Wednesday, October 9, 2013

The Medieval Festival of Alcalá de Henares (or Alcalá for short)

Alcalá de Henares is a small city in the east of the community of Madrid, halfway between Madrid and Guadalajara. It was founded by the Romans, and it is famous for two things. The first, is the old University de Complutense, which was founded in 1496. The second, is that it is the birthplace of the most famous Spanish writer in history: Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, the author of the 'The Ingenious Hidalgo Don Quixote of La Mancha.', or in short, just Don Quixote.
It is also where our dear friends, Francisco (Paco) and Susi Serrano live.

The main facade of the 2nd oldest University in Spain, founded by Cardinal Cisneros.  3 symbolic levels of learning; as students enter schooling (1st floor) fewer windows, less light (knowledge), with advancement to each higher level of learning, more windows & light (knowledge). God is in the center of the top arch, and torches of light (revelation from the Holy Ghost) adorn the top of the building.

Statue of Cardinal Cisneros.  Reputed to have been both an excellent administrator AND minister to the people

Entrance into inner courtyard of University, where the King of Spain comes each year to award the Cervantes prize in literature.
Inner Courtyard of the University

Miguel Cervantes was born in Alcalá in 1547, although not a lot is known about the young Cervantas, and it's not likely that he spend a lot of time in Alcalá de Henares, he is honoured by this town, in a number of ways.
Posing in front of the House of Cervantes with Don Quixote and his squire, Sancho Panza

Semana Cervantina

During the first two weeks of October, a huge outdoor medieval festival takes place in Alcalá. It coincides with Cervantes birthday, and also with the arrival of new students to the University. During the festivities, the historic center is turned into a medieval village, with parades, acrobats, jugglers, magicians, and artisans from all over Europe.  The Serranos invited us to come visit them and stroll through the town on the first day of the festival, which was yesterday, October 8.  Today is the big party because, not knowing the exact date of Cervantes' birth they actually celebrate the date of his baptism which IS known (October 9).
This festival is really spectacular; hopefully these few pictures will give you a flavor for the event, but trust me, they don't do it justice.  In the states so many times these fairs are just over-commercialized gimmicks to sell cheap junk, trinkets, bad food and carnival rides.  This was different.  We loved it.

One of the many street bakers

One of several outdoor grills of all kinds of meats.  Michelle, this is a "real" outdoor barbecue

A medieval oriental restaurant

A craftsman of medieval musical instruments

One of several street spice vendors.  Every kind of herb and spice.  It smelled incredible

Lots of streets just like this one.  The town looks like a Disney set, but it's real; the people actually live here as well

A little plaza of rides for children.  The other rides, were all hand-made, non-electrical.

A display of falconry, or birds of prey, including among many magnificent birds, this beautiful eagle.

Another shot of the birds of prey.  These are the owls, which made Vivienne think it was Hogwarts.

Notice the "automatic" timer at this children's ride.

Behind the baker's oven.  This guy looked like he walked out of some history book, tattoos and all.

In front of the baker's oven.  The smell of the breads......ah, it was mouth-watering.

Maybe my favorite booth.  There were quite a few like this one.
This video might give you the best feel for the festival.  The satyr, or faun below was a real showman.  Note the eagle and large snake in the first shots of the parade.  After the faun stole my hat he put on a show.  I think the medieval musical instruments really added to the fun of this event.  Hope you enjoy.  If you like it, come see us next October; we'll take you with us.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013


As I looked online at our blog I was amazed it's been a month since the last blog.  Time is racing by, and so much has happened that will never get blogged, it's kind of sad.  Because so much of it has had such an impact on our lives and for those whom we know, we have a strong desire to share these things with you. But, oh well, I hope there's time in the next life to "look at everyone's slides, videos and blogs IN FULL.
I so appreciate those of you who have posted activities, thoughts, events, etc. on your blogs and stuff.  It's so nice to come home at night, turn on the computer and catch up with everyone.  It makes us feel as if we're not really on the other side of the planet all the time.
So anyway, last week we had an opportunity to travel with another senior missionary couple (who has a car!) to a wonderful historic city called Ávila, just north-northwest of Madrid about 100 kilometers (one hour's drive).  The missionary couple, Elder and Sister Riggs, work with LDS Employment all over Spain, along with Paco and Susi Serrano, to whom I've introduced you in previous blogs and who are just about the neatest people in the whole world.  Brother Riggs is fluent in Spanish, but Sister Riggs is like us; trying to learn it and over our heads.
In pre-Roman times (5th century BC), Ávila was inhabited by the Vettones, who called it Obila ("High Mountain") and built one of their strongest fortresses here. There are Bronze Age stone statues of boars (known as verracio) nearby.
Ávila may have been the ancient town known as Abula, mentioned by Ptolemy. Abula is mentioned as one of the first cities in Hispania that was converted to Christianity. After the conquest by ancient Rome, the town was called Abila or Abela. The plan of the city remains typically Roman; rectangular in shape, with its two main streets (cardo and decumanus) intersecting at a forum (Plaza Mayor) in the center. Roman stones (ashlars) are imbedded in the city walls.
By tradition, in the 1st century, Secundus, having travelled via the Roman province of Hispania Baetica, brought the Gospel to Ávila, and was created its first bishop.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, Ávila became a stronghold of the Visigoths. Conquered by the Arabs (who called it Ābila) it was repeatedly attacked by the northern Iberian Christian kingdoms, becoming a virtually uninhabited no man's land. It was repopulated about 1088 following the definitive reconquest of the area and the stone wall constructed.  The city achieved a period of prosperity under the Catholic Monarchs in the early 16th century, and their successors Charles V and Philip II of Spain, but began a long decline during the 17th century, reducing to just 4,000 inhabitants.  It has since enjoyed a bit of a rebound and by most people is on the top-20 list of things to see.
This is actually the last picture I took of the day, but it's a good place to start so you can see what the city looks like.  In the foreground right is the ancient Roman bridge across the river Adaja

Just outside the city walls on the eastern side is the Basilica of San Vicente.

According to legend, Christian martyrs Vicente, Sabina and Cristeta were martyred during the rule of the Roman Emperor Diocletian; their corpses were buried into the rock and later a basilica was built over their tombs. In 1062 their remains were moved to the monastery of San Pedro de Arlanza in Burgos (northeastern Spain), but later, in 1175, they were returned to Ávila and the construction of a new basilica was started at the location. It is one of the best examples of Romanesque architecture in the country.
Elder Riggs, Vivienne and Sister Riggs at the entrance
Great example of Gothic architecture.  Fine acoustics; another church I would like to sing in during the Millenium.
A fascinating cenotaph constructed in the central nave of the basilica, depicting, the martyrdom of the 3 young people, which according to legend, was very gruesome indeed: impaled on strange crosses after which their heads were crushed, as depicted below:

Hope that's not too gross to let the little ones see.  Below the Basilica is the crypt (don't you just love the name???) where legend says the martyrdom and subsequent burial took place.  I just had to go down and take a look.....
In the crypt, standing in front of the rock of martyrdom.
Steps back out of the crypt into the Basilica.  Would have been a great spook alley.
Lunch.  We found this place on a little side street.  Had it all to ourselves.

One of the best meals I've had in Spain. The menus were only in Spanish, hence the heavy concentration.
 I have a lot more pictures of things I saw and learned about; the convent of St. Theresa, the Inquisition (ugh!), the Plaza Mayor, the Cathedral of Ávila (not the Basilica of San Vincente), and lots more shots of the walls, with which I will not bore you.  But we had a great time and any of you who come to see us; put Avila on your list of places to see.  You won't be sorry.

The hearty band of travelers with headphones and recorders, learning, learning, learning.

In love, and "Still crazy, after all these years"