Saturday, September 21, 2013


Friends, I introduce you to a fellow friend and blogger who is lending his writing, knowledge, and time to share a blog entry of an archaeological site here in Catalonia. Amic meu...

El noi, Stephen de California.
 Hello!  I'm Stephen, a Californian noi here in Barcelona whom Patty has asked to bring you all a special guest post today!

A few weeks ago I visited Castell d'Olèrdola, the remains of a fortified village on a mountaintop west of Barcelona.  It is one of the most fascinating places I've had the pleasure of visiting.  The place was inhabited from the Neolithic era (before 2000 BCE) until the Medieval era.  In the 2nd century A.D., the Romans established a military fortification there.  In the early medieval time period, there was a large enough population to support two population centers, a town within the walls and a town outside the walls, each with its own church.  In the early 1100s, a Muslim campaign devastated the town, and it never recovered.  What was left of its population settled downhill where the modern town of Olèrdola is today.

I first visited Olèrdola in January 2007.  It was the first time I'd visited Catalonia, and was staying with a friend in a nearby town.  At the end of my visit, he suggested we check it out, and we drove up (Olèrdola is only accessible by car; its relative remoteness has helped to keep the tourist hordes at bay, which is fine by me).

What remains of the settlement belies its former life.  A modern parking lot at the end of the road is presided over by a large wall, part of the military fortifications.  Inside the wall, there is a small visitors' center, and a large section where remains of the Roman settlement have been excavated and can be viewed.  At a distance up the hill stands the Esglèsia de Sant Miquel (St. Michael's Church), a Romanesque church in fine condition.  It was consecrated in 992.  The dwellings which once surrounded it have gone the way of all flesh, and now the church stands solitary, a shepherd without its sheep.

Esglèsia de Sant Miquel with the sacred mountain of Montserrat in the far distance across the Penedès, January 2007

The most haunting part of the site is found outside of the walls, down a short trail from the parking lot. Again, what was once a thriving village has reverted to nature completely.  Unlike the stark scrub surrounding the church, however, large trees have grown up and make it even more impossible to visualize its past uses.

Looking down the hill along the ruined walls, January 2007
On a recent visit I arrived with a friend only to find the main part of the site within the old walls closed to the public, and so we set off on the trail to see the section outside the walls.  Where trees grow there once stood houses, and people went about their daily lives, as improbable as it seems now.  After a while, you begin to see some holes in the ground.

Cemetary at Olèrdola, August 2013
The only evidence left of the previous inhabitants is a crumbling church (little more than a pile of rocks, in the vague shape of a floorplan) and its cemetery.  The rocky land made burial difficult, and so the inhabitants of medieval Olèrdola had to carve spaces directly into the rock to make room for their dead. We can presume that they then covered them up somehow, but time has left these spaces open to the elements, making for a stark visual.

Cemetary at Olèrdola, August 2013

Some of the former graves (a depressingly high number, really) were clearly made for infants.  In the photo above, you can see an infant-sized grave with my foot alongside, for comparison.

Going to Olèrdola (now twice) has made more of an impact on me, I think, than visiting some of the grander and better preserved medieval and Roman ruins.  What survives is so striking, and all the more so for being clearly just a small part of what once stood.  It is enigmatic.  It is stunning to think that a place inhabited for so long (thousands of years) could disappear in a relatively short time and leave so little behind.  Inevitably, these thoughts lead to our modern lives (where we live, work, study) and what will remain in a thousand years' time?  Surprisingly little, I'd imagine, though perhaps a bit more than Olèrdola.

Olèrdola with modern Vilafranca del Penedès, August 2013

Noia says moltes gràcies Stephen!!

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Plaza Mayor Salamanca

Plazas for me are not sufficiently rememorable for a second visitation. When I say this I keenly re-envision Madrid's Plaza Mayor and Barcelona's PlaÇa Reial. The first is so gargantuan that my only memory of this place is a vendor selling ONCE lottery tickets and a never ending rectangular procession of archways. The latter is infested with low-cost tourists looking for beer deliriums to give them the courage to be wild and nonsensical they otherwise would not be in their own country. Then there are the tourists with the uncultured tongue palette who order paellas cooked with frozen prawns and mussels. Mix into that toss undesirable folk such as "perroflautas" and young Moroccan adults trying to pickpocket the feeble tourist who thinks they are encountering friendly frolicking native locals at night.  

 I get to say this because I live here.

The Plaza Mayor in Salamanca is a far cry from these two scenarios. You want to be here during the day or at night to enjoy tapas and to observe how Anglo-Saxon tourists will always order steaks and hamburgers, despite the delicious Spanish cuisine, while drinking copious amounts of red wine. As you can tell, I have a social-anthropological angle, especially in the present moment, as I am under a Kerouacian influence (I am reading On the Road having just completed my road trip across Spain).  

To be in Salamanca means you are there as an interested visitor in the local culture, history and art. And that means tourists visiting here have a higher socioeconomic profile making the plaza the most Extraordinary I have yet visited.We had a sensational dinner at Las Tapas de Gonzalo with a red Ribera del Duero and walked back to our hotel gleefully content with the Plaza and the food.


Iberian carpaccio ham with pine nuts, dried tomato, thyme and goat cheese.

Sesame chicken skewers and sweet potato chips.

Octopus salad

Dessert of torrijas with vanilla ice cream

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Salamanca-The Old and New Cathedral

It takes an experienced eye to know where the Old and New Cathedral finish and begin. La Cathedral Vieja de Santa María is over 900 years old and a wonderment to the rapt visitor looking up to the cathedral's entrances. The rapture continues when you arrive to the main entrance of the New Cathedral and feel that whatever you have done in life is inconsequential to the rest of mankind to come. The newer part of the cathedral was started in the 15th century and gained monarchical support from Ferdinad the II, King of Aragón. The entrance is a grandiose legacy of the skilled masters who used piedra franca de Villamayor, from the quarry in Salamanca, known for it's easy stone carving trait. The Plateresque style of the main entrance is stunning and is a shame that the majestic view is obstructed by a building in front of it, making it difficult to stand back and take in its magnificence. The north faÇade entrance does not mesmerize the visitor as does the main entrance. French troops in 1812 razed the buildings in front of the north entrance, and hence the Anaya Plaza and the fantastic view of this lateral entrance to the cathedral. 

I captured close-ups of the elaborate and delicate relief carvings of the artwork. I wish I had a ladder to touch every saint, personage, and religious motif and trace over with my fingers the stone wonders that mankind has left behind. I know this type of carving can surely be replicated, but will never be done again by architects who consider this type of architecture best left alone in the era from which it came. Secondly, who would be willing to pay for the long arduous work invested in such type of artwork? No one I think.

It is worth mentioning to visit the ieronimus and enjoy the route inside the cathedral's Medieval towers to view the battlements, gargoyles, and city view. Well worth the winded exercise to the top!

Fins Ara!

To get up here you must enter the ieronimus and climb, climb, and climb.

Iron capped steps.