Saturday, 31 March 2012

Soria

Soria is situated in Castile-León about 110 miles northeast of Madrid and lies on the western bank of the River Duero. The city's historic centre preserves an important Romanesque legacy as well as excellent examples of civic architecture.

In the delightful and typically Castilian Plaza Mayor stands a number of interesting buildings including the Casa de los Doce Linajes, a 17th-century building that is currently the town hall. The former town hall is next door but is currently used as a Cultural Centre. The Tower of Doña Urraca is situated in one corner of the square and the Church of Santa María La Mayor stands just behind it.

Plaza Mayor - photo: public domain (Txo)
Santa María La Mayor
photo: public domain (Zarataman)

Talking about churches, Soria is noted for its collection of architect-urally distinctive churches many of them Roman-esque. Let's take a look at some of them!

The 12th-century Church of Santo Domingo, situated in the historic quarter, is one of the town's most important places of worship. Its main front is considered to be one of the finest Romanesque façades in existence - so much so - that it has been declared a National Monument. This honour has also been bestowed on the cloisters of another religious building in Soria - the Procathedral of San Pedro. It was built at the end of the 12th century and reconstructed during the 16th. It has a Plateresque façade and three Gothic naves. The Church of San Juan de Rabanera is pretty impressive too - probably why it, too, is a National Monument! This 12th-century temple has a number of Byzantine influences. Its façade is particularly beautiful and the inside is also attractive, especially the apse and reredos.

Santo Domingo
photo: public domain (Txo)

San Juan de Rabanera
photo: public domain (Elena FD)


Soria Concatedral de San Pedro
photo: public domain (Zarataman)
There are other fine churches in Soria but I don't want to weary you with all their details. I will, however, mention two other religious buildings - the Hermitage of San Saturio and the Monasterio de San Juan de Duero. Both are on the opposite side of the River Duero than the town centre. However, it is not too far to walk to the monastery - less than 500 metres! From the Plaza Mayor, walk along Calle Real and then Calle San Augustin, which crosses the river, and then turn left to find the monastery. It is well worth the short detour from the town centre because the site is one of the most original Romanesque monuments in Spain. A 12th-century church and a wonderful cloister are the only remains of the former monastery. The arches are quite splendid - and different! They are a mix of Romanesque, Mudéjar and Arabic styles. The monastery belonged to the order of the Knights Templar from the twelfth century until it was abandoned in the eighteenth. It is yet another National Monument and one of the most visited sites in Castilla y León. It is a delightful place to visit and the scenery is not bad either - situated as it is on the banks of the River Duero it has provided an inspiring landscape for Spanish artists and poets.

Monasterio de San Juan de Duero cloisters
photo: public domain ( Txo)
Hermitage of San Saturio
photo: public domain ( Zarataman)
Less than 1 kilometre down river is the Baroque Hermitage of San Saturio, patron saint of the town. It was carved out of the rock in the eighteenth century.

Before we leave Soria, we must explore some of the other delightful places in this attractive city. In the streets of the historic quarter there are many beautiful buildings - no more so than the Palacio de los Condes de Gómara. It is considered to be the jewel of Sorian civil architecture with its outstanding stone façade and quadrangular tower. It is a Renaissance building built in the 16th century and now houses the Provincial Court. It goes without saying that it has been declared a National Monument! Another fine residence is the Palacio de los Ríos y Salcedo. This 16th-century Renaissance building is also a National Monument and, these days, it serves as the Provincial Historic Archive.



Palacio de los Condes de Gómara
photo: public domain ( Numantino)
Soria isn't just ancient monuments however. There are green spaces like the Dehesa, which contains many exotic trees and shrubs, and the Parque El Castillo - a hill on which stands the Parador de Soria. It offers lovely panoramic views of the Duero, the countryside, the distant mountains and the city - a city that has inspired poets like Antonio Machado, Gerardo Diego and Gustavo Bécquer. Soria, situated in a natural beauty spot by the banks of the River Duero, is certainly worth visiting!

This is an extract of the text in the "Soria" section of "Spanish Impressions"
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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, 29 March 2012

Tomás Luis de Victoria

My record collection includes Requiems composed by Mozart, Verdi, Fauré and Victoria.
"Victoria!" those of you who are not into classical music might say,
"Who's that!" 

Of course, if you are anything like some of the 'Big Brother' contestants, you probably do not know who Verdi or Fauré are either but then you are probably not reading this! 

Tomás Luis de Victoria, to give him his full name, was a Spanish composer. He was born in Ávila in 1548 and at an early age he was sent to Rome by King Phillip II to prepare for holy orders. Whilst there, he studied music and became choirmaster at the German College in the city. 

In 1576, he became chaplain to the pious dowager Empress María, the sister of King Philip, and they both returned to Madrid - to the convent of Descalzas Reales - in 1583. Victoria took on the role of choirmaster at the convent which he continued until his death in 1611. 

He wrote only religious music, which is not surprising considering what a devout Christian he was. His works included the 'Officium Hebdonadae' (1585), lots of motets and masses and 'Officium Defunctorum', the Requiem Mass that he composed for the funeral of Empress María in 1603. Another excellent work, which is ideal to celebrate Christmas, is 'O Magnum Mysterium' (1572) - the 'Hallelujah' from it is a particularly inspiring piece of music. 

Victoria is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 16th century along with Giovanni da Palestrina, Orlando de Lassus, and William Byrd. He was certainly the most significant Spanish composer of sacred music in the late Renaissance. Some critics rate his compositions greater than Palestrina who he allegedly studied with whilst in Rome. However, the biggest influence on Tomás Luis de Victoria is said to be Saint Theresa of his hometown of Ávila, which is probably why he was such a devout Christian. 

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, 28 March 2012

Vitoria-Gasteiz

Vitoria-Gasteiz is the capital of the Basque region.

Old Cathedral
photo public domain (Zarataman)
Vitoria has many architectural gems and still conserves much of its medieval layout. To begin our exploration of the city, let's start at the Cathedral of Santa María. It started life as a 13th century church-fortress in Gothic style and after a number of additions became a cathedral 1861. It is known as the Old Cathedral because there is a newer one in the 19th century suburbof El Ensanche. 
Casa del Cordón
photo public domain (Mikelele)
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 and its Gothic portico 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.

Plaza de la Virgen Blanca
photo: public domain (Guyletsbuild)
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.

New Cathedral
photo: public domain (Zarataman)
Torre de Doña Otxanda
photo: public domain (Miguel Andrade)
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. 




Museo Fournier de Naipes y Museo de  Arqueología 
photo: public domain (Guyletsbuild)
statue in Parque Florida
photo: public domain (Zarataman)
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. 

Please note:
this article is a condensed version of the text that appears in "Spanish Impressions":

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, 27 March 2012

Ávila

Even though Ávila is 3,715 feet above sea level, it is situated on a plateau that is surrounded by even loftier mountains. It is a good place to visit but not to live because, whilst the city is rather spectacular and is a notable tourist centre, it has long cold winters and short summers. The surrounding neighbourhood is not too attractive either. It is an arid, treeless plain strewn with immense grey boulders, which, I suppose, came in useful when the walls of the city were built.
Ávila
photo: Robert Bovington

Ávila is old. It is one of the oldest of all the cities in Castilla y León. Celtic Iberians, Romans, Muslims and Christians have all left their mark on this fine city.

Las Murallas - the walls - are magnificent and encompass the whole of ancient Ávila. Building started at the end of 11th century and they are 2.5 kilometres long, 14 metres high and around 3 metres thick. They are still in pretty good nick. Alfonso VI ordered their construction after his conquest of Avila in 1090. Moorish prisoners were allegedly employed to build the wall. I don't suppose they were paid though! There are eighty-eight towers and nine gates that include the imposing Puerta del Alcázar and the Puerta de Rastro. Visitors can walk along the walls between these two points. The walls are beautifully illuminated at night.

Las Murallas de Ávila
photo: Robert Bovington
The modern part of the city lies outside the walls. Within the old city are many fine buildings including churches and the 12th-century Gothic cathedral.

Ávila Cathedral was planned as a cathedral-fortress - its apse is actually part of one of the turrets of the city walls. Construction started in 1095 shortly after the Reconquest. The earliest parts were in the Romanesque style and built like a fortress with battlements and sentry walks incorporated into the structure. Most of the cathedral was built between the 12th and 14th centuries and the building is, therefore, a mix of Romanesque and Gothic. It is credited with having introduced Spain to Gothic architecture.

Ávila Cathedral  (photo: public domain - Pizicato Elena)


Ávila Cathedral north entrance photo: public domain - Manuel de Corselas


There are quite a few religious buildings in Ávila but, then, there have been a number of religious residents. These include the 4th-century theologian Priscillian who was the first Christian to be executed for heresy and the notorious Friar Tomás Torquemada who was Spain's first Grand Inquisitor and the zealous leader of the witch-hunts of the 15th century. Another resident was San Juan de la Santa Cruz who was a reformer of the Carmelite Order. The city's most famous resident, however, is St. Teresa of Ávila.
St. Teresa of Ávila

She was a major figure of the Catholic Reformation. A prominent Spanish mystic, writer and monastic reformer, she was known for her ecstatic visions and continual life of prayer. Her most famous work was her autobiography, "The Way of Perfectio" which was written from her personal experiences. St. Teresa has left Ávila with a legacy - not only the memory of her Carmelite reforms and her writings but a reminder of her can be found in the Convento de Santa Teresa, which was built in 1636 over her birthplace. Another monument to her name is the Monastery of La Encarnacion where St. Teresa lived for thirty years.

Tomás Luis de Victoria
Another famous person, born in Ávila was Spanish composer Victoria. Tomás Luis de Victoria, to give him his full name. Victoria wrote only religious music and his works included the 'Officium Hebdonadae' (1585), lots of motets and masses and 'Officium Defunctorum', the Requiem Mass that he composed for the funeral of Empress María in 1603. Victoria is generally regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 16th century.

Another religious monument is the Basílica de San Vicente, which was built in the 12th century. It stands on the alleged site of the 4C martyrdom of St Vincent. Within the church is the martyr's tomb, which has been sculpted with all the gory detail of the saint's torture and execution.

Basílica de San Vicente interior

There are a number of Romanesque churches in Ávila but the 16th-century Iglesia de San Juan Bautista is worth a mention because it was declared a National Monument in 1983. The church contains the baptismal font in which Santa Teresa was baptised. Another National monument is the Convento de San José. Francisco de Mora built it in the beginning of the 17th century - or, at least, he was the architect. It became the model for the rest of the temples that would be later constructed for the Order of the Carmelites. The convent houses the Santa Teresa Museum of the Discalced Carmelites. 

Ávila is not just about churches. There are a number of palaces and houses of noble ancestry including  the Palace of los Deanes. Originally built to house the members of the clergy, it now houses the Provincial Museum.

Palace of Los Deanes
photo: public domain

Because the city is so rich in architecture it has become a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Some more photos of Ávila...

Basílica de San Vicente

old picture of  the Plaza del Alcazar

Ávila - a walk along the walls
photo: public domain (Robert Wiblin)

Ávila - Universidad de Católica
photo: Robert Bovington
Ávila photo: Robert Bovington


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"

Monday, 26 March 2012

Segovia - the city

Segovia is the capital of the province of the same name in the autonomous community of Castilla y León. It is one of those delightful Spanish cities that have been awarded World Heritage status by UNESCO. The city is best known for its Aqueduct but its castle is quite splendid and the old town has many treasures including the Cathedral and a number of churches built in the Romanesque style. 

Segovia
There is also the Alcazar. If you visit this enchanting fortress, you might well think it looks familiar - particularly if you have visited a famous American holiday destination - the Alcazar in Segovia was allegedly the inspiration for Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle! The castle has another link with America - it was here that Queen Isabella gave Columbus financial backing for his trip to discover the New World. The castle sits high on a ledge overlooking the city. The Moors had originally built it in the 12th century and it became a favourite residence of the kings of Castile. The Catholic Isabella was proclaimed Queen of Castile here in 1474. Over the centuries, the castle was enlarged and embellished - the 'Disney-like' conical spires were added during the reign of King Philip II in the 16th century. Today, it is a museum and, if you get bored of looking at medieval weapons and armour, you could climb to the top of a tower. The 152 steps are worth climbing for the views!

Alcazar Segovia
Romantics may prefer the castle but the Aquaduct is probably the most famous monument in Segovia. Known locally as El Puente, it stands at the entrance to the historic section of the city and is a masterpiece of Roman engineering. It was built at the end of the 1st century AD and, nearly 2000 years later, it is still well preserved despite the fact that no mortar was used - the granite blocks are held together by nothing other than their own weight! The aquaduct is colossal - 20,400 granite blocks were used to build the main part of the structure, which has 166 arches. 

Aqueduct Segovia
The aqueduct may be the symbol of Segovia but the Cathedral is probably the most important building in the city. It was begun in 1525, during the reign of Carlos V and is widely considered to be Europe's last great Gothic cathedral. 

Cathedral Segovia
There are a number of important religious buildings in the city and many are Romanesque - in fact, Segovia has one of the largest concentrations of Romanesque churches in all of Europe, most dating back to the 11th century. The more notable ones are those of San Lorenzo, San Martín, San Millán, La Trinidad and San Esteban. All of the aforementioned churches and many more besides are within the old city walls. One church situated outside of the old town that is worthy of mention is the Church of Vera Cruz. Founded by the Knights Templar it is unusual in that it is dodecahedral - the building has twelve faces making it appear almost circular!

some churches in Segovia

There are many other fine monuments in Segovia including important medieval and Renaissance buildings, such as the 15th-century Corn exchange and the 14th-century Tower of los Lozoya. There are magisterial houses and beautiful palaces befitting a royal city.

NB. all of the above images have been declared public domain - special thanks to Zarateman who donated a number of the images including the churches.




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"

Sunday, 25 March 2012

León

León is a Spanish city with a lot of history. The Romans arrived in AD68 - the 7th Legion set up camp on a hill where the Cathedral now stands. Later, the Visigoths arrived who in turn were replaced by the Moors. Control of the city fluctuated between Moors and Christians and, in the 10th century, it became the capital of the kingdom of Asturias and Leon when García I transferred his court there from Oviedo. However, it was not until the 11th century that the city was fully under Christian control. Today, there are many fine buildings that reflect León's importance amongst the Christian cities in Spain.

Its most famous monument is the Catedral de Santa María de Regla. It is an impressive building made even more outstanding by its stained-glass windows known as the Pulchra Leonina.

León Cathedral - photo Derek Emson
León Cathedral - photo public domain
A few streets away is a real treasure - the Colegiata de San Isidoro. The 11th century church not only houses the Royal Pantheon, the burial place of some of medieval León's royal family, but also contains one of the best collections of Romanesque paintings in the World - a series of frescoes from the 12th century which decorate the underground crypt.

León Royal Pantheon - photo public domain
León Casa Botines - photo public domain 


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, 23 March 2012

Burgos

If there is but one reason to visit Burgos it is to see its cathedral. It is one of the most beautiful examples of Spanish Gothic art and is the only Spanish cathedral to be a World Heritage site. 
Burgos Cathedral is special. It soars high above the city - its elaborately crafted spires are especially eye-catching The best view of the cathedral's exterior is by approaching the westerly Puerta Real entrance that faces the Plaza de Santa María but every façade has been exquisitely sculpted in painstaking detail. No wonder it took more than 500 years to build the complete article as it stands today. 


Burgos Cathedral puerta de la Coroneria
Burgos Cathedral choir
The cathedral, which, incidentally, is the third largest in Spain became a UNESCO heritage site in 1984 and is certainly spectacular enough to put Burgos on the map on its own. However, the city does have other sights worth seeing.

Across the Plaza del Rey Ferdinand from the Puerta del Sarmental entrance of the cathedral is the Arco de Santa María. Best viewed from the Santa María bridge that crosses the Río Arlanzon, the monument is one of the most beautiful of all the city's gateways. It looks like a castle with its multi-turreted exterior. Statues of Castilian heroes and kings stand guard above the archway. It leads onto the Paseo del Espolón, a tree-lined promenade that runs alongside the riverbank. 


Arco de Santa María
Paseo de Epsolón
statue of El Cid
photo fron
http://100falcons.wordpress.com 
At the end of the paseo is an impressive statue situated in the Plaza del Mío Cid. It is the Monumento del Cid, a sculpture of El Cid Campeador. He was a legendary figure who fought alongside the Moors who then occupied most of Spain. Later, he switched camps and conquered Valencia on behalf of the Christians and became a governor of the city until his death.

The city of Burgos is crammed with many fascinating buildings and time is well spent just meandering the streets of the old town between the Casa del Cordón and the Cathedral.

Casa del Cordón

Other 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"