Monday, July 14, 2008


We spent our last day in Spain visiting the magnificent city of Zaragoza. It is located in Northeastern Spain in the province of Aragon, on the Ebro river. It has a rich history of belonging to many peoples, and consequently is a historical treasure. It derives its name from Roman times, when it was a colony called "Caesaraugusta" after the Roman Emperor Augustus. It was then conquered by the Moors. Charlemagne attempted to retake the city in 777 but failed, and had to retreat. It was on this retreat that Charlemagne's force was ambushed by hostile Basques at the Battle of Roncesvalles Pass - a battle in which the trapped rearguard was slaughtered to a man. This rearguard, led by Roland, and the battle were immortalized forever in the famous work of literature "The Song of Roland".

In any case, here is the train station in Zaragoza.

We took a bus from the train station to the historical city center. This is a shot of us leaving behind all the buses, cars, and activity of the modern city, and entering the quiet, medieval section. You can see the arch that was part of the city walls.

As I mentioned earlier, Zaragoza was named after Caesar Augustus. Here's a copy of Augustus of the bronze statue in Rome along Via dei Fori Imperiali. This copy is located in what was the Roman Forum in ancient times.

And this is the forum. There's not much left, and it certainly isn't as big as the one in Rome, but it made for a nice picture. The design elements were interesting to look at as well - many were the same as Trajan's Forum back in Rome.

Our next stop was at the Basilica of Nuestra Senora de Pilar. Baroque in style, it is the co-cathedral of Zaragoza and was largely constructed during the 17th century.

The most striking feature of the exterior of the basilica is the fact that the domes and cupolas are all covered with brightly painted green, white, blue and yellow tiles. Here's a good example. The pattern and colors reminded me of the Brazilian flag.....

I had to laugh when we entered the church and saw this sign.

A very realistic crucifix above a side altar in the basilica.

This is the most important thing in the basilica. Our Lady of Pilar. It is a small wooden statue of the Blessed Mother, resting on a column of Jasper, on the site where she appeared to St. James the Greater. The column is encased in a silver reliquary and draped with a cone-shaped cloth, which is changed every day.

A close-up shot of the statue and crown.

An area of the pillar has been exposed for pilgrims to view and venerate. The most shocking thing about this is the sweet perfume that emanates from the pillar. It was pretty impressive watching pilgrims kiss the pillar, and then watch the shock on their faces when they smelled the perfume. Look at the hollow area worn into the jasper as a result of the millions of pilgrims who have done just that.

After leaving the basilica we headed down the street to do a little souvenir shopping. Here are Alex and Andrew enjoying the sunlight.

Next stop was the cathedral of La Seo. Built over the ruins of a mosque it was finished in the 13th century, and was the site where all the Aragonese kings were crowned until the 15th century.

This is the magnificent carved wooden reredo behind the main altar.

A shot of some of the Gothic arches and below, part of the choir.

This is a side chapel. It is carved entirely of alabaster.

In this picture you can see the shiny, almost transparent texture of the mineral. This relief depicts Our Lady handing the Child Jesus to St. Anne.

Another shot of some arches, so that you can get an idea of the height.

A picture of a silver side altar.

This side altar was dedicated to Saint Dominguito del Val. A choirboy of the cathedral, he was the victim of a murder perpetrated by the Jews of Zaragoza. Wishing to reenact the passion of Christ, and acting out of hatred for the Catholics of the city, he was kidnapped and crucified outside the city limits in secret by the Jews.

After leaving La Seo we made our way to the Roman theater which is still quite well preserved, considering it was built in the 1st century AD.

Our last stop in Zaragoza was the Museum of the Crystal Rosary, located inside a smaller church. It features crystal sculptures of the entire rosary, which is carried by citizens during religious processions. Here is the crucifix of the rosary.

This is a "bead". As you might be able to guess, it's an "Ave Maria" or Hail Mary.

On this bier you can see the sculpture which represents the 1st Sorrowful Mystery, and the beads that accompany it. As you can see, it's quite big.

A "Pater Noster", or Our Father bead.

Various biers representing different confraternities and guilds of the city are also part of the procession. This work of a ship represents Faith.

Another beautiful example, depicting the Marian apparitions in Spain.

We left the museum and walked into Plaza de Espana, which offered us this pretty view.

A shot of our high-speed AVE train which would take us back to Madrid.

Alex on board said train getting ready for the ride home.

After we arrived back in Madrid, Felipe took us to the bus stop, where we got a bus that took us to the airport, and then flew home. Goodbye Spain!

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Palace of La Granja

We took a day trip to the Guadarrama Mountains near Segovia, to the little town of San Ildefonso to visit the Royal Palace of La Granja. This area was a favorite hunting ground of the Castillian Kings and due to its lush forests, was the site chosen by Philip V of Spain for his new palace, begun in 1721. Philip V modeled La Granja on the palace of Versailles, which was built by his grandfather. He even called in French architects and artists to construct his royal residence. Here's a view of the facade from the approach.

Photos weren't allowed in the palace, but in spite of two guards dogging us, I managed to get a few shots. This one's slightly blurry, but is of one of the 1,300 tapestries that make up the largest Flemish tapestry collection in Europe. It depicts Faith with her foot on Mohammed's head.

A hall which leads to the royal residences and state rooms.

The room where meals with visiting diplomats and dignitaries were taken.

After our tour of the palace we exited into the gardens. They cover more than 1,500 acres and flow down the side of the mountain in the distance. Also flowing down the mountain is a stream of water which is collected in a reservoir and then released to power by gravity the numerous fountains in the gardens.

The king built himself a labyrinth to amuse himself and his guests. We gave it a shot. Here's Andrew wandering in the bushes.

This is a picture of the rear of the palace.

From left to right: Julian, Manuel, Alex, Mrs. Victoria, Me, Andrew. Standing in front of the fountains.

A shot of some of the flowers in the gardens. There are always fresh flowers in season which Philip wanted to decorate the interior of the palace. This is a tradition which is continued to this day. Every room we went in had vases of fresh flowers from the gardens.

A shot of the Guadarrama Mountains. We left the palace and drove a short ways down the mountain.

We stopped at a shady, wooded spot near a stream to eat some lunch.

Andrew and Julian playing soccer in the grass.

I got this shot of a honeybee working the flowers near the stream bank.

Manuel waves goodbye ....

Rock climbing in Torrelodones

We spent an afternoon climbing the enormous boulders in Torrelodones which is the little suburb of Madrid where the Victoria family lives. This is Alex on the summit of a big pile of rocks.

Andrew posing, pretending to hold up the gigantic rock.

This is one of the wild cork trees that grow in the arid countryside around Madrid.

A section of the bark cut to reveal the cork.

We finished the evening off by playing "Axis and Allies" with Manuel, Mr. Victoria and Paco (Julian).