Tuesday, October 21, 2008

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.

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