Thursday, 29 September 2011

City of Arts and Sciences, Spain

The Crystal Palace in Madrid

The History of Spain is a Summary of influences from the different cultures that have lived in the country.The first settlers on the Peninsula were the Celts and the Iberians. The first testimonials written about the country date back to this period. It is said that Hispania (the name the Romans used to describe the Peninsula) is a word of Semitic origin from Hispalis (Seville). From the year 1100 A.D. and until the middle of the 3rd century A.D., commercial and cultural contact with high Mediterranean civilisations was held with the Phoenicians and Greeks. At the end of this era, both civilisations were taken over by the Carthaginians and Romans, respectively. The Roman presence in Hispania lasted for seven centuries, during which time the basic borders of the Peninsula in relation to other European towns were set up. In addition to territorial administration, many more institutions were inherited from Rome such as the concept of family, Latin as a language, religion and law. At the start of the 5th century new settlers from the North arrive and settle on the Peninsula: the Visigoths in the interior and the Swabians on the West. 
The conflict between liberalists and absolutists, or in other words, between two different ways of perceiving the establishment of the state, would be one of the longest Spanish conflicts throughout the 19th century. The brief reign of Amadeo de Saboya, the first republican experience and the subsequent restoration of the monarchy, under the rule of Alfonso XII, take Spain to the beginning of the 20th century with a series of serious unresolved problems that intensify following the definitive loss of the last strongholds of the colonial empire: Cuba and the Philippines. Despite the interruption of the First World War in which Spain remained neutral and following the dictatorship of Primo de Rivera, the monarchical crisis returns, resulting in the exile of King Alfonso XIII. The ballot box is introduced into Spain and with it the first democratic experience of the 20th century: the second Republic, a brief attempt to introduce the reformations the country needed, frustrated by General Franco's military rising and the outbreak of the Civil War in 1936.

                                                              Geographical Location
Spain covers an area of 505,955 square kilometres, which places it amongst the fifty largest countries in the world.The largest part of the territory is located in the Iberian Peninsula, the remainder, approximately 12,500 square kilometres, are islands, -Balearics and the Canary Islands- plus 32 square kilometres that are accounted for by the cities of Ceuta and Melilla, situated on the coast of Africa. The situation of the Iberian Peninsula in the extreme south west of Europe and only 14 kilometres away from the African continent, endows Spain with a great strategic value: projecting into the Mediterranean on one side and acting as an intersection on the path to Africa and America on the other. The fact that a large part of Spain is peninsular also explains the length of its coastline, which runs along the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. As a result of its position, between 36 and 43 degrees North latitude, the climate ranges from the mild oceanic climate in the North, to the continental Mediterranean in the centre and the Mediterranean in the East and South, factors which combine to create a wet Spain in the North and mountainous areas, green Spain with luxuriant forests and a dry Spain in the Mediterranean.

Regional Specialties                                                             

Paella is probably the most popular dish to come out of Spain. A Valencian rice dish, typical ingredients consist of white rice, green vegetables, meat (rabbit, chicken, duck) or seafood, land snails, beans and seasoning. Made into a stew-like consistency, paella is rich and hearty as a standalone meal or as a side dish.

Jamón ibérico (Iberian cured ham) also called pata negra, is a type of rare cured ham produced mostly in Spain. Consisting of at least 75% black Iberian pig found in the south and southwestern areas of Spain, this meat is a delicacy only recently was available in the States.

Wine Destinations

Spainish Cuisine
La Rioja, in the north of Spain, is the most internationally recognized destination for wine. Producing an average of 250 million liters a year, 85% of that is red and the rest white and rosé.

Jerez (also known as Xérès or sherry) is a staple of Andalusia. Served in both bars and taverns cold, it is intense, smooth and light on the palate. Sip and swoosh to appreciate the delicate almond notes.

Penedes - El Vendrell sits in the large wine-growing region of Penedès , where cavas, high-quality sparkling wines, are produced. Cava is the wine chosen for toasts and celebrations with Sant Sadurní d'Anoia being the world capital for this product.

                                                   How to Get Around Spain

Spainish National Railway
Train- The Spanish National Railway Network connects all provincial capitals with Madrid and is operating more and more high speed AVE trains every day. Get to all Seville, Malaga, Barcelona and Valencia in a short trip from Madrid on a flexible schedule at a great cost.

Plane- The Largest airports in Spain are Barajas in Madrid, and El Prat in Barcelona , which offer the greatest number of international flights daily. With recent expansions and revamps, they make traveling in and out a breeze. Terminal 4 in Madrid was a recent addition in 2006 and is the world's largest terminal by area. Designed by Antonio Lamela and Richard Rogers and TPS Engineers, they collectively won a Stirling Prize and IStructE Award for their innovative and modern design utilizing glass panes instead of walls and domed ceilings to let natural light in, aimed to give travelers a stress-free journey. It's also fairly easy to island hop between Gran Canaria, Tenerife Sur and Tenerife Norte in the Canary Islands via smaller regional carriers for a very reasonable fee.

Trasmediterranea Ship
Boat- You can also visit the Canary Islands by sea as Trasmediterranea and Balearia, two of the major tour operators run regular routes between Cadiz, Barcelona and Valencia and the smaller ports. Enjoy the wind in your hair as you embark via boat to some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The larger cities of Barcelona, Valencia and Malaga are also accessible by harbor, making it easy and enjoyable to visit multiple cities in one visit. Barcelona Port is one of the busiest on the Mediterranean and offers scheduled ferry services to and from Majorca, Ibiza, Minorca and Italy, with the option of travelling with your car. It is also a departure and stopping point for many cruises. Valencia Port offers scheduled ferry services to Majorca, Ibiza and Minorca. The port of Málaga has much history as a Phoenician trading port and is now the second most important cruise terminal in Spain.

                                               Famous Festivals in Spain

The Tomato Fight:-

Tomato Fight
To get things started there's a monumental 110 ton arsenal of ripe fruit dropped in the town centre. This is delivered by large trucks that stop at strategic points along the narrow street to dump the tomatoes into the waiting hands of the crowd. The local farmers sit on top of the trucks and fire tomatoes (including green ones) at the defenseless crowd. Participants then have one hour in which to hurl tomatoes at each other. Several times throughout the hour trucks come through to re-stock the street with more and more loads of tomatoes.

Whilst there are very few rules at La Tomatina it is important to follow the following rules outlined by the city council so the event runs smoothly without incident, as it has done to date. 

- It is compulsory to squash the tomatoes before throwing them. 
- This is a tomato lover's festival so strictly no other projectiles are allowed 
- Be careful of the lorries going through the village
- You must not rip t-shirts
- Tomatoes must stop being thrown once the second incendiary device is fired. 

After the tomato fight has concluded, the town is transformed back to its former self. Shopkeepers take down their tarpaulins and everyone chips in to hose down the town and each other. Fire Trucks are also used to spray down the streets, with water provided by a Roman aqueduct. It is best to look for locals with hoses to wash up after the fight. The river is also a popular spot to go after the fight but the water is of questionable cleanliness and there are loads of people queuing up for a chance to wash.

                                                              Bull Running Fiesta:-

Bull Running Festival
Every year from July 7th-14th thousands pack into Pamplona to start Spain's most famous bull-running fiesta to honour Navarre capital's patron saint, San Fermin. Spain stages more than 3,000 fiestas (festivals) each year but the 7 days of bull-running are the favourite in terms of spectacle and excitement.

After the daybreak of July 7th, runners (mainly young men) gather at the bottom of Santo Domingo, which is the starting line. They crowd together and sing to the image of San Fermin which is placed in a niche on a wall. The song goes: "A San Fermín pedimos, por ser nuestro patrón, nos guíe en el encierro dándonos su bendición" ("We ask San Fermín, as our Patron, to guide us through the Bull Run and give us his blessing.")

Then, as a rocket goes off, a number of fighting bulls are let out onto the streets. A second rocket is then let off to make sure everyone knows the bulls are loose in the street. The bulls run along the narrow street 825 metres (half a mile) to a bull ring. The runners dash along in front of the bulls, aiming to feel the breath of the bull on their backs, getting as close as possible - all whilst trying to avoid getting gored by their sharp horns.

The supposed way to do this is to start off slowly when the bulls are quite a distance behind. Then as they get nearer start running like hell! You can then go near them for a short time, as near as you are prepared to risk it, and then quickly get out of the way. Runners look for a gap in the fence to slip through or jump over, or a space against the wall of the street.

When the bulls finally reach the end of the street, they go into pens and are kept until later that day they are killed in a bullfight.

The tradition is said to have come from practicality when, in 1591 residents merely had to herd the bulls to the bull-fighting arena. At first only the drovers were used to lead the bulls. But it seems that at some date, the butchers guild, who had the responsibility of buying the bulls, began to join in with the drovers and began to chase behind the bulls and heifers up to the bull-ring from Santo Domingo street - the starting point of the run.

As time passed the event became more and more popular and some people began to run in front of the bulls and not behind them, as the drovers do. In 1852, a new bull-ring was built and a new route - becoming much shorter also, because as from 1899, it was decided to bring the bulls up to a small corral in Santo Domingo street the night before they fight in the ring.

Originally only a few daring souls ran with the bulls but the adrenaline rush of running in front of a 1500lb bull has since caught on. People now journey from all around the world to run with the bulls.

Others Cities And Regions In Spain                                    

While some may say Madrid is the heart of Spain as the capital and largest city, and it does get far and away the greatest number of tourists a year, there are a number of other regions worth exploring. The lifelines of Spanish culture are apparent throughout the country's pulsing cities with distinct personalities, attractions and history. An eclectic melting pot, Spanish cuisine, architecture and influence vary greatly across the diverse country so pack a punch into any visit by stopping at a couple of these different destinations.


Plaza Mayor, Madrid
A visit to Madrid isn't complete without experiencing Plaza Mayor, the town center. Formerly the site of the market, public gatherings and spectacles like comedies, bullfights, and tournaments, nowadays stroll the area to shop, eat and relax. Off of Calle Mayor is Barrio de los Austrias, the old center of Madrid during the Habsburg Dynasty and an interesting way to compare the past to the present. Another must see square is Puerta del Sol, featuring "Oso y Madroño" (the "Bear and the Strawberry Tree") statue, Calle Alcalá, and the equestrian statue of Carlos III. Essentially ground zero, all roads out of Madrid begin here, which has brought the area a rich history of conflicts and battles. Plaza de la Armería (Palacio Real) is another cultural stop as the official residence of the King of Spain. Just outside the city proper experience Ávila, a UNESCO World Heritage City with interesting churches and Renaissance palaces that bear witness to the past wealth of the town as a textile center. Also in the Madrid region and proper for a daytrip is Toledo, another world heritage site known as the "city of the three cultures", where Christians, Arabs and Jews lived together for centuries, preserving an artistic and cultural legacy in the form of churches, palaces, fortresses, mosques and synagogues. Yet another adventure would be to Segovia, the old quarter with Roman aqueducts featuring Romanesque churches, the Cathedral and Fortresses overlooking Castille.


Barcelona , Spain
The second largest city in Spain has no shortage of amazing things to see or do. Rated one of the top 10 Beach Cities in the world by National Geographic, it's really the infrastructure that impresses locals and visitors alike. Take a tour of the famous Gaudí architecture in the gothic quarter with buildings dating back to medieval times, some from as far back as the Roman settlement of Barcelona, most of which are classified as UNESCO World Heritage sites. In 1999, Barcelona won the RIBA Royal Gold Medal for its architecture, which was the first and only time the winner has been an entire city, not an individual architect. The National Museum of Art of Catalonia possesses a well-known collection of Romanesque art and it's almost sacrilegious to visit the city without catching an FC Barcelona soccer match.


Andalucia , Spain
Bathed by both the Mediterranean and Atlantic oceans, Andalucia is a true wonder of Mother Nature with three distinct geographical zones in the center, and the Betica mountain range in the south. The old towns of Granada, Cordoba, Ubeda and Baeza have been recognized as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, just like Seville overall. Discover everything from underground prehistoric caves and grottos, to world-class vineyards, golf and ski resorts. One of the most impressive sites in Cordoba is the archaeological site Medina Azahara, intended to be the capital of a new province built by Caliph Abd-al Rahman III. Another is the Mosque-Cathedral, arguably the most significant monument in the whole of the western Moslem World and one of the most amazing buildings in the world. Málaga, another providence of interest is called Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) and is home to Pablo Picasso, Antonio Banderas and a number of other tourist delights. The Walls surrounding the city are one of the most popular attractions, built in the style of Phoenician, Roman, Visigothic, Arab and Spanish remains of the defensive compounds of the city. The Flavian Roman Amphitheatre and a number of museums, most notably the Museo Picasso Málaga are also must-see cultural stops.


Valencia , Spain
Valencia is trade and culture, cinema, theatre, museums, magic, business. It is the centre of international and avant-garde design, and one of the most active cities in Europe for festivals and conferences. Feel the pulse of the Mediterranean mecca as you wander around the Cathedrals and plazas. Stop by the Valencia Cathedral, Miguelete Tower and Plaza de la Virgen to get a sense of the city's vibe. An interesting juxtaposition of old-world with modern marvel is the City of Arts and Science, a massive museum campus that houses an IMAX theater, open-air oceanographic park, opera house, outdoor art gallery and interactive science center

Way of St. James:-

St. James , Spain
If you're feeling adventurous, embark on the pilgrimage taken by Apostle Saint James, one of the most important Christian pilgrimages of medieval times. The French route is the most popular, beginning in the Pyrenees and has two variants depending if you enter from Roncesvalles (through Navarre) or Somport (through Aragon). Both routes meet in the town of Puente la Reina, and then continue on through the territories of La Rioja and Castile-León towards Galicia. Interesting cultural points along the way include Puerto de Somport, Puente la Reina de Jaca, Sangüesa, and more. The other route is the Northern Route, first used by the pilgrims in the Middle Ages in order to avoid travelling through the territories occupied by the Muslims. While less direct, the appeal of the Northern route is its landscape along the coastline against a backdrop of mountains and overlooking the Cantabrian Sea. 


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