Spain and Portugal


Avila

The city of Avila has some of the best preserved medieval walls in Europe. They are quite amazing - Avila looks like it came right out of a fairy tale. Except for the cranes, of course. Here is a close up of those walls.

El Escorial

The exterior of the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial, a palace, monastery, and library complex in San Lorenzo de El Escorial (near Madrid). At the foot of the Sierra de Guadarrama mountain range, King Philip II had the complex built (between 1563 - 1584 by Juan Bautista de Toledo, Giambattista Castello, and Juan de Herrera) as a tomb for Spanish monarchs and a center for the Counter-Reformation.
A view from inside the basilica. A closer view of the altar.
The library contains 45,000 books from the 15th and 16th centuries. The ceiling was painted by Tibaldi. A closer look at the ceiling. I had to take this picture by placing the camera on the floor and using a timer. Because so much of the library floor is off-limits, I did not have much choice in the subject matter. However, extrapolating from this picture, you can get an idea of how richly decorated the ceiling is.

Granada

This incredible image is from the Alhambra, near Granada. Look at the intricate carvings! An incredible example of Islamic artwork in Spain. Recall that Spain was conquered by the so-called Moors in 711 A.D., the battle continued until 1492. One of the gardens of the Alhambra. While most of Europe languished in the Dark Ages, the Moorish kingdoms in Spain enjoyed a high level of learning and civilization.
A palace in Granada.

Cordoba

This parking lot is right in front of the remains of the Imperial Temple in downtown Cordoba. Several great Roman emperors have roots in the area, including Hadrian and Trajan. This is a door to the great mosque of Cordoba. It's not a mosque any more - it's been converted into an incredible cathedral. It's an incredible mixture of Moorish and Gothic architecture. Too bad I don't have pictures from inside - I have a cheap camera. One needs an aerial view to really capture it - you can see the gothic cathedral literally smack in the middle of what was clearly a mosque.
This rules! This is an altar from a temple of Mithras, right here in Cordoba! The scene here depicts the tauroctony - the slaying of the bull. Mithras was an ancient sun god from Persia, long before the Roman times. Through the centuries, Mithras was adopted and adapted by many residents of the Roman Empire (particularly soldiers) and an entirely new religion formed. Mithraism was an early competitor of Christianity and had a sizeable following. Temples to Mithras have been found all the way from Britain and North Africa to the Middle East. In fact I found an IDENTICAL altar in BUDAPEST, Hungary (ancient Aquincum). That's amazing stuff. I'll put this picture here twice! If you look closely, you will see a scorpion, a snake, and a dog in the picture. The man (some claim it to be Perseus) is always wearing a Phrygian (smurf-like!) hat and looking away from the bull. This statue is ALWAYS the same, in every Mithraic temple that has been found - and there are many, many of them. The meaning? No one really knows (there are several theories) - the religion was very mysterious and they left no writings (that we know of). There is obviously great symbolism in the altar, but we may never know what they believed.

Seville

It was WAY to hot that day. I think it was 47 C that day. I didn't actually see the bullfight. I wanted to spend more time exploring the cathedral and Alcazar. The great tower from the cathedral is from Moorish times. The cathedral of Seville is among the largest in the world. Very impressive.
Looking at the cathedral from the exit to the Alcazar. The Alcazar of Seville is incredible. It really must be the high point of Moorish art and architecture. Look at the detail! Furthermore, it was used by Spanish royalty for centuries, and as a consequence, different parts of it have a different look altogther.
Another look at the Alcazar. And some more.
This is the Plaza de Espana. It was so hot that day. So incredibly hot. Another look at the Plaza.
The Plaza again.

Salamanca

The lovely city of Salamanca. It looks like it has a happening University life. I can't imagine how much work gets done though. People (actually everywhere in Spain) stay out until 5am on weekdays! Everyday... The door to the Salamanca Cathedral.
A detail from the doorway. Notice the creature with an ice-cream cone!! Another detail. What is a spaceman doing on a cathedral?!

Toledo

The city of Toledo. A Roman era bridge in Toledo. They don't make them like they used to. Mostly because there are better ways of making them now.
A closer look at Toledo.

Valle de los Caidos

Monumento Nacional de Santa Cruz del Valle de los Caidos, built by forced labor under the dictator Francisco Franco. The cross on top is almost 450 feet high. The interior of the crypt is incredibly large, certainly one of the largest subterranean chambers in the world (which is open to the public).
This is the mosaic on the ceiling above the altar, near the grave of Francisco Franco. A view from the exterior.

Portugal

A functioning Roman aqueduct in Portugal. Sure, it's not like Pont du Gard near Nimes. but it's still cool. Some posters in Lisbon. If you read them closely, you may be surprised!
A fort in Lisbon. Too tired to write more... A street in Lisbon somewhere.
The "Moorish Castle" near Cintra in Portugal has got to be the coolest thing ever. Look at this! I never expected something like this. I expected a broken down fort on some lonely mountaintop... Another shot of the castle.
Yet another. The colors are incredible.