Since I’ve lived in the U.S. most of my life, but have grandparents who immigrated from Europe, I’ve always been interested in my European roots. Our recorded history is relatively brief in the States compared to other parts of the world so we have to go to another continent to find how our ancestors lived.
Spain or in Spanish, España, is a European country mostly located on the Iberian Peninsula. It also includes two large archipelagoes, the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean Sea and the Canary Islands off the African Atlantic coast, two cities, Ceuta and Melilla, on the African mainland and several small islands in the Alboran Sea near the African coast. The mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with Gibraltar, to the north and northeast by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay and to the west and northwest by Portugal and the Atlantic Ocean. It’s the only European country to have a border with an African country, Morocco. It’s the fourth largest country in the European continent. By population, Spain is the sixth largest in Europe. Major urban areas include Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, Seville, Bilbao, and Málaga. It’s a parliamentary democracy and constitutional monarchy with King Felipe VI as head of state.
Modern humans first arrived in Spain and Portugal around 35,000 years ago. Iberian cultures along with ancient Phoenician, Greek, and Carthaginian settlements developed on the peninsula until it came under Roman rule around 200 BC when it was renamed Hispania. At the end of the Western Roman Empire, Germanic tribal confederations invaded the Iberian Peninsula. Eventually, the Visigoths would integrate by force all remaining independent territories in the peninsula into the Kingdom of Toledo. The Visigothic kingdom fell to the Moors except in the north where Spain emerged as a unified country in the 15th century under the Catholic Monarchs. Spain became one of history’s first global empires, leaving a vast cultural and linguistic legacy that includes over 500 million Spanish speakers, the world’s second most spoken native language, after Mandarin Chinese.
While there are many sites of interest in all of the cities on my tour I’m going to concentrate on the places I visited in this blog.
Madrid is the capital of Spain and its largest municipality. The city has almost 3.166 million inhabitants with a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. It is the third-largest city in the European Union after London and Berlin and lies on the River Manzanares in the center of the country. As the capital city of Spain, the seat of government, and residence of the Spanish monarch, Madrid is also the political, economic and cultural center of the country.
When I arrived in Madrid in November I only had a couple of days to recover from my jet lag and investigate the area around my hotel so I took a Hop-on Hop-off bus tour through the downtown area. I find this gives me the most information and allows me to decide which sites to visit if I have limited time.
Since I stayed near the Royal Palace of Madrid (Palacio Real de Madrid) I decided to visit this and the surrounding area which included the Opera house, Almudena Cathedral and The Plaza de Oriente with its gardens and monuments. The palace is the official residence of Felipe VI of Spain that’s only used for official acts. It’s a baroque palace full of artworks and is one of the largest European royal palaces. I visited before the U.S. Thanksgiving and there was a 20-minute wait for tickets and to get through security so you may want to buy tickets online before you go. It was well worth the wait to see its luxurious rooms and rich collections of armor and weapons, pharmaceuticals, silverware, watches, paintings, tapestries, and the most comprehensive collection of Stradivarius in the world.
The next day in the dark wee hours of the morning I sat in a deserted garage 2 levels under the Plaza de Oriente waiting for my tour bus entering a text on my phone telling my son my last location in case I wasn’t ever seen again. Luckily, I didn’t have to hit send since someone from the tour finally appeared and I got on a bus filled with Spanish speakers. The guide assured me the tour would be in both languages but I was happy to meet another single woman from Honduras who spoke English. She hadn’t visited the bus stop the day before and almost missed the bus looking for the entrance to the garage until she asked the Royal Palace guards where she could find the bus.
Tip: If you’re in a new place, especially one where you don’t know the language, know where you’re going well before you need to be there. Taxis and other shuttles aren’t expensive in Spain, so use these if it’s dark or you don’t feel comfortable with buses and trains. Even if you’re on a budget, you should take these modes of transportation when you’re on a schedule or dragging luggage. We deserve to spoil ourselves and stay safe.
Our first stop on the tour was Cáceres the capital of Cáceres province. The medieval walled city has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The Old Town (Parte Antigua) still has its ancient walls. This part of town is also well known for its multitude of storks’ nests. The walls contain a medieval town setting with no outward signs of modernity, which is why many television shows and films have been shot there. During the tour, we learned many filmmakers used the backdrop of Spain for their movies. Click on this to see a slideshow of Royalty and film stars who visited the sites I saw in Spain.https://www.google.com/culturalinstitute/beta/exhibit/TgLSYAV-1VEAIg
The small streets in the historical center have many small shops selling typical products. The convents sell homemade sweets and pastries. Typical wines from Extremadura are affordable, full-bodied reds. Local liqueurs include cherry liqueur from the nearby Jerte Valley and other original liqueurs such as chestnut and blackberry. Other produce in the Province includes sheep’s cheese or Torta del Casar, fig cake, chestnuts, hams and other pork products, lamb, game, olive oil, paprika, fried breadcrumbs (migas), trout, pastries, and honey. I had the blood sausage, migas, and eggs for breakfast. The only thing I recommend is the eggs. On the other hand, I bought sheep’s cheese in Belmonte and it’s delicious.
Córdoba is called Cordova in English. It’s a city in Andalusia, southern Spain, and the capital of the province of Córdoba. It was a Roman settlement which was later colonized by Muslim armies in the eighth century. It became the capital of the Islamic Emirate and then of the Caliphate of Córdoba which included most of the Iberian Peninsula. Córdoba consisted of hundreds of workshops that created goods such as silk. It was a center of culture and learning in the Muslim golden age. Today it’s a moderately sized modern city with a population in 2014 of about 799,400. The historic center was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site because it has the second largest Old town in Europe. The most important building and symbol of the city, the Great Mosque of Córdoba and current cathedral and the Roman bridge, are the city’s best-known features. The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba whose ecclesiastical name is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.
Tip: There are many beautiful ceilings in all of the buildings we toured. Don’t do what I did and walk backward looking up in the dark while taking a photo. Even though I looked before I stepped, the old floor and the new one were not flush and I fell backward. My phone survived and so did I, but I almost gave the two guides a heart attack and barely missed hitting something that jutted out of the wall.
According to a traditional account, a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins, originally stood on the site. In 784 Abd al-Rahman I ordered the construction of the Great Mosque, which was considerably expanded by later Muslim rulers. Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. This seems to be a commonplace occurrence in Spain as I’ve seen the same takeovers by the Catholic Church in many other cities. Since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral. This Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, both by the church authorities in Spain and by the Vatican.
Near the cathedral is the old Jewish quarter, which consists of many irregular streets and is home to the Synagogue and the Sephardic House. In the extreme southwest of the Old Town is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, a former royal property and the seat of the Inquisition. Adjacent to it are the Royal Stables, where Andalusian horses are bred. The medieval Baths of the Caliphate are near the walls. South of the Old town and east of the great cathedral, in the Plaza del Potro, is the Posada del Potro, a row of inns mentioned in literary works including Don Quixote which remained active until 1972.
Tip: Beware of pickpockets in the crowded narrow streets of old towns anywhere you go. There are many articles of clothing you can buy to help you hide your valuables. I bought Columbia shirts because they don’t wrinkle, dry quickly and have hidden pockets. Search for Columbia PFG Tamiama™ II Long Sleeve Shirt for deals. I also have a small purse that holds my phone, money, and passport under my clothing. It’s also handy when you want your hands free in airports or stores.
Seville is the capital and largest city of the province of Seville, Spain. It’s situated on the plain of the Guadalquivir River. The Seville harbor, located about 50 miles from the Atlantic Ocean, is the only river port in Spain. Seville is also the hottest major metropolitan area in geographical Western Europe, with summer average high temperatures of above 95 °F.
Seville was founded as the Roman city of Hispalis. It later became known as Ishbiliya after the Muslim conquest in 712 until finally being incorporated into the Christian Kingdom of Castile under Ferdinand III in 1248. After the discovery of the Americas, Seville became one of the economic centers of the Spanish Empire as its port monopolized the trans-oceanic trade opening a Golden Age of arts and literature. In 1519, Ferdinand Magellan departed from Seville for the first circumnavigation of the Earth. The 17th century in Seville brought about the most brilliant flowering of the city’s culture. Later a gradual economic and demographic decline began as silt deposited in the Guadalquivir River forced trade to relocate to the nearby port of Cádiz. In 1992, coinciding with the fifth centenary of the Discovery of the Americas, the Universal Exposition was held for six months in Seville. For the occasion the local communications network infrastructure was greatly improved, the SE-30 ring road around the city was completed, new highways were constructed and the new Santa Justa train station opened with the Spanish High-Speed Rail system, the Alta Velocidad Española which began to operate between Madrid-Seville. The Seville Airport, (Aeropuerto de Sevilla), was expanded with a new terminal building designed by the architect Rafael Moneo. The monumental Puente del Alamillo, Alamillo Bridge, over the Guadalquivir, designed by the architect Santiago Calatrava, was built to allow access to the island of La Cartuja, site of the massive exposition. Some of the installations remain at the site after the exposition was converted into the Scientific and Technological Park Cartuja.
The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace originally developed by Moorish Muslim kings. It’s renowned as one of the most beautiful in Spain, being regarded as one of the most outstanding examples of Mudéjar architecture found on the Iberian Peninsula. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence. It is the oldest royal palace still in use in Europe and was registered in 1987 by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, along with the adjoining Seville Cathedral and the General Archive of the Indies.
I was also lucky to attend a performance of the Flamenco in both Seville and Granada. In its strictest sense, Flamenco is a professionalized art-form based on the various folkloric music traditions of Southern Spain in the communities of Andalusia, Extremadura, and Murcia. In a wider sense, it refers to these musical traditions and more modern musical styles which have themselves been deeply influenced by and become blurred with the development of Flamenco over the past two centuries. It includes cante (singing), toque (guitar playing), baile (dance), jaleo (vocalizations), palmas (handclapping) and pitos (finger snapping). The oldest record of Flamenco dates to 1774 in the book Las Cartas Marruecas by José Cadalso. The genre originated in the music and dance styles of Andalusia, of much older origin. Flamenco has also been influenced by the Romani people (Gypsies) in Spain. However, unlike Romani music in Eastern Europe, its origin and style are uniquely Andalusian.
There are many variants of cantes or palos (song forms), each expressing a unique emotion which shares a noticeable resemblance to Indian classical music. Canta Gitano (Gypsy song) means “profound” and “deep”. It refers to the original songs believed to be developed by Gypsies who immigrated in the 15th century. This intense, sad form of cante deals with themes of death, anguish, despair, or religious sentiments may be sung a palo seco (without guitar accompaniment). It’s believed to be the heart and soul of the Flamenco. The singer who sings the seguiriyas (the song) leaves in each line of the copla (verse of cante) a piece of his soul and, if not, he is deceiving the listener, perhaps even himself. It’s said that he sometimes reaches the kind of state of grace the Gypsies call duende (having soul, a heightened state of emotion, expression and authenticity). The Flamenco I saw in Seville was more like the ones we see in movies, more flashy and entertaining than the intense Flamenco we witnessed in a theater set in a cave in Granada where the Gypsy family has lived for centuries. The caves were found or dug during a time when the Gypsies first came to Spain. See more pictures of the caves. https://expertvagabond.com/sacromonte-gypsy-caves/
Below are videos of both types of Flamenco.
Torremolinos on the Costa del Sol
The Costa del Sol literally, “Coast of the Sun” or “Sun Coast”, is a region in the south of Spain comprising the coastal towns and communities along the coastline of the Province of Málaga.
Historically the provincial population had lived in the fishing villages and in the “white” villages (pueblos blancos) a short distance inland in the mountains running down to the coast. The area was developed to meet the demands of international tourism in the 1950s and has since been a popular destination for foreign tourists not only for its beaches but also for its local culture. Málaga province had been a relatively prosperous commercial and industrial center for most of the 19th century but an economic downturn in the 1880s and 1890s led to the end of the iron industry and weakened the trade and textile industry. The agricultural sector also suffered a deep depression that affected the raising of livestock and all the major crops, especially the cultivation of Vitis vinifera, a grape used for the wine industry. The social disruption caused by the crisis and its aftermath of job loss, business collapse, and a general economic decline led many residents to consider other means of livelihood. At the beginning of the 20th century, the Baños del Carmen beach was developed and opened in the east of Málaga. The Torremolinos golf course followed in 1928 with hotels and other attractions multiplying after the Spanish American War and World War II.
Some of the more famous British criminals fled to the Costa del Sol. It’s sometimes referred to in the UK press as the “Costa del Crime” because they would escape justice at home by moving there to live their lives in luxury. With tense relations between the UK and Spain over Gibraltar, extradition arrangements were not agreed upon until more recently. In the past, Charlie Wilson, a member of the Great Train Robbery gang, Anthony Fraser, grandson of Mad Frankie Fraser, and more recently Andrew Moran, an armed robber who escaped custody at his trial lived the high life on the coast of Spain. Another criminal resident was, John Disley nicknamed the “King of Marbella”, who masterminded a £700,000 bank fraud. Other European criminal entrepreneurs, including Russian and Dutch citizens, have also settled on this coast for the climate and functional advantages for their enterprises, as well as being active investors in the property sector.
Of course, there were many attractions in the area, but our stay was brief and we really only had time for a rainy walk on the beach and to enjoy some entertainment at the hotel. Since it was the shoulder season the usual movie stars and royalty were somewhere warmer, so senior citizens from all over the world took advantage of the low rates for a luxurious vacation at a lower price. If you go, be careful there are a lot of older visitors looking for new lovers.
Granada is the capital city of the province of Granada. Located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of four rivers, the Darro, the Genil, the Monachil and the Beiro, it sits at an average elevation of 2,421 ft. above sea level, yet is only one hour by car from the Mediterranean coast. Nearby is the Sierra Nevada Ski Station, where the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships 1996 were held.
The Alhambra, a Moorish citadel and palace city, is in Granada. It is the most renowned building of the Andalusian Islamic historical legacy with its many cultural attractions that make Granada a popular tourist destination. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. It consists of a defensive zone, the Alcazaba, together with others of a residential and formal state character, the Nasrid Palaces and, lastly, the palace, gardens, and orchards of El Generalife.
In the 11th century, the Castle of the Alhambra was developed as a walled town which became a military stronghold that dominated the whole city. But it was in the 13th century, with the arrival of the first monarch of the Nasrid dynasty, Mohammed, that the royal residence was established in the Alhambra. This marked the beginning of its heyday. The Alhambra became a palace, citadel, and fortress, and was the residence of the Nasrid sultans and their senior officials, including servants of the court and elite soldiers in the 13th–14th centuries. In 1492 the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabela, expelled the final Moors from the city of Granada. They established permanent residency in the Alhambra and it was here Christopher Columbus requested royal endorsement for his westward expedition that year. In 1527 Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor demolished part of the architectural complex to build his palace. During the French domination, substantial portions of the fortress were blown apart. The repair, restoration, and conservation that continues to this day did not begin until the 19th century.
The Generalife is a garden area attached to the Alhambra which became a place of recreation and rest for the Granadan Muslim kings when they wanted to flee the tedium of official life in the Palace. It was conceived as a rural village, consisting of landscaping, gardens, and architecture. Today, it’s one of the biggest attractions in the city of Granada. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984.
Toledo is a city located in central Spain. It’s the capital of the province of Toledo and the autonomous community of Castile–La Mancha. Toledo was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive monumental and cultural heritage. It’s known as the “Imperial City” for having been the main venue of the court of Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, and as the “City of the Three Cultures” for the cultural influences of Christians, Muslims and Jews reflected in its history. It was also the capital of the ancient Visigothic kingdom of Hispania, which followed the fall of the Roman Empire, and the location of historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo.
Toledo has a long history in the production of bladed weapons, which are now popular souvenirs of the city. The metal-working industry has historically been Toledo’s economic base, with a great tradition in the manufacturing of swords and knives and a significant production of razor blades, medical devices, and electrical products. The Toledo Blade, the American newspaper in Toledo, Ohio namesake city, is named in honor of the sword-making tradition.
The Cathedral of Toledo (Catedral de Toledo) was built between 1226–1493 and modeled after the Bourges Cathedral, though it also combines some characteristics of the Mudéjar style. It features the Baroque altar built by Narciso Tomé called El Transparente that is several stories high with fantastic figures of stucco, paintings, bronze castings, and multiple colors of marble. Its name refers to the unique illumination provided by a large skylight cut high up into the thick wall across the ambulatory and another hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself to allow shafts of sunlight to strike the tabernacle. This lower hole also allows persons in the ambulatory to see through the altarpiece to the tabernacle as if were transparent.
I enjoyed the tour I took with Julia Travel, http://juliatravel.com/, and would recommend it to anyone who wants to visit the historic sites of Southern Spain. Our main tour guide and the others who went with us through some of the sites were knowledgeable and able to answer questions in both English and Spanish. Other tours joined us along the way and I wished that I’d know that this was an option as I would have liked to visit Portugal and Spain as they did. I booked it through Viator but may have had more options if I’d known to do it through Julia. People from other parts of Spain, Mexico, Columbia, Honduras and the U.S. rounded out the tour participants. We enjoyed great food and a choice of different priced hotels. I opted for the lower priced ones, but they still had all of the services I wanted and were located in areas convenient to other sites we didn’t visit on the tour. Even though I dealt with Julia Travel to book my pre-tour hotel in Madrid, I wish I’d known that they picked up and dropped off at another hotel close to mine. It would have saved me from the scary time in the underground garage and getting a bit lost dragging my suitcase uphill when the tour ended several blocks from the hotel. The Madrid police were very helpful when I asked them for directions. After getting my breath back and showing them where I wanted to go on the map, they gave me a police escort until I found the hotel. I’m currently planning a trip to France and England and I made sure I’m staying at the pick-up hotel.
I hope this blog has helped you plan an adventure in Spain. If you have any travel tips, please comment on them here or on my Facebook Page, Single Boomer Life.
Continue the adventure!
Information from Wikipedia.com