Spain. Valencia. Las Fallas, a World Heritage Site

Las Fallas de Valencia are festivals that go from March 15 (plantá) to March 19 (cremá) with a tradition rooted in the Spanish city of Valencia and different towns in the Valencian Community. Officially they begin on the last Sunday in February with the act of the maid.
Currently, this festival has become a very important tourist attraction, since in addition to being classified as a festival of International Tourist Interest, in November 2016 Unesco inscribed them on its Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.
They are also called Josephine festivals or festes de Sant Josep (in Valencian), since they are celebrated in honor of San José, patron saint of carpenters, who was a very widespread guild in the city when they began to be celebrated in the late 19th century, which it has kept until today, given the importance of the furniture industry in the region.

In medieval Valencian, the word falla (from the Latin fac [u] la, diminutive of fax, ‘torch’) was used to name the torches that were placed on top of the watchtowers.

In the Llibre dels Fets, it is mentioned that the troops of King Jaime carried fallas (torches) to illuminate themselves, both for the road and at the entrance of the tents.
Torches were also used to light a party.
Reference is also made to this term to refer to the bonfires and lights that were lit on the eve of extraordinary and patron saint festivals.
On the eve of Saint Joseph’s Day bonfires were lit to announce their festivity, this ritual practice receiving the name «cremà».

The popular version of the origin of the fallas according to the Marquis of Cruïlles, were started by the carpenters’ union who burned on the eve of the day of their patron Saint Joseph, in a purifying bonfire, the shavings and leftover old junk, cleaning the workshops before entering spring. In addition, they burned their ‘»parots»‘ (structures from which the lamps hung that gave them light) since with the end of winter and the arrival of spring, and as the days became longer, they were no longer necessary.
According to this theory, popular inventiveness gave these parots human form.
This romantic legend of the origin of the festival contrasts with the documentation preserved in the Carpenters Guild, which does not cite the construction of fallas on its eve, but rather the religious festival of March 19 itself.

This unusual year, it is planned that the Fallas de Valencia 2021 will be held from September 1 to 5.
An opportunity again to enjoy these holidays after the cancellation of last year 2020, due to the COVID19 pandemic.

Morocco. Casablanca. The Hassan II mosque, a landmark for the city of the sea

The Great Hassan II Mosque of Casablanca: majestic, spectacular, grand… It is a real wonder.
Since its inauguration in 1993, its 200-meter-high minaret or minaret made it the tallest temple in the world, until the inauguration in 2019 of the Djamaa El Djazair Mosque, in Algiers, Algeria, whose minaret is 265 meters high.
It is located on an artificial island on the Atlantic Ocean in reference to a verse from the Koran that indicates that «the throne of Allah is in the water».
Its construction began in 1989 and concluded in 1993. It required 53 thousand square meters of carved wood, as well as more than 10 square meters of mosaic and between 50 and 80 million hours of work.
It has the latest technologies such as earthquake resistance, roof that opens automatically, heated floor and electric doors.
The architectural project was commissioned by King Hassan II of Morocco, designed by the French studio Michel Pinseau.
The Moroccan king’s idea was to provide Casablanca, the country’s economic capital, with an emblematic building that would once again place it as the spearhead in architectural matters and that would represent the Arab-Muslim tradition of the country, as well as its entry into modernity. Through this monumental work, it was also sought for the city to have its own landmark building, in the same way as the Moroccan imperial cities: Fez and its Karaouyine, Rabat and its Hassan Tower, and Marrakech and its Koutoubia mosque.
One of the reasons why the Hassan II Mosque is worth visiting is precisely that it is possible to do so. The vast majority of Moroccan mosques are not open to visitors and their access is restricted to believers to perform daily prayers. This is the case, at least, with the religious temples of the great cities of the country: the Koutoubia in Marrakech, the Al Karaouine in Fez, the Hassan in Rabat, the Great Mosque of Tangier … and a long etcetera. However, non-believing visitors can enter this site, within strict hours and after paying the entrance fee.


Malaga Cathedral

Malaga Cathedral was built between the 16th and 18th centuries on the city’s Main Mosque, of which only the magnificent Patio de los Naranjos remained. When the Christians conquered Malaga in August 1487, they consecrated the then mosque and turned it into the Church of Santa María de la Encarnación, to which the Catholic Monarchs were especially devoted.
The renovations began in 1510 when the impressive Gothic façade was built. In the following years, the Cathedral was adorned with several chapels and altars of Baroque and Renaissance influence.
The Cathedral began to be used for worship only in 1768, although the towers and the decoration of the new chapels were still to be completed. The Napoleonic wars and lack of funds left the Cathedral incomplete, and it has remained so to this day.
Although its full name is Santa Iglesia Catedral Basílica de la Encarnación, the people of Malaga affectionately call it «La Manquita». This nickname is due to the lack of the second tower, which was in the original plans of the architect Diego de Siloé.
One version of the legend tells that the funds destined for the construction of the second tower were donated to the American War of Independence, while others affirm that they were destined for the more urgent construction of a highway that would connect Malaga with Velez-Malaga.
In any case, the construction of the Cathedral came to a standstill at the beginning of the 17th century, and the Cathedral has been left with «one hand» ever since.
Malaga Cathedral is the most famous monument in the city, visible from anywhere in the capital of the Costa del Sol. It is the highest Cathedral in Andalusia, and one of the most peculiar due to the absence of the one that was intended to be your second tower.

You cannot leave Malaga without visiting its cathedral. Both for its artistic contribution and for its beauty and symbolism, you will fall in love with the Cathedral of Malaga as soon as you enter its doors.


Praça do Comercio in Lisbon, Portugal

The Praça do Comércio  (Commerce Square, better known as Terreiro do Paço), was the land where the Royal Palace of Lisbon was located for more than 200 years.
It is one of the most important squares in Lisbon and, with a great view of the Tagus estuary, it is the nerve center of the city
It is one of the largest squares in Portugal and Europe.
It is a space full of life and movement, mandatory for all visitors.
In 1511, D. Manuel I changed his residence from the Castle of San Jorge to this place next to the Tagus. This palace and its library with more than seventy thousand volumes was destroyed by the Lisbon Earthquake. In the reconstruction, the square became a fundamental element of the plans of the Marquis of Pombal. The new buildings, with arcades surrounding the plaza, are currently occupied by ministries.
Several historical events have occurred in this square:

Before the 1755 earthquake, there was the Royal Palace, in whose library 70,000 volumes and hundreds of works of art were kept, including paintings by Titian, Rubens and Correggio. Everything was destroyed. The actual archives with the documents relating to the exploration of the ocean, including, for example, numerous letters from the discovery of Brazil and other ancient documents were also lost.

On February 1, 1908, King Carlos and his son, Luis Felipe, were assassinated when they passed through the square.

On April 25, 1974, the square witnessed the rebellion of the Armed Forces Movement, which overthrew the government of Marcello Caetano and the New State, a revolution without bloodshed.

On May 11, 2010, Pope Benedict XVI, during his pastoral visit to Portugal, celebrated a mass in the square

The Koutoubia Mosque, the main landmark in Marrakech

The Koutoubia, is a mosque, a building for the worship of the Islamic religion, built in the century XII in the city of Marrakech in Morocco, representative of Almohad art. It is the largest mosque in Marrakech.
The mosque is built with red stone, formerly plastered, and has six rooms in succession, one above the other. It was designed in such a way that anyone was prevented from looking inside from the minaret at the king’s harems.
It is designed in a classic Almohad style and the towers are adorned with copper globes.
It is situated in the southwest of the Medina of Marrakech and southwest of the Jamaa el Fna square next to the Mohamed V avenue.
The mosque is adorned with curved windows, a band of ceramic inlaid, pointed merlons and decorative arches; It has a large square with gardens, and it is illuminated with spotlights at night.
The Koutubía stands out for its 66-meter high minaret (according to other sources, 77 meters), which is the tallest building in the city.
Includes a needle and orbs. The minaret is the symbol and landmark of the city and, without a doubt, its most representative monument.
It was completed in the reign of the Berber Almohad caliph Yaqub al-Mansur (from 1184 to 1199) and served as a model for the construction of the Giralda in Sevilla (Spain) first, and the unfinished Hasan Tower in Rabat (Morocco) later.
The mosque is located about 200 meters west of the souk on Jemaa el Fna square, a prominent market square that has existed since the creation of the city.
To the west and south of the mosque is a prominent rose garden, and across the avenue Houmman-el-Fetouaki is the small mausoleum of Yusuf ibn Tashfin, the builder of Marrakech, a simple crenellated structure.
The minaret is a symbol of Marrakech. All the names and spelling of the Koutoubia mosque, including Jami ‘al-Kutubiyah, Kotoubia, Kutubiya, and Kutubiyyin, are based on the Arabic word koutoubiyyin, which means «bookseller.»

The Torre del Oro, the Sevillian symbol

On the left bank of the Guadalquivir, next to the Maestranza bullring, stands the Torre del Oro giving its golden reflections to the river since the 13th century. Originally a defensive watchtower that the Almohad governor of Seville Abù l-Ulà ordered to be built in 1220, it was one of the last constructions erected in the Muslim Isbiliya. In 1248, the troops of King Ferdinand III of Castile would take the city for the Christians. A thousand curious stories, legends and hoaxes have circulated about this elegant dodecagonal tower: the first, that of its own construction, which spans five centuries and reflects three different eras in the history of Sevilla.

We know that the Tower of Gold has been known this way since Arab times for its characteristic golden gleams – possibly its name then was Bury al-dahab – but we have not known for sure why until very recently. It was in 2005, during restoration works, that scientists discovered that the glosses are due to a mixture of lime mortar and pressed straw. Thus ended centuries of myths that attributed the name to a supposed tile roof that reflected the sun’s rays or to gold and silver treasures that King Pedro I kept in the tower.

Another of the false legends about the tower states that from its basement crossed the river to the other bank a thick chain destined to cut off the path of enemy ships. The truth of the case is that in Almohad times there was an aquatic walkway, formed by several ships linked by a chain, thus connecting the city with Triana. It was that chain that in 1248 destroyed the Castilian fleet of Admiral Ramón de Bonifaz, who ascended the Guadalquivir in the middle of the siege of the city. Because there are many of those Asturian and Cantabrian sailors, the feat has been immortalized in the coat of arms of Cantabria and in those of towns such as Avilés, Santander or Castro Urdiales.

How could it be otherwise, such a picturesque building could not have had a single use throughout history. After the Christian conquest of Seville, the tower lost its defensive function to be used as a chapel dedicated to San Isidoro de Sevilla, former archbishop of the city. In subsequent centuries, the old watchtower has also served as a prison for members of the nobility, a gunpowder store, and offices for the Harbor Master and Naval Command. Legend also says that King Pedro I took the maidens he courted to the Torre del Oro. The best known in Seville is Doña Aldonza, who is said to have lived in the tower.

The watchtower was declared a historical-artistic monument in 1931 and has been restored several times during the 20th century, partly thanks to the work of the Navy. Since 1944 it houses the Maritime Museum, for which 400 pieces were brought from the Naval Museum of Madrid. On its two floors, the center brings together various nautical instruments, models of historic ships, navigation charts and documents that review the history of the Spanish Navy, as well as Magellan’s world tour. The copy of Johannes Janssonius’s engraving of Seville from 1617 is very curious, in which you can see the walled city and the Torre del Oro before its last addition in the 18th century. Its panoramic terrace with magnificent views of Seville and the mythical reflections of the tower in the Guadalquivir river


The Plaza Mayor in Madrid. A square with a lot of history

The Plaza Mayor is located in the heart of Madrid, a few meters from the Puerta del Sol and the Royal Palace.
It was designed by Juan de Herrera and Juan Gómez de Mora in the Baroque style and is one of the essential visits in Madrid.
Madrid’s Plaza Mayor is 129 meters long by 94 meters wide and is surrounded by arcades and three-story brick buildings.
Throughout the history of Madrid, the Plaza Mayor has been a place for meetings, announcements and celebrations of a civil nature.
In addition, it is loaded with commemorative plaques, historical places and other symbols of great value.
Several architects intervened in the construction of the square, among them Juan de Herrera and Juan Gómez de Mora, who were the true promoters of the project.
With the passage of time and the different fires suffered, the Plaza Mayor has been rebuilt and renovated on several occasions throughout history.
To get to the Plaza Mayor, you can use the different access doors that surround the square, each with a special charm.
In the 15th century, the Plaza Mayor received the name of Plaza del Arrabal, which was replaced by other names such as: Plaza de la Constitución, Plaza Real and Plaza de la República.
The current name has been preserved since the end of the Civil War.
In the Plaza Mayor we can find three places of special interest:
Statue of Felipe III: created in 1616 by Juan de Bolonia and Pietro Tacca, it was a gift from the Duke of Florence to the Spanish king. Until the middle of the 19th century he was in the Casa de Campo.
Casa de la Panadería: it is the most important building and it was the first to begin construction in 1590.
Initially it was the most important bakery in Madrid. The facade is decorated by Carlos Franco.
Arco de Cuchilleros: this arch forms the best known of the nine access gates that the Plaza Mayor has. The name comes from the street with which it communicates, Calle Cuchilleros.


Palacio da Pena and its gardens, the best of Sintra (Portugal)

The Palacio da Pena is a jewel of 19th century Portuguese romanticism, a colorful mix of architectural and decorative styles that stands in the Sintra mountains, a few minutes from Lisbon.
The diversity of palaces, castles and fortresses that we can find in Portugal is overwhelming, but if there is one that stands out above all the others, even for its location and its striking color, that is undoubtedly the Palacio da Pena, in Sintra. This palace, ordered to be built by King Ferdinand II in 1836, impresses both outside and inside and its historical richness made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1995 along with the cultural landscape of Sintra.
An experience with which to discover this architectural wonder that is well worth a visit in person as soon as possible.
The mix of styles is tremendous, you will see Neo-Gothic, Neo-Manueline, Neo-Islamic and Neo-Renaissance, and it is that everything exotic fascinated the minds closest to the German-influenced romanticism of the time. The old cells of the friars were converted into large rooms with spectacular vaults, and in 1843 the king decided to expand it by adding a New Palace with even larger rooms. In fact, the striking colors of the complex allow the two constructions to be differentiated: old pink for the Old Palace and ocher for the New Palace.
If the rich interior decoration of each of its rooms seems to exceed your expectations, the Parque de la Pena should not be overlooked, since its landscaping was as important as the palace itself. With trees and plants from all over the world, with winding paths and stone benches where you can rest in the middle of nature, a complex is completed that was rightly declared a Portuguese National Monument in 1910.

Segovia and its aqueduct

At the confluence of the Eresma and Clamores rivers, protected by the imposing silhouette of the Sierra de Guadarrama, is one of the most visited cities in Spain. And there are so many things to see in Segovia that it is well worth a visit.
Segovia is a small and pleasant city, whose historic center has been declared, together with its mythical Roman aqueduct, a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. In it you can perfectly appreciate the cultural and patrimonial legacy left by the coexistence of Muslims, Jews and Christians.
We have been lucky enough to visit it and it has always seemed to us one of those cities that create the feeling of traveling through time. Such is the medieval beauty that it treasures.
In addition, you breathe clean air and eat luxuriously. What more can you ask for from a destination?
High-speed trains depart from Madrid to Segovia. So it’s easy to get there.
Without a doubt, the best place to see in Segovia is its aqueduct. This impressive work of Roman civil engineering was built at the beginning of the second century, at the end of the mandate of Emperor Trajan or the beginning of Hadrian, both emperors known for being one of the most powerful in the history of Rome and having been born in Hispania.
The Aqueduct of Segovia brought (until very recently) water from the Fuenfría spring – located about 17 kilometers from Segovia – to the city, supplying all its inhabitants. The most visited section, and photographed by tourists, is the one that passes through the Plaza del Azoguejo, where it saves the slope of the terrain with an arcade that leaves everyone who sees it for the first time with their mouths open. In its highest part it reaches 28 meters and has a total of 167 arches.
Really impressive.
Nothing is comparable to the sensation you experience when seeing it in front of you.
Another place you must visit in Segovia is The Alcazar:
Atop a crag and dominating the western part of Segovia, this celebrated palace has Roman and Moorish origins, but its Renaissance storybook appearance dates back to the reign of Philip II in the 16th century. Many Castilian kings lived in the Alcázar, such as the great Isabel la Católica, who inhabited it at the end of the 15th century.
A tour of the Alcázar of Segovia is absolutely essential to understand the history of the place.
From here, you can enjoy one of the best views to see in Segovia, with the entire center at your feet and the rugged mountains of Guadarrama to the southeast.
The cathedral is another must-see during a visit to Segovia.
After the destruction of the old cathedral of Segovia in the Revolt of the Communards of 1520, a new one was built on top of the old Jewish quarter, some distance from the Alcázar, where it would be out of danger.
Despite being built in the Renaissance, this magnificent building was erected in an Old Gothic style, making it one of the newest original Gothic structures in Europe.
A beautiful city where you can also enjoy some of the many tasty dishes that can be eaten in Segovia: such as the world famous Segovian roast suckling pig.

The Real Alcazar of Sevilla

The Real Alcazar of Sevilla is a walled palace complex built in different historical stages.
The original palace was built in the High Middle Ages. Some vestiges of Islamic art are preserved and, from the period after the Castilian conquest, a Mudejar palatial space and another in the Gothic style. In later reforms, Renaissance, Mannerist1 and Baroque elements were added.
It is the residence of the members of the Spanish royal family when they visit Seville.
This makes it the oldest royal palace in use in Europe.
Unesco declared it a World Heritage Site, along with the Seville Cathedral and the Archivo de Indias, in 1987.
In 2019 it received 2,067,016 visitors, making it one of the most visited monuments in Spain.
Throughout history, the Alcazar has been the scene of various events related to the Spanish Crown. Between 1363 and 1365, as the seat of the Castilian court, it was visited by the diplomats of the Granada court Ibn Jaldun, philosopher, and Ibn al-Jatib, chronicler and poet, to sign a peace treaty with King Pedro.
In 1367 the Prince of Wales sent the English diplomats Neil Loring, Richard Punchardoun and Thomas Balastre to this Alcazar to meet Don Pedro and collect payments.
On July 28, 1477 the Catholic Monarchs arrived in Sevilla, using the enclosure as a room after ten years without a king set foot in the city. Queen Isabel I of Castile, observing the poor condition of the building, ordered interventions and measures for the material and functional recovery of the site.
A year later, on June 30, 1478, his second son, Prince John, was born in the palace.
It is known that this royal birth was assisted by a Sevillian midwife known as «la Herradera» and that it was attended, as witnesses appointed by King Fernando, of Garci Téllez, Alonso Melgarejo, Fernando de Abrejo and Juan de Pineda, as marked Castilian norms, to dispel the slightest doubt that the son was the queen’s.
In 1526 the wedding of Carlos I with his cousin Isabel of Portugal was celebrated in the Alcázar.
Between 1729 and 1733 the Court was established in the Alcazar of Sevilla. Felipe V, Isabel de Farnesio and the future Carlos III lived there.
In 1823, on the occasion of the military intervention of the Hundred Thousand Sons of San Luis, the royal family, headed by Fernando VII, resided in Seville for two months, during which the Alcázar served as their royal residence.
Coinciding with this royal stay, on April 17, 1823, the Infante Enrique de Borbón y Borbón-Dos Sicilias was born in the city, son of the Infante Francisco de Paula de Borbón and Luisa Carlota de Borbón-Dos Sicilias, and to whom the king Fernando VII granted him, a few days after his birth, the title of Duke of Seville.
By decree of April 22, 1931, the Government of the Second Spanish Republic, at the proposal of its Minister of Finance, Indalecio Prieto, ceded the Alcazar and its gardens to the municipality of Sevilla.
On April 2, 1976, during the Spanish Transition, a meeting of the Council of Ministers took place here, chaired by Juan Carlos I.
The Council of Ministers met again in the Alcazar on March 19, 2010, this time without the presence of the monarch.
The last event related to the monarchy was on March 18, 1995, when a lunch and reception was held on the occasion of the wedding of the Infanta Elena de Borbón, daughter of King Juan Carlos I, with Jaime de Marichalar.

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