Postcard from Cadiz, Spain: Water-locked ancient stronghold

Water. No matter what direction you walk, you quickly encounter it. It’s visually stunning and soothing, with ever-changing colors depending on the weather, time of day and whether you are on the east or the west side.

Geographically termed a peninsula between the Atlantic and its bay, Cadiz seems more an island. The thin band connecting it to the Spanish mainland is narrow to the point it feels but a fragile manmade thread that could easily be severed by an Atlantic storm.

This isolated location made it an ideal stronghold for early Phoenician explorers from Tyre to establish a stronghold on the Atlantic in 1104 B.C.  Gadir, as it was called then, is considered Europe’s most ancient city still standing. The city is associated with the slaying of the three-headed monster Geryon by Hercules in Greek mythology.

Cadiz has been ruled by Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Byzantines and the Moors. Christopher Columbus set sail from the port during his second and fourth voyages to the New World. When sandbars made navigation of the Guadalquivir River to Seville no longer possible, Cadiz flourished as the center for trade with the Americas. The fleet based in Cadiz invited frequent attacks and pillaging by Spain’s enemies through the centuries.

Today, the population of Cadiz numbers about 100,000. With much of the peninsula occupied by its industrial port, the actual residential area covers less than two square miles. There is no land for the city to expand in size, and, because of the city’s historical importance, buildings in the historic center are restricted in height. Unemployment is fairly high, which means the port still welcomes the arrival of cruise ships disgorging huge numbers of people for several hours at a time. Those temporary invaders were easy to avoid, however, as they failed to explore more than a quarter of the city.

The city is laid-back, and its narrow, mainly pedestrian streets, are pleasant to wander. Boardwalks skirt the water on all sides.

The island-like setting attracted the attention of 007. In 2002, Cadiz starred as Havana in the James Bond film, Die Another Day. I share this for one of the above views shown in the background of the film, not the non-subtle sexual interaction between Halle Berry and Pierce Brosnan.

 

Instead of being catty about the film, I will switch to the topic actual cats. The most surprising inhabitants encountered is a large feral cat colony perched on rugged boulders on the Atlantic side. Tender-hearted residents provide the felines with boxes and crudely constructed shelters, and fishermen toss them scraps from their catch.

Postcard from Rome, Italy: Stumbling around colorblind

Time out. I wandered around Rome for almost three weeks before it hit me in the face, just as we were about to exit the Diocletian Baths. The sculpture above, the photo included in the prior post, did it.

I had been viewing remnants of ancient Rome in black and white, completing forgetting photographs in magazine and newspaper articles about exhibitions making the rounds in the United States a decade ago. The ancient Etruscans, the ancient Greeks, the ancient Romans – they had no inhibitions about applying color to their art. We have been brought up in an art world dominated by the influence of Renaissance artists reviving classical sculpture using the whitest of marble.

Writing in the Smithsonian Magazine in 2008, Matthew Gurewitsch describes how our color-blindness would shock the ancients:

But we can guess that Phidias would be brokenhearted to see his sacred relics dragged so far from home, in such a fractured state. More to the point, the bare stone would look ravaged to him, even cadaverous.

Listen to Helen of Troy, in the Euripides play that bears her name:

My life and fortunes are a monstrosity,
Partly because of Hera, partly because of my beauty.
If only I could shed my beauty and assume an uglier aspect
The way you would wipe color off a statue.

That last point is so unexpected, one might almost miss it: to strip a statue of its color is actually to disfigure it.

I was still processing this concept as we wandered through the National Etruscan Museum of Villa Guilia (more to come later), where we encountered a couple reclining on their sarcophagus, circa 500+ years B.C. The accompanying text mentioned that the “twin” to this housed in the Louvre actually shows remnants of colors.

But the Louvre couple (on the right) still does not burst into a full technicolor-type bloom. Based on decades of work by Vinzenz Brinkmann of the Glyptothek Museum in Munich, Germany, replicas of ancient statues colorized are probably as shocking to our senses as people accustomed to black-and-white films almost 80 years ago felt in theatres viewing the vividly bright yellow brick road in the midst of The Wizard of Oz.

This Carsten Muller video for Capitol City Media Design helps somewhat with visualizing the changes:

I got on an absurd jag in Rome of photographing statues of lions (more later). They are everywhere. I am so conditioned to thinking of them from a monochromatic perspective, I never once pictured the ancient ones in what to me is amusement-park merry-go-round colors, as is this reproduction of a Greek lion Brinkmann uses in exhibitions.

Color changes our perceptions about ancient civilizations. But ouch, with the following description in mind, would you really want to see the featured relief of Mithras or the statue of Mithras pictured below fully restored in color?

Diocletian Baths

Statue of Mithras, Diocletian Baths

But my imagination fails to make the Crayola transition on its own. My color-blinders remain in place unless confronted by the images side by side.

Which brings me back around to San Antonio. And her missions. The Native Americans herded into the flocks of the Spanish friars nearly three centuries ago were not monochrome in their tastes.

Years back, I rudely shoved through a motion at a San Antonio Conservation Society board meeting for the society to go on record supporting “colorizing” the outside of one mission the way the Native Americans originally did. The not-well-thought-out motion probably still languishes at the bottom of a list of active motions.

I would withdraw it now in favor of a different approach. Illuminate the facades of Mission Concepcion and Mission San Jose often and on a regular basis, if only for an hour at a time right after sunset to show for those of us who stand colorblind in front of these incredible landmarks failing to envision the imprint of our Native American population on them, and, by extension, the city San Antonio has become.

The City of San Antonio has worked several times now with the San Antonio Missions National Park to spotlight the missions “Restored by Light.” The photograph on the left of Mission Concepcion colorized was taken by Bonnie Arbitter and appeared in The Rivard Report, September 8, 2017. Scott Ball took the second one of Mission San Jose that appeared in The Rivard Report, September 6, 2017.

Please let the light shine on these more often.

Meanwhile, this unimaginative soul will return to viewing Roman antiquities in monochromatic tones. Am hoping your imagination adds a richness to the palette where applicable.

 

Postcard from Segovia, Spain: Castilian castle commands bluff despite those painful pointy-toed shoes

There was a lot of fighting going on in what we now call Spain, Portugal and the rest of Europe in the old days. Boundaries constantly were changing; kingdoms were proclaimed and reclaimed over and over.

My feet were never meant for pointy-toed shoes, but what were those medieval designers thinking? I mean, Jimmy Choo’s highest spiked heels are so much kinder to women’s feet than the armor those soldiers were forced to endure.

Realize one would want every body part protected during battle, but how could one move without assistance in such absurdly curved and pointed shoes? And, with every finger armored, how could one wield a sword? I guess the more the protection inhibited movement, the more protection one would need?

Fortunately for the rulers ensconced at Alcazar, geography played a role in preventing mobile-impaired soldiers from having to maneuver more than possible.

The castle seems so familiar, so, well, Disney-like. But Alcazar definitely came first, its turrets and spires serving as inspiration for Walt centuries later.

Ruins of an ancient Roman fortress became the base for a Moorish post, which in turn was the foundation for a monumental stone compound, the primary home for Spanish royalty and its parliament.

King Alfonso VIII (1155–1214) began the first permanent construction of Alcazar, with Juan II (1405-1454) adding the major tower during his reign. Felipe II (1527-1598) updated things to keep up with the latest European architectural whims of royals by adding the slate-covered pointy spires.

Things went south from that point. King Felipe II moved the seat of government to Madrid, and the former home of royalty suffered the indignity of serving as a prison for two centuries.

King Carlos III (1716-1788) repurposed it into the Royal Artillery School. But that meant storage of highly explosive materials within the fortress walls, which added to the spectacular fireworks display when a fire broke out in 1862.

Royalty briefly was out in Spain, but, when reestablished (a major oversimplification of history), Alfonso XII (1857-1885) began restoration of this monument to Spain’s past. Although the young monarch died of complications from tuberculosis and dysentery at age 28, Alcazar still reigns over Segovia and the surrounding countryside.