Postcard from Valladolid, Spain: Plateresque architecture competes with sculpture within

Above, Isabelline Plateresque details surround the courtyard of Colegio de San Gregorio in the complex serving as Museo Nacional de Escultura.

The National Sculpture Museum is housed in three historic landmarks clustered together in one block in Valladolid.

With the nationalization of convents and monasteries in 1836, the government of Spain seized a wealth of artistic treasures in need of housing. Many of those from the region of Castile first went on display in Valladolid in 1842 in the Colegio de Santa Cruz. In 1933, the collection was designated a national one and was moved to the Colegio de San Gregorio.

The exterior of the 15th-century building is characterized by intricate sculptural reliefs in the Isabelline Plateresque style. The gorgeous fa├žade demonstrates a complete lack of a uniform theme – resulting in a fascinating hodgepodge of biblical and secular components with an abundance of putti and floral and vine-like flourishes intertwined among them.

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Postcard from Burgos, Spain: A few parting impressions

Above, pollarded plane trees framing Paseo del Espolon

The Scarecrow, who was in the lead, walked forward to the tall tree where there was an opening to pass into, but just as he came under the first branches they bent down and twined around him, and the next minute he was seized by the long branches and raised from the ground and flung headlong among his fellow travelers.”

The Wonderful World of Oz, L. Frank Baum, 1900

Remove the brilliant blue sky from the picture, and these trees appear as frighteningly eerie as those in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The severe winter haircut, pollard, of these relatives of American sycamores lining Burgos’ beautiful Paseo del Espolon reaps a huge reward for pedestrians. The trimming encourages the trees to produce a dense canopy of green leaves shading all who pass below throughout the summer, and whimsical-shaped topiaries soften the impact during the winter months.

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Postcard from Burgos, Spain: A powerful abbess and underfoot devils

Above: Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas

It’s not easy to reign over a contested kingdom when you ascend to the throne at age two. Think of the royal intrigue that would trigger – all the scheming regents and relatives trying to unseat you before you can toddle down a hallway on your own.

But Alfonso VIII (1155-1214), King of Castile and Toledo, managed to ward off a legion of enemies to hold onto his throne – not without assistance and numerous defeats and victories on the battlefield along the way. And crusades against the Alamohads. To consolidate his power and secure a powerful ally while still a teenager, Alfonso gained the hand of 12-year-old Eleanor (Leonora) of England (1161-1214), a daughter of the contentious couple King Henry II of England and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

At Leonora’s behest, the young royals founded the Monastery of Santa Maria la Real de las Huelgas in 1187. She bore 11 children before dying less than a month after her husband. The couple and numerous of their children were buried in elaborately decorated chapels within the expansive monastery. Royal weddings held there included that of Eleanor of Castile (1241-1290) to King Edward I of England (1239-1307) while Eleanor was 12 and Edward still a duke.

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