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Not your standard Andalusian white hill town, Antequera was the northernmost outpost of the Kingdom of Grenada -- the last Moorish kingdom in Iberia. As such, the Christians finally took the city in 1410 after 200 years of on-again, of again warfare. The hill at right center looks church-filled and verdant, yet it held the Alcazar -- the defensive fort. Once the Christians arrived, they used it as a base to take back the rest of the Grenada kingdom. This took another 8 decades until that momentous year for both the Old and New Worlds: 1492.
Here's another view looking from the Alcazar area over the rooftops to the distant 2500 foot peak called the "Pena de los Enamorados" (Lovers' Rock.) Antequera rises in the Sierra (mountains) de los Torcales, a beautiful area where limestone thrusts dramatically into blue skies, creating one of the most spectacular landscapes in Europe. Nearby is a salt water marsh called Fuente de Piedra which provides habitat for the Great Flamingo -- one of the few places in Europe to do so. The town is about halfway to everywhere in Andalusia, including the two largest cities of Málaga and Seville. Long before there were cities, Neolithic tribes roamed this area about 5000 years ago and left behind their stone burial tombs called dolmens.
This town has a lot of history – not just the recorded wars between the Christians and Moors. Millennia before that cave men lived here and buried their dead in some of the largest tombs (called dolmens) in Europe. (More on that later). Natural history abounds here as well: Antequera sits about 1800 feet above the Mediterranean and is separated from it by the Sierra del Torcal mountain range – a strangely beautiful landscape formed when the African landmass crashed into Eurasia about 20 million years ago. The limestone formed 200 million years ago by all those little sea critters dying at the bottom of the then-ocean was gradually thrust up into scenery such as this, seen at the nearby Natural Park of Torcal. For more on that, check out our pictures at http://picasaweb.google.com/schmitt.dick/ParqueNaturaDeElTorcal#slideshow .
But this city is in the middle of somewhere: Two of Andalusia's superhighways cross near here, making it a natural communication and transportation hub. Above is a closer shot of the Alcazar hill. The fort, unfortunately, was closed for repairs and, from appearances, will probably be closed for quite a while. At left is a large church which today is a museum. It was the Colegiata -- a center of learning for the inland western area of Andalusia. Having one of these was pretty much an indication by the powers that be (popes and kings) that this town was something special even though it was not the head of a diocese (which would have given it, of course, a cathedral most likely medieval.)
Here's a model of the fortifications built by the Moors to maintain their most northern outpost after all but the kingdom of Granada was taken back by the Christians in the 13th century. Let’s start with a visit to the church at right, the Colegiata. Note to its right a flat area which was here long before the defensive curtain wall when the 1st century Romans created their baths. After Rome fell, the Visigoths pretty much leveled the place.
After a steep uphill climb from the heart of the city, the Colegiata is accessed through the Arch of the Giants built in the late 1500s to honor Philip II, in power then when Spain was pretty much at its peak. Here the old Moorish defensive walls are over 6 feet thick. The arch appears to be pay homage to Roman triumphal arches and, besides the old tombstones, incorporates the remains of a Roman statue of Hercules above left of the arch. Of course, the Romans were here and are responsible for much of the old town's layout as well as its name. Antequera is often called “the heart of Andalusia" (el corazón de Andalucía) because of its central position in the heart of this thriving agricultural area. Romans used it to supply olive oil to their empire and olive culture and processing is still a huge industry here today.
Just beyond that arch, the cobblestones of the Plaza of the Writers leads us to the former Collegiate. Cathedrals have clerical members called canons that have special rights and duties. Collegiates have the same -- but are not attached to the bishop. Instead a Collegiate is created and disbanded only by the pope. Typically Collegiates served as centers of learning (since medieval societies had so few who were educated, they would congregate in institutions such as these.) It was a big deal for a town to get a Collegiate. Admire this facade but pretend you don't see that steeple for now. (It was not part of the original design). Note that we have 3 more Roman arches here, embedded into the front of this 3-nave building. (The center arch is lower than the side arches but its door is much more grand). At top we have some Venetian Gothic pinnacles. A bit of architectural transition is going on here.
Let's get closer to the Royal Collegiate Church of Santa Maria la Mayor, built from 1515-1550, a century after the Christians had driven the Moors out of Antequera but only a few decades after their final expulsion from nearby Granada. This building was designed by "arch"-itect Pedro del Campo and was one of the first Renaissance churches in Spain in the "columnar Andalusian" style (despite its Gothic pinnacles.) Note that the reliefs within these arches are arches themselves. Some of the stones from this facade were recycled from Roman ruins. However, the tower threatened the Renaissance symmetry when it was added in the 17th century. What were they thinking?
Inside the collegiate, eclecticism runs rampant: Ionic columns support a Mudejar ceiling and separate Roman-arched naves. Late September light streams into this nearly emptied space, making it the antithesis of the dark Gothic cathedrals which came before. Today this large room hosts concerts and lectures where once clerics sang vespers.
In 1692, the Collegiate as an institution moved down the hill to San Sebastian church which we'll explore in a minute. Plenty of arches here lead to recessed chapels.
Oh no, you're thinking: another float with a statue of Mary. But now for something completely different! True, most old Andalusian churches store floats to be carried in fiesta parades. But many of those are medieval or Baroque sculptures in silver or gold. Instead, here we have a modern recreation of a 1760 float of a lady on a castle (signifying her invulnerability) riding on a seven-headed monster.
It's called a "Tarasca" -- half serpent, half lady. (Most guys have had dates like that but would rather talk about football.) In some cities, it is the traditional first float in the procession for the feast of Corpus Christi going all the way back to the Baroque period. Such parades would be lead by the image of a monster -- often ridden by a woman who represented faith, and its ability to defeat monstrous sins.
This Tarasca lady carries a monstrance, the traditional display in Catholic churches of the Eucharistic host (the Corpus Christi). The monster has seven heads to represent, of course, seven deadly sins. (Quiz of the day: how many of these sins can you name without running to Wikipedia? This is a toughie as you are probably not very conversant in such evil.)
According to a Wiki-ed source, the seven deadly sins are: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and the excessive checking of pseudo facts online. Note here the upper balconies contain blind arches.
Here's a neck-breaking shot of the 16th century Mudejar ceiling. Around the time this was built, the Moors were allowed to stay in Spain as long as they converted to Christianity. This left a lot of skilled craftsmen to help rebuild the Granada area with fusion Christian/Mudejar churches. Unfortunately, they were eventually expelled. Beneath this ceiling, the space is mostly empty -- and with great acoustics. This is a natural for concerts which feature the human voice.
The altar area is quite simple and, because it is a museum, relatively unadorned of most liturgical accouterments except for the Crucifix and candlesticks. Here the columns are Corinthian and the overall feel is one of neo-classic restraint.
We're now back outside where the Roman bath ruins will be on our left. As the one-time center for learning in Antequera, this building and its patio -- called the Plaza de Escribanos (Square of the Writers) -- is a fitting place for a statue (left) of Pedro de Espinosa. . Espinosa was a Baroque poet (you can imagine how flowery his language would be) who anthologized the great poets of his day (around 1500). He's early in the Golden Age of Spanish Literature (1500-1650). Over the fenced precipice at left are the ruins of the Roman baths.
The ruins of the Roman bath are not open, but are easily visible from the Collegiate’s plaza. Excavations started in 1988 and their tourist potential awaits exploitation (except for a descriptive sign on the plaza above.) These were built in the first century AD and upgraded in the third century. The invading Goths apparently didn't need to bathe, and so this site fell into disuse after the Roman empire collapsed in the West during the 5th century. Antequera built over this site as it expanded in the 15th century as Christians enlarged the town to use as its base for the eventual defeat of Granada. As they built anew, the stones of the baths were redeployed including in the walls of the Collegiate and the Arch of the Giants. Everything old is new again.
From the Colegiata museum plaza, we have a clear view of the Pena de los Enamordos (Lovers' Rock). This 2500 foot limestone outcropping (does it look like a sleeping US Buffalo Nickel’s Indian head?) has its own local legend. Supposedly a daughter of the Moorish king fell in love with a Christian Shepherd. Since their romance was impossible, soldiers chased them to this peak where they jumped to their death rather than give up their love -- sort of a Romeo and jumping nymphet.
The Alcazaba was closed for repairs -- and from the looks of some of the steel beams used to keep the hillside from collapsing -- will be for some time.
The Alcazaba enclosed a small fort with a second wall encircling a much larger space. The Tower of Homage, common in such forts, still stands.
A view from the back of the Royal Collegiate of Santa Maria la Mayor showing the blind arcades of its incongruous tower. At left is a portion of the huge wall protecting the Alcazaba from invaders while plants seem to be taking it over. The Alcazaba has its own bell tower housing the town's clock back in the days when you only needed one.
We descend now down steep cobblestoned streets to San Sebastian Square. The running of the bulls takes place twice yearly with the May and August festivals. Antequera's streets were also once the site of what is today considered a folk dance called the "Fandango Antequera." Its roots are a formal flirtation between the sexes which was banned in 1556.
Many pictures of Antequera feature San Sebastian's iconic brick tower built in the early 1700s. Some of what we see was restored after a 1926 fire.
The spire of the Royal Collegiate Church of San Sebastian anchors the square of the same name. Tourists trudging up the steep hills of Antequera use it as a landmark since it rises near Antequera's major crossroads.
San Sebastian's spire is one of many brown towers rising above this Andalusian white town. Designed by Andres Alarife Burgueño in a style that's a fusion of Baroque/Mudéjar/Aragonese, it's capped by ...
...by this Iberian tiled roof and winged weather vane called the Angelot or "big angel." The Angelot represents St. Michael,the archangel who protects all of Andalusia. Another famous statue of Antequera predates the Angelot. The Efebo is a 5 foot Roman era bronze kept in the municipal museum.
San Sebastian's was built starting in 1548, about the time work was finishing up on the Collegiate Church of Santa Maria la Mayor up the hill. By this time, Plateresque facades were coming into vogue. Here Saints Peter and Paul flank the loin-clothed San Sebastian, (Catholics’ first martyr, who is usually depicted with arrows shot into his torso by an early firing squad made up of his fellow Roman soldiers.) Above these gentlemen are the coat-of-arms with two-headed eagle of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V who sat on the throne as the first real king of Spain while this church was being built.
The Collegiate moved here in 1692 and was formally dissolved by the Queen and the Pope in 1851. Like the St Mary Major building it replaced, San Sebastian is a three nave space--but with a stronger neo-classic feel. The gilded wood tabernacle at center moved with the Collegiate from St. Mary's along with many religious statues and altarpieces. (Many of these pieces were eventually moved to the Municipal Museum). In 1960, this church suffered a serious fire.
The choir carvings appear to be a gallery of popes or bishops and contrast with the simplicity of the upper balcony and the pews which were probably installed when the town became budget-challenged after the 18th century.
The back choir screen encloses three statues by Andres Carvajal including his masterpiece of Christ being flogged at center while he picks up his tunic. This is the first thing you see as you enter San Sebastian's. Often such statues kept behind glass are carried in the many religious processions staged in Antequera.
Antequera's wealth in the 16-18th centuries funded many churches and convents. Often the fountains in the public squares were upscaled as well. This is the Fountain of the Bull...
...despite its image and plaque praising the sun -- a bit of a secular touch in this city of churches and convents. The contrasting marble layers here remind us of the Tuscan cathedrals in Pisa, Florence, and Siena.
Antequera got its money during the Baroque and Renaissance age, allowing the construction of palaces and convents with elaborate porticoes such as this one on the Convento de Madre de Dios built around 1750.
More modern construction still makes a big deal of the entryway, just not with carved sandstone. Here tile and wrought iron do a fine job.
Most of what we see here of the convent of San Augustine is from the 18th century after a fire destroyed the structure built to house the Augustine order when they moved to Antequera in 1520. This small Mannerist facade with its balcony is the mid 16th century design of the architect of the quite grand Málaga cathedral, Diego de Vergara. The tower was squeezed between two buttresses around 1675.
Today Antequera seems filled with convents funded during its 16th-18th century glory days, Besides the Augustines, the Dominicans came here at the end of the 16th century. This mannerist door below the statue of the Immaculate Conception and the order's coats-of-arms is from the early 17th century. The little door at right as added during the late 1700s. The inside is closed, awaiting repairs.
The former convent of Our Lady Of Carmel is a sprawling structure with interesting brickwork.
Most of the structure was built in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.
Most of the Arab walls are long gone but in spots they remain, incorporated into the newer buildings. Note the Arab crenelations on the wall at upper left.
We found the old civic square (Coso Viejo) nearly empty early on a Tuesday afternoon in late September. At right in the picture above with its distinctive civil tower is the Municipal Museum, the Palacio de Najera. On the other side rises a convent and a long fountain lets the wall opposite define the square surrounding the equestrian statue of Fernando de Aragón who was known as Fernando de Antequera (but ruled widely but not for very long as king of many realms including Sicily.)
Above is the Dominican convent, this one designed by work of Andres Alarife Burgueño. Don Fernando's victory here in 1410 was so significant that he became known as Fernando I of Antequera. This battle took back Moorish Granada's northernmost town. Subsequently fortified as a Christian outpost, it became the base for the expulsion of the Moors from Granada in 1492.
On the other side of the square is the 17th century Palacio de Nájera complete with its lookout tower flanked on this day by a building crane. Today its the municipal museum.
This very secular fountain between the convent and the museum closes off the Plaza del Coso Viejo opposite the street entrance.
Of course, the steeple of San Sebastian rises above the plaza as seen here behind the spurs of Fernando (1380--1416). Besides winning here against the Moors, Fernando helped end the Western Schism that confused the Church for 40 years after the papacy moved back from Avignon, France, to Rome. Up to 4 people claimed to be pope at one time. One of these faux popes was named John XXXIII and another was named Benedict. Do we need another mahvelous Fernando today?
The largest (requiring this software-stitched and distorted picture) and probably most interesting facade we found was that of the now-closed convent of the Discalced (barefoot or sandaled) Carmelites of Saint Teresa. Now a museum of the convent's furnishings and art that survived an 18th century fire, the structure was built between 1707 and 1734. Let's take a look at the church facade at right...
...It's facade is Baroque in brick with what resembles terra-cotta carvings. The overall Castilian shape of inverted triangle on a slim rectangle with two decorative tiers is attributed to Thomas Melgarejo. However, this is a most confusing front.
As expected, much of the iconography is Christian and perhaps Carmelite (check out those matching shields below the crowns on either side of the statue's feet.) But the bottom paganish caryatids holding up their small capitals don't quite match the religious imagery above them, even though they seem to be getting a good ab workout.
One of the two coat of arms of the Discalced Carmelites on the convent chapel facade. The cross rises on mount Carmel. The three stars represent the eras of Elijah and the Eastern and Western rites of the Catholic Church. The Discalced Carmelites added the cross to the summit of the mountain in the 16th century. The original order was founded by hermits on Mt Carmel in 1155 in what was thought to be the Old Testament prophet Elijah's cave. The shell below is the symbol of St. James, patron of Spain.
But here we seem to have pagan mythological imagery with this terra cotta-like Pegasus the flying horse.
And these appear to be most un-nunly although we must say that the female flasher has a more-than-adequate fig leaf. This interplay between the pagan and the Christian symbols reminds us that Elijah (sometimes translated as Elias) fought the worship of the pagan idol Baal (who was accepted by many Israelites in his time as Yahweh's equal.) The bricks here continue that ancient monotheistic debate.
This convent/museum is named for the renowned Spanish Saint Teresa of Ávila who founded the reform group of Carmelites in 1562. The order grew so fast that it had to be split between Spanish and French groups. The Jesuits took it on in the 17th century until Pope Innocent XII put an end to the squabbling. A century later, Pope Clement XIV abolished the Jesuits. (Pius VI restored them 40 years later). It's not clear who this king is (or if his incongruous crown was put there by the original sculptor). The tiled background above the brick is interesting, as well.
A much simpler neoclassical facade is found on the Convento de la Victoria built between 1712-1718.
Note the balcony, typical of many we saw on Antequera churches. The double-arched doorway is unusual but the Corinthian columns are not.
We found the Franciscan convent open. Jane went looking for the nuns who sell cookies but couldn't find any (nuns or cookies). But we found the place to be a treat for the eyes.
Note again the use of brick in Antequera where sandstone and limestone would be typical elsewhere. This is somewhat puzzling as Antequera sits atop copious limestone formed by the sea 200 million years ago.
The niches here seem to be devoid of statues. Note the flat Spanish bell tower, in this case turned on its side to have less of an impact on destroying the neo-classic symmetry of the facade.
Inside this place was a baroque jewel with interesting use of paint when the builders ran out of gold.
One of many convents in Antequera, this one is dedicated to Santa Clara De La Paz Y De Belen. The canopy of the crossing is lavish but secular in its feel. Usually we expect pictures of the four Evangelists on these corners.
Behind the glass is an 18th century carving by Jose de Mora y Andres de Carvajal which is carried by one of the Antequera brotherhoods during the Holy Thursday procession, apparently just one of many held every day from Palm Sunday through Good Friday here. Several of the altars consisted of similar panels of glass with processional statues showing through.
Elaborate arches lead to the side aisles below rectangular portraits and barely recessed columns.
The arches display lettering below the high balconies. I would speculate that the pictures depict scenes from the life of St. Clair, an ally of Francis of Assisi.
This verges on trompe-l'œil -- a not uncommon Baroque trick but not something we saw a lot of in Andalusian Spain.
Let's get away from the churches and convents to check out a few secular monuments. This is the view of the old Moorish citadel from...
...the Granada Gate, now pretty much bypassed by the road but probably once the stately entrance through the city walls from the east.
But by far the oldest monument is not the statuesque blond at center right, but the Dolmen in the background. Antequera has two of these Bronze Age burial chambers at the base of a small hill.
This long entrance leads to Viera dolmen from around 2200 BC. Inside is a cube-shaped burial chamber. Antequera's Dolmens are arguably the most important in Europe. A nearby tourist center provides excellent explanations (but only in Espanol).
The Menga Dolmen is entered from the other side of the hill. It's even more impressive.
The Menga Dolmen is generally considered to be the largest in Europe with 32 stones the largest weighing 180 tons.
Take out the surrounding dirt and these may resemble Stonehenge built around the same time (and like this dolmen, thought to be a burial chamber.) In some cases, erosion removes the dirt around a dolmen, giving the appearance (like Stonehenge) of a crude table. ("Dolmen" means "stone table" in Celtic.) Here the surrounding ground stayed intact and we retain the subterranean feel -- augmented by modern lighting, of course.
Dolmens are found throughout the Eurasian continent and more are discovered each year. When this was discovered in the 19th century, several hundred skeletons were inside.
Dolmens are among the oldest man-made constructions in Europe, dating from the early days of farming that allowed tribes to settle in one place. Below we have a view of the probably even older Pena de los Enamorados or Lovers' Rock. The Menga Dolmen entrance appears to be aligned to the sunrise at the summer Solstice, the longest day of the year. Is it by coincidence that this points to one of Andalusia's most distinctive rock formations after the rock of Gibraltar? Is there some geophysical feng shui going on here?
Not a bad town for 4500 years in the making (and that’s not counting what mother Nature did before Neolithic man settled here.)
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