The Alcazaba with the ruins of a Roman theater in the foreground
Last week I had the pleasure of spending five days in Málaga, a historic port on Spain’s south coast. Founded by the Phoenicians around the 8th century BC, it continued to be important during Roman times and well into the modern era. While it was never one of the major ports like Barcelona, it always saw brisk trade.
The main attractions are two museums dedicated to local-boy-done-good Pablo Picasso and a pair of impressive medieval castles. The first is the Alcazaba, which loomed over the town and we’ll talk about today. Next week’s castle is further upslope and is called the Gibralfaro.
The Alcázar, built in the 12th century upon the foundations
of a Roman fort, is one of Spain’s most impressive castles,
and that’s saying a lot. Check out my previous post
about the Alcázar of Segovia and its interesting
collection of medieval artillery.
While I’ve blogged a lot here about the sites of Madrid, it’s been a while since I’ve mentioned some of the excellent day trip possibilities from the Spanish capital. My favorite is the small city of Segovia just on the other side of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountains. With a beautiful cathedral and castle, one of the best preserved Roman aqueducts in Europe, plus winding medieval streets and delicious cuisine, it’s a popular choice for a day trip or overnight stay. You can reach Segovia by bus in just over an hour.
Minster Lovell Hall with St. Kenelm’s Church to the left
As usual in the summer, my family and I are in Oxford, where I ensconce myself in the Bodleian Library and research my books. It’s been a rainy summer, in stark contrast to last month’s frying heat of Lanzarote, and so we haven’t been able to get out and about much. Good for my wordcount, bad for my travel addiction.
So when the clouds finally broke last weekend we rushed out onto an easy six-mile country ramble along the River Windrush to visit Minster Lovell Hall, a 15th century manor house set in the lovely English countryside.
In the North Holland province of the Netherlands stands the atmospheric ruin of Brederode Castle, a battered survivor of a violent past.
Unlike the more popular Dutch castle Muiderslot, which I’ve also written about here on Black Gate, Brederode is mostly ruins but still makes a rewarding day trip from Amsterdam.
Brederode started as a bailey and square keep built in 1282 by Willem van Brederode to guard an important coastal road. In 1300 the original fortification was rebuilt with a large keep with three square and one round tower at the corners. A moat surrounded the entire structure. In 1351, it was the scene of fighting in the so-called Hook and Cod Wars. This was a struggle over the rights to the title of the Count of Holland. The “Cod” faction was mainly made up of city merchants and was called this by their enemies in the landed nobility because a cod will continue to greedily eat and grow as long as there’s food to consume. The traditional nobility called themselves the “Hooks” because, of course, that’s what you use to catch a cod. The Brederode family was part of the Hook faction but this proved to be a bad decision because a Cod force besieged the castle in 1351 and destroyed it.
These colors don’t run! Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Well, the pseudo-Muslims are at it again, killing innocent people and trying to turn one of the world’s great faiths into a whacked-out death cult. It’s been 24 hours since the Brussels attacks and now people are mourning, the politicians are posturing, and the police are hunting down suspects. A few extra bombing runs against Islamic State are probably being planned too.
It is, sadly, all too predictable. We’ve seen this before and we will see it again. So I’d like to buck the vibe and take a look at what Brussels has to offer visitors. It’s a beautiful European capital that’s all too often overlooked by people headed to more popular destinations such as London and Paris. That’s a shame, because I’ve visited Belgium several times and have always enjoyed my visits to the city. It’s a fun place with great food, awesome beer, and plenty to see. The fundamentalists haven’t changed that and never will. Here are five things you won’t want to miss.
In a previous post about Salamanca, Spain, I talked about Salamanca cathedral’s rich collection of Medieval and Renaissance art, inlcuding a splended retablo and some rare wall paintings. Like many cathedrals in this country, it also houses a small museum of some of its treasures. One of the most unusual items is the Altarpiece of the Virgin of the Milk.
It dates to the second half of the 16th century and was produced by an unknown artist. At its center is a breastfeeding Virgin, “La Virgen de la Leche,” part of a tradition of such depictions dating back to at least the 12th century. She is surrounded by other images detailing her Bible story and also related religious figures. Above is her Coronation. On the upper left is the Annunciation, and to the upper right the Archangel Gabriel. To the left is the Assumption of Mary, to the right the Birth and Adoration of Jesus.
It gets weirder in the lower register, with Saint Agatha on the lower left offering a plate of breasts to Saints Cosmas and Damien. On the lower right Saint Margaret rounds out the picture.
Salamanca is one of Spain’s better-preserved medieval cities. It’s famous for its university founded in c.1130 and chartered in 1218, numerous old stately homes, winding medieval streets, some great bookstores, and a cathedral renowned for its rare medieval paintings. The entire Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Spring has finally sprung here in Madrid. The sidewalk cafes are full, and those who can’t find a seat have set off to the countryside to go hiking. It’s a good time to leave the museums and galleries behind and take a look at what the surrounding area has to offer.
This past weekend my family and I visited Alcalá de Henares, a small city 40 minutes on the suburban train outside of Madrid. Its main claim to fame is being the birthplace of Cervantes, who has been in the news recently because Spanish archaeologists discovered his tomb.
Like many Spanish cities, it has its roots in prehistory and came to prominence in Roman times, when it was called Complutum. After the fall of the empire it was a Visigothic settlement and was later taken over by the Moors, who built a citadel (“al-qal’a” in Arabic, a common place name in Spain). During the Moorish period it was a thriving town with large Christian and Jewish quarters.