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Finding My Heritage In Spain

28 Oct

Our trip to Spain and Portugal had a special purpose for besides wanting to see places I had not seen. I also wanted to see the bits and pieces left of the Sephardic Jewish imprint on Spain. I have written about my maternal grandfather and his family’s Spanish roots in an earlier blog (see below). Now I wanted to see what I could see.

I was on a mission that started in Barcelona. I had been to this lovely city before and heard the story about the Jewish cemetery destroyed and replaced with a Christian cemetery. Now the only Jewish aspect was the name of the hill: Montjuic. However, in Barcelona you can visit the site of the Major Synagogue. A small space that you must walk down to see, this tiny space reflects the rule that no religious site would be bigger than the smallest church. So it is small. But I was glad to see that it has been found and reclaimed. There is a guide on site who gives a 10 minute presentation about it. So I am glad we went. Most places do not even have that!

Our next stop with a bit of Jewish history was surprising to me. We went to the small city of Sagunt or Sagunto near Valencia. I was not expecting what I found. First they were having a festival to celebrate their Middle Ages history, and as we entered I saw a menorah symbol on banners. The town had its Jewish quarter still designated including one of the original arches, called the Blood Arch. The tour guide did not know why. I have my own ideas. You actually walked through the Jewish Quarter in order to get up to the Roman teacher.

The narrow, hilly streets are picturesque, and walking through the quarter you come to the top where a private house stands on the site of the original synagogue, with an iron Menorah window. We were also able to see the archeology site of where they think the mikveh was located.

I have since researched and learned that in ancient days this town was called Morviedro. Here the Jews were protected from massacres in 1391 and Jews from other areas took refuge there. When the 1492 decree was made, the Jewish residents arranged safe passage out about 500 people.

In fact almost every city we went to had some remains of its Jewish inhabitants. In Malaga, the birthplace of Picasso, we found it was also the birthplace of Yehudah Ben Gabriel, who revitalized Jewish literature. And we found the Jewish Quarter nit far from the Picasso Museum.

Gibraltar had a thriving Jewish community and still does. We saw people walking the streets wearing kippot. We walked to the old Flemish Synagogue and took a photo of the door to the walled area. Unfortunately we could not go in.

Only in Cadiz was all remnants of the Jewish community destroyed. Probably because of the 1755 earthquake and tsunami. But at one time there was a thriving community that had to escape due to the forced expulsion of the Jewish people. In fact 8000 Jews left Cadiz and traveled to North Africa.

A sign in Sintra

In Portugal we went to Sintra to see the Pena Palace. But while walking through the narrow streets of the city, I found a cork store where I purchased a purse. Then I noticed its address: Beco Judaea. The street of the Jews.

Church of Sao Domingos where Jewish citizens murdered in 1500s

The Jewish Quarter.

But it was in Lisbon that we had the most in-depth experience. Besides visiting some of the important sites like the palace of the inquisition and Rossi’s Plaza where the Crypto Jews were tortured, we visited the church, Sao Domingos, where the massacre of Jews began in the 1506, walked the Jewish Quarter, and learned how King Manuel I tricked the Jewish population and baptized them all without their permission. He wanted to marry the daughter of the king of Spain, but he also wanted to keep his Jewish citizens. This was his solution.

Finally we visited the Lisbon synagogue built in the early 1900s that still has services today. Portugal was a neutral country during the war, a Lisbon was a place of refuge. Today 2000 Jews live in Portugal.

Https://dis.bh.org.il murviedro-sagunto

Jeronimos Monastery and Manueline Designs

27 Oct

On our first day in Lisbon, we visited the Jeronimos Monastery, specifically the church section. We did not have a chance to visit the two museums that are also housed at the old monastery buildings. But the church was more than enough.

Here I was exposed to Manueline architecture, something I had not seen before, but now enjoy! King Manuel I of Portugal liked maritime designs in his buildings. So the architects, who designed for him, incorporated unique carvings like ropes, sea-life, and other maritime symbols in the structures, as well as nature items like leaves.

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Not the main entrance, but when we were there a bride and groom exited here.

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The surround of this window has some of the rope motif common in Manueline design.

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The ceiling was fantastic.

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These tall columns had many carvings of sea life/maritime symbols.

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Vasco da Gama’s tomb.
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People rub the hands.

The Jeronimos chapel is not filled with ornate gold and silver covered wooden structures, instead it is comprised of fantastically carved stone work that is breathtaking. The high chapel columns and arches are a tribute to the Manueline style. This structure was built in the early 16th Century during the reign of King Manuel I, who wanted to highlight the Portuguese maritime dominance and to emphasis the exploits of the explorer Vasco da Gama, who is buried here.

I think the pictures show why this style became so popular and why it became so associated with Portugal.

Belem Tower on the Tagus River.

The other Manueline structure we visited in Lisbon was the Belém Tower, which actually is located directly opposite the monastery on the banks of the Tagus River.

These two structures were built about the same time, during the reign of King Manuel I in what is now the Belém area of Lisbon. (I wrote about our visit to the tower in the blog linked below.)

Unfortunately, many of the structures built during the reign of King Manuel I were destroyed in the earthquake of 1755. This was a high Richter Scale earthquake and tsunami on the Iberian peninsula that caused major damage and changed the look of many cities in the region.

At the Pena Palace, an arch carved in Manueline style.

While in Lisbon, we spent a day in Sintra where we visited the Pena Palace. When it was built, in the late 1800s, the Pena Palace also incorporated some Manueline architecture within its quirky construction. It was fascinating to see a Moorish style building with a Manueline arch. But then this entire building is a fantastic blend of different design elements. (See link below.)

I understand that many other buildings incorporated this Manueline style in later years because of its Portuguese importance.

For me, the three structures I saw opened my mind to another form of art that I just like. I recommend anyone traveling to Portugal to learn about Manueline designs and enjoy these lovely structures.

https://zicharonot.com/2018/10/21/an-extraordinary-visit-to-the-belem-tower/

https://zicharonot.com/2018/10/20/sintra-and-the-palace-of-pena/

An Extraordinary Visit to the Belem Tower

21 Oct

As part of our first tour in Lisbon, I was excited to go to the Belem Tower. I had seen it from our ship as we sailed into Lisbon so was curious to its history and to see it up close.

Belem Tower from our cruise ship.

The Belem Tower is located where the Atlantic Ocean ends and the Tagus River begins. This World Heritage monument has stood guard over the river since the early 1500s during the reign of King Manuel. When it was built it was farther from the shore on what looks like a little island. But over time the shore line has crept closer.

There is a lovely park on the land surrounding the Tower, also known as The Tower of St Vincent. You can walk along the shore, visit the outdoor tourist market, get a snack to eat.

But for us there was an unusual and special event. One that even made our tour guide speechless.

Before we realized what would happen I took this photo. You can see the naval ship coming closer.

Our first notice that something was up was that part of the walkway just passed the Belem Tower was closed off. Cannons and people in military uniforms were standing at attention.

Then, suddenly, we heard:

Boom boom boom!!!

The naval ship sailing into the river started shooting off its cannons when it was opposite the Tower! When it was done, the cannons located on shore then replied with equally loud and resounding booms.

People were stopped in their tracks. And then ran to the shoreline to see what was happening.

We were lucky enough to see the welcome home of a Portuguese naval vessel heading for the main naval base in Lisbon, specifically Almada, Portugal.

According to our guide, who was just about in tears, whenever a naval vessel returns from a mission, it is welcomed at the Tower of Belem in this way.

She had never seen it happen in all of her years as a tour guide. She was overcome with emotion, as were all those who saw and heard this impressive sight.

It was a welcome home I will never forget.

I thank my daughter who had the presence of mind to take several of these photos.

Sintra and the Palace of Pena

20 Oct
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The Palace of Pena and its quirky architecture.

High on a hill above Sintra, amidst gardens and above steep paths, sits the Palace of Pena. Conceived by the King of Portugal,  Don Fernando II, who lived from 1819-1895, The Palace of Pena was his dream home.  But he did not only plan the palace, he also planned for lovely gardens to surround it, bringing in plants and trees from around the world.  Creating a little world that has been named a World Heritage site.

He started building this, his summer home over the ruins of a 16th Century convent, the Convent of Our Lady of Pena, which he purchased in 1838.  It took about 15 years to complete his fairy tale home that combines German, Indian, Moorish and Portuguese styles.  A bit of the convent remains in the chapel.  The tile work and the Manueline style of decoration are definitely Portuguese.

 

You could spend days investigating this hillside extravaganza.  There are acres upon acres of gardens and kilometers of paths.  Besides the Pena Palace, there are the ruins of a Moorish castle.

As a lover of Disneyland and unusual architecture, I could not help but love the Palace of Pena.  The four modes of architecture come together in a romantic version of a palace.  Part of me wanted to ooh and aah over the building, and part of me wanted to giggle a bit and just enjoy Don Fernando’s view of the world through his enjoyable home.  But above all, I wanted to enjoy the sites and the joy of the gardens he and his second wife created on this hill.

 

When you enter the Palace area, you go over an area that was once a small draw bridge, through a tunnel that opens into a courtyard.  This side of the building is sunny and bright. No winds come through.  But when you walk through the arch in the Moorish style segment, you enter another world.  Our guide told us to zip our coats. And he was right.  With wonderful views of the Atlantic Ocean, the other courtyard also had  harsh winds!

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The guide held my hand as we walked along the narrow ledge on the windy Atlantic side of the Palace.

We walked along the  wall of the palace in a narrow pathway.  I do not like heights, so our guide held my hand along the way.  The view were worth it.

To be honest, it was not always easy walking up hill to the palace or around the palace grounds.  There are many steep area and steps.  Honestly, coming back down the hill was almost more difficult.  It had rained a bit and so the stones were slippery.  I will say my leg muscles got a good workout.  Our guide helped by letting me hold on to him. So be careful when you go to visit.  And you must go to visit!

After our time at the gardens and palace, we drove back down the hill to the picturesque town of Sintra.  We parked along a promenade and walked to the old part of town, past the official royal castle with its twin chimneys: the Sintra National Palace.  Now a museum, it once was the royal residence from the 15th to 19th centuries.

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The shopping area of old Sintra

We walked through town and its several narrow streets filled with shops.  It was the first time I actually got to shop during my vacation.  I purchased only items made in Portugal, mainly made of cork and/or tile.  I watched a woman hand painting tile in a small shop, where I found some gifts.  Then we meandered uphill to more shops and a pastry restaurant, where we purchased a treat.

There were many little restaurants and shops for the many tourists that were visiting the town.  At times, the narrow streets were almost too crowded.  But the cruise ships have discovered this town, about 25 kilometers from Lisbon, so it is a popular destination.   Our guide brought us to the Palace of Pena first thing to try to miss some of the crowding.  He was right, but the time we left more and more people were filing into the park.

After Sintra, we left town to travel to the beach and eat lunch at a restaurant, Mar do Guincho, located right on the beach.  The fresh seafood was delicious.  The waiter brings the whole fish to the table to tell you what is available.  I had a local fish caught that very morning.  While my husband and guide shared a two-person traditional seafood and rice stew.

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The ocean was very rough.

While we ate, we watched the very wild ocean hitting against the shore.  All the beaches were closed the few days we were in Lisbon due to the errant hurricane and tropical storm that arrived with us.

We were there along with Hurricane Leslie.  We actually did not experience any issues, except for some rain. But the country was not prepared for a category one hurricane.   There was storm damage along the coastal towns and in Lisbon.  Tiles were blown off roofs, causing leaks; trees and branches were down; the ocean waves were very high and strong; and there were some people injured. I am glad no one was badly injured.

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Cascais

After lunch we drove along the coast stopping once in a while to watch the waves.  The we went to the city of Cascais where we walked along the beach promenade in town. We had a good time looking at all the expensive homes along the way and seeing the lovely marina area.  I imagine that this town of the wealthy would be a good place for a holiday.  But for us it was a quick visit and then back to Lisbon to rest for our next day’s adventure.

Jose Sala Sala and the Sanctuary of Mary Magdalena in Novelda, Spain

10 Oct

The Santuario de Santa Maria Magdalena is stunning! This modernist church built in the 1900s was designed by Jose Sala Sala, a local boy who moved to Barcelona to study architecture, and ended up learning with Gaudi. The Gaudi influence is strong in this stone and ceramic building.

Standing on a hill above Novelda and sharing the mountain with the ruins of the castle Mola , the church can be seen for miles. The winding road takes you to the parking lot, so when you first approach the church, you see the back first.

Back of the church.

No worries. It is also beautiful. Our guide, David, said as he heard the group oohing and aahing, “If you think this is lovely, wait until you see the front of the church.”

He was so correct. Each side of the church is just delightful. The stone, ceramic and brink intertwined in wonderful patterns lifting your eyes to the sky and to the torrents that grace the front.

The interior is classic and simple. No gold leaf and overdone interior here. Just simple elegance and paintings and tapestries. The church was built in stages from 1918 to 1946.

But the best is not yet complete.

Where the organ will be. A special cement base was poured to hold the weight

At the back of the church, by the entrance is a giant marble base made of Alicante red marble that will hold the marble organ that has been worked on for 26 years. Large white marble ovals represent the tears of Mary Magdalena. Each hollow pipe is made of red marble. 54 are complete. There are hundreds of pipes still to be carved. But then we know that in Spain it seems great things are worth waiting for!

But you can hear the lovely sounds that it will eventually make through a short concert of the completed pipes . We heard several minutes of Pachelbel’s Canon in D and it was astonishing. I can only image that when the full organ is completed, it’s music will not only fill the church but for miles around!

I kept thinking, what a lovely place for a wedding. When our guide told us that our bus driver and his wife were married there 12 years ago. We all congratulated him on the good choice.

The vista from the front of the church includes the town of Novelda, the vineyards and some of the marble factories that brought wealth into the area.

Bicyclists and their picture.

While we were visiting a group of bicyclist came to the top to see the church. They asked our guide to take a group photo of them in front of the church. I too needed a photo of my husband and I there. It was so beautiful.

But then even the sides of this church are so intricate. I loved every angle of it!

Gaudi is one of my favorite architects. I do not know what else Jose Sala Sala designed, but the influence of Gaudi runs strong in his work. I would love to see more. And for those traveling to Spain, go see this church!

I Do Love Gaudi! My Second Barcelona Gaudi Adventure.

8 Oct

I returned to Barcelona with one main focus — to see the Gaudi sites I missed last time and to see the new house that opened to the public less than a year ago.

Although I had see CASA Batllo in my first trip, I had not seen Casa Milo up close. Since it was just a few blocks from our hotel, we walked there our first day. It did not disappoint, even though it was not colorful! And I do like color. I loved the terraces and curving forms.

I also got to see Casa Batllo in the evening, which is another wonderful view.

The next day we had hired a private tour guide to take us on a Gaudi tour. High on my list: Park Quell and the new Casa Vincens, a house that was privately owned until just a few years ago and opened as a museum in November 2017.

Added to our agenda was Gaudi’s dragon gate at the entrance to what was once the Quell estate, then became the King’s palace and is now a convention center.

This gate is Amazing!! The dragon can move but cannot fly away!

As for Park Quell, the park was donated to the city of Barcelona when Mr. Quell died around 1919.

The gardens, paths, bridges, and buildings are wonderful to explore. The outdoor theater, market and the two houses call out to be explored. The three bigger houses on the property were big designed by him. But the two at the main entrance are probably his design.

I also loved the iron fencing, with its swans and lily pads in my opinion, which is repeated at the Casa Vicens. Gaudi’s designs were fantastic, original and amazing.

Finally Casa Vicens with its spectacular ceilings and moorish smoking room was the end to my Gaudi adventure. I especially loved the walls in the bedrooms and the little balcony off the living room. And my sojourn in the torrent on the rooftop made me feel like the queen of Gaudi!

My love of Gaudi grows with each additional site I explore.

One last photo of a Parc Güell bridge that my husband took. I love this view.

https://zicharonot.com/2015/07/06/my-architectural-love-affair-with-hundertwasser-and-gaudi/

Savannah Sojourn Is for History Lovers

19 Apr

For our 38th anniversary we went to Savannah, Georgia.  I have been wanting to visit Savannah for our entire married life because my first job out of graduate school was for a local Girl Scout Council.  And all Girl Scouts know that the founder, Juliette Gordon Low, was from Savannah.

It exceeded my expectations.  I want to go back!

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Juliette Gordon Low house.

On our first day,  I did go to the Juliette Low Gordon house.  I saw the rooms she walked in.  I saw ceramics and paintings she had created.  I walked in the garden with my husband.  Yes, I did buy something at the gift shop.  I had to.   Later we went to the Andrew Low house, where she spent her adulthood and passed away.  Unfortunately, we were too late to get on a tour.  But we did walk over the first Girl Scout headquarters, which is just beyond the gardens.  While there, a purchase of Girl Scout cookies was made.

But Savannah is not only for Girl Scout fans.  There was so much else to see.  So many lovely old homes from the early 1800s. Due to a group of women who started saving these homes in the 1960s, Savannah was saved from being a faceless and bland city to one that kept its local charm and ambiance.

I loved those restored homes.  We went on an architecture walking tour of the historic area, seeing many houses from the outside.  The next day, we visited three homes that were designed by William Jay in the 1820s: Owens-Thomas House, a home museum;  the Telfair Academy Art Museum which was once the home of Mary Telfair; and Scarborough House, built for the owner of the Savannah steamship.  This home is now the setting for the Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum. This museum is packed with wonderful models of sailing ships.  But the history of the building is also unique, it was once a school during segregation.

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Inside the Owens-Thomas house.  There is actually a bridge on the second floor connecting the two sides.

At each home I learned a bit more about William Jay, the architect, and even more about the economic slump of the 1820s that led to most of the original homeowners losing all their money and their homes, soon after they moved in.  These homes passed to other families and some fell into disrepair. Thank goodness for the Historical Society and the ladies that saved them!

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We walked the paths in Colonial Park Cemetery, reading the markers that told of the famous and infamous people who were buried there.  The saddest were the number of children who perished.  So many died in the epidemics of Yellow Fever that swept through Savannah several times.

I loved walking through the historic district and visiting every one of the 22 squares that still exists.  Yes, we went to every single one.  Each square has its own personality, some with a statue and a historic marker telling about that area.  I loved it.  I took photos of almost every marker.

We also meandered along the river and walked in and out of candy stores and gift shops.   The many diverse restaurants served the most delicious foods. My favorite was Elizabeth’s on 37th Street.  We ate in two different restaurants each day, some fancy, others just fun. Some we enjoyed were: the Funky Brunch Café;  Boar’s Head Grill and Tavern, near the river; The Lady and Sons Restaurant, surprising delicious; and Lulu’s Chocolate Bar.  I was surprised that I did not gain an ounce. But then we did walk 4 to 6 miles most days.

We also learned how Prohibition impacted Savannah!  It seems that lots of booze smuggling and speakeasy joints were part of the riverfront during the 1920s. A visit to the American Prohibition Museum is a must.  And yes get a drink at the end in the speakeasy.  You do not have to have an alcoholic drink…but my husband loved his.  I went for an original lemon soda mixed from scratch!

 

I found the history of the city is intriguing.  But for me, the Jewish history was amazing. Who knew that just a few months after the first settlers arrived, a group of 42 Jewish settlers arrived in 1733 bringing a Torah and starting a Jewish community in Savannah that survives today! This group of Sephardic Jews had been forced to leave Spain and settled in England just a decade or so earlier.  They then traveled to the unknown on their search for religious freedom.  WOW!

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Built in the late 1870s, this building has always been a synagogue: Mikve Israel.

We went to visit the current synagogue building in the historic district:  Temple Mikve Israel.  Built in the late 1870s, the building is still used as by a congregation.  It contains a small museum and you can visit the chapel area.  But when we were there it was undergoing renovations, so we could not enter.

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The Torah brought to Savannah in 1733, written on parchment made from deer hide.

We got to see one of the oldest Torah’s in the USA. The one that was brought here from England in the 1700s.  It is written on deer skin.  For me this was a thrill to see that a strong Jewish community still exists and has been a part of the Savannah community for 285 years.

I did not see all that I wanted to see in Savannah.   I loved staying in the Marshall House, with its evening wine and cheese, speakers and musicians, and wonderful staff.  But next time I want to stay in a bed and breakfast.  I have the spot picked out.   I could spend another five days in Savannah eating, walking and visiting museums.  I love learning about history and walking through Savannah is a living history lesson!