Postcard from Malaga, Spain: Discovering a church’s “changing tower”

Holy banner of the Virgin Mary paying a call on Santuario de la Victoria

Judging from the silvered coach transporting the banner of the Virgin Mary on a traffic-snarling journey through the streets of Malaga to visit some of city’s other prominent figures of Mary – of which there are many, all elegantly attired and crowned – the banner must be highly regarded by the supporting brotherhood. A team of well-groomed oxen pulled her ahead of a fleet of flatbed tented trailers bearing a host of traditionally costumed followers, refueling themselves periodically from kegs of beer or wine.

We caught up with the procession after its visit to Santuario de la Victoria. The basilica dedicated to Saint Mary of Victory stands on the site of the encampment of King Ferdinand II of Aragon (1452-1516) when he laid siege to recapture Malaga from the Moors in 1487. The original church built soon after was replaced by a grander edifice completed in 1700.

What makes this church one of my favorites in Spain is the most spectacular chamber we almost missed. Up high behind the altar, accessed by a stairway tucked away behind doors off to the side of the altar, is what is referred to as a camarin torre, a changing tower. I am still unsure what that means, but inside a beautifully carved Virgin and Child are held aloft under a most ornate snowy white and gold dome.

The basilica might have risen to be my favorite anywhere if we had been allowed into the crypt down below. Inside are the sculptured tombs of the Counts of Buenavista, accompanied by a host of carved skeletons. Alas, the crypt was closed for restoration, perhaps completed by now.

Including a few final remaining shots of other Malaga churches and Marias in this post as well.

Postcard from Antequera, Spain: Where women are not depicted as the weaker sex

Romans. Visigoths. Moors. Then Christians. As in Ronda, evidence of the waves of occupiers choosing to fortify a natural citadel in Andalucia remains in Antequera. Real Colegiata de Santa María la Mayor, an early (early 1500s) Renaissance church, dominates the hilltop with its Alacazaba fortress.

A replica of a 1760 float from the Corpus Christi processions parked near the front of the church is what stands out. Tarasca depicts a powerful woman, representing faith, conquering the seven deadly sins, symbolized by a snarling seven-headed dragon.

Then there are the faded murals on the church’s walls. Look closely. The Virgin Mary is not the only role model for young women here. The featured saints are all women. Women at war, leading Christian forces to victory.

And in the church of San Sebastian, there is a statue of a young woman gazing toward heaven. In her right hand, she bears a sword pointing downward to the head of a slain Moor at her feet.

Growing up with these images, are the women of Antequera particularly strident?

We lunched in a small restaurant patronized by locals that balanced things out by presenting the male side of the equation – the walls were covered with photos of matadors.

Postcard from Ronda, Spain: Formidable fortress now scenic escape

Balloonists drift through morning haze outside the back patio of our rental in Ronda.

Ronda is the place to go, if you are planning to travel to Spain for a honeymoon or for being with a girlfriend. The whole city and its surroundings are a romantic set.

…nice promenades, good wine, excellent food, nothing to do….

Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961)

Yes, there are several museums in Ronda. But its overall attraction, as Hemingway once typed, is there is relatively nothing to do but soak in the view from the majestic perch or take meandering walks below looking back up at the perch. And what a spectacular view it is on all sides.

Of course, Hemingway was not drawn to Ronda for its peacefulness but for the excitement of its bullfighting. The thrill of the kill. Ronda’s bullring is the birthplace of the tradition of the matador standing his ground before the bull instead of evading the bull on horseback. The place where matadors chose to dress in the elegant style depicted in the paintings of Goya.

And the ancient foundations of Ronda were not tourist perches but fortifications providing sweeping surveillance points for guarding against approaching enemies.

The site chosen either by the Iberians or the Bastulo Celts for the settlement that would one day become Ronda was perfect. (This was all a long time ago and no-one can be sure.) Rocky, protected by Nature like a favourite child, and so easily defended that even the most nervous members of the tribe could get a good night’s sleep. Naturally the Romans, whose paranoia was unparalleled but understandable, given their penchant for treating non-Romans with brutal disdain, liked what they saw and were determined to have it. Even the stoutest fortress is only as invincible as its defenders, and the Iberians, damned forever by the historian Strabo as “unable to hold their shields together,” proved no match for the determined invaders, who most certainly could. The supposed Iberian stronghold was easily taken, and rapidly “Romanised.”

John Gil, Andalucia.com

Moorish rulers recognized the value of this outpost in their frequent battles for control amongst themselves, and many of the remnants of fortifications date from their long occupation – from the 700s until 1485. After their water supply was seized, Moorish forces surrendered to Christians.

While Ronda appears rock-solid, many of its important buildings were felled by an earthquake in 1580. Then in 1810, retreating Napoleonic forces blew up the castle and many of the fortifications before their departure. And churches were again damaged during the Civil War in the 1930s.

Despite the imposing remaining ramparts, it is difficult to imagine violence in Ronda. Sheep graze peacefully outside the walls.

The main assaults upon the city today are busloads of day-trippers, welcomed by the town’s restaurants dependent upon them. They remain in a fairly concentrated area though, elbowing their way to viewpoints overlooking the plunging gorge (Okay, of course we joined them there.).

The other tourists were particularly useful, though. They provide scale for our snapshots. If you look closely at many of these photos, there are tiny specks of people admiring the spectacular scenery from atop the enormous rock mound.