Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Madrid - A Collage of History. Architecture. Christopher Columbus, Plaza Mayor, Prado, Don Quixote, Palace


The idea of proportion comes across despite the many forms used. Recalling here an art history lecturer in college, who used a conductor's baton to tap out architecture - the base might be tap....tap....tap; one for each major aperture.

Then, the level above, with four apertures to each one below, might be taptaptaptap; and above it, two above the four, for tap tap; and a whistle and swoop for an arch with a tap, and BANG for the cupole on top of the dome. Gets under your skin.

Make your own sound effects as you look at buildings.


Here is Neptune, in a roundabout -

Some sites start Madrid's history with medieval times, see :// Nuts. We like to do back and back. This one is better - 1000 BC, settlement by Iberian tribes, and Celts; and in 218 BC, in came the Romans with roads, many converging here. So, that is maybe why we have Neptune here. In the 4thCentury AD, Visigothic Kings took over after Rome fell. There is a whole park lineup of them. Very impressive, macho. Toledo was the capital for the Visigoths. See://


Always surprised that the Celts were all over Europe, including Eastern and Central Europe, later pushed into England, Wales, Ireland. See :// Need to research more on Celts and Visigoths.


10th Century: Arab. Emir Cordova Muhammad Ibn Abd al-Rahman. This site says that the Muslims founded Madrid proper. See :// full name is listed because we want to know what each part means - a lineage, a tribute?

Liberated 11th Century.


Here is the great Plaza Major or Plaza Mayor - a huge space, cafes, and in the early evening the tapas gets going, with later evening (dinner starts about 11:00 PM) busy with crowds. Enter from a regular city street, up a staircase, through an arch and suddenly there it is - wide open. Wonderful.

Madrid became the capital and seat of the Royal Family in the 16th Century.

Many monuments to explorers, kings.

Memorial to King Charles III?, 18th Century.

He also ruled Naples and Sicily - we often forget how fluid national boundaries were then. Find out after we get back. Reforms in sanitation, no more slops out windows, liked French dress, overall did well, says ://



This is no longer used as a residence. Meet the Royal Family at ://
King Juan Carlos I and Queen Sofia, and children.



This memorial is so tall that it took two photos to get it all in. See Dan at the bottom for scale. Is is as high as Trafalgar Square?  There is a tradition that Cristoforo Colombo was a child out of wedlock, his childhood unknown, but piece together the stories and such support for it as you may choose to weigh, at Bogomilia, Shadow Children.


If you arrive in Madrid on a Sunday and expect to see the Prado on a Monday, you will have to go elsewhere - and there are many alternative museums. Prado closes Mondays. Another choice is to hop one of the many sight-seeing buses where you get on and off all day, taking any of the many routes offered - just go all over for the price of one ticket. Great.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Pamplona - The Bulls

Pamplona, Spain. Dawn, by the Corral

Bull Runnings

Bullfighting has a long history, and worth learning about before going. See  Catalonia has moved to ban killing the bull, see,8599,1930746,00.html

Here is The Drill for watching a bull run at Pamplona. And a guide: ://

1.  Walk down the evening before to see the bulls arrive at the corrals; and plan where to go for the run the next day.

We were there when killing is the goal.  I tried not to think too much about it. The festival is in the name of Saint Fermin, Pamplona's first bishop, says this reputable site, We had been told that he was a martyr, killed by bull-dragging or trampling.  He was first a bishop, then the martyr in the 1st Century AD, but those events occurred in Amiens France, see ://  The year traditionally was 257 AD (makes more sense than a cite to 1st Century). He was tied to a bull and dragged. See ://

See a daily roster of events at

2.  Get up at 5 AM to walk walk walk from wherever you found a room, to claim the spot for viewing.

We had checked out where to go the night before, aiming to see the bulls safely, and we found a high spot at the starting section, at the top of a flight of stone steps leading to a square. We were at the beginning of the run.

Grab a coffee and bun as you go, watch people with the fire hoses washing down the streets, and washing the el inebriatos out of the doorways.

3.   Once you get your place, hold it - if you shift an inch, someone will slither in front of you - Viva Yo - and you lose. Or a big arm with an alien camera will suddenly block your view. Plan for it. That's life.

Pamplona, Spain. The Runners Amass

Look down and see everybody in the red and white customary attire - includes women these days. Hear the runners sing their Prayer to St. Fermin - that is a chanty singsong in honor of that St. Fermin who was martyred by bulls in centuries past.

4.  There goes the rocket.  Out come the bulls and up the street below.

Pamplona, Spain. The Rocket, the Bull Run, with a few oxen.

5.  Then see the scatter.

Pamplona, Spain. The Great Scatter at the Bull Running

Everybody run.

Bulls and people tend to slip at the curves, on the cobbles; and are totally confused and panicked at the end of the run, to the tunnel into the ring.
Several oxen run with bulls in an effort to keep them calmer, but it is dangerous.

We heard many sirens, off an on, all during the run. At least in the tunnel, there are roll slots you can roll into and out of the way, or leap into cut-outs in the wall.

Meanwhile, in the ring, people have been entertaining the crows by clowning with calves, or female cattle that will not then be used in the ring, I think. The animals are smart and learn what to do fast. They don't get used or exposed to the ring twice, I hear.

The bullfights are on TV all the time, and to this outsider, there is nothing glorious and epic about the encounters I saw between man and brute forces that Michener wrote about in the old "Iberia." Capitalism took over. Advantage: to the people. Seldom not messy. But that is an outsider speaking. Limited. But there is a lot to learn about the tradition behind it, so do read and respect

Pamplona, Spain. Mounted Police, in Feathers. End of Day.

6.  Expect inebriation. Everywhere. You will also get wet. Very wet. Wine and beer are poured and sprinkled about at the end of the day. Set a meeting place in case you get separated. Practice locking arms. If the crowd squeezes and you can't move, then you can stay together.

Police on horseback to control everything.

Read Ernest Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises" for a fine literary lookback. Here is an excerpt: at ://

Pamplona - Getting Older; and History

Festival of St. Fermin - Bull Running Agenda

For the July bull-running festival, there are parades during the day for the - large puppets over head. If you arrive in the middle of one, however, expecting to see macho, athletic young men flexing all over the place, think again.
Pamplona, Parade, Spain
This has become family reunion time. All the strollers and spouses. There are plenty of young people, sleeping in the park like old Woodstock or something, and the partying goes on all night. Still, the impression is of middle aged people coming back to relive what they did or wished they did, or made up that they did, this time with the kids. All is red and white. For all ages and shapes. No place to go, so just turn off the ignition and let the parades flow around you. Get out and join in.

History: Plenty to do after the run. Pamplona was a Roman town 75 BC - near the Basque area and town of Iruna. It does not subdue - as the Visigoths and Moors found. Even Charlemagne and his Franks were stopped by the Basques at Roncesvalles nearby. In medieval times, there were three towns at that basic spot, with differing populations - Basque, French (see how close to the Pyrenees) and a mix of others. The French tried to take it definitively in 1521, lost, and Ignatius Loyola - who fought there - was wounded and later founded the Jesuits. For a long time, Pamplona was frontier. Walls, fort.

Listen. The Song of Roland at :// Here is an online translation of this old French poem, about the son of Charlemagne and his death at Roncesvalles. At ://

Monday, February 11, 2008

Muslim Spain - Contributions. Saracens. Fatimids. Granada.

Vast architectural structures. Islamic influence in so many places.

I believe this is in the town of Granada, not the palace, Alhambra, there. See where a later Christian influence (the Christians liked rigid squares and rectangles; or Gothic pointed arches) changed the original fluid, arched Moorish windows.

They made them look more Gothic, except for a few on the right that remained Moorish, with an Arab look if you scrunch up your eyes- see the flaring just at the arch, the scimitar shapes?

At this site, click on the main Islamic cities in Spain during the Muslim Occupation, and get overviews that help put the era into perspective - at :// The main cities were Seville, Cordoba, Jaen, and Granada.

But who were the Saracens? The same as the Islamic conquerors of Spain? This site says the term was used generally for Muslims in the Middle Ages - see ://

Same as Fatimids?

No, the Fatimids were Shi'a, and this site has a fine, short history :// This is of interest because we learn of the Shiites in Iraq.

Note the focus of their history there, apparently in Egypt.

For a review of the Sunni - Shi'a divisions, see ://

Looked up Catholic - Protestant in the same vein - and found a confusion of quasi-dogma and big words that would mean nothing to an outsider without a glossary and authority to support, at ://

Presenting another culture's beliefs. Trouble.

Perhaps Muslims feel the same way about how their divisions are represented. This historical view, from the Tudor period, was far more informative. Take a look at ://

Remember, that is from the Tudor period, 1500-1700 or so, but deep roots are there.

Here is a map of the Fatimids, and Wikipedia's note that information needs brush-ups, at :// Fatimids were Shi'a, of an Ismaili branch (?). Wikipedia notes a high degree of religious tolerance to non-Ismaili, Coptic Christian, Jew, or other Islamic persons.

Malaga - The Costa del Sol, The Sun Coast, Alcazaba

Picasso was born in Malaga. Update 2013: The Picasso Museum, now in its 10th year, is regenerating the center of town, the old Jewish Quarter where it is located. The building is a renaissance home, from the 16th Century - the Palacio de Buenevista. See the activity there in the Financial Times article, In the Footsteps of Picasso, Nov.2-3, 2013. See  ://

Malaga, Alcazabe, Spain. Sun Coast.
The Sun Coast, Costa del Sol, Malaga and great Islamic fortress dating to 1065, the "Alcazabe," is on the side of the hill. At the top of the hill is another, older Muslim fortress, the Gibralfaro. See Malaga is on the way from Gibraltar to Ronda, a town on a deep gorge in the mountains.

Malaga is a vacation destination, highrises at the beach, and many flights  from UK, Germany, Scandinavia.  There are signs in many languages. And has large enclaves of expatriates not just vacationing, but retiring there.

Alcazabe, Malaga, Spain. Wall View.
History:  Malaga was founded by Phoenicians, an ancient, sea-faring, trading people 1200-800 BC or so, who originated near Palestine. Main cities there were Tyre and Sidon, see ://

Phoenicians are also known as the "Canaanite Phoenicians," see Their alphabet formed the basis for the first transliteration of the Hebrew collections of stories over thousands of years that, in about 550-600 became a proto-Old Testament. Phoenicians - deserve great credit, often forgotten.
  • Even the old name "Malaka" is from the Phoenician for "salt" - for salting the fish there. In Arabic, it is Malaqah, from the Islamic Occupation. See :// 
  • The musical work, "Malaguena," by Ernesto Lecuona, refers to the Gypsies of Malaga, all you pianists.

During the Muslim Occupation, this town of Malage grew as a "taifa" kingdom, and was formed as many did when the great Caliphate broke up (at Cordoba?) in the 11th Century. Supporting art and architecture was a way to show wealth - conspicuous visualization? see ://

Driving: Always look up. At most substantial-sized and small towns, there will be a castle on a hill, an Old Town below. Aim for either, then both.

Festivals, holidays, days for closings

We try to plan a trip when there will be a festival. Here is a website for Spain events:

The usual festivals center on Seville at Easter, Pamplona in July for the bull runs, and there is a tomato throwing festival somewhere also that we missed. Crushing.

Mondays are often closing days for museums. Check so that you are not at Bilbao for the Museum of Art, or only have a Monday left in Madrid, for the Prado. If you are in a city on a Monday, take the day on a bus hop-on-hop-off all day ticket - many routes usually color coded so you can see where each route goes, stay as long as you like, shift routes, all day, see everything but the inside. Many also have talking tour boxes and ear phones at each seat.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Granada, Alhambra Palace. Al-Andalus

Al-Andalus is the name of the old Arabic name for the overall Iberian peninsula, now Spain.  It then became associated only with the southern portions under Muslim control, that control extending some 800 years.  For the first 300 years, the nearby city of Cordoba and its caliphate dominated.  See Saudi Aramco World magazine, Granada's New Convivienca Sept-Oct 2003, article by Tor Eigeland, at,
Granada was known for its mutual tolerance of other religions, with restrictions that those others could tolerate.
Then factions weakened Cordoban control, and by the 14th-15th Centuries, the smaller kingdom of Granada represented the remainder, was the capital, and it remained glorious in its smaller geographic setting. It finally surrendered to Christian forces of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492.
  • SaudiAramco World is an excellent resource, photos, reviews, articles, heavy glossy paper, and also online. At the end of articles is a section for other related materials in other issues.  This Sept-Oct 2003 issue is especially fine for its overview of the Muslim religion, see it at Islam FAQ's,
Granada is the city in southern Spain where the Sultan's Palace, the Alhambra, is located - see
Granada, Spain. Alhambra garden courtyard
The guidebook may say that you have to have advance tickets to do the Alhambra palace. Not so. If you get there later in the afternoon, you can see it all, and avoid the tour buses. We spent the night in town, and went back the next day to fill in anything we missed.


Alhambra, Granada, Spain, Lion Fountain

While the Moors ruled, there was an extensive flowering of architecture, culture, mathematics, architecture, etc. See; and

There is a new mosque at the Albaicin, the first in 500 years. 
.Albaicin, Arab Quarter, Old Grenada, Spain (view from the Alhambra)

There is a fine view to old Granada from the Arab Quarter, The Albaicin is the area where the Christians, upon retaking Granada in 1492, forced the Arab Muslims to live.  It became known as the Arab Quarter, and is located on a steep hillside, now the Old City. See, fine photos and notes by Lorenzo Bohm. Details for tourists at Take time at the spice market in the Albaicin, heaps of turmuric, others, and take time to wander and get totally lost. You will find your way back.
In the cathedral here are Ferdinand and Isabella, and our favorite, Juana la Loca, see this site and read every word, at There she is, in stone, with her fingers lightly tented over her chest, moving ever so slightly, and her head turned just a tad away from her husband, Philip (handsome but....) beside her, as her mind still wanders. Or doesn't, or never did.
Read her story in James Michener's extensive novel, "Iberia" - see We are looking for the pages about Juana now. La la la. But not all is necessarily as it seems....

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Islamic Studies, Orientalism, Resources

Some names, since Spain was under Islamic rule for 400-500 years, this is pertinent to its history and Europe's - and the world now. Our own filing place for further reading.

1. Hamilton Gibb, "Essays on the History of Islam," - British Empire origins, but a world of esoterica, Arab history - in process of getting feet wet here. More neutral, older.

2. Bernard Lewis, a neo-conservative spokesman for Arab-Islamic scholarship, Princeton?

3. Edward Said and "Orientalism," a broader concept than the too-stereotyped "Islamic" cubbies used in the West.

Burgos - Way of St. James, Pilgrimage Point, Cathedral

Burgos, Cathedral, Spain

The Romans took possession of this area around Burgos, while it was "Celtiberian" - the Celts were all over Europe, with first roots perhaps in Eastern Europe. See ://

Founded as a town in 884, as part of an effort to consolidate where Christians lived, it was part of the Arab Muslim empire for a short time (Arabs held all of Castile, "land of castles," built for the defense of Christians).

There is a beautiful Gothic cathedral, begun in 1221, and work on it continued for 300 years. But Burgos is not the birthplace of El Cid, despite Burgos' tourist claims in attention-getting headers. Even in the fine print of this site you read that El Cid was born in Vivar, a/k/a Bivar, or Bevar.

We had made a special trip over to Bivar before coming to Burgos, and it is a tiny town between Segovia and Burgos. There is a statue there and memorial tower. See post at Spain Road Ways, El Cid at Bivar. See:// Read about El Cid at :// Read about Burgos development, wars, alliances and breakups with Navarre and Leon and Aragon, and other major events at ://; but remember two things:

1. Time your arrival before 1PM or after 2PM, sometimes 3PM.

Long lunch period, for the main meal of the day and a rest and all is closed; and this is so in many places. Change your eating habits, check the guidebook for times, and enjoy the plaza; and

2. Write down where you park.

Better yet, take a picture of the nearest cross streets and your car if you have a digital camera. By the time you find a space, and walk back through the wonderful, twisty streets, you are among the truly, truly lost. The irritation is just in the time spent - but change your perspective on time, and enjoy where you find yourself.

Burgos is also on the famous pilgrimage route, The Way of Saint James, to Santiago de Compostela - see :// Pilgrims were given special safe passage, at least that was the idea, and carried or wore a scallop shell to identify them. See pilgrimages and scallops at ://

Cordoba - the Roman City

Cordoba, Roman Temple, Claudius Marcellus

Explore the remains of the Temple constructed by Claudius Marcellus, at Claudio Calle Marcelo, about a mile from the Mezquita, the Mosque, now Roman Catholic Cathedral, see other post.*

See the temple as imagined at //

And the long bridge over the River Guadalquivir, to the Mosque and Cathedral, at Cordoba, Roman Bridge.

Do not underestimate Cordoba. There were more cultural buildings in Cordoba under the Romans than in Rome itself, says ://

Cordoba, Spain. RomanTemple setting, on street, Claudia Calle Marcelo

Today, back up a little bit from the cropped picture to see how the ruins are integrated in modern times.

Those are original old walls, and the building adjoins. Several hotels tout their location over Roman ruins, some, apparently, with glass in the hotel floors so people can look down.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Cordoba, Christian and Muslim and Jewish

Cordoba, Roman Bridge
Beautiful Cordoba, city of Romans, see Roman Cordoba, Visigothic Christians, Muslims, Catholic Christians. The lovely Guadalquivir River, now much silted in. But the old grandeur is all around.

Look at that distance to the Mosque-Cathedral, from the perspective of people like us, who drive, and who have to park on the far side of the Puente Romana, the Roman Bridge, and walk, leaving luggage behind. There is always the hovering concern that oops, on the return, empty car.

That's me looking back fitfully, in great hopes of seeing it all again when we returned. Cordoba, Puente Romana

We are hugely vulnerable to evildoers - any around would know there will be several hours before we walk back. So what.

Go anyway.

We've only been burglarized once - in the Blarney Castle parking lot, in Ireland - see Ireland Road Ways, Blarney post. Lost it all, including passport and ticket, so what more can happen. Spain was great.

We often do pay someone who happens to be standing nearby, and ask the impossible - could they watch the car, no way of enforcing that, but it is a human connection only.  They could be the first to barge into it, knowing we were walkers and not coming back soon.

No problem. So what if it all disappeared? Health counts, the second pair of jeans doesn't.

On the other side of the river is, the old Mezquita (Mosque) that was later, after the Muslims were defeated in 1492, included in a vast Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Cordoba, Cathedral incorporating the Mosque
Cordoba was governed by the Muslims 929-1031 AD, and was a foremost intellectual center in Spain and (this site says) in all of Europe. See :// There was a large Jewish Quarter, that now is a destination in itself, and the walk on the way to the Roman ruins, see next post, but the Jews were all expelled by the Christian (?) Ferdinand and Isabella by edict in 1492.

Some background: Spain, a Visigothic Christian kingdom mostly, was invaded by Muslims in 711, and ruled by them from overall about 711 to 1492. The Muslims were defeated by the Christian King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1492. Thus, Spain was an Islamic territory and until 1031, was "administered by a provincial government established in the name of the Umayyad Caliphate in Damascus and centered in Cordoba." See discussion and photographs at ://
Cordoba, Guadalquivir River
The bridge walk back - and the car was just fine.
Thank you, Spain.

For a discussion of the concept of Caliphate as serving in direct line (the "rightful caliphs"), see ://
The phrase apparently means, Successor to the Messenger of God, the Holy Prophet Mohammed (Peace Be Upon Him). See also ://


Roman Bridge, Cordoba, Spain
Roman bridges are still in use - that is the one at Cordoba.

I understand that the Moors had conquered Spain by 711, except for some mountain regions. They ruled for 800 years , and, unlike the Christian areas, welcomed Jews in administration, ambassadorships and finance. Cordoba was the seat of the Umayyad caliphat, its peak in the 10th Century. See original source material at ://

Cathedral, Cordoba, Spain
Building encompassing building.

The Cathedral at Cordoba contains within it the huge Mosque originally there - they just built around and over. Huge. The Christians finished their reconquest in the 1490's. See

With the reconquest, however, came the Spanish Inquisition, see; and; and the expulsion and death of any who opposed the form of Catholicism of Ferdinand and Isabella.