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Archive for October 2013

Guadix

Spain, ‘Everything under the Sun’ (or underground).

What unusual sights have Spain, Italy and Turkey in common? Without doubt, several but we’re looking today at troglodytic (cave dwelling) life in a modern age……

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There are many examples in Europe of people still living in caves but the most well know are Capadocia in Turkey, Matera in Italy and Guardix in Spain. For no other reason other than I live here, let’s look at Spain or, more particularly, Guadix in Granada Province, Andalucia.

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For millennia, humans have tunnelled into limestone to make homes, churches, wine cellars, funeral sites etc. Guardix is undoubtedly the largest troglodytic site in Europe with over 4,000 cave dwellings and more than half the population living in them still. This is no ‘Bedrock’ with fur-clad Fred Flintstone and Barney Rubble lookalikes. Most of the inhabited homes are very comfortable indeed and the barrio even has luxury hotel rooms deep below ground.

 

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The Romans really put Guadix on the map, Julius Caesar, developed the town which became prosperous for its silver mines. Later, occupied by the North African Moors (who renamed the town Guadh-Haix, the River of Life), it became a centre of silk production.

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Forget the idea of cold, chilly caverns, dripping with water and with moss-covered walls. These caves are dry and, in a land of scorching summers and cold winters nights, the internal temperature is a constant 20 degrees throughout the year. What a saving on central heating and air-conditioning bills. Also think of the additional benefit of being able to dig out another bedroom when too many guests arrive for Christmas.

 

The people of Guadix are extremely friendly and ‘caveproud. Stroll around, smile and you’ll almost certainly be invited inside one of these fascinating dwellings.

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While visiting Guadix, remember that there are a number of other cave villages nearby, one of which even has a cave discothèque! Other sights in the town, not to be missed are the splendid Cathedral (founded1594), the medieval Arab citadel and the remarkable Cave Museum.

 

One other sight not to be missed is the nearby Castle of the Calahorra with its wonderful renaissance patio, built in Florentine marble. Be advised though that, unless things have changed recently, you will have to seek out the curator in the village and, if you drive him up to the castle, he will open it up for you to look inside….

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The Blue Danube Group of Toronto are the acknowledged experts in tours of Spain. Check them out on: http://www.spaintours.biz/index.htm

 

…..another blog by peter harrison, thanks for your interest.

The Park of Monsters

Il Parco dei Mostri di Bomarzo

The Park of the Monsters

OK, you’ve seen the Vatican, the Coliseum, the Parthenon, the Trevi etc. so many times that you could get a free Italy tourist guide badge from Rome City Council. You’ve got your grandchildren with you on vacation; they’re bored and want to see something different than ‘dead people’s houses’. Where do you take them?

Orcus Grotto at Parco dei Mostri

Bomarzo is only about 60/70 kilometres from Rome and the Park is a great day out for all the family but, be warned, do not try using public transport, it’s virtually impossible. If you are brave or foolish enough to drive in Rome, hire a car…..

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We tend to think that Disney were the inventors of the theme park. The Park of the Monsters precedes our modern offerings by more than 400 years! Originally planned and constructed around 1552, its name was originally the “Villa of Wonders”.

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The astonishing concept of possibly the world’s first theme park was the brainchild of one Prince Pier Francesco Orsini who dedicated the park to the memory of his dead wife, Giulia. What is an interesting, but lesser known snippet of information, is that the design was the work of the great Italian architect Pirro Ligorio who completed Saint Peter’s of Vatican fame after Michelangelo’s death and went on to construct the exquisite Villa d’Este in Tivoli.

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Over the last couple of centuries, the park slipped into oblivion and became totally overgrown but, in the 1950’s, restoration work started in earnest and the majesty, myth, legend and history are once again available to the public to admire and be inspired by.

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Traditionally, the Italian garden was always neat, symmetric and formal. Bormazo is a counterfoil; a higgledy-piggledy, surreal and eclectic mix of statuary randomly thrown around sol per sfogare il Core (only to set the heart free) as one engraved stone explains.

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From Hannibal‘s elephants to The Temple of Eternity, from the Dragon with Lions to the wonderful Ceres, you (and almost certainly, your grandchildren) will be amused, perplexed, enthralled and fascinated as were such luminaries as Salvador Dali and Jean Cocteau.

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With the added benefit of a sight of the lovely Castle of Bomarzo, it is, in all, a wonderful and enlightening day out for all the family.

 

Something Spanish, for Latin lovers……

flamencoFlamenco…. a passion for life 

The fire of flamenco is a genre and complex culture that has been burning in Andalucía for nearly half a millennia. Today  the flames still burn hot and strong in this passionate and seductive form of art, which has evolved and diversified over the years. 

From an original ‘gypsy’ form of music/dance expression, flamenco is now a rich spectacle enjoyed all over the world from true, basic participation level to tourist ‘tablao’; from tiny ‘peñas’ in Jerez de la Frontera to concert halls in Tokyo. 

For centuries, flamenco has been a mystery to ‘payos’ (the word used by Spanish gypsies to describe anyone who is not of gypsy descent).

Traditionally the ‘payo’ concept of flamenco ranged from fiest and wedding ‘sevillanas’ (which are really just folk dances from Seville with a flamenco influence) to the spectaculars performed in Benidorm and Torremolinos hotels in the first days of  cheap package tours for lobster-red, inebriated Brits and Germans. 

Deeply emotional forms of flamenco such as ‘cante jondo’, a type of deeply emotional song, usually sad, rooted in the tradition were born in small Andalucian villages such as Lebrija and Utrera. It’s historically, very nicely described as a music form which ‘……still reflect the spirit of desperation, struggle, hope, and pride of the people during a time of persecution.

The colourful polka-dot dresses, castanets and the frenetic or, conversely, richly and haunting tones of the Spanish guitar have become the standard tourist concept of Andalucía. These do not represent authentic flamenco; castanets, for example, are only a modern addition added to enhance the clicking of fingers.

Flamenco traditionally came from around the lovely city of Jerez (home of sherry wine) originating from Hispanic, Celtic, Islamic, Sephardic Jewish, and Gypsy cultures that survived, and sometimes thrived, in Moorish conquered Andalusia, before the Christian re-conquest of Southern Spain. Latin, blues, rock and jazz have been influences in the more evolved flamenco styles, sometimes called flamenco ‘fusion’.

 There has been much academic argument about what constitutes flamenco. I’m not an expert but when you experience the singing sometimes accompanied by flamenco guitar (toque), rhythmic hand clapping (palmas), rhythmic feet stomping (zapateado) and dance (baile) and your heart doesn’t miss a beat, you are probably in the wrong place and wrong country for a vacation….. 

My name is Peter Harrison. I live here and love flamenco with a vengeance. If you’re ever visiting Valencia, mail me on veritaslasafor@yahoo.es. We’ll share a bottle (or two) of sherry and my wife, Mercedes, from Jerez, might show you how the ‘palmas’ work. If you’re looking for a holiday or vacation in this land of ‘everything under the sun’ have a look at the experts:  http://www.spaintours.biz/spain-portugal-combinations.htm

The Curse of Ca’Dario, One of Venice’s Spooky Palaces

A Place to Die for… or In 

Remember a great British group ‘The Who’ (of ‘Tommy’ and ‘My generation fame)? Kit Lambert, not John Entwhistle as urban legend has it, their producer and manager, owned the Palazzo in the early 1970s. He died shortly afterwards in London, falling from a staircase or possibly killed by his drug supplier. A coincidence? Read on…..

Palazzo Ca’Dario

Ca’Dario is a rather lovely Venetian palace on the Grand Canal with distinctive chimneys, a beautiful facade of marble and Istria stone and built in floral Venetian Gothic style. However the number of  owners, their friends, lovers or members of their families, who have died shortly after owning or being associated with this building, is truly astonishing. 

Giovanni Dario, a mega-rich merchant and distinguished diplomat bought and remodelled the palace at the end of 15th century. Within a very short time his daughter committed suicide following the murder of her husband. Their son was later murdered while doing business in Crete.

 The palace was later bought by an Armenian diamond merchant who died there in poverty (some say of hunger) after his business mysteriously went bankrupt in very strange circumstances.

 In 1837, an Englishman, Rawdon Brown, bought the palazzo for the princely sum of £480, a fortune in those days. His untimely death was again by suicide caused by rapid and mysterious financial ruin and possibly because of the scandal caused by his homosexual liaisons. 

The French poet Henry De Regnier, who wrote “L’altana ou la vie vénitienne” there, died an untimely death after taking ill shortly after his visit.

 The famous tenor Mario del Monaco bought the palace in the 1960’s but had a serious car crash on the way to sign the contracts and was crippled for life.

 The next instalment in this horrific, haunted tale: In the same decade, an American multimillionaire, Charles Briggs, bought the house to share with his gay lover who committed suicide a few months later.

 The next tragedy strangely also has a reoccurring homosexual link. In 1970 the palace’s owner, Count Filippo Giordano delle Lanze, was murdered by his lover, a Croatian seaman who was, in turn, later murdered in London 

A few years later Fabrizio Ferrari a Venetian financier bought the building. He too was bankrupt within no time and duly committed suicide (how many now?) and his sister, Nicoletta, promptly died in a suspicious road crash.

 Later the palazzo was bought by the financier Raul Gardini, who, after a series of economic problems and scandals, later committed suicide……..

 I’ve never thought of him as being clairvoyant but, when Woody Allen nearly bought the structure, he pulled out at the last moment: possibly very lucky for him.

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Inscribed on a part of the building, is a message in Latin: “genio urbis joannes dario” which means “Giovanni Dario is the genius of the city”.  However an anagram of the Latin phrase is “Sub ruina insidiosa genero”, meaning “I bring treacherous ruin to those who live under this roof”. A mostly true (but slightly embellished) historical legend!

Visit Venice at least once before you die but don’t buy the Ca’Dario or maybe the Ca’Dario will visit you.

 Have a look at some great tours to Venice and other Italian cities