Category Archives: arts

The Birthplace of the Spanish Language

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Tucked away in the hills of La Rioja are two small monasteries with very important histories.


The first is the Monastery of Suso, which dates to the 6th century CE, and stands on a hill overlooking the valley of San Millan de Cogolla.

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In this humble, pre-Romanesque building, the Glosas Emilianenses, a most important document, was written.

This text is actually a Latin scripture with notes in the margins written by the monks who studied there. These notes, called ‘glosses’ are shown below:

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These glosses are the first written evidences of Archaic Castillian and Archaic Basque.

That is not to say the languages were invented by these monks. Remember a few things about this time period: first is that most people were illiterate, and second is that paper was very, very scarce, so the only place we’re like to find any written evidence is religious institutions or other places with great wealth/access to resources. That being said, the language was already likely spoken in the area, for how long who can rightly tell, and it was the monks’ native language. So, when they were having issues translating the Latin, they write notes to themselves in the margins in their mother tongue.*

*(it is worth noting here that the monk was likely native but could have been from the surrounding area, as some of the place names do not appear to be in Archaic Castillian. Still, it could be those were the only names used at the time, as well, thus no more can be truly discerned).

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For anyone curious you can listen to the full restored pronunciation done by the famous Spanish poet and philologist, Dámaso Alonso here for extra nerding out.

And then further down the hill in the valley we have the Monastery of Yuso (the “lower one” in Archaic Castillian), which houses one of the most important and valuable libraries in Spain.

In its collection you’ll find 17th-century hymn books, thirty gigantic books of between 40 and 60 kilos, made from the hides of two thousand Riojan cows. Holy moley.

Also, the relics of San Emillian were transferred here and are to this day preserved in a renovated burial chamber. And, we have to say the architecture of this place is stunning in and of itself. Check out it out:

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To learn more about Suso and Yuso, you can go to the UNESCO World Heritage Sites webpage.

Want to see Suso and Yuso for yourself? We can help with that. Ask now!

Art of the Spanish Golden Age

After the Reconquest Spain entered what is referred to as its Golden Age, a time when the arts and their civilization flourished with the influx of wealth and power brought from colonizing the New World. It was what you might call an almost wild growth, as this Empire which was in its toddler years was suddenly in possession of a large amount of gold and resources. The way that art and literature branched out from other Rennaisannce styles was definitely influenced by this swell of wealth and also the country’s formation of a national identity under Catholic rule.

Much of Spanish art at the time was influenced heavily by Italian masters such as Caravaggio and Titian, due to the close ties that Ferdinand of Aragon kept with Florence. There was a steady flow and exchange of both painters and ideas between Sevilla, Valencia, and Florence at this time, and also, Spain had control of Naples from the early 1500s to the early 1700s.

However, especially in the earlier examples, Spanish art of this period has slight Medieval overtones, and much of the religious art (which was of course a rather prominent theme!) has a mystic bent to it. As a reaction to the Reformation and Spain’s strong alliance with the Catholic Church, and their cultural identity as Catholics as a people, these religious pieces are marked by this sense of the religious mystery.

5 Notable painters are: (and this is by no means an exhaustive list!)

1. Juan van der Hamen: the son of a Flemish aristocrat at the court in Madrid, known for incredibly realistic depicitions of still life.

^”Stillleben mit Süßigkeiten und Keramik“

2. Jusepe de Ribera: a Spanish painter who had settled in Naples, known for religious works full of emotional depictions of the faithful.

^”The Martyrdom of Saint Bartholomew, 1634“

3. Francisco de Zurbarán: a Sevillano painter commissioned by many religious foundations between 1620 and 1635, known for a sober and restrained style.

^”Angus Dei”

4. Bartolomé Murillo: Zurbarán’s successor, known for his animated engaging style with a penchant for narrative.

^”Christ the Good Shepherd”

5. Diego de Velázquez: who was in the service of Phillip IV, and known for his paintingd of the Royal Court.

^”Prince Baltasar Carlos on Horseback”

A Movable Bookclub

Colorfully Spain has a great new way to travel Europe; through the pages of a classic novel.

A Movable Book Club’s name was taken from the Ernest Hemingway novel A Movable Feast, which beautifully details his life abroad in Paris in the 1920’s. A Movable Feast is a journey through Paris, and brings Hemingway´s memories to life, letting the reader walk alongside him as he traverses the city and his sea of acquaintances. The idea behind the Movable Book Club is similar; we want to take a traveler on a journey into a classic novel, visiting all of the sights featured in the book, and experiencing a beloved classic by following in its footsteps.

Included in the trip is not only a personal copy of the selected novel for each traveler, but also an accompanying literature talk over coffee led by a professional, to explain and discuss each part of the book as they go along.

If you are interested in our literary adventures, contact us for more information!

A Brief History of Zarzuela

Zarzuela is a Spanish style of Opera that can be divided into two general categories – Baroque or Early Zarzuela, and Romantic or Late Zarzuela.

In the mid 17th century, writer Pedro Calderón del Barco and composer Juan Hidalgo de Polanco gave birth to a new style of theatrical performance: the Zarzuela, a perfomance partly spoken, often in poetic verse, partly sung in operatic style.

Zarzuelas could be anything from serious stories, retelling of folk tales, or comedic slapstick productions, and enjoyed great popularity in Spain throughout the 17th and into part of the 18th century.

However, in the 18th century Italian artists began influencing most art forms across the Mediterranean. A tastes trended towards the more Italian standard operatic style, the age of Zarzuela’s popularity seemed at an end. Zarzuela performances ebbed for nearly a century.

Then, in the 19th century, after what was deemed the Glorious Revolution of 1868, the country fell on hard times. This of course was reflected in the theater. As the public could not afford high priced entertainment, short one act plays with low budgets became popular quickly, and the Zarzuela adapted immediately to the cultural shift.

This is how Zarzuela grew back into prominence. There were two types of Zarzuela’s in this ‘Romantic Age’ of the tradition, the chico – which were generally one act, often salubrious or farcial productions, but cheap – and the grande – which were longer more traditional operatic productions.

The Zarzuela tradition grew back and remained into the 20th century and even began to take on an Operetta like quality to some of them, such as one of the most popular Zarzuelas, El Barberillo de Lavapiés, both light in humor and action, but bold in its social criticism.