Tag Archives: culture

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!

Why the Petroglyphs at Auga dos Cebros are Important

Recently an archaeological expedition in Auga dos Cebros, Galicia, Spain, has uncovered some important petroglyphs that has changed the timeline for when we think Atlantic and Mediterranean cultures of the ancient world first met.

The depiction, which is painted on rock, shows a boat with oars and sails that is of the same general design as bronze age Mediterranean culture from 2,000bce, or, the Bronze Age. As boats in the Atlantic region of that time had a different general form and also lacked sails, it appears that this petroglyph is in fact a depiction of a visiting southern friend.

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The archaeologists working on the art’s identification found many similar depictions of boats on Cretan stamps and artwork from approximately 4,000ya, which is what lead them to date the Auga dos Cebros art to the same period. However, due to lack of detail in the Auga dos Cebros depiction, it’s impossible to match an exact model to the much more intricate depictions found in Crete. Still, there’s a ballpark, and it’s a much different, earlier one then we thought we were playing in.

There’s ample evidence of this kind of cross cultural communication and contact during the Iron Age, nearly 1,000 years later. So the fact that these cultures met a millennia before we thought they had is something big indeed.

But why is it a big find? For anyone studying the trajectory of how a culture developed, it’s important to understand that no culture develops in a vaccuum. Though today people talk about the world being a global society, it was not in the ancient world a series of unconnected and independantly moving parts.  Previously, it was assumed certain cultures developed early on without certain influences, but this tableau has revealed that the reach of the mediterranean trade network was much bigger than we realized. Considering the time period in which this contact was made as well, we may begin to rethink ideas of technology and also what the visiting culture’s limitations and values were, that they sought to explore such a remote territory with the technology they had available.

You can follow more of archaeologist Javier Costas Goberna’s excavation at Dig Ventures . Or watch their intro video!

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Witches, Legend, and Queimada

When the Celts first made their migration from the upper reaches of Europe down to the Iberian Peninsula it was the mid Iron Age. With them they brought to this green and familiar seeming land many traditions and stories, only few of which have survived today. Unlike the common view of Spain as a hot, passionate, flamenco dancing, guitar playing culture, the history of the Galician people is marked by ancient nights full of magic and mystery, of witches circled in the darkness, churning fiery brews to ward off evil spirits, and attract the good.

The ‘Conxuro de Queimada’ is one of these surviving rituals (though there is debate if the rite is actually as old as some claim, or if it was in fact a more recent invention around the 1950’s. Entirely possible that even if it was dreamed up in the 20th century, that there was some evidence tying it to an earlier time). Queimada itself is a spirit distilled from wine and then flavored with herbs, then often sugar, lemon peel, coffee, and cinnamon.

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The ritual of the drink is supposed to be a warding one that frightens off any spirits in the area with malintent. The forests of Galicia are often referred to as the Bosque Animada, or the animated wood, where said ne’er-do-welling sprites lie in wait to do travelers harm. It was originally a witches brew, but is now an all occasions kind of event, whether you’re just meeting up with friends or having a big party, queimada is a great addition to the get together.

But of course the most perfect night to have your conxuro is the Noche de San Juan, or St. John’s night (also called Witches’ Night), which is June 23rd. The conxuro demands a certain level of spooky ambiance, so once night falls, after brewing up the queimada, people gather round, turn off the lights, and recite the ‘spell’ meant to ward off evil.

“ …Hear! Hear the roars

of those that cannot

stop burning in the firewater,

becoming so purified.

And when this beverage

goes down our throats,

we will get free of the evil

of our soul and of any charm…”

(You can read the whole thing here )

Then, the queimada is lit on fire. It burns an incredible bright blue, and as the brandy burns off (and is added back in slowly), the fire makes ‘sigils’ and ‘ letters’ on top of the liquid, supposedly writing in the witches’ language (it is actually just a byproduct of how the brandy burns, but it’s neat nevertheless).

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After the fire burns out, the queimada is ready! Poured out into cups and shared among the gathered, making for a happy party indeed.

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”

Leovigild, the Conquering King

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Liuvigild, also known as Leovigild, was King of Septimania and Hispania from 568 to 586, and also King of Galicia for the latter part of his reign.

So why is this guy important?

For a number of reasons. This man took a dispirate, fractured land of people fighting for their borders and indeed against themselves and united them. He established whole cities at a time when almost no new urban centers were being founded. But I should start at the beginning. First, a little history.

After the (arguably second) sacking of Rome by the Visigoths around 410, things were falling apart for the Roman Empire. They were losing control of their Western territories, and several groups such as the Sueve, Vandals, and Alani had started moving across the Pyrenees and onto the Iberian peninsula. Though they felt the Visigoths to be barbarians, that didn’t really stop Rome from making treaties with them, so they contracted the Visigoths to head over to Hispania and help get things back in line around 416.

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^Visigoths aren’t playing around. When they decide to sack, they really sack.

However, as evidenced by the aforementioned sacking, the Roman’s control over the Visigoths was tenuous at best. Though they recalled the Visigothic troops in 418, Rome had little control over whether or not the Visigoths actually followed the order.

Our Visigothic friends had been having problems with their northern Frankish neighbors, and after a series of brutal defeats by the Frankish King Clovis, and the death of their king, Alaric, they moved south over the mountains and into what would become modern day Spain. This wasn’t an easy task, though.

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As you can see, there were a lot of different groups who had settled across the peninsula. The Visigoths had to fight their way through most of it in order to carve out a place for themselves.

But if there was one thing the Visigoths were good at, it was fighting. So they did manage to settle, despite opposition. Still, between the vestiges of the Hispano-Roman empire, the ever present thorn in their side that was the Vascones (Basques), and border issues with the Sueve, it was not a peaceful time.

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^Batter up, Hispano-Romans.

The thing about Visigothic heirarchy is that it was an elective monarchy, meaning the people chose their King to essentially be their war leader, but also in theory to best represent their interests and their principles. But we know how that plays out in reality; principles clash, power corrupts, or people are just never happy with their ruler. But, when your people solve their problems by whacking people’s heads off with homemade clubs, it’s a health hazard to be their king.

Between 507 and 711ce there were twenty six Visigothic kings, a huge number given the mere 200 years of rule. Of these, five were assassinated, two died under “mysterious circumstances”, and one was overthrown. The rest were plagued by constant rebellion. So how could a culture even hope to quell the problems on all their borders when they couldn’t even sort out their own?

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^Please, no more, we’re so tired of being assassinated.

That is where Leovigild comes in. The first thing he did upon taking the throne was to go on a quest of restoring royal authority to this fractured realm. He got on his horse and set forth across every inch of his known country. And then into some other territories as well, with his army in tow. To quote spainthenandnow.com  : “Parts of a Byzantine enclave in the south east were recovered (570-71), a rebellious Córdoba was reintegrated into the kingdom (572), and the Sueves of the North West conquered (584). In 583, Leovigild ended a five-year armed rebellion led by his older son, Hermenegild, in Baetica.”

By the time he died in 586, Leo had conquered pretty much everything save a few Byzantine outposts and the ever entrenched Basques in the Pyrenees.

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^Knock knock, who’s there, now you belong to Leovigild.

Why was all this conquering important?

Well, aside from being incredible, considering all the religious, political, and principle division within his own force, it allowed Leovigild to take actual legal steps towards unity. Until this point in time, the Visigoths had not truly considered themselves independent of Rome, but more its allies (despite all that sacking). They were still using Roman symbols and coinage. Leovigild, feeling that a national and imperial identity was important, introduced symbols of his own; robes, crowns, coins, thrones, etc, and even founded his own cities, building them from the ground up. Of course, these symbols were still Roman and Byzantine inspired, and nowhere near as good of make as what said counterparts produced.

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^Rather misshapen, but it was a start.

However, the most important (and lasting) was the Codex Revisus, which was a unifying codex that revoked laws against intermarriage with Hispano-Romans as well as promoted the Arian faith as the only faith, via the law code. The laws were much more structured and pulled many different previous codes together.

Though Leo’s code itself did not survive, it was a significant influence on King Reccasunith’s Liber Ludiciorum, a code established 80 years later that would become the basis for the Spanish Christian law codes established in the Middle Ages, and still survive today.

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So, in short, in a time where unity was a precious luxury, Leovigild created stability. Though his efforts may have been insufficient for the empire to last long, it did for 130 years after his passing, and his legacy, both physical in the form of ruins at Reccopolis, and ideological, still stand even now.

Many thanks to Wikipedia Commons and Getty Images, as well as Spain Then and Now for the images.

Learning the Art of Tapas in Madrid

Of course Spain is known for its incredible food. ColorfullySpain is now offering our clients a chance to intimately learn about the gastronomy and food culture of Spain – by cooking it themselves.

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We are now offering day and night opportunities for small groups to have tapas demonstrations, specially prepared gourmet meals with award winning chefs, or have hands on one evening cooking courses themselves. And, all of these options are of course accompanied by a short explanation given by a professional about the history and culture of tapas across the country.h04

Why just eat when you can dig in yourself? This summer, make your vacation delicious.

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For more information about our gastronomic opportunities, please don’t hesitate to contact us.

Four Great Spanish Wine and Cheese Pairings

Wine and cheese, an inseparable marriage of two great foods. And one that is enjoyed the nation over here in Spain. However, there is a subtle art to creating pairings, especially in a place that offers so many different options of each.

Gourmet Cheeseplate with Wine

One of the biggest pitfalls I see of matching these foods is that there is this stubborn and persistent expectation that cheese should always be paired with a red wine. This is a fallacy for several reasons: one is that as there are so many different tastes, it is a poor move to simply pair them indiscriminately, and two is that when you get down to the chemistry of it, salt and tannin don’t mix well whatsoever.

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I suggest not trying to pair highly cured cheese like manchego with any reds, or any bleu cheeses, as it will kill the taste of both the wine and the food. But that isn’t to say there aren’t good pairings for them, or that no red works out well with any cheese.

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  1. Manchego and Port – Old manchego especially, or curado. The high salt content mixes very well with the sweetness of a port wine. Alternatively, it goes well with richer sherries, anywhere from Amontillado to Palo Cortado.
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  2. Montsec and young Red – if you really do want to have a red with your cheese, goat cheeses from the north of the country work well. But make sure it’s a young red, something soft, and preferably not aged in oak barrels. Often times the bite of a crianza wine or older is too much and overshadows the cheese.
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  3. Sweet whites and smoked cheese – I am a big fan of Albariño in general, and of diametrically opposed tastes, so when I found this suggestion I tried it post haste. Since Albariños are fruity, it does play well off of a smoked cheese. I recommend Idiazábal cheese (native to the Basque Country).
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  4. Sheep’s milk cheese and Cava – Many of the cheeses from the Pyrenees, such as Tupi or Ombra have distinct tastes that linger, and go well with chilled cava, which won’t overpower and thus mask the unique taste of the cheese. Cava is soft enough to compliment, and I recommend semi dry.

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!

Spanish Gastronomy: An Interview

Spanish Gastronomy is quite varied. While mostly what comes to mind when we think of Spanish cuisine is Paella and Sangria, the world of Spanish cooking is wide and wild, and has its roots in Celtiberian food, as well as Arab culture.
Each province of course has its own specialties, but you will find that the large zones, specifically the south, the central mesa, and then the north east and north west, have widely different types of food and wine. To get a little more in depth with this, we talk to food critic Jose Maria Llorente.
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^Shrimp Pil Pil
CS: How would you describe the gastronomy of Spain in general?
JML: Succulent, excellent; it is really varied and different across regions. Not just Paella and sangria. There is something for every taste and more importantly, every budget. It’s a really accessible cuisine.
tortilla
^Spanish Omelet
CS: What are some of the best dishes, the most significant, and the most creative that Spain has to offer?
JML: It is clear, in my opinion that the Spanish chefs that prepare modern, creative, and cutting edge cuisine are the best in the world. I’ll highlight the latest creation by Josep Roca as an example; in his restaurant, Cellar de Can Roca, in Girona, everything pays homage to the olive and olive oil. His menu right now includes gazpacho with olives and olive mousse, buñuelo, which is a type of small pastry ball, filled with black olive, manzanilla ice cream, fennel gelée and picual olive. It is a really rich menu, and avant-garde, but delicious.
In terms of overall traditional food, I would be remiss not to talk about Spanish rice dishes – and not only Paella. There are also the many types of gazpachos, cold tomato soups that is, and traditional Spanish stews.  In the south you can also see how the marinades and desserts come directly from Moorish culture, such as the famous turrón, an especially tasty type of nougat.
Salmorejo
 ^Salmorejo
CS: So, the gastronomy really varies from region to region! What would you say any traveler should try in the different gastronomic zones of Spain?
JML: Yes, it changes a lot. The base ingredients, the prep work, just about everything in the traditional kitchen is different area to area. For example, if we are talking about the north of Spain we could try a typical marmitako, which is a potato stew with peppers and native tuna. The north tends to do a lot with fish, ox, beef, peppers, potatoes, hearty foods. I would recommend as a complete meal not to miss, a cut of hake fish in green sauce to start, then a grilled side of ox, and canutillos, stuffed pastry rolls with cream, for dessert.
In the south they do a lot of fried fish, gazpacho, and rice dishes. I would recommend gazpacho to start with, of course, followed by a cut of red tuna, then partridge stuffed and marinated in onion, with honey biscuits for dessert.
The central mesa, where Madrid and La Mancha are located, does a lot of roasted meats, especially lamb and suckling pig. The ham from this area is one of a kind and world class. You will never find anything quite like Iberian ham. If you’re in the area you should try a whole meal starting with vinegar soaked fried anchovies, then Madrid’s famous cocido, a thick ham and sausage based step, and some famous frosted pastries called rosquillos de San Isidro for dessert.
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^Paella

All About Tapas

Tapas, small appetizer dishes of Spanish origin, are a staple of the country’s incredible gastronomy. Go to any restaurant, elegant or village hole in the wall, and you will find an assortment of traditional and delicious tapas to choose from.

Tapas will vary from region to region but are consistently served with drinks or before larger meals. In some regions, like Granada which is the most famous for its free with drink order tapas, the portions will be so big that you will hardly need a meal to follow up with!

The idea of tapas is that they are communal dishes to share. They are meant to be nosh foods, foods you can pick at while you talk. Once a full meal is served people of whatever culture are often focused on the meal itself, but tapas are casual. Spain has a very strong food culture: mealtimes are long and leisurely, and there are designated snack breaks between meals where people are meant to gather and eat together. As much as meals are about taking care of hunger pangs, they are also absolutely about having social time as well. So it is no wonder that the tapa, a food that is easy, communal, but not too much that it overshadows the meal itself, is a hallmark of the Spanish culture.

In Spain, lunch is often anywhere from 1pm – 4pm, maybe with a mid morning snack or coffee break. But, lunch is not served until around 9pm, which can leave upwards of 6 hours between the times you can actually sit down and eat. Tapas are generally served even when kitchens are closed for siesta, and, if you’re out with your friends for a casual meal, they can be combined to make full meals if you order many over the course of a night. Plus, they are usually pretty cheap! A plate of grilled mushrooms with garlic for example, might run you five or six euros, even in the capital!

Where the name tapa comes from is debatable, but there are a few interesting takes on it, the most famous of which is that during the summer, Spain is hot, and heat and food attract fruit flies. Since when it is hot people tend to eat slower, often times people would put a plate over their principle dish like a lid – or in Spanish, a ‘tapa’ – to keep the flies off. But our favorite postulated theory is that some rather clever tavern owners in Castilla La Mancha figured out that strong smelling cheeses could ‘cover up’ – tapar – the smell and taste of some, let us say, less than quality wines they were serving, so they began to serve the cheese as a tapa.

None of these origin stories have really been proved one way or another. But what is clear is that tapas are fun, culturally integral to the country, and oh, right – delicious!