Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Mayan gods molded man from masa

An engraving by Fernando Castro Pacheco illustrates the importance of corn to Mayans in a book by Alfredo Barrera Vasquez, Poema en Cinco Puntos Cardinales, published in Merida in 1976.

According to ancient beliefs rooted in the Yucatan, Mayan gods created a world full of plants and animals yet still felt unfulfilled. Their egos required more. They yearned for creatures capable of worshipping them, offering them tributes they craved. Like chocolate.

After attempts with other materials, the gods settled on corn, corn mixed with water and perhaps a bit of their own blood. So the first four men were formed from ground kernels of white corn and the women from yellow. Man not only was created from corn; he became dependent on corn as the cornerstone of his diet. Fortunately, there was a deity for that – Hun Nal Yeh, the god of corn.

So it is only natural that the critical role of corn in the world of the ancient Mayan and Mexico today is heralded in El Gran Museo del Mundo Maya of Merida. Continue reading “Postcard from Merida, Mexico: Mayan gods molded man from masa”

Postcard from Cordoba, Spain: Ducking into a couple of museums

“The Three Ages of the Woman,” Mateo Inurria Lainosa, 1923, Museo de Bellas Artes

The year 1835 jumpstarted the core collection of the Museum of Fine Art, or Bellas Artes, of Cordoba. Artwork held in convents was seized to establish the museum which opened in the former Hospital of Charity, operated by the Order of Saint Francis since the 15th century. Today’s collection focuses on regional artists from the 14th century to contemporary.

When the Archaeological and Ethnographic Museum of Cordoba opened in 1867, it shared space with the Bellas Artes until 1920. After several additional moves, the current home was found in 1960 in the 16th-century Palacio de Paez de Castillejo. Recent expansions of the museum have revealed the underlying ruins of what was the largest theatre built in Roman Hispania, remnants enhancing the existing collection of Roman sculpture housed within.

 

Postcard from Sevilla, Spain: Roman remains of Italica

Chosen for its prime location as a port and fort on the Guadalquivir River, the site of the older settlement of Turdetani was dedicated for veterans of the Second Punic War (218-201 BCE) by the Roman Emperor as a reward for their service in defeating Hannibal (247-180? BCE). The archeological remains of the new settlement, Italica, are found in the quiet town of Santiponce, only about six miles outside of Sevilla.

Italica was the birthplace of both the expansionist Roman emperor Trajan (53-117) (replica of original statue above) and his successor, Hadrian (76-138). Hadrian’s interests were not directed as much toward increasing the size of the Roman empire as in unifying it and making its borders defensible. His hometown benefitted from his keen interest and investments in outlying posts.

The walls erected around Italica enclosed more than 120 acres of an urbanized area laid out in a grid. Although the population never rose above 10,000 or so, the enormous amphitheatre seated up to 25,000 spectators. The “games,” generally played by enslaved gladiators, attracted visitors from far and wide, including the larger Roman neighboring city of Hispalis, or Sevilla.

While few walls of individual houses remain, some mosaic floors of the homes of the wealthy are still on site. Some mosaics have been taken to the Sevilla Archaeological Museum, but many were removed before Italica belatedly was protected as a National Monument in 1912. The central part of most mosaics made their way into the homes of Sevilla’s aristocrats. At least many in private hands were secured and well-preserved. They can be seen in several homes now open to the public as museums (photos later).

Lacking the favored patronage of an emperor, the fate of the prosperous city was dealt a death-blow by the shifting course of the Guadalquivir River. By the third century the once-vital port was left high and dry – abandoned.