Category Archives: Travel

Palacio de la Aljafería, and Zaragoza’s Mudéjar architecture

El Palacio de la Aljafería is an incredible building, containing within it the material remains of many periods of Spain’s troubled history as well as the ways that each of these histories has been reimagined and retold. It is built over an Islamic fortified enclosure, and the semi-circular turrets date and base of one of the towers date from the 9th Century. They are massive — and the contrast is wonderful with the delicate columns and arches of the inner courtyard, the carvings, the sound of running water, the oratory with its traceried windows. This dates from the period of the Taifas, or the independent kingdoms of Spain before the consolidation of the Almorávides. This period saw the building of the Alhambra as well, but this building predates it, and our guidebook describes it as a model for both that glorious place and the Reales Alcazares in Seville, which I have not seen.

This was the extent of the Taifa of Zaragoza as it was expanded under Abú Yaáfar Áhmad ibn Sulaymán al-Muqtádir, who had this exquisite courtyard built.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

This also remains.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Other remnants sit engulfed in the architecture of Christian kings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza was conquered by Alfonso I (El Batallador) in 1118, and this was converted into the Palace of the Aragonese monarchs. This period remains visible through some of the interior rebuilding, above all these carved ceilings with their heraldic paintings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

In 1492, a new palace was plonked down on top of both the old by Ferdinand and Isabella — 1492 was such a terrible year. They did not have anyone as capable of the work as the Mudéjar architect, Faraig de Gali, and he blended the styles together as best he could. These, then, are on the top stories, with lovely tiles and interesting (if gaudy) carved and coffered ceilings.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

From here it enters its decline, Phillip the Second ordering it repurposed to become a fort in 1593. He built more defensive walls with pentagonal bastions at the corners and the moat and the drawbridges.

Zaragoza: Palacio de la Aljafería

You have to wonder why this fort was necessary in the middle of the Spain, the little pmaphlet states:

…the real reason for building this fort was none other than to show royal authority in teh face of teh Aragonese people’s demands for their rights as well as teh monarch’s wishing to curb possible revolts by the people of Zaragoza.

Nation building wasn’t entirely smooth it seems. The building later became a barracks. Many of the islamic carvings were removed and put into museums, and it was a very slow process (1931 declared historic, excavation and reconstruction began 1947) to convert this building into the palimpsest it represents today where original and reconstruction sit together, and they do it rather beautifully.

I remember reading of the Marranos y Moriscos, Jews and Arabs who to some extent or another or not really at all converted to Christianity and remained after Aragon and Castille conquered the Peninsula, who stayed through the Inquisition. But before this point in 1492 (and for how long after?) there were the Mudéjars. This is from the Encyclodpedia Britannica:

Mudejar, Spanish Mudéjar, (from Arabic mudajjan, “permitted to remain”), any of the Muslims who remained in Spain after the Reconquista, or Christian reconquest, of the Iberian Peninsula (11th–15th century). In return for the payment of a poll tax, the Mudejars—most of whom converted to Islam after the Arab invasion of Spain in the 8th century—were a protected minority, allowed to retain their own religion, language, and customs. With leaders assigned by the local Christian princes, they formed separate communities and quarters in larger towns, where they were subject to their own Muslim laws.

The Mudejars were highly skilled craftsmen who created an extremely successful mixture of Arabic and Spanish artistic elements. The Mudejar style is marked by the frequent use of the horseshoe arch and the vault, and it distinguishes the church and palace architecture of Toledo, Córdoba, Sevilla (Seville), and Valencia. The Mudejar hand is also evident in the ornamentation of wood and ivory, metalwork, ceramics, and textiles; and their lustre pottery is second only to that of the Chinese.

Such architecture is everywhere here in Aragon, what I think of as the heart of Spain. It is everywhere here, particularly churches, and very beautiful.

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Zaragoza: Mudéjar style

Nuremberg – Nürnberg

Nazi memorabilia, brothels where women stood in windows above their names, local people who, it felt, rather hated us…they certainly hated my poor attempts at German.

But also moments of the sublime.

St Egidien…we walked past and heard the most beautiful music and just sidled in the great doors and sat to listen to a rehearsal.

Nuremberg

An older man who was brilliant but a young woman who was truly one of the best I’ve heard, singing there in a white t-shirt and cut-offs. Not Bach, but of the period I think. We could have, should have, lit a candle to the angel of history in the back.

Nuremberg

And then there was the fairly brilliant bar Mata Hari (tiny basement bar, regulars, DJ playing 70s vinyl and loving every minute of the music, a German whiskey)

Nuremberg

Albrecht Dürer‘s house — quite beautiful, from a time when this was a vibrant centre of politics, trade and culture, one in which Dürer chose to stay rather than be lured away to Venice. He lived here just below the castle, in front of one of the main entrances to the city:

Nuremberg

The rooms are full of light — at least the day that we were there. Beautiful rooms.

Nuremberg

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Not so beautiful, perhaps, how he and these rooms were reinvented to the greater glory of Nuremberg and Germany. A lot feels reinvented here for those reasons somehow, though I loved the sausages and the dark wood paneling and the wine — and wished I could still drink beer. The Golden Postern was delicious and friendly, couldn’t really say the same for anywhere else.

Mark giving a lecture and doing a class at the University in Erlangen, and we deciding to stay in Nuremberg. It is a beautiful town to be honest, and one where life can be lived with grace I think — wide pavements, well maintained buildings of flats, lots of colour that I love. Lots of timber construction, a vibrant market in the centre, brilliant public transport. Also a number of people rough sleeping. Addictions — though they felt of a different kind than those so familiar in Manchester or London.

Statues that were bewildering:

Nuremberg

Some terrifying (though I confess I rather liked the latter)

Nuremberg

Nuremberg

Yet I think we will not be going back to Bavaria, at least not to stay.

It didn’t leave me with the physical sick to the stomach feeling of Bayreuth — the visit to Cosima Wagner’s Wahnfried and Winfred Wagner’s home next door, where Adolf Hitler felt at home, sneaking in after dark in the days after the 1923 failed putsch and then openly feted after his rise to power.

But this was ‘The most German of German Cities’, a centre of Hitler’s support and where they planned to build the massive and monumental Nazi Party Rally Grounds.

A map of what would have been, had not World War started and been lost:

There is a museum in part, it was alright. The building for party rallies still looms monumental, sitting at one end of the two-kilometer road for marches and parades:

Nuremberg

I read Speer’s autobiography many years ago when he writes about designing this, the great outdoor rally grounds with the massive banners, the use of floodlights to create the cathedral effect. It is almost down to foundations now, called the zepplin grounds because a zepplin once landed here in happier days.

It made me happy to see this there though:

Nuremberg

Most of this complex still serves as just another park.

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This is also the city where Kaspar Hauser appeared on 26 May 1828, claiming to have been held prisoner, rumours ran rife of his parentage, especially after he was stabbed and killed.

Nuremberg

The castle was interesting, the transport museum — I loved seeing the train carriages of Bismarck:

Nuremberg - Bismarck's train

And Ludwig II, I love trains and these were absolutely brilliant.

Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train

Nuremberg - Ludwig II's train

I’m glad to have seen all this, also more happy than usual to be home.

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Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre, Glasgow

Marvelously mechanical, haunting carvings incorporated into scrap wheels and cogs and machines that are beautiful in their stillness. We were able to take pictures of that, but not when they come alive…

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

From the website.

Eduard Bersudsky (b. 1939, St.Petersburg, Russia – then Leningrad, USSR) is a self-taught visionary artist. He started carving in his late 20-s, while making a modest living as a metal worker, electrician, skipper on the barge, night guard and a boiler man, and got his education in museums, libraries, exhibitions, and evening classes for drawing and sculpture.

In 1974-80 Bersudsky took part in some exhibitions of “non-conformist art” – a movement of artists who wanted to avoid the control of the official Soviet ideology.

In 1974 he found a job in the park department to carve giant figures out of fallen trees for children playgrounds. At the same time in his only room in a communal flat he began producing the kinemats – kinetic sculptures driven by electrical motors and controlled by sophisticated electro mechanical devices, incorporating pieces of old furniture, metal scrap and grotesque carved figures. Until 1989 his kinemats could be seen only by few friends and acquaintances.

In the centre of their new Glasgow home, a space roughly the same size as this room in St Petersberg and the kinemats that once filled it

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

We didn’t time it right to see the evening show when these were set in motion.

In 1988 his met Tatyana Jakovskaya (b.1947), a theatre critic and director. Together they founded Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre (opened in St.Petersburg in 1990). A mechanical movement of kinemats has been supported with music, light and shadow play. The third member of team – Sergey Jakovsky (born 1980) – joined Sharmanka at the age of 13 and gradually became responsible for light/sound design as well as technical management.

It is the combination of all of these things that make these so entirely magical.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

The shadows alone, so beautiful.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

The bittersweetness of each sculpture, like the Rag’n’Bone Man above, most dedicated to friends who made art, who stood with integrity. The Master and Margarita. Below the Titanic, and the dissemination of forbidden books.

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

And the tongue and cheekiness. Like the Aurora, Battleship of the Revolution:

Sharmanka Kinetic Theatre

Words fail in description, so go there. I love that it is in the very same building as the Britannia Panopticon, another wonder of Glasgow that I thought I had blogged but did not…how? An old music hall full of wonder, Stan Laurel started here. These are from 2014:

Britannia Panopticon

Britannia Panopticon

I hope that just a little of the love and ingenuity and brilliance of this carry on through our own year and its many endeavors that feel so daunting now.

Elgin Cathedral, its Memento Mori and strange beasts

Begun in 1224 and ruined by 1560, we found Elgin Cathedral frozen into the grass, inscribed against the sky.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Its bulk fades into fragility, its space shaped loosely by huge gaping walls, remains of windows that spin your view about the grayness of sky. Stubs of pillars that pull it down again to the grass and fill its center with memory.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Enough remains to remind you of just how beautifully human being worked this stone.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

The chapter house, still miraculously standing

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

A Pictish cross, with barely visible views of falconry

Elgin Cathedral Elgin Cathedral

I have not seen so many Memento Mori since St John’s Co-Cathedral in Valletta, certainly never so many in the UK. Here they are carved into stone, reminders of death sat alongside symbols of labour in life. How much better is this than the polished marbles of conquest and pillage.

Memento Mori, Elgin Cathdral

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And there are some most beautiful stone heads, human and animal alike.

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Views of the ruins from above

Elgin Cathedral

And views over Elgin from the tower:

Elgin Cathedral

Elgin Cathedral

Enda Walsh mostly, and Dublin

Enda Walsh… we didn’t know what to expect at the Smock Alley Theatre. We didn’t set our expectations high enough for Disco Pig and Sucking Dublin in this space that I loved quite uncritically, and M liked with rather more critique of highs and lows being lost to us as was a bit of the stage. Bright and violent and shining, seventeen and the world before them when, if, they were able to emerge from the world they had created with each other. Pig and Runt as an us versus all of them, a bit terrifying, a bit beautiful. The sea as a birthday gift. Blue the colour of love. Still babas awakening from a violent innocence. It is also all about how awakening means wanting more, knowing that the other will always hold you back even if you love them. It’s about getting out. Seems like one working class world is so very much like another, a bit glorious, a bit terrible, all we have to differentiate ourselves is our language and the nature of the music that calls us and the drugs that get us through, or our trajectories out and away from grinding work and reproduction. The language was fucking amazing. Of course anything about getting out always rips my heart out, and he threw heroin and some violence against women in there as well so Sucking Dublin finished the job.

Smock Alley Theatre

I know too there is more than this, that getting out isn’t required. Getting out scars you. A lucky one. An unlucky one. I don’t know.

A lovely, flying, terribly-timed weekend trip to Dublin on the grounds that M was examining a PhD on Friday, both of us studiously trying to ignore the crushing sleep-withdrawing pressure of deadlines and just enjoy, which wasn’t too hard although the weather was baltic and I earned myself the nickname of old face-ache.

So we didn’t walk around too much, just saw a few things. Ate Pho. Climbed down into the crypts to see the mummies in St Michan’s, which were quite amazing. I’m rather glad you can’t touch them anymore. I took this before seeing the no pictures sign. Waste not want not.

Dublin

The Sheare brothers are also here, hanged, drawn and quartered after the 1798 uprising, and maybe just maybe Robert Emmet. And above, a rather wondrous organ that Handel played the Messiah on.

Dublin

The Dublin of contrasts.

Dublin

Friezes of household items, notably fish and carrots on the old market building

Untitled

Posters of Irish women writers:

Dublin

We walked through Temple Bar, bookshops, the book market in the freezing wind.

Dublin

Dublin

The Little Museum of Dublin, crowdsourced and one of the best little museums I’ve been to and couldn’t recommend more. If we could have had our guide Patrick escort us through the streets of Dublin the whole weekend we would have done. For his story of the duck keeper of St Stephen’s Green during the Easter rising alone I would have paid an entry fee. Ground floor was all George Bernard Shaw…I have my mixed feelings about him, usually want to punch the Fabians, but a GBS posing as the thinker in the buff was quite extraordinary. And I love these old Georgian houses, though I know they were the housing of colonial rule.

Little Museum of Dublin

Second best behind Patrick and the ducks, what they believe to be Flann O’Brien’s chair hanging from the ceiling.

Flann O'Brien's chair? Little Museum of Dublin

I pretended it was his policeman leaning there rusty against the wall in the next room.

Went to the Long Hall, once patronised by an excess of 150 Fenians. I don’t know if you can have an excess of Fenians, but perhaps. There were certainly an excess of loud shoppers on a horrible Saturday afternoon and our pints were cold. Jesus. It was beautiful but still we fled. Walked past the big pointy thing again.

Dublin pointy thing

Across from our hotel the blessing of the taxi cabs.

Shrine

And the An Bord Pleanála, which google tells me is an independent, statutory, quasi-judicial body that decides on appeals from planning decisions made by local authorities in Ireland. All I know is that it has a wonderful sculpture of cleaning women, and I love this building dearly.

Untitled

By night, seagulls on the Liffey.

the Liffey and a row of seagulls

Last day, Sunday, National Gallery day,  surprisingly enjoyable. Malta has made me enjoy those rooms of medieval and Italian Renaissance paintings so much more now that I’ve realised they have spurting liquids and batshit crazy demons and angry horses.

Dublin National Gallery

Dublin National Gallery

But Caravaggio is here! Not even pictured on the brochure, honestly, but here is The Taking of Christ. I first saw it at the National Gallery in London along with a number of the pictures in this room. I had forgotten — maybe never knew, who can tell as old as I’m getting these days — that the canvas was thought lost then found here in Dublin in the 1970s. There is a whole room dedicated to his influence, it is splendid. The Irish rooms are also splendid, including one of the most beautiful pieces of stained glass I have ever seen.

Dublin National Gallery

And there were fish men.

Dublin National Gallery

A final view.

Dublin

I was sad to leave.

I am now going to resume writing about homelessness in Wales. Because life is a bit shit and I have so much to do before Friday and mum arrives tomorrow and I have duvets airing and the rubbish needing to go out and clothes folding and I haven’t hoovered and I am still overdue with that film review and there is no way that article that has been almost done for months is getting out before Christmas. But Dublin will be remembered.

A saint for every house, Malta and Gozo

Well, almost every house. In Valletta it is also every corner. Streets are full of shrines. Especially in Mdina/ Rabat, even where there is no saint, there is a nature scene, or a thanks to country that has made a family member welcome(ish) and able to send money home. They are amazing.

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My door and doorknocker obsession, Malta and Gozo

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Xlendi Cave

For the first time we heard the sea, it roared through the night with a crashing of waves as the wind picked up. No swimming in the morning, even if we had been up early enough to beat the crowds. This sea that I could not imagine other than placid and still suddenly alive and reaching hungrily far beyond where I had thought it’s boundaries lay. We walked down into town, found the narrow path and the stairs in the rock, had no idea there was a cave to be found. What luck that it should be the day when the sea should pound and sing here.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Lizards scurried over the rocks. There is one here if you can find it.

Xlendi Cave

We climbed back out. We sat for a while staring out to the knight’s tower, to the salt pans, watching the crashing of waves and mocking the German tourists.

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Xlendi Cave

Then suddenly, pirates.

Xlendi Cave