Saturday, June 19, 2010

At the gate of the Pyrenes.

26 December 2009 - Spanish hospitality is something of legends. Other cultures value the same, but being latino in the West you know of Spain. And so it was in another spectacularly antiquated and mellow town that I was treated to such forms of this ancient virtue by a most knowledgeable and courteous host.
A good friend to my brother and invariably my mom invited us to her town and home for a tour and lunch. This most magnificently intelligent, wonderfully cultured, and stunningly charismatic woman, whose first name is Pilar, has worked at embassies and in other political capacities throughout her rich career - she has personally addressed post from the King of Spain, military officers, ministers, business owners, journalists, and elected officials. Pilar treated us not only to an superb and surprisingly elemental Spanish lunch, but took her time to show us the utmost in hospitality, personally showing us around much of historic Huesca. This was arguably the best time I spent during my entire visit to Spain - exactly because of Pilar's genuine and unpretentious hospitality, and the depth of knowledge she so willingly imparted.

And so in learning more about this region, I find that the Romans established a colony on the Iberian peninsula starting from c.~200 B.C. Huesca originated as an Iberian community even before then but was named Bolskan and once fully Romanized, was made municipium called Osca by Augustus in 30 B.C. Since then, Huesca has stood at the foot of the mountain range of Guara, just near the Pyrenees Mountains dividing the Iberian peninsula from the rest of Europe. It has continually served as a regional center of knowledge and education, religion, culture and the arts, and commerce. Truly, Huesca is a hidden gem in the midst of Aragon, not to be missed if given the chance.

Self portrait - through the 'Troll of Stuff', with the antiquity of Huesca in the 'background' mixed with the contemporary.

Construction of this Gothic styled Cathedral began in 1273 A.D. during the Kingdom of Aragon, almost 180 years after the city was renamed Huesca by the christians. Front entrance to Catedral de la TransfiguraciĆ³n del SeƱor, Huesca, Spain.

Underneath an ornate but typically old Spanish balcony, a stunning coat of arms carved of stone.

Another example of Huesca's old building styles, this one is apparently (pre-?)Colonial era.

My traveling companions awed as I am by this still-running 15th century store off a plaza within the old city wall, to which the ever-energetic Pilar had led us. Note the ceiling masterpiece & the old-school product arrangement.

Really cool street art. Finding ourselves still within the old city wall, the ancient building facade is real; but the rest...

"We spend much time dreaming and too little time converting those dreams into reality" - Lucha ("to fight")

Built before the Arab domination of Osca - when it was renamed Wasqah - this Roman-era wall fortified the old City. In some places the original stone-brick is clearly passing the test of time...

... and in others it has been remodeled as the old city center has expanded outward. On this side of the city, the wall's entrances are much smaller and were used primarily by workers, servants, & suppliers - note that none of these cars will pass through the portal between the two towers 'recently' converted to homes.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Zaragoza - Holidays in a Catholic nation

25 December 2009 - And so it was that on the very eve of Christmas, the same night but 4 hours later by road after we lightly supped in Toledo, that we arrived in Zaragoza. Situated just between Madrid and Barcelona along the peninsula's mighty Ebro River, Zaragoza sits as the capital of the autonomous community of Aragon. I veritably crashed upon arrival particularly since I did all the driving that day (Madrid-Toledo-Zaragoza).
There are various schools in Zaragoza (my brother studies in one) and libraries - a testament to its long-time reputation as a sanctuary for scholars and intellectuals of all kinds - some near still-existing Romanic and Muslim structures, and buildings from even before the colonial and Franco eras. It was here, even in the two brief nights we stayed, where I finally chilled out and relaxed a bit since arriving in Spain. No rush to see things or tour around or try to hit the street at night here (university scene, no?) - none of that because no one else was out for doing that either. It was Christmas day in a Catholic nation and entire families were out in droves, and all congregating around community squares or especially the churches and cathedrals. Bundled but jovial, even the kids were running around central squares and plazas everywhere.
There were however many local-owned shops, restaurants, and cafes open until early evening. We took serious advantage of this to see some of the major historical and religious sites, but also enjoy some good beer and excellent food and drink around the city. At this time of year, it's not hard to slow down and chill for a while in Zaragoza.

Frankly just another of my favorite shots. Nice reflection of Zaragoza - old, quirky, enduring, humble - on Christmas.

Likely more contemporary pieces than ancient sculptures, it still makes for a stunning entrance. Perhaps old Aragonese style?

Lower level foundations of a pretty sick cafe/bar. Perhaps Roman era, too?

Part of La Muralla, an ancient city-encircling wall of stone; Romanic era. 'Zaragoza' - think Spanish-ization of 'CaeserAugustus', Roman city and Iberian outpost to defend against Visigoths (c.~14 B.C.).

Large Muslim tower, a historic gem illuminating the landscape. Marks the era of the city's history when it was renamed Saraqusta (c.~714 A.D.) and served as strategic Muslim base for conquests into France.

Basilica de Nuestra Senora del Pilar, from plaza floor.

View of the Zaragoza and the grand Ebro River from topmost tower Basilica del Pilar.

Like an onion, you can see how the current Baroque era Basilica del Pilar was built to encompass existing structures.

Main chamber ceiling, altar, and central pulpits inside Basilica; photographs not 'allowed'.

"Street of the protest/demonstration"

Wonderful displays of street art all throughout Zaragoza. I was impressed they mostly avoided historic structures and stuck to modern concrete and sheet metal canvas.

More street art. "They're not good advisers"

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Toldeo - City of Three Cultures

24 December 2009 - The final challenge on our last day in Madrid was to actually leave the city. Not only was I at last orienting myself in the city and really digging the metro system, but we had to pick up a car (stick shift) and navigate through urban holiday traffic out of Madrid. But once on the road we crossed through a spectacular arid-plateau landscape on our way to Toldeo, the ancient City of Three Cultures.

Toldeo is really an old-ass, ancient city. Older than old and located at just about the center of the peninsula, it has served alternately as the Iberian nexii of power for Muslim, Christian, & Jewish empires for much of the last millenia. The varied influences of all three cultures is evident EVERYWHERE - in the architecture, the city layout, the artwork, the establishments, and the languages. Given the little I saw in my half-day visit, I was incredibly moved by the historical self-consciousnes of this city, especially felt perhaps becase we arrived on Christmas Eve. Between discovering chilled Patcharan, eating toasted bread with meat and beer, grubbing on tapas and drinks at a just-opened bar, getting seperated from our party a few hours, and brief encounters during simple sight-seeing, I can say it is a truly beautiful city, both visually and in a culturally deep and rich sense.

As it heralded our approach to Toledo my brother told us this bull image serves as the logo for a long-time popular domestic drink.

The highway-side entrance to 'downtown' Toledo was overhung by the very grass from above.

Soon after entering Toldeo's walled interior city, we passed the door of this real-life Order of monks or knights.

Long-time home of Domenikos Theotokopkulos (El Greco!), on the left.

Real. Old City. Note the patterned tiled walls and elevated water tank.

Interior patio (certifiably award-winning) of well-preserved traditional Toldeo home.

View looking south from Toldeo's hillside onto Targus River.

Main entrance to Cathedral of Toldeo. I entered later just before Christmas Eve mass - WOW.

Sticking to the roots Toledo-style, with Cathedral of Toledo in background. I also just really like this photo.

View of Southern pedestrian entrance to Toldeo over Tagus River, from down along city wall. Note bud Chris for scale.

Natural attenuation surrounding city's outer wall between Targus.

Ancient, narrow alleys as shown perfectly by my brother.

Close-up view of another cathedral, note complete difference of style.

Two very different sculptures over a dwelling's entrance.

Homage to Spanish 19th century writer, poet, journalist, and one-time Toledo resident, Gustavo Adolfo Becquer.

Old-world city landscapes seen from an ancient urban canyon/alleyway.

Another ancient alleyway going uphill. If walls in this city could talk...