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.

Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Favorite aunt hanging by strings for generations

Tia Norica

“Corre, corre, Tia Norica.” Tia (Aunt) Norica first pranced across a stage for audiences in Cadiz in the early 1800s.

With a cast of carved wooden figures, artist Pedro Montenegro began staging plays to entertain audiences in 1815. Early shows included the story of the Nativity, Isabel II and Libertad. Tia Norica soon managed to work her way into every play, becoming the audience favorite. The star marionette even merited her own comic sketch, El Sainete de Tia Norica.

The puppet company continued through the years under various directors. Electric lights and retablos for backdrops were added for productions by the early 1900s. And new plays and puppets continued to expand the repertoire.

Some of the charming rod and string puppets made their way to the permanent collection of the Museo de Cadiz in 1978.

“Descendants” of these puppets still are used for festival performances, so Tia Norica retains legions of fans.

No puppeteer is even needed for these older puppets to enchant. My imagination has assigned Tia Norica a voice similar to Robin Williams portraying Mrs. Doubtfire – with a Spanish accent.

The figure of Sancho Panza astride his donkey makes one wonder if the Cadiz puppeteer’s version of Miguel de Cervantes’ classic skipped over Part II, Chapter XXVI, when Master Pedro stages a puppet show for Don Quixote. In the book, Don Quixote was carried away during an attack by Moors in Master Pedro’s play:

Don Quixote, however, seeing such a swarm of Moors and hearing such a din, thought it would be right to aid the fugitives, and standing up he exclaimed in a loud voice, “Never, while I live, will I permit foul play to be practiced in my presence on such a famous knight and fearless lover as Don Gaiferos. Halt! ill-born rabble, follow him not nor pursue him, or ye will have to reckon with me in battle!” and suiting the action to the word, he drew his sword, and with one bound placed himself close to the show, and with unexampled rapidity and fury began to shower down blows on the puppet troop of Moors, knocking over some, decapitating others, maiming this one and demolishing that; and among many more he delivered one down stroke which, if Master Pedro had not ducked, made himself small, and got out of the way, would have sliced off his head as easily as if it had been made of almond-paste….

Don Quixote did not leave off discharging a continuous rain of cuts, slashes, downstrokes, and backstrokes, and at length, in less than the space of two credos, he brought the whole show to the ground, with all its fittings and figures shivered and knocked to pieces, King Marsilio badly wounded, and the Emperor Charlemagne with his crown and head split in two.

A miniature practice round for the windmills that lay in the knight’s path down the road. So happy Tia Norica was spared such an encounter.