In many of Spain’s oldest cities, history comes in layers.
Dominating the southern skyline of Córdoba is the alcázar, a castle that takes its name from the Arabic word for fort, al-qasr. This medieval Christian castle/palace was built atop the foundations of an earlier Muslim palace, which was built atop the foundations of a Visigothic fortress, which was built atop the remains of a Roman governor’s palace, which was built atop. . .who knows?
The earliest structures all but vanished after the Moors expanded the building into a palace with a large garden, which was used by the local rulers until the Christians retook the city in 1236. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began construction of a larger fortress on the site, although he maintained the luxuriant gardens of the Moorish palace as well as building generous living quarters. Even though the Christians demolished the majority of the original structure, the new building looked pretty Islamic thanks to the introduction of the Mudéjar style, an enduring Spanish architectural style that takes its inspiration from Moorish designs. Even some early twentieth century buildings near by house in Madrid are in this style.
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.
Thus I thoroughly enjoyed my trip to Slovenia a few years ago. This compact little country is affordable, easy to travel around in, and has a lovely stretch of the Alps. More importantly, it has heaps of historic buildings, including an estimated 700 castles.
Zaprice Castle is one of Slovenia’s most famous and most visited. It’s located in Kamnik, a small town at the foot of the Alps just 45 minutes from the capital Ljubljana. The castle stands on a hill at the edge of town, making it a clear landmark.
Last summer I went to visit some of my in-laws and the World’s Coolest Nephew in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and disappointed our dear editor John O’Neill by missing the Piracy Museum.
Well, I just got back from another trip to Lanzarote, and this time I made it there! The Piracy Museum is housed in the 15th century Castillo de Santa Barbara and is a delightfully cheesy tourist trap. You get cardboard cutouts of pirates, a mock up of a ship complete with a cabin boy taking a dump, televisions playing old pirate movies, and of course a big Jolly Roger. You even get a bit of history.
The armory doubled as the reception room. The first thing visitors see
is the Marquis’ coat of arms flanked by these two fine suits of armor.
Madrid is filled with museums. While most visitors see the “Golden Triangle” of art museums consisting of El Prado, La Reina Sofia, and El Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, there are dozens of other museums, some big, some small, that are well worth a look.
One is the Museo Cerralbo, the former mansion of the Marquis de Cerralbo. Enrique de Aguilera y Gamboa (1845-1922), 17th Marquis of Cerralbo, was an avid collector of art and antiquities and stuffed his grandiose city home with his purchases. The Marquis did more than simply collect, he was also an active archaeologist and did much to advance the study of prehistory in Spain. Of greatest interest to Black Gate readers is the impressive collection of medieval and Renaissance arms and armor.
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.
The Wallace Collection in London is often overlooked by international visitors in favor of the more famous British Museum and National Gallery, but if you’re looking for a world-class collection of medieval European and Asian arms and armor, this is the place to go.
The Wallace Collection is a national museum that displays works of art collected in the 18th and 19th centuries by the first four Marquesses of Hertford and Sir Richard Wallace, the son of the 4th Marquess. It was bequeathed to the British nation by Sir Richard’s widow, Lady Wallace, in 1897. Located in Hertford House and free to the public, it gives you an insight into a sumptuous home of a leading art collector of that era. The collection is especially strong in paintings, sculpture, ceramics, and antique furniture. The arms and armor section has some 2,500 objects dating from the 10th to the 19th century and is one of the best collections in Europe.
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.
Europe is rich in collections of early arms and armor. Most major cities and many smaller towns have their local armories. Generally these collections span a broad range of time, but La Real Armería, the Royal Armory, in the Royal Palace in Madrid, is unusual in that most of the collection dates to the lives of Charles V (1500-1558) and Philip II (1527-1598). This makes it perhaps the best collection of high quality sixteenth-century arms and armor in the world.