules and was known to the Greeks as Mons Calpe, the other pillar being Mons Abyla or Jebel Musa on the African side of the Strait. In ancient times the two points marked the limit to the known world, a myth originally fostered by the Phoenicians.
The Rock is not solid as many believe, but is actually a monolithic limestone promontory. A unique feature of the Rock is its system of underground passages, known as the Galleries. The first of these was dug towards the end of the four years’ siege which lasted from 1779-1783. They consist of a whole system of halls, embrasures, and passages, of a total length of nearly 1000 feet (304 metres), and from them may be seen a series of unique views of the Bay of Gibraltar, the isthmus, and Spain.

Most of the Rock's upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 250 Barbary Macaques, commonly known as 'apes'; they are the only wild monkeys found in Europe. These macaques, as well as a labyrinthine network of tunnels, attract a large number of tourists each year.

The Moorish Castle is a relic of the Moorish occupation of Gibraltar, which lasted for 710 years. It was built in the year A.D. 711, when Tariq ibn-Ziyad, the Berber chieftain first landed on the Rock which still bears his name. The principal building which remains is the Tower of Homage, a massive building of brick and very hard concrete called tapia, the upper part of which housed the living apartments and Moorish bath of the former occupants.