Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Fun and interesting facts about Lisbon, Portugal

Lisbon is the capital of Portugal and is full of beauty and charm. However, don't scrape the surface thinking it's just like any other place. Lisbon has it's list of interesting secrets too.
  1. In Lisbon, the streets are pretty much all black and white. People say the reason for this centers around the patron Saint of Lisbon; Saint Vincent. It's said that the black represents the attire worn by Saint Vincent whereas the white represents the white outfit of the Christian Crusaders who vanquished the Moors.
  2. The main river basin of the Tagus Estuary in Lisbon stretches up to 14km across and is said to be large enough to contain all the warships in the world.
  3. Beneath the streets of Lisbon's downtown shopping area lies a hidden Roman Underworld with chambers, rooms, bridges and corridors. The entrance to this fascinating world is marked by a block of metal at the top of Rua da Conceicao which is only open to the public two days a year due to the dangerous conditions lurking below.
  4. Lisbon was practically destroyed on 1st November 1755 as a massive earthquake tipping the scales at 8.9 took the lives of 40,000 people and could be felt as far away as Scotland and Norway.
  5. Visit on of Lisbon's favorite attractions; the Torre de Belem. The tower's first purpose was to safeguard the harbor but from the late 16th century up till the 19th, the tower served as a prison. Today however, it serves as a monument to Portugal's Age of Discovery and it provides a beautiful panoramic view of the city.
  6. Lisbon is also known as "the town of seven hills" which are compromised of the seven hills: Castelo, Graca, Monte, Penha de Franca, S.Pedro de Alcantara, Santa Catarina and Estrela.
  7. Instead of hiking, why not take a one of a kind The Ascensor de Santa Justa (street elevator). This is another beloved landmark which takes passengers 45meteres from the Baxia elevator to the Chiado district.
  8. A very large statue of Cristo Rei (Christ the King) stands on the left bank of the river. This statue was erected to commemorate Portugal's survival of World War II without its direct involvement.
  9. Ironically, The Alfama, which is the oldest section of Lisbon, was spared by the 1755 earthquake and is one of the places to really go if you want to see Lisbon full of history.
  10. Lisbon is home to the Stadium of Light, one of Europe's biggest and famous soccer venues in which the main sporting team Benfica play their home game at.

In Columbus' footsteps - Huelva

Huelva and its environs is a Mecca for those interested in Christopher Columbus, with a number of significant tourist attractions relating to the famous explorer. Cristóbal Colón (as he is known in Spain), is thought by most to have been born in Genoa, Italy around 1451. After years of seeking funding support for an expedition which was to find a sea route to Asia, Columbus finally came to an agreement with King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. They would (along with a number of Italian financiers) back his expedition in return for dominion over the any new lands. Columbus would be awarded titles and, of course, a percentage of any fortune that was made. The rest, of course, is world history.

La Rábida, Palos de la Frontera and Moguer are three of the key sites in the Columbus story, which lie along the eastern bank of the Rio Tinto estuary and can be visited in a 40 km return trip from Huelva. At least 10 buses a day run from Huelva bus station to La Rabida and Palos de la Frontera, many of them continuing to Moguer.

La Rábida
 is where Columbus stayed between 1491-92 waiting for financial backing from the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, for his voyage to the New World. The monastery was constructed in 1412 on the site of a Moorish stronghold; 'rábida' is a Arabic word meaning fortress. Its Moorish influences can still be seen in its Mudéjar architecture, including the fine cloister. The monastery has a 14th-century Gothic-Mudéjar church, where Captain Martín Alonso Pinzón, from Palos de la Frontera, who sailed with Columbus in one of his ships, is buried.

La Rábida was damaged by the Lisbon earthquake in 1755 and was left derelict in 1835 only to be restored a few decades later. It reopened in 1856 when it was declared a national monument. In 1920 Fransican monks returned to the convent and monks continue to live there today. The monastery, surrounded by magnificent botanical gardens full of exotic plants, is worth visiting for its museum detailing the discovery of the New World and Columbus's life. Also worth seeing are the murals in one of the monastery's rooms that depict Columbus's life, which were painted by the renowned local artist Daniel Vásquez Díaz in the 1930s. In the chapel is an alabaster statue of the Virgen de los Milagros (Virgin of Miracles), to which Columbus and his crew are said to have prayed. It is still venerated today, as the patron of neighbouring Palos de la Frontera. Every August the statue is taken to Palos for the town's religious festivities. In the Banderas room are flags from all the Latin American countries, along with a casket of earth from each.

Fun and interesting facts: Seville

According to legend, Seville was founded by Hercules and its origins are linked with the Tartessian civilisation. It was called Hispalis under the Romans and Isbiliya with the Moors. Its high point in its history was following the discovery of America.

Seville lies on the banks of the Guadalquivir and is one of the largest historical centres in Europe, it has the minaret of La Giralda, the cathedral (one of the largest in Christendom), and the Alcázar Palace. Part of its treasure include Casa de Pilatos, Torre del Oro, the Town Hall, Archive of the Indies (where the historical records of the American continent are kept), the Fine Arts Museum (the second largest picture gallery in Spain), plus convents, parish churches and palaces.
In Seville, you will want to visit the old city, with the Cathedral and the Giralda tower at its heart. (You can climb the steps inside the tower for a magnificent view of the City). Very close by are the royal Mudéjar palace known as the Alcazar with marvellous gardens and the Santa Cruz quarter, with cramped streets, flowered balconies, richly decorated facades and hidden patios... Other sights not to be missed are, in the old city, the Casa de Pilatos, a large sixteenth-century mansion where Mudejar, Gothic and Renaissance styles blend harmoniously amidst exuberant patios and gardens and, crossing the Triana bridge over the large Guadalquívir River, the lively popular quarter of Triana with charming narrow streets around the church of Santa Ana and traditional ceramic factories.

Seville has a rich and fascinating history. The Romans governed the whole of Spain for more than six centuries. Their first colony was Italica which may still be visited today.

The Romans changed the face of the countryside and towns, building aqueducts and long straight roads to link the major towns. Today some of the best preserved artifacts from this period can be found at the city's magnificent Archaelogical Museum.

But it was the Moslem civilization which was to have the most lasting impact on the city. Their reign lasted for nearly 800 years in Andalucia from 711 until 1492 when the Catholic monarchs defeated the Moslem kingdom of Granada.
Some of the city's most magnificent buildings stand as a legacy to this era, including the Torre del Oro, Torre de Plata, Giralda, Patio de los Naranjos, the area of Triana, the Macarena Walls and the Alcazar. Later the the mudejares used their skill to create beautiful Moorish-style buildings, such as the Palacio Pedro 1, part of Seville's Reales Alcazres. There are several Mudejar churches dating from this period, including the Iglesia de San Marcos, the Iglesia de Santa Catalina and the Church of San Pedro.

Sevillano: Pride and Prejudice

Sevillanos are very well-known, throughout Spain and the wider world, for their fierce pride in their city.
They are, first and foremost, from Seville; secondly, from Andalucia; and a distant third, from Spain. What's going on in Madrid are of little interest to a Sevillano, while Barcelona may as well be in another country. For them, life revolves around tapas, bullfighting, Semana Santa and Feria. In the summer, there´s the beach - in Cadiz or Huelva regions and all winter long, they discuss and plan their Feria outfit endlessly - colour, cut, hem length and accessories, with the atmosphere reaching fever pitch as Spring arrives and the whirlwind of Seville´s annual social events season gets under way. Sevillanos see no need to venture beyond their Sevilla, where things stay the same year after year, and change is not generally welcomed. Visitors to Seville will find this attitude both endearing and exasperating, but always intriguing.

Fact about Toledo - a city with extensive cultural and monumental heritage

Toledo is a municipality located in central Spain, 70 km south of Madrid. It is the capital of the province of Toledo and also the capital of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. It was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986 for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage as one of the former capitals of the Spanish Empire and place of coexistence of Christian, Jewish and Moorish cultures.

Many famous people and artists were born or lived in Toledo, including Al-Zarqali, Garcilaso de la Vega, Eleanor of Toledo, Alfonso X and El Greco. It was also the place of important historic events such as the Visigothic Councils of Toledo. The city has a population of 78,618 and an area of 89.59 square miles.

Having been populated since the Bronze Age, Toledo (Toletum in Latin) gained relevance during Roman times, being a main commercial and administrative center in the roman province of Tarraconensis. After the fall of the Roman Empire, Toledo served as the capital city of Visigothic Spain, beginning with Liuvigild (Leovigild), and was the capital of Spain until the Moors conquered Iberia in the 8th century.

Under the Caliphate of Cordoba, Toledo enjoyed a golden age. This extensive period is known as La Convivencia, i.e. the co-existence of Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Under Arab rule, Toledo was called Tulaytulah. After the fall of the Caliphate, Toledo was the capital city of one of the richest Taifa Muslim kingdoms of Al-Andalus, and, because of its central location in the Iberian Peninsula, Toledo took a central position in the struggles between the Muslim and Christian rulers of northern Spain. Remains of Roman circus at Toledo. On May 25, 1085 Alfonso VI of Castile took Toledo and established direct personal control over the Moorish city from which he had been exacting tribute
, and ending the mediaeval Taifa's Kingdom of Toledo. This was the first concrete step taken by the combined kingdom of Leon-Castile in the Reconquista by Christian forces. After castilian conquest Toledo remained as a main cultural centre; its Arab libraries weren't savaged, and a tag-team translation centre was established, in which books in Arabic would be translated from Arabic or Hebrew to Spanish by Arab and Jewish scholars, and from Spanish to Latin by castilian scholars, thus letting the old-lost knowledge spread through Christian Europe again.

For some time during the 16th century, Toledo served as the capital city of Castile, and the city flourished. However, soon enough the Spanish court was moved first to Valladolid and then to Madrid, thus letting the city's relevance dwindle until the late 20th century, when it was established as the capital city of the autonomous community of Castile-La Mancha. Nevertheless, the economic decline of the city helped to preserve its cultural and architectural patrimony.

Today, because of its rich heritage, Toledo is one of Spain's foremost cities, receiving thousands of visitors yearly. Toledo's Alcázar (Arabicized Latin word for palace-castle) became renowned in the 19th and 20th centuries as a military academy. At the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War in 1936 its garrison was famously besieged by Republican forces.
Toledo's cuisine is the cuisine Castilla-rooted in its traditions and is closely linked to hunting and grazing. A good number of recipes is the result of the combination of Moorish and Christian influences. Among his specialties include the lamb roast or stew, as cuchifrito, and beans with partridge or stewed partridge, the carcamusas, the crumbs, the porridge Mancha and the tortilla to the lean. Two of the foods that have brought fame to the city of Toledo are the Manchego cheese and marzipan, which has a denomination of origin itself, the marzipan of Toledo.

City facts about Madrid

  • Madrid is the capital and largest city of Spain. It is the third-most populous municipality in the European Union after Greater London and Berlin, and its metropolitan area is the third-most populous in the European Union after Paris and London.
  • Its sister city in the USA is New York City.
  • Madrid is home to Real Madrid, who plays in the Estadio Santiago Bernabéu. Real Madrid is one of the most prestigious soccer clubs in the world, having won a record 9 European Soccer Cups.
  • The city bid to host the 1972 Summer Olympics, the 2012 Summer Olympics, and the 2016 Summer Olympics, which were lost to Munich, London, and Rio de Janeiro respectively.
  • Madrid hosts the largest Plaza de Toros (bullring) in Spain, Las Ventas, established in 1929. Las Ventas is considered by many to be the world centre of bullfighting and has a seating capacity of almost 25,000.
  • The Auditorio Nacional de Música is the main venue for classical music concerts in Madrid, is home to the Spanish National Orchestra, the Chamartín Symphony Orchestra and the venue for the symphonic concerts of the Community of Madrid Orchestra and the Madrid Symphony Orchestra.
  • The Royal Botanic Garden or Real Jardin Botanico was an 18th century creation. It was used as a base for the plant species being collected across the globe.

Welcome to Spain!

Spain, officially the Kingdom of Spain, is a member state of the European Union located in southwestern Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. Its mainland is bordered to the south and east by the Mediterranean Sea except for a small land boundary with the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar; to the north by France, Andorra, and the Bay of Biscay; and to the northwest and west by the Atlantic Ocean and Portugal. Spanish territory also includes the Balearic Islands in the Mediterranean, the Canary Islands in the Atlantic Ocean off the African coast, and two autonomous cities in North Africa, Ceuta and Melilla, that border Morocco.

With an area of 504,030 km², Spain is the second largest country in Western Europe and the European Union after France. Since January 1, 2010, Spain has held the Presidency of the Council of the European Union.

Because of its location, the territory of Spain was subject to many external influences, often simultaneously, since prehistoric times and through the dawn of Spain as a country. Conversely, the country itself has been an important source of influence to other regions, chiefly during the Modern Era, when it became a global empire that has left a legacy of over 400 million Spanish speakers today, making it the world's second most spoken language by native speakers. Spain is a democracy organized in the form of a parliamentary government under a constitutional monarchy.

Spain is a developed country with the ninth or tenth largest economy in the world by nominal GDP, and very high living standards.