The mosque interior, showing the famous series of double arches. The column on the left has a Corinthian capital reused from a Roman building. The one of the right has a Moorish capital.
I am fortunate to live in a country that has preserved remains from a wide variety of civilizations. From Roman cities to medieval castles, Spain’s got it all. One culture that has left an enduring legacy on Spanish architecture, cuisine, and language is that of the Moors. For much of the Middle Ages, large portions of the Iberian Peninsula were ruled by Muslims from North Africa and the Levant, who built one of the country’s most beautiful buildings.
Invading Muslims took Córdoba, then a rather minor Visigothic city in southern Spain, in 711 AD. They destroyed most of it but spared the church, which was then divided and used as a house of worship for both faiths. The city languished until the arrival of Abd al-Rahman I in 756, who took power in Muslim Spain and made Córdoba his capital. In 784 AD he ordered a great mosque to be built on the site of the church. Later Muslim rulers expanded it until 1236, when Córdoba was recaptured by the Christians and the building was converted into La Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (The Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption).
The result is an amazing hybrid of various periods of Moorish and Christian architecture.
In last week’s post about Zaprice Castle, Slovenia, we looked at a well-preserved Renaissance fortification protecting the important crossroads of Kamnik. Two earlier castles can also be visited in this town, is an easy day trip from the capital Ljubljana.
Mali Grad (“Little Castle”) is an obvious landmark visible from most of Kamnik. It’s situated atop a small hill overlooking the town. All that remains today is a reconstructed tower, a few foundations of walls, and a medieval chapel.
Mali Grad is first mentioned in 1202 but dates to perhaps a generation or two before then.
The apse dome of the Basilica of San Vitale shows Christ enthroned, and looking very much like a Byzantine emperor
I’ve been posting a lot lately about my recent trip to Italy. The high point of the trip for me, indeed the travel high point of the year, was visiting Ravenna.
Ravenna has the best collection of Late Antique church art in the world. As the Western Roman Empire crumbled, Ravenna became the refuge for the last emperors and acted as the capital from 402 to 476 AD. Unlike the more exposed city of Rome, Ravenna was protected on all sides by swamps and was also a base for the Roman navy, making it easy to defend. It eventually fell into Germanic hands but became Roman once again when it served as the Exarchate for the Byzantine Empire from 540 to 751 AD. The Exarch was the representative of the Byzantine emperor in Constantinople and ruled over portions of Italy. Ravenna has a rich collection of religious buildings constructed by the Romans, Christian Ostrogoths, and Byzantines.
On a recent trip to Bologna in northern Italy, I got to admire the city’s famous medieval towers and beautiful churches. The city’s medieval and Renaissance history is everywhere. What is less apparent is that it was a major center for Etruscan civilization. No Etruscan monuments survive in the city itself, so it’s fortunate that the Museo Civico Archeologico has an excellent Etruscan collection. This is thanks to several pioneering archaeologists in the 19th and early 20th century who excavated numerous Etruscan buildings and tombs and carefully preserved their findings.
The Santa Cueva Oratory in Cádiz was finished in 1796
and is one of the best examples of its kind. It features some
unusually bright and cheery paintings by Francisco de Goya
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Phoenician and Roman Cádiz, the early history of one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe, on the southwestern coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar. While Cádiz was important throughout its history, its sheltered harbor on the Atlantic made it a good spot for launching the many exploratory vessels that Spain sent out into the world starting in the late 15th century. Columbus made his second and fourth voyages to America from Cádiz, and some of the tropical plants growing in the city squares are said to be descendants of samples he brought home.
Phoenician bling.Jewelry found in the Phoenician cemetery dating from the 5th to 2nd centuries BC. The finds include many imports, even amulets of Horus and Sekhmet from as far away as Egypt
Europe is known for its ancient cities, with many dating to Roman or even pre-Roman times. One of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe is Cádiz, on the southwestern coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar. It has been a city since at least Phoenician times and has been of crucial importance to the region ever since.
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.
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.
Central Spain is filled with castles and walled cities. Until the end of the Reconquista in 1492, the peninsula saw a series of wars between Muslims and Christians, or between Christian rulers who sometimes called on the Muslims for help. Central Spain is especially rich in medieval fortifications because for many years it was the frontier between the two cultures. One of the best preserved medieval cities in Soria is El Burgo de Osma.
While many people go to Amsterdam to get baked and stare at Van Gogh paintings, the area around the city has a lot to offer, including one of the most visited castles in The Netherlands.
A twenty-minute bus ride from Amstel station takes you to the little port of Muiden, and from there it’s a pleasant walk through a park and along the coast to Muiderslot, a picturesque little castle by the sea.