Pyrenees no limits
The National Park of Aigüestortes i Estany de Sant Maurici has some of the most spectacular and magical landscapes of the Pyrenees. Declared as a National Park in 1955, it is administered by the counties of Alta Ribagorza, Pallars Sobirà, Vall d'Aran and Pallars Jussà (Lleida). It extends a total of 40,852 hectares, it's the only national park located in Catalonia and the fifth largest of Spain. At the beginning of the twentieth century the hydroelectric exploitation of the Pyrenees began, which together with tourism and cattle raising remain as the most important human activities in the Park. The geography of this park is, in general, classified as upper montane, since most of the area exceeds 1.000 m in height, with some peaks reaching the 3.000 m, such as the case of Comaloforno (3.033 m). Due to its large slopes a great variety of ecosystems can be found. From meadows, crops and deciduous forests in the lower montane, to evergreen forests in the middle heights, and upper montane meadows and rocks at the highest levels. About the wildlife in the park, although they are not easily spotted, there are about 200 species of vertebrates inhabiting the Park: from mammals such as the chamois, the wild boar, the stoat, the marmot or the roe deer; birds such as the black woodpecker, the capercaillie, the Tengmalm's owl, the crossbill, the rock ptarmiga, the Alpine accentor, the snowfinch, the yellow-billed chough, the griffon vulture, the golden eagle or the bearded vulture, among many others; amphibians such as the Pyrenean brook salamander, the asp viper and the European smooth snake; and fishes like the brown trout. The centre of the Park is formed by granite rocks of more than 300 million years (which can be found in the Peguera valley, Amitges, the head of the Vall Fosca, the Besiberri massif, Colomèrs or in the Gerber valley) and surrounding it, in the margins of the Park, we can find rocks of sedimentary origin like slate, limestone, etc. (in summits like the Encantats, in the Montsent of Pallars and the Montorroio). This natural site is characterized by the presence of glacial cirques (accumulation points of snow and ice of ancient glaciers) separated by crests with sharp pointy peaks (such as Amitges, Colomèrs, Peguera, etc.). Most of the cirques also contain, among their walls, spectacular lakes that offer some of the best scenarios of the Park. The valleys, wide and deep due to the passage of glaciers, and with a characteristic U-shape, have spectacular waterfalls. Most lakes, perhaps one of the most characteristic elements of this natural space, are at the base of the cirques, only a few are at the bottom of the valleys, such as Llong or the popular Sant Maurici. Another great symbol of this site, that gives name to the Park, is the plateau of Aigüestortes. The river of Sant Nicolau, which had previously been a lake, runs through this area creating very pronounced curves between marshes, meadows and mountain pine, hence the name of this spectacular place "tortuous waters". Nowadays the Park offers different kinds of activities. From a quiet stroll through the Aigüestortes area, through wooden walkways that cross the river, or a walk to the Lake of Sant Maurici, points that can also be reached by 4x4 vehicle (note that it is forbidden to enter with a private vehicle). A cable car connects the Sallente reservoir with Lake Gento, starting point of different excursions. Hiking is one of the main activities, and there are quite a big number of routes in. Although camping in the Park is not allowed, there are several refuges where the visitor can spend the night surrounded by nature. Depending on the season, you can find a bigger accumulation of ice and snow, both the weather and the physical conditions of the place and the visitor are important aspects to take into account when selecting the activities to perform.
The Legends of the Caliphate: Al-Andalus
Over the years, the Iberian Peninsula has been home of a very rich cultural mix. One of the most important influences in this area was and will be the Muslim culture. Al-Andalus is the name given to the territory formed by the Iberian Peninsula and the South-west zone of France (Septimania) during the period when Muslim were dominating these regions in the Middle Ages (711-1492). The Muslim conquest of the Iberian Peninsula began on April 27, 711, with the landing in Gibraltar, and divided the area in a Muslim state (Al-Andalus) and northern Christian counties and kingdoms. After few months, the Visigoths were defeated at the Battle of Guadalete. Abd al-Rahman I reached Cordoba in 756, and in 763 he created the Emirate of Cordoba, becoming politically and administratively independent from the Caliphate of Damascus. Abd al-Rahman II delegated power to the viziers. The process of "islamization" was fast and the number of Mozarabs (Hispano-Visigothic Christians present in Muslim territory) declined quantitatively due to the conversion of many of them to Islam. Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed himself as a caliph in 929, established the Caliphate of Cordoba, and declared it religiously independent from the Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad. After the conquest of Melilla (927), the Umayyads of Cordoba were controlling the triangle formed by Algeria, Siyilmasa and the Atlantic Ocean. But this stage of great splendor ended in 1010 with fitna or civil war caused for the succession to the throne, divided between the supporters of the last legitimate caliph Hisham II, and the successors of his prime minister or Hayib Almanzor. The consequence was the fragmentation of the Umayyad state in a multitude of kingdoms known as Taifa Kingdoms, and the Umayyad Caliphate of Cordoba was succeeded by the Caliphate Hammudi of Malaga. After the conquest of Toledo in 1085 by Alfonso VI, the taifa kings decided to request some help to the Almoravid sultan of North Africa, Yusuf ibn Tasufin, who won the battle of Zalaca (1086) and progressively conquered all Taifas. However, after the loss of Zaragoza in 1118, some rebellions took place (Cordoba, 1121), and Almoravid authority began to decline in North Africa due to Almohad pressure. In 1144 the Sufi Ibn Quasi led an anti-Almoravid movement by which the Second kingdoms of Taifas began to emerge. Their empire extended from Santarém (center of Portugal) until Tripoli (Libya) and they managed to stop the Christian advance defeating the Castilian troops in 1195 in the battle of Alarcos. But after the Christian victory at the battle of Las Navas de Tolosa (1212), the death of the caliph al-Nasir and the successive fights that took place, the caliphate sank into political chaos and the Third kingdoms of Taifas were created. In the middle of the thirteenth century, Al-Andalus was reduced to the Nasrid kingdom of Granada. In 1238 Muhammed I ibn Nasr, known as Al-Ahmar "the Red", entered Granada. The creator of the Nazarite dynasty and founder of the Kingdom of Granada, had to become a tributary of the Castilian kings in order to maintain their independence. The Nasrid dynasty of Granada was divided, in its last decades, by an internal civil war that faced Al-Zagal, Muley Hacen (brother of Al-Zagal), and his son Boabdil. The last king of the Nasrid dynasty, Boabdil, was defeated in 1492 by the Catholic Kings, ending with the Reconquest, annexing the Kingdom of Granada to the Crown of Castile. With the arrival of the Muslim people to the Peninsula, important changes took place for that time, fomenting the commerce and the markets (of metals and crafts materials); developing agriculture, with new horticultural practices such as irrigation techniques; as well as in the development of cities, handicrafts, sciences and art, mainly in architecture (examples of this are the mosque of Cordoba and the Alhambra in Granada). Cities that stand out in Muslim art are: Malaga hosts a large number of places to visit such as the Alcazaba (Muslim palace fortification), the Cathedral, Castillo de Gibralfaro, Mirador de Gibralfaro, and the Malagueta (bullring), among others. Ronda, a city set on a mountain range, has historic sites such as El Puente Nuevo, Bullring, and Arab baths and walls. Seville, the capital of Andalusia and its biggest city in terms of population, also contains one of the biggest old districts in Europe with some monuments selected as Unesco's World Heritage. Some of the recommended visits are: La Giralda (bell tower of the Cathedral), Real Alcazar (the oldest active royal palace in Europe), Torre del Oro, the Cathedral and the Plaza de España. Granada, has one of the most amazing heritages of the Nazari dynasty, The Alhambra. Other places to visit are: El Generalife Gardens, the Charles V Palace, Sacromonte, Albaicín, the Cathedral and the Mirador de San Nicolás. The city of Cordoba, the most important city of Al-Ándalus culturally and economically, surpassed 100,000 inhabitants in the 10th century, and became the largest city in Western Europe. It has the famous Mosque-Cathedral, the Castle of Christian Monarchs, the Roman Bridge, the Synagogue, and at 8 km. from the city the area of Medina Al-Zahara. Toledo, capital of Castile, is one of the cities with the highest concentration of monuments to visit: the Alcazar, the Cathedral, the Old Synagogue, Zocodover Square and the Santa María Synagogue.
The legacy of Sefarad: Spain
The Sephardic community (word that comes from the Hebrew and designate the Jews of Spain) was present in Sefarad (Hebrew word that designates the Iberian peninsula) from remote times, as confirm some remains found in the peninsula dated of the VII BD century. The number of Jews in Spain increased in the Roman Hispania, during the Diaspora and by the importation as slaves by the Romans. In the Visigothic Hispania, at the beginning of the sixth century, the Visigoths, Arian Christians, lived in peace with the Jewish community, although from the Kingdom of Recaredo (587 AD), which converted to Catholicism and ordered the conversion of the whole peninsula, the Jews were prosecuted and isolated, fomenting the first Jewish quarters (called aljamas or juderías in spanish). During the following kingdoms, this situation became worse and many Jews left the land to the North of Africa, culminating with the approval of the slavery of Jews and converts with the King Égica in the year 694. This situation changed radically in Al-Andalus. The conquering Muslims of the Iberian peninsula proved to be much more tolerant with the Jewish culture, a fact that started being noticed from the 8th century, when the number of Jewish quarters started to grow all over the peninsula, but mainly in the South area. Several Jews from all over Europe moved to the peninsula, and were able to carry out government positions or commercial and financial activities, which allowed, little by little, to incorporate the rest of the Jewish population to the Islamic culture, reaching positions of treasurers, tax collectors, money changers and lenders, which Muslims were forbidden to work due to their religion. This was with no doubt the most splendid time of Hebrew culture, specially in medicine, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and religious studies. Some of the most important characters of the time in these sciences were: Avicenna, Aberroes and especially Maimonides, the Rabbi of Cordoba Moshe ibn Maimon, thanks to his contributions in Medicine and Philosophy. In the Christian kingdoms, the role of the Jews was of great importance: as transmitters of Muslim culture, in medicine, as collectors of taxes and the state treasury, etc. However, the lower classes only could see them as exploiters, and the Catholic Church had the perfect excuse to support this anti-Semitism. Besides the prohibitions to Jews established in the Order of 1412, in the Cortes of Toledo of 1480 the Catholic Kings decided to change the Jewish quarters into ghettos surrounded by walls. Following this series of restrictions, in 1492, shortly after the end of the war in Granada (ending with the last Muslim citadel in the Iberian peninsula), the Catholic kings signed the decree of expulsion, forcing the not Converts (to Catholicism) Jews to leave the peninsula, in less than four months, by their own means and selling their goods. Some decided to stay and convert to Catholicism, especially the richest and most educated and most rabbis. The Jews who left the country and their descendants are known as Sephardim. Today there are 24 municipalities that form the Jewish Network, an association to rescue and reclaim the Sephardic heritage. Many of the places have been abandoned or converted to Catholicism, yet traces and clues remain of this rich Jewish culture. Some of the most important municipalities in this area are: Granada, a beautiful city with important monuments such as The Alhambra, the Generalife, the Palace of Carlos V and the Albaicín. Córdoba, former capital during the Muslim era. The Mosque-Cathedral, the Synagogue (it is said that it is the purest of the four remaining in all Spain), the Castle of the Monarchs or the Roman Bridge are some of the most recommended places to visit. Toledo is the cradle of most of the Jewish history in Spain, with such emblematic sites as The Cathedral, the Old Synagogue and the Santa María Synagogue, the Madraza, the Carnicería (butcher shop) and the house of Samuel Ha-Levi. Segovia, a city inhabited by Jews for more than three centuries, has some key places such as the Roman Aqueduct, the Synagogue, the Alcázar and the Cathedral. Barcelona, and its Gothic Quarter have many Sephardic past buildings such as the New Baths, Old Butcher Shop, Hebrew Stone, and many other symbols of Hebrew culture.
Montserrat, the most important mountain in Barcelona
Montserrat is a multi-peaked rocky range located in Catalonia, famous all around the world due to its characteristic and unique shape. Over 3 million people (tourists and pilgrims) visit the mountain every year. It is located 50km away from Barcelona city, between the regions of Bages, Anoia, and El Baix Llobregat. It was declared Natural Park on 1987. It is 10km long by 5km wide, and reaches its maximum height at 1236 metres, with the Sant Jeroni peak. This mountains are also a spiritual spot, as they host the monastery of Montserrat, dedicated to the Virgin of Montserrat, the Catalan patroness, whose festival is celebrated every year by Catalans the 27th of April. This Virgin is popularly known as "la Moreneta" (which means something like "the Black” or “the Brunette"), due to the icon which is venerated nowadays, from the XII century. This woodcarving represents the mother of Jesussitting in a throne with the child Jesus in her lap. Both skins are dark, consequence of the exterior coat of varnish over time, and the smoke of the candles that devotees have been putting at the foot of the Virgin for centuries. The Benedictine monastery offers a big architectural interest, like the chapel house, the Neo-Roman cloister and the refectory . There is also a library with almost 300.000 volumes of various subjects, a children's conservatory which is believed to be the oldest in Europe, and a museum with some artistic works of El Greco, Picasso and Dalí. The area has also other smaller churches and hermitages, although some are abandoned, like Santa Cecilia, Sant Benet, Sant Joan, or Sant Jeroni. The first Cardium Pottery (or Impressed Ware) found in Catalonia, dating over 6.000 years, were found in Montserrat. A halo of mystery surrounds this mountain, and many legends remain over time. One of them tells that in the year 880, a group of young shepherds saw a strong light coming down from the sky accompanied by a beautiful celestial melody. This vision was repeated every Saturday for some weeks, as the rector of Olesa recorded, and the bishop of Manresa decided to organize a journey to the mountain to see what was going on. In one of the caves in Montserrat, which since then is known as the "Holly Cave", they found the Holly Image of the Virgin. They tried to transfer it to Manresa, but they were not able as it was very heavy. This fact was interpreted as the Virgin's wish/will to remain in that place, so they decided to build a chapel in situ, the Hermitage of Santa Maria. On 888, Count Guifré el Pilós granted the Hermitage of Santa Maria to the monastery of Ripoll. In 1025, the abbot of Ripoll and bishop of Vic founded, next to the Chapel, a new monastery that received numerous pilgrims and visitors, who little by little spread among the people the stories about the miracles made by the Virgin. Three centuries later, the monastery of Montserrat became an independent abbey, and became part of the Congregation of Valladolid between 1493 and 1835. During the 16th and 18th centuries, the monastery of Montserrat became a cultural centre of reference, with great composers such as Cercerols, Casanovas, Soler and Sors. The Peninsular War in Spain (1811-1812) and the confiscation (1835) led to the destruction and abandonment of the monastery. In 1844 the restoration of the monastic life began, and in 1881 Pope Leo XIII proclaimed the Virgin of Montserrat Patroness of Catalonia. Due to the Spanish Civil War, the Monastery was abandoned, although the Government of Catalonia was concerned to save it from destruction and looting. Even so during the war some monks were killed and the monastery served as a hospital for some time. Nowadays, the Montserrat community consists of several dozen monks, who ensure that Montserrat remains as a meeting point and place of prayer. Due to the orography of this mountain, some sports such as climbing and excursions to the forests are organized to admire the diversity of both fauna and flora.
1888 BARCELONA UNIVERSAL EXPOSITION
Context: The XIX century showed big changes in Barcelona. Old city was stacked and walls were removed to enlarge it out of the former limits. Catalan region was also the engine of the Industrial Revolution in Spain, and the Barcelona's bourgeoisie started to test its power thanks to its great relation with Spanish Monarchy after the First Republic (1868-1874) ended. During the last 150 years (1860-nowadays), Barcelona, had used different international events to develop big urban renovations and transformations in the city. The 1888 Barcelona Universal Exposition was the first of the events that were held by the city in the last years of the XIX century. The Universals Expositions were considered at that moment the most important event to be organized by a city around the world. Paris and London held it several times since 1851. This context pushed the city to become a candidate for hosting the event. The huge Old Citadel, built during the XVIII century, dominated Barcelona from the north during more than 100 years. The Spanish army gave the control of the land back to the local institutions, and it was finally demolished. La Ribera district which was very affected by the construction more than a century ago, had the best of the opportunities to restore its pride. This big portion of land was used to build new venues and facilities for the Universal Exposition some of them still existing. Event: The Event was held from 20th of May to 9th of December 1888 and was inaugurated by the King Alfonso XIII. More than 27 countries had representation, with more than 12.000 exhibitors around the World. The Exposition was an impressive and astonishing success hosting more than 2 million visitors. "L'Arc del Triomf", a majestic Neo-Mudéjar triumphal arch, with its 30 meters tall, was the perfect gateway to get access to a 50 meters wide avenue (Passeig de Lluis Companys) which directed the visitors to the different exhibition venues. The main palace, called Palau de la Indústria, hosted some of the international delegations, and after the event was demolished. In its place Barcelona's actual zoo was built after the Exposition was finished. The Exposition claimed also the interest of some of the still unknown iconic Modernism architects as Antoni Gaudí, who designed the hydraulic project of the main Cascade and the Compañía Transatlántica Pabilion, and Lluis Domènech i Muntaner who designed El Castillo de los Tres Dragones, neo-gothic building which hosts the actual Zoology Museum and the International Hotel, a temporary planned building which was constructed in only 53 days to accommodate the foreign visitors. During the Universal Exposition some other events were organized in the city, such as congresses, concerts and theatre plays, among others. Legacy: After the Exposition was officially finished in December 1888, Barcelona showed a great and efficient organization capacity. Biggest part of the city was deeply transformed. Despite most of the constructions were demolished and removed due its temporary-oriented usage, some of them are still present in the city. Great part of the territories used by the Pabilions, Exhibition Palaces and venues, gave way to other facilities to be fully integrated in a daily basis usage by its citizens. The main park of the city called La Ciutadella (Citadel) become the principal lung of Barcelona, along as the zoo. Both are still present in the XXI century city life. The maritime facade of the old city was also drastically changed. El Moll de la Fusta, the long avenue which joins Las Ramblas with La Ciutadella park, was inaugurated during the event along as Columbus statue which still reigns over us. Conclusion The event supposed a big transformation for the city, not only from a construction point of view but also helping the mentality, that radically changed. Although there were some claims by part of the population against the organization and the workers’ conditions, most of the population felt that Barcelona could face the most ambitious targets that other cities were facing. New trends coming from Europe entered in the city. The mentality started to change and during the next 20-30 years, in the dawn of the XX century a new cultural boom took place in the capital of the Catalan Region. Barcelona 1888 Universal Exposition was the first event which deeply transformed Barcelona, becoming the seed of the city that we know nowadays.