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A Medieval Castle and Spanish Civil War Bunker on the Outskirts of Madrid

A Medieval Castle and Spanish Civil War Bunker on the Outskirts of Madrid

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In a previous post about Spanish castles I wrote six years ago, I talked about the Castillo de Alameda de Osuna, a fifteenth-century castle on the northeastern fringes of Madrid. Back then it was rather neglected, standing as an enigmatic ruin in the middle of a field. Now it’s been restored and has opened as a museum.

The site first became important in the 12th century with the founding of two towns in the area, Barajas and La Alameda. Together they became the manor of the Mendoza family in 1369, only to be transferred to the Zapata family in 1406.

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Archaeological Discoveries Beneath Valencia, Spain

Archaeological Discoveries Beneath Valencia, Spain

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A portion of the cemetery of Valentia, from the Roman Republic

Last week, work took me to Valencia, a city on the east coast of Spain. Like many Spanish cities, it is built on layers of history, and luckily for the visitor, archaeologists digging under one of the city squares found a rich collection of remains from various periods. These have been preserved as El Centro Arqueológico de l’Almoina.

With some 2,500 square meters of remains uncovered between 1985 and 2005, it displays numerous buildings from the Roman, Visigothic, and Moorish periods. Some of them date back to the city’s founding in 138 BC during the Roman Republic as a home for retired soldiers. The city, called Valentia, expanded with typical Roman efficiency until it was obliterated, with equal Roman efficiency, by Pompey in 75 BC during the Roman civil war. It remained abandoned for more than 50 years.

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A Medieval Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

A Medieval Synagogue in Toledo, Spain

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In my last post, I talked about an early Christian church and some Visigothic remains in Toledo in central Spain. Toledo was a mix of cultures during the Middle Ages, with Christian, Muslim, and Jewish communities all leaving their mark. The city is home to an excellent Sephardi Museum housed in a medieval synagogue.

The synagogue was founded in 1356 by Samuel ha-Levi Abulafia, Royal Treasurer to King Pedro of Castile and León. It was attached to Abulafia’s palace and intended as a private house of worship.

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Medieval Wall Paintings and Visigothic Artifacts in Toledo, Spain

Medieval Wall Paintings and Visigothic Artifacts in Toledo, Spain

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Portion of a Visigothic sarcophagus, with scenes from the Bible

Enough about the Western Desert of Egypt! Let’s pull the sand out of our teeth, bid the mummies goodbye, and go to Toledo, Spain. You can eat pork, drink wine, and see some historic churches.

One of the most interesting is the Iglesia de San Román.

This church dates to the early 13th century, and like many buildings in town was built atop earlier structures. Before the church there was a mosque, and before that a Visigothic church. There may have been a Roman building before that. Its interior is in the Mudéjar style, a Moorish influenced architectural style that has continued in Spain until the modern day.

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Treasures of the Archaeological Museum, Córdoba, Spain

Treasures of the Archaeological Museum, Córdoba, Spain

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Funerary stela, Roman, middle of the first century AD

In past weeks we’ve looked at the historic city of Córdoba, Spain–its famous mosque/cathedral, its castle, and other sites. To wrap up this miniseries, let’s look at the city’s excellent archaeological museum. Like many local museums in Spain, it covers a broad range of history from the Paleolithic to the Renaissance. It is especially strong in Roman artifacts, and is in fact built on some Roman ruins that can be seen in the basement.

I love these local museums because you get to see just how long people have been living at some of these places. The museum in Córdoba is especially well presented and has some interesting pieces from the city and the surrounding countryside. I’ll let the images speak for themselves.

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The Alcázar of Córdoba: A Spanish Castle Full of Roman Mosaics

The Alcázar of Córdoba: A Spanish Castle Full of Roman Mosaics

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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.

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Strolling through Córdoba, Spain

Strolling through Córdoba, Spain

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The Calahorra tower, on the far side of the Guadalquivir River
from Córdoba, protects access to the Roman bridge. It was
originally built in the Islamic period and rebuilt in 1369

Last week I wrote about the magnificent mosque/cathedral of Córdoba. While that’s the city’s main draw, there’s plenty else to see in this historic place. In fact, the entire city center, where most of the old buildings are, is one big UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The area, next to the Guadalquivir River, has always been inhabited. Evidence of Neanderthals has been found, as well as all the major phases of prehistory. A small prehistoric settlement became a city under the Carthaginians, who called it Kartuba. When the Romans conquered it in 206 BC, the name morphed into Corduba. Under the Romans, the city thrived, becoming the cultural and administrative center of Hispania Baetica. Seneca the Elder, Seneca the Younger, and Lucan all came from Córdoba. It was briefly under Byzantine rule from 552-572 AD before falling to the Visigoths.

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The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

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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.

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Gibralfaro Castle in Málaga, Spain

Gibralfaro Castle in Málaga, Spain

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Last week I wrote about the Alcazaba Castle in Málaga, Spain. As I mentioned, it’s only one of two castles protecting the Mediterranean harbor. Up the hill from the Alcazaba, on top of the Gibralfaro Mountain, is Gibralfaro Castle.

The summit was originally home to a Phoenician lighthouse, hence the name in both Arabic and Greek, gebel-faro meaning “rock of the lighthouse”.

In 929 AD, Abd-al-Rahman III, Caliph of Cordoba, built the first castle here. It was later expanded in the 14th century by Yusef I, Sultan of Granada. He also connected this fort to the Alcazaba by adding a double wall down the slope to make one continuous fortification. You have to buy a ticket for each, though. Poor old Yusuf is spinning in his grave.

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Exploring the Alcazaba of Málaga, Spain

Exploring the Alcazaba of Málaga, Spain

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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.

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