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For whom the bell tolls

Posted on September 27th, 2012

To reach Ronda, tourists from the Costa del Sol must climb the winding road into the hills for two hours. It is a rewarding trip, for sleepy Ronda has many attractive renaissance buildings and narrow cobbled streets. But the star attraction is the one hundred metre deep El Tajo Gorge running through the town, spanned by the Puente Nuevo bridge. Most tourists remain blissfully unaware of events at the El Tajo Gorge in 1936, at the start of the Spanish Civil War. February 1936 saw the Popular Front, an alliance of communists and socialists supported by urban workers, agricultural labourers and the educated middle class, win control of the Spanish Parliament.  They had defeated the National Front, a grouping of right-wing parties supported by the…

Of relics and relicts

Posted on September 26th, 2012

Completed in 1697, the Hospital de los Venerables lies deep in the Barrio Santa Cruz, at the heart of old Seville. Originally built to provide shelter for thirty sick and retired priests, it contains an ornate chapel and now has a gallery with seven paintings by Velazquez and Murillo. The chapel houses a number of saintly relics, old bones and skulls in display cases, which still attract supplications of the faithful. Given that the efficacy and authenticity of these relics is unproven, worshippers might like to consider that these saints lived in the days when no less than fourteen churches claimed to be in possession of Jesus’ foreskin………..

Dying in Andalusia

Posted on September 26th, 2012

The village of Casares is built on a rocky outpost, topped by the ruins of a Moorish castle alongside a whitewashed cemetery. The rock is so hard that burials must be above ground, with coffins placed in cement tombs stacked one above the other. New tombs are being added all the time, creating a beautiful but rather crowded public mausoleum. One plaque speaks of the death of a seventeen year-old girl in 1895 and threatens those to blame with punishment from above. A more modern cemetery has been built below the village, lined with family vaults.  

Suffering or pleasure?

Posted on September 26th, 2012

La Fresquita is a tiny hole-in-the-wall bar on Calle Mateos Gago, in the old Jewish quarter of Seville. Space is limited to fifteen people standing, with most patrons spilling across the street. The best time to visit is after 11:00pm.  Religious illustrations cover the walls, incense burns and a television displays non-stop videos of devotional processions. At first glance, the juxtaposition of catholic penance with the enjoyment of Seville nightlife seems surprising. On reflection, perhaps catholic suffering and indulgence go together rather well.    


Posted on September 24th, 2012

Azulejos are the beautiful glazed tiles that decorate so many Andalusian facades. The Seville suburb of Triana on the west bank of the Guadalquivir River has been the site of potteries since roman times. Later the Moors introduced new techniques for making azulejo tiles, a word derived from the arabic al-zulayj, meaning small stone. The Moors created wonderful geometric mosaic patterns to embellish their palaces and mosques, in a style subsequently known as mudejar, named after muslims who remained in Iberia after the christian reconquest. Originally used for internal decoration, azulejos are now used for notices, shop-fronts and advertising billboards. Seville is a remarkable showcase for azulejos, particularly in the Real Alcazar, a 14th century royal palace originally a Moorish fort, the Plaza d’Espana, the Hotel Alfonso XIII and the former…

Saturday morning market

Posted on September 1st, 2012

The major Saturday morning market in the Luberon is at Apt, selling just about everything from clothes, shoes, bedding and beds, to vegetables, meats, honey, jams, nougat, cheeses. The stalls cover most of the old town centre and there is a section offering specialities from North Africa to the local Maghreb population. On the same day, not far away, there is a modest growers market at the small village of Le Petit Palais, near Cavaillon. This is where farmers market local seasonal produce to nearby villagers, supported by travelling vans offering fish, meats and poultry. You will not find tourist trinkets or lavender sachets here. We bought handfuls of whitebait, dried flowers, two kinds of plums, dried mushrooms and coco rouge beans.