In prehistoric times, the Iberian Peninsula was clearly the place to be – as attested by this map:
Now a year ago I had a great holiday in Ribadesella in Asturias – one of those places where only the Spanish (and American surfers) go on holiday to and it’s very useful to be actually able speak Spanish. You can find it on the map above where it says Tito Bustillo.
The Tito Bustillo Cave, some ten-fifteen minutes walk from the centre of Ribadesella, is a UNESCO World Heritage site (like the much better known Altamira). It was only discovered in the 1960s by a group of young people who evidently had nothing better to do and it’s named after one of them who died young in a caving accident. Cave paintings and stone age tools were found in the cave, the oldest paintings being about 30 thousand years old. In a hidden corner there are some paintings of… er… female genitalia which were, appropriately enough, discovered by a female member of the caving party who looked for some privacy to relieve herself. Or at least, so the tour guide says. 🙂
2. Carthaginian and Greek Settlements 300 BC
The first division of this continent towards the west is Iberia, as we before stated. The greater part of this country is but little fitted for habitation; consisting chiefly of mountains, woods, and plains covered with a light meagre soil, the irrigation of which is likewise uncertain The part next the north, which borders on the ocean, is extremely cold, and besides its rugged character, has no communication or intercourse with other [countries], and thus to dwell there is attended with peculiar hardship. Such is the character of this portion; on the other hand, almost the whole of the south is fertile, especially what is beyond the Pillars [of Hercules]…
Geography by Strabo
The Neanderthals and Cro-Magnons were clearly not the only people who appreciated the Iberian Peninsula. In addition to the ubiquitous Celts inhabiting the inland, the enterprising Phoenicians (Carthaginians) soon showed up on the Mediterranean coast, closely followed by the Greeks.
Recommended reading:Geography, Book III by Strabo
3. Hispania (Roman Spain, 125 A.D.)
The Romans bequeathed Spain their language, their laws and their aqueducts, among other things. Spain for her part gave the Romans Trajan, Hadrian and Seneca.
This Hispania produces tough soldiers, very skilled captains, prolific speakers, luminous bards. It is a mother of judges and princes; it has given Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius to the Empire.
(Latinius Pacatus Drepanius)
The following map speaks for itself if you are blessed with some linguistic ability and/or a basic knowledge of the geography of the Iberian peninsula:
A Game of Spot the Towns 🙂
Plus points for identifying which modern town is Brigantium (without looking it up on Widipedia)!
Feel free to leave your solutions in the comments below. :) Or wait to find out the answers on Waterblogged next week.
4. Visigothic Spain, 700 AD
Really, it was a procession… one nation after another, as bad as the Carpathian Basin in Central Europe, that infamous graveyard of nomadic nations.
Celts, Carthaginians, Greeks, Romans… and after the Romans came the Visigoths. (Nor were they the last ones!)
The Visigoths came, saw, conquered and then were conquered in due course by the Moors from Africa. The honour of losing the kingdom to the Moors fell to King Roderick – of whom I have already written as much elsewhere as was worth writing (link at the end of the post).
5. Reconquista – The Reconquering of Spain from the Moors, 756 AD – 1492 AD
Out through the Quarter Towers full armed away they went.
The lord Cid and his henchmen did counsel and consent.
Levies they left behind them, the gates to watch and keep.
On the steed Bavieca sprang the lord Cid with a leap.
Fair trappings and caparisons girded that steed about.
With the standard from Valencia forthwith they sallied out.
Were with the Cid four thousand less but a score and ten,
They came gladly to a battle against fifty thousand men.
The Poem of the Cid
For a much more detailed and interactive map with photos and and explanations (only for Spanish speakers, although Google Translate could be your friend if you don’t speak Spanish), see Explore the Med.
One of my favourite times of Spanish history and literature, the reconquista – the reconquering of the peninsula from the Moors – was a period of confusion, legends, strange alliances and El Cid.
I don’t know how many of you know but Castile, originally a county of the kingdom of León and then an independent kingdom in her own right, got her name from the castles that proliferated on her land during the reconquista. The following map is taken from castillosnet.org and only shows the fortications in what is now the province of Castile and León. They amount to a whopping 627 and many still are standing. Castle buffs, Spain can keep you happy for a lifetime! 🙂
7. Cortés in Mexico 1520 A.D.
And Pizarro in Peru. And Balboa in Panama. Not to mention the man who started it all – Colombus in the Caribbean…
So, with luck on our side, we boldly entered the city of Tenochtitlan or Mexico on 8 November in the year of our Lord 1519…
The Conquest of New Spain by Bernal Díaz del Castillo
A map of the Spanish discoveries would have been perhaps more informative here, but I ended up choosing a simple city map (I couldn’t resist it):
One of the great cities of the world at the time: Tenochtitlán- before Cortés destroyed it.
Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular - A Swimming Challenge!
Although this is not a 'sporty' blog, I'm in fact a keen swimmer and the search for this map resulted in my devising a new swimming challenge: the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular Swim - which with a bit of necessary geographic licence I make out to be 14,700 metres.
If anybody has a better estimate of the distance involved in swimming around Tenochtitlán before Cortés destroyed it, please leave a comment below. I mainly based the estimate on the map of the Mexico Valley in 1519, available on Wikipedia.
Health permitting I'll be swimming the Tenochtitlán 1519 Circular later this year (I'm currently doing a different challenge) - you're welcome to join in. :)
As Juvenal wrote: Mens sana in corpore sano. (A healthy mind in a healthy body.)
There must be maps out there that are much easier to make sense of (there’s such a thing as too much information) but this diachronic map of the Spanish Empire was clearly a work of love and once again, I couldn’t resist. I seldom upload full size images to Waterblogged, but the only way you can truly enjoy this map is by zooming in – so go right ahead. 🙂 Explore!
At its fullest expansion the Spanish Empire consisted of some 20 million square kilometres and was present on every continent minus Antarctica. Many English speakers are familiar with the phrase the empire on which the sun never set (which, by the way, originated with my darling Herodotus) – well, contrary to popular belief, it was not coined for the British Empire but for the Spanish, by a courtier of Carlos V.
Can’t talk about Spanish history, and especially not on a blog of books, without mentioning Don Quijote. If you belong to the hiking fraternity, there is in fact a Ruta de Don Quijote in Castile-La Mancha, a series of walking routes which traces the footsteps of the famous and ingenious hidalgo… to places like this:
Recommended reading:Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
Monsignor Quixote by Graham Greene
10. The Peninsular War
Originally, I was going to treat you to a full map of the Peninsula with all the battles marked by the traditional crossed swords but I thought better of it. To begin with, it’s not easy to find such a map, and when you consider that the page listing in Wikipedia on the battles of the Spanish War of Independence, better known in English as the Peninsular War, runs to a full 150 entries, it’s not difficult to see the reason why. So instead enjoy this map of the neighbourhood of the charming Cuenca in Castile-La Mancha, fully developed with battle locations, armories, army routes and military hospitals…!
Recommended reading:The Siege by Arturo Pérez-Reverte
11. The Bible in Spain, 1830s
I could have put here a map of the Carlist Wars, but there is such a thing as too many wars, even when we’re talking of Spanish history. Or especially when we’re talking of Spanish history.
So instead, another literary map (much more appropriate to a book blog): the travels of George Borrow, a lowly employee of the Bible Society in London, who peddled a forbidden translation of the Bible up and down the land of Spain during the Carlist Wars. His various journeys are shown in red, blue, yellow and green – a combined effort on Mr Anglo-Saxonist’s and my part. And I warmly recommend you all The Bible in Spain, the book that resulted from his experiences. A truly entertaining read!
As we had too many wars already, we’re now going to shamelessly bypass the Civil War of 1936-39. Instead, we’re going to finish with something much more pleasant: a map of UNESCO World Heritage sites in Spain. (And it doesn’t even mark Covadonga or Campo de Criptana and many other charming places.) Why not use it to pick your next holiday destination? 🙂
Ten years ago I resolved to drive to Santiago, and so, eventually, I did – not once but several times — but because I had not written about it, I still hadn’t really been there. There was always something else that needed thinking or writing about, a landscape, a road, a monastery, a writer or a painter, and yet it seemed as if all those landscapes, all those stories of Moors and kings and pilgrims, all my own memories as well as the written memoirs of others pointed steadily in the same direction, to the place where Spain and the oceanic west come together, to the city which, in all its Galician aloofness, is the true capital of Spain.
And faced with the beauty of his technique, the complex harmonies, the ease and grace, the supreme mastery of tone and feeling, I would feel like one of the lesser apes who, shuffling on his knuckles through the sombre marshes, suddenly catches sight of homo sapiens, upright on a hill, his gold head raised to the sky.
Seville of sweet wines and bitter oranges, of dandy horsemen bearing their girls to the parks, of fantastic villas and radiant whores, of finery, filth and interminable fiesta centred around the huge dead-weight of the cathedral: this is the city where, more than in any other, one may bite on the air and taste the multitudinous flavours of Spain – acid, sugary, intoxicating, sickening, but flavours which, above all in a synthetic world are real as nowhere else.
One of my favourite Spanish historical ballads is A Very Mournful Ballad of the Siege and Conquest of Alhama, also known as The Moorish King Rides Up and Down or Woe Is Me, Alhama! It was also one of the first Spanish ballads I’ve ever read in the original (Spanish learners take note – the text is that accessible). I came across it in a collection of ballads which I found in a second-hand bookshop in Southport in Lancashire; it was a university textbook from the 1960s. In A Brief (Literary) History of the Reconquista I have already shared an excerpt with you (and a shorter version a few years ago in The Moorish King Rides Up & Down) but the ballad deserves better, so today you’re going to get the full version – plus the Spanish original for those of you who can enjoy it.
La primera vez que oí hablar de Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, mejor conocido como El Cid, tenía unos diez u once años. De hecho, no había oído hablar de él en absoluto: lo vi en una película que dieron en la tele en Hungría. Fue una película de Hollywood de 1961, titulado El Cid, con Charlton Heston en el papel del Cid y Sophia Loren en el papel de Doña Jimena. Os recomiendo si os gustan las películas románticas. 🙂
La cita muy romántica – en el sentido literario – de esta semana es, entonces, de Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, escritor y rector de la Universidad de Salamanca en su tiempo.
I first heard of the Spanish hero Rodrigo Díaz de Vivar, better known as El Cid (The Lord), when I was about ten or eleven. Actually, I didn’t exactly hear of him: I saw him in a film, shown on Hungarian television. It was the 1961 Hollywood epic, El Cid, with Charlton Heston as the Cid and Sophia Loren as Doña Ximena. I recommend it to anybody with a romantic turn of mind. 🙂 The Cid was a Castilian knight in the eleventh century, who fought the Moors during the period of the Reconquista, that is, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors.
This week’s very romantic – in the literary sense – quote is from Miguel de Unamuno y Jugo, a Spanish essayist and rector at the University of Salamanca in his time.
La cita de la semana / Quote of the Week:
La Reconquista! ¡Cosas tuvieron nuestros Cides que han hecho hablar a las piedras¡ ¡Y cómo nos hablan las piedras sagradas des estos páramos! Reconquistado su suelo, Castilla, que había estado de pie, se acostó a soñar en éxtasis, en arrobo sosegado, cara al Señor eterno.
(Miguel de Unamuno: Por las tierras del Cid)
The reconquista! The things done by our Cids which have made the rocks talk. And how the holy rocks of these plateaus talk! Having reconquered her land, Castile, who had been standing, laid herself down to dream in ecstasy, in peaceful bliss, with her face to the eternal Lord.
What can one do when the temperature rises to 40°C? Do as the Sevillans do: sigh, and wait until the sun has set to go out in search of coolness in gardens and churches to stroll along the Guadalquivir, but at a slow pace, until night spreads itself out like a black cloth over the city and the river, over the twelve-sided tower where the merchant ships set sail for the Indies, over the palm trees and the rose bushes, the lilies and the cypresses in the gardens of the Alcázar.
The other day (okay, a few weeks ago, it took me a while to finish this post) I wrote a few lines about Covadonga in Asturias, the place where the reconquista, the reconquering of Spain from the Moors began in 722 A.D. If you haven’t read it:
…then you’d bloody well better 🙂 because today you’re going to get part two of the story that started in Covadonga: the story of the reconquista.
In keeping with Waterblogged tradition, we’re going to explore the topic through the medium of literature; I hope you’ll enjoy this brief history of the reconquista as told by Spanish historical ballads!
In the process of writing a brief literary history of the reconquista (the reconquering of Spain from the Moors), I found myself debating whether the tragic story of the seven princes of Lara should be included or not. On the one hand, it seemed difficult to leave out such a popular ballad from the era of the reconquista altogether; on the other hand, the brief literary history is already long enough without adding in something that, strictly speaking, is not so much a story of the reconquista but a story of a family feud. Upon reflection I decided that the famous story of the seven princes of Lara deserved a post of its own. To keep you busy while I finish the brief literary history. 🙂
There’s a popular saying in Spain, principally in Asturias, a province on the Bay of Biscay in Northern Spain, which goes:
Asturias es España, y lo demás tierra conquistada.
Asturias is Spain, and the rest is conquered land.
It makes reference to the Battle of Covadonga, 722 A.D. when the troops of Don Pelayo, king of Asturias, defeated the invading Moors. The battle is considered the starting point of the reconquista, the reconquest of Spain from the Moors (a long process of wars which ended with the taking of Granada in 1492). Legend would have it that Pelayo and his 300 defeated an army of 180,000 Moors. Historically speaking, it’s more likely that the Moors were not quite so numerous, nor Pelayo’s lot so few but – why spoil the legend? It’s still a famous victory for those defending their homeland.
As a consequence of Don Pelayo’s victory, Asturias has never been conquered by the Moors which explains the above saying.
The pink walls of the Alcazaba are tinged with a different shade each hour, the disciplined gardens around me, the eroded brick of the fortifications which seem to bleed in places, the gates and patios I saw that day, the excruciating intricacy and refinement of the decorations in corridors and pavilions and then suddenly, in the midst of it all, rises Charles V’s Renaissance palace like an intruder clinging to the remains of that vanished Orient, a proclamation of power and conquest.
A severe statement, a massive square enclosing a magnificent circle, a courtyard the size of a town square, one of the most lovely open spaces I know, as if even air could express the advent of a new era and a new might. Columns are curiously akin to trees, the multicoloured chunks of rock that nature once pressed into these marble thunks to make a superior kind of brawn, bear witness to a new military caste deploying its forces worldwide to destroy empires and amass the gold with which armies are fed, palaces built, and inflation generated. Skulls of oxen, stone tablets commemorating battles, iron rings decorated with eagles’ heads that once served to tie up horses, winged women of great beauty reclining dreamily on the pediments, their broken wings half spread, there is no more tangible evidence of the confrontation that took place here than those two intertwined palaces: the one extroverted, out to seduce, the other haughty, self-absorved; over and above the hedonistic bloom of the sultans the imperial edifice points to the might of the other, earlier caesars who ruled Europe long before the armies of Islam came and went.
The Lonely Planet guide about the La Mancha town of Campo de Criptana reads:
One of the most popular stops on the Don Quijote route, Campo de Criptana is crowned by 10 windmills visible from kilometres around. Revered contemporary film-maker Pedro Almodóvar¹ was born here, but left for Madrid in his teens. The town is pleasant, if unexceptional.
Actually, unexceptional doesn’t even begin to describe the town if you arrive by train (Campo de Criptana is on the mainline from Madrid to Albacete, the capital of Castile-La Mancha). Downright ugly might be a better description: as in many Spanish towns, the railway station is on the outskirts, in this case surrounded by industrial buildings of little appeal. Luckily, Campo de Criptana is a small place and fifteen minutes walk will bring you to the centre of town.
Which is unexceptional.
But you don’t really want the centre of town. You’re a reader, a reader of Don Quixote at that, and what you want is the famous windmills, the giants that Don Quixote fought. Head uphill from the unexceptional Plaza Mayor with its obligatory Cervantes statue, through the Albaícin – the old Moorish quarter -, through the narrow cobblestoned alleys, between whitewashed houses edged in indigo blue… it sounds better already, doesn’t it? There. As you turn the corner, you spot your first windmill. And there are other nine to come.
There were purple evenings, juicy as grapes, the thin moon cutting a cloud like a knife; and dawns of quick sudden thunder when I’d wake in the dark to splashes of rain pouring from cracks of lightning, then walk on to a village to sit cold and alone, waiting for it to wake and sell me some bread, watching the grey light shifting, a man opening a table, the first girls coming to the square for water.
(Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)
They even took me one night to a tenement near the cathedral and pointed out a howling man on the rooftop, who was pretending to be a ghost in order to terrorize the landlord and thereby reduce the rents.
(Laurie Lee: As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning)
Incluso me llevaron una noche a un bloque de pisos cerca de la catedral y señalaron a un hombre aullando en la azotea, que pretendía ser un fantasma para aterrorizar al propietario y así reducir las rentas.
(Laurie Lee: Cuando partí una mañana de verano)
Did a man really howl from the rooftops in Cádiz in order to reduce his rent? Or did I just make it up?
The best way to find out is by reading the book. 🙂
¿Estaba, de verdad, un hombre aullando en la azotea en Cádiz, para reducir su renta? ¿O lo he inventado yo?
La mejor manera de averiguarlo es leer el libro. 🙂
There is an old route of pilgrimage, or rather I should say several routes, leading to the town of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia, Northern Spain. It is known as the Camino de Santiago, St James’s Way, and it is actually a whole network of routes starting in various parts of Spain; the most popular and famous remains the camino francés, the French Way, which starts in France and climbs over the Pyrenees before traverses Northern Spain. The Camino continues to be a very popular walking route and not just for religious pilgrims.
If you complete the walk, at the end you can obtain a certificate, as you can read in today’s quote below by Dutch author, Cees Nooteboom.
Quote of the Week:
Everyone who had completed the journey on foot or on a bicycle, could, if they wished, obtain a rubber-stamped document from him and have their names registered in the great book. “Many times people burst into tears right here,” he had told me, pointing in front of his desk. He had shown me the ledger, too, a sort of account book, written in longhand.
He had turned the pages until he spotted a Dutchman, a chemistry teacher, “not a believer”, motive: “thinking”.
He had appreciated that, he said, people came up with the oddest motives, but “thinking” was seldom among them.
The guide is a layman, he has a dusty grey complexion and talks down to us from his privilege of sharing in the sanctity of the site, a scholar, for the stream of dates and names gushes forth at great speed. He has a record to break, it seems, so I get no more than a glimpse of all there is to see, a mere smattering of the Arab cloister with harmonious pavilion in two styles, Gothic and Moorish, or as my Spanish guidebook says, “el gótico del elevada espiritualidad con el árabe sensorial y humano”. I can believe it: elevated, spiritual, humane, sensual, for before me I see high aspiration and beauty combined, and I hear the self-absorbed trickle of the fountain, but I am not permitted to linger here because the guide has already herded the others into the museum, and is waiting for me like a sheepdog.
Ribadesella is a small town in a spectacular setting at the mouth of the River Sella right under the Picos de Europa. Cliffs protect its wide sandy bay. You can surf, swim, go kayaking on the river or hiking in the mountains. Plus there’s a cave with 30 thousand year old cave paintings, practically in town.
Well may you wonder why you’ve never heard of it.
Perhaps because Ribadesella is the place where the Spanish go on holiday. You hardly hear a foreign word in the street. This is a different Spain from the Spain of package holidays.
Enjoy this short pictorial history of the town – brought to you by the Municipality of Ribadesella (and Waterblogged).