The Crown of Aragon (a snapshot)

This blogger is still on the Iberian Peninsula and so it will be another Iberian inspired post that is related to my travels. In February 2017 I visited Zaragoza in the autonomous community of Aragon in Spain. The blog will highlight the Crown of Aragon and is intended to provide a basis of knowledge for such a vast realm, in the hope that readers would be intrigued and would like to find out more.

Since I was a child, I had always been fascinated with the history of Aragon. For many British schoolchildren the first mention of Aragon is when we study Henry VIII and his six wives, the first being, Catherine of Aragon who is the daughter of Isabella and Ferdinand (Los Reyes Católicos). Ferdinand being the King of Aragon and Isabella the Queen of Castile, through their marriage this dynastic union layed the foundations to a seemingly united Spain. However, there is never really anymore to it than that. We only learn that Aragon was a realm on the Iberian Peninsula and that it was included in Catherine’s title. A personal favourite tale about the Crown of Aragon that I came across when I was much older was that Ferdinand’s mother, Juana Enriquez was so desperate to have her son born in Aragon that when she was pregnant she crossed over from Navarre to Sos del Rey Católico. However, I digress there is more to the Crown of Aragon than Ferdinand and his daughter Catherine. Let’s see…

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Cathedral of the Saviour of Zaragoza, commonly shorted to “La Seo”, photo taken by sholderness13

What was the Crown of Aragon’s size throughout its history?

The Crown of Aragon was a vast territory that covered large parts of the eastern coast on the Iberian Peninsula. Included in the realm was; Aragon, Catalan territories, the Kingdom of Valencia (1238-1245), the Kingdom of Majorca (1229-1235), the Kingdom of Naples (1442), Corsica (1324), Sicily (1282) and the Duchy of Athens and Neopatras (1311-1390).

 

So where did it all begin?

Aragonese monarchs were crowned in La Seo Cathedral in Zaragoza, a Cathedral erected on a former Roman and Moorish site. After this the Cathedral was built in the Romanesque style. Throughout the course of La Seo’s history, the design had changed to Gothic-Mudejar and Renaissance styles. The Crown of Aragon emerged as a result of a dynastic union, much like the union of Isabella and Ferdinand that was to come in 1469. However the circumstances were different. Raymond Berenguer IV of Barcelona at twenty four years old was betrothed to Petronilla of Aragon when she was only a year old, whereas Isabella and Ferdinand were closer in age. Petronilla’s father, Ramiro II Aragon wanted his daughter to marry the Count of Barcelona as a result of gaining some support against the Alfonso VII of Castile. Both Ramon and Petronilla had jointly ruled over their territories. Aragon was a landlocked realm and as such it had no access to the sea which would know doubt improve trade. Through Petronilla marrying Ramon, Aragon gained easy access to the Mediterranean. However both realms remained distinct in terms of culture, identity and law.

 

Relationship to Castile-

At one point Aragon and Castile were joined temporarily under Sancho III of Pamplona who wanted to unite all the Iberian Christian realms at a time when the Caliphate of Cordoba appeared to retract into taifas (independently ruled principalities). Sancho III ruled from 1004 until his death in 1035 and assumed the throne of Pamplona. Sancho revised the border of Navarre and Castile by marrying Muniadona of Castile. During his reign he would acquire power in the rest of Northern Iberia including Leon, Galicia, Aragon and the east towards Barcelona. It was upon his death that this “unity” dissolved. In Sancho’s will the realms he had claimed were divided up amongst his surviving sons. On the face of it this split between the two kingdoms appeared to have changed in the twelfth century when Alfonso I of Aragon and Navarre married Doña Urraca, Queen of Leon, Castile and Galicia. However, the marriage was unsuccessful and was as a result annulled. The annulment sparked an outbreak of war between the territories and in a sense became rival domains that did not amalgamate successfully until the marriage of Isabella and Ferdinand.

 

Language-

For the most part the Crown of Aragon had two distinct languages, Aragonese and Catalan. These languages are Romance languages and they belong to the same language group as Castilian Spanish, French and Galician to name but a few. Despite Catalonia being part of the Crown of Aragon, they had maintained their language. So in terms of linguistic unity in the Crown of Aragon depending on where the population were settled two different languages were spoken in the realm. Catalan was spoken in the east of the realm and was spread as far as the Balearic Islands and Corsica. Aragonese remained in the territory of Aragon.

Castilian Spanish did not arrive until the 1400s and even then Aragonsese was more common. It was really in the 1600s that Castilian Spanish started to spread in the territory, thereby pushing the Aragonese language slowly up towards the Pyrenees. Catalan for the most part did not distinguish as much as Aragonese. By the 1600s Castilian Spanish made its way into Catalonia but unlike Aragonese, where the language was not in much use, Catalan remained alongside Castilian Spanish. However, nowadays outside the Barcelona metropolitan area it is far more common to be greeted with a “Hola, Bon Dia” than a “Hola, Buenos Días” at face value.

 

What does it mean for Spain today?

The coat of arms. The Crown of Aragon’s coat of arms are an eye catching red and yellow stripped seal that is said to have been used since the time of Ramon Berenguer IV of Barcelona. Some theories differ in this explanation, suggesting the coat of arms belonged to Count Ramon Berenguer II. This implies that the origin of the coat of arms was much older. According to legend the coat of arms was created by Charles the Bald (King of West Francia, King of Italy and later known as Holy Roman Emperor) during the 9th century AD. Bald’s fingers were said to have been covered in blood from war and he placed them down Wilfrid I of Barcelona’s shield as an act of gratitude. However this is often disputed and is according to legend after all.

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The flag of Catalonia, an example of the red and yellow stripped flag, photo taken by sholderness13

 

Today many areas in Spain bare the red and yellow stripped design on flags in many shapes and forms. Here is a list of the most famous flag bearers-

  • Kingdom of Spain flag (the coat of arms is present)
  • Catalan flag
  • Aragonese Flag
  • Valencian Flag
  • Balearic Islands Flag

Girona: Travel guide, Medieval past & Sightseeing

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This post will talk about the small city of Girona in the Autonomous Community of Catalonia in Spain within the medieval period, paying particular attention to my recent visit to the city, the Cathedral and the history of Girona’s Jewish population. Girona is roughly 62 miles (22Km) north of its more famous neighbouring city, Barcelona. Before I go into more detail about my visit and medieval Jewish Girona, I will provide some important information regarding Girona’s formation and background history. Girona itself has a complex history in that it was claimed a number of times.

In Ancient times the city was named Gerunda. When the Romans claimed Hispania they adopted this name and they built a citadel in the city. After the Romans left Hispania, the Visigoths ruled Girona that was until the Moors from North Africa arrived in 715 to conquer the city. The Moors is a name that is attached to people of Muslim origin, commonly used when describing the medieval period. However, the name does not denote a particular ethnicity it largely encompasses people who were from the Arab world (this includes the Berbers from North Africa). In 785 however, Charlemagne conquered Girona from the Moors. Some years later in 793 the Moors reclaimed Girona. The Moors maintained their control over Girona and much of the Iberian Peninsula at this time. However in the year, 1015, the Moors were eventually driven out of Girona permanently. This however did not prevent the Moors from sacking Girona in years to come. The Moors sacked Girona in; 827, 842, 845, 935 and in 982. Girona was amalgamated into the County of Barcelona in 878. The County of Barcelona was originally under the rule of the Carolingian dynasty. The County of Barcelona in a sense formed the basis of what was to become Catalonia. Through marriage alliances other Catalan territories were acquired. The County Of Barcelona itself became amalgamated to the Crown of Aragon when Ramon IV of Barcelona married Petronilla of Aragon in the twelfth century. When their son Alfonso I became ruler of Aragon, he was styled as Alfonso I of Aragon. From this point monarchs from Aragon dropped the title of Count and Countess as this was to be included in the title, Aragon. In the eleventh century Girona was designated as a city.

Girona is a pleasant city to visit and it is relatively easy to get to from Barcelona as a day trip. I recommend using the AVE (High speed train) Barcelona Sants to Figueres route and get off at Girona. It is the most expensive option but it saves time, which means you have more time to explore Girona! This journey is approximately 45 minutes. Another alternative for budget wary travellers is to use the Rodalies (Catalonia train service) that provides access to Girona. The journey time takes longer, however it is less expensive than the AVE route. Travelling by bus is doable and can sometimes be cheaper than both AVE and the Rodalies. However, the distance between Barcelona and Girona by road is approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes. After arriving at Girona, whether it be via train or by bus the destination is the same because the trains and the buses terminate at the same place. The City centre is a 20 to 25 minute walk. I recommend walking along the river when you reach Carrer Nou. That way you can get beautiful views of the river and it leads you directly to the tourist office for further information about Girona and the surrounding area.

I only spent a day in Girona, however a day is doable providing you have idea of what you would like to see and have access to a map to avoid getting lost and time wasting! I wanted to visit Girona because I like to tick off as many Cathedrals as I can on my travels, seeing as Girona had a Cathedral this made me really happy! It may sound bizarre but I heard about Girona Cathedral because of Game of Thrones. Whether or not you are a fan of the show it has certainly made me aware of the beautiful filming locations and the real history behind it, Girona Cathedral was indeed one of them. Girona Cathedral was used to film the exterior of the Sept of Baelor in King’s Landing.

The Cathedral, full name, the Cathedral of Saint Mary of Girona is a beautiful structure that dates back to the eleventh century and was completed in the eighteenth century. The style of the Cathedral contains many different architectural types. Firstly, when the Cathedral was consecrated in the eleventh century of how we see it today the style was built in the Romanesque fashion. Now only the bell tower and the cloisters remain as part of the Romanesque style. However in the thirteenth century the style was built in the Gothic fashion. Girona Cathedral has the longest Gothic nave in the world measuring at 22.98 metres. The last style the Cathedral has is a Baroque façade at the entrance which was completed in 1607. The interior is certainly worth a look inside, my favourite part was seeing the altarpiece. This altarpiece is from the fourteenth century and is silver gilded with gold. Included in the price of one ticket is an audio guide (English is available) and a visit to the Basilica of Sant Feliu. If you have the time it is worth seeing the Basilica. The Basilica is behind the Cathedral and similarly it contains three different styles; Romanesque, Gothic and Baroque.

The prices for the Cathedral are as follows-

Adults- 7€

Concessions (students and pensioners)- 5€

Children under the age of 7- Free.

*Please note- all pricing is correct at the date and time of submission. Please refer to the relevant websites in the future if this changes.

 

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My personal favourite place in Girona was the old Jewish quarter. The Jewish quarter, otherwise known as “The Call” in Girona had its heyday in the thirteenth century as the Christians and Jews appeared to get along nicely. For instance, the Girona Synagogue was even situated next to the Cathedral. In addition, Girona had one of the largest Jewish settlements in Catalonia. Naturally the streets were narrow and winding, complete with cobbled streets. It almost felt like being in a giant maze. You could certainly use your imagination when walking down the tiny alleyways that this once bustling quarter was full of people selling and buying goods. However, this peaceful coexistence soon ceased. Later in the thirteenth century the Jewish population became scapegoats and were frequently targeted by racist abuse. Eventually the Jewish population were consigned to just the call and had no freedom to travel elsewhere in the city. In this sense, the quarter turned into a ghetto. Violence soon sprang upon the Jewish residents and in 1391 a local mob vandalised and attacked the Jewish quarter and people. Many Jewish people were injured and there was approximately 40 casualties. In spite of all these atrocities happening to the Jews, they were still under royal protection and as such were meant to be protected. The survivors of this massacre were sent to Galligants Tower, north of the Cathedral. This was regarded to be for the protection, nevertheless it did not stop non Jewish residents from ransacking their homes and looting their possessions. Many of the Jews converted to Christianity or left. In 1492 when the Kingdom of Spain was unified under King Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile, the remaining Jews (all Sephardic Jews) were expelled from the Iberian Peninsula.

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Points of interest-

Museu d’Historia dels Jueus de Girona

Museu d’Historia de Girona

Sant Pere de Galligants, now houses the Archaeology Museum of Catalonia

Arya film scene in Game of Thrones where she passes through the old Jewish quarter and leaves her blood from her fingers on a wall in this quarter

 

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Would-be Movie Hero Writes a Book…

Now, we have this man’s story. Nice, military guy, went to Middle-East. Got shot, serious injury in a hand; captured by the enemy, spent some time in prison in Northern Africa, where he was close to being beheaded. Finally he was released, went back home, wrote a book.

Now, you are thinking. About the man, who must be a SEAL or a DELTA, or likewise. A killer by trade. About the book, which Eastwood or Bigelow could be on the brink to adapt to the big screen. A thriller, all fights and blood and guts, maybe some introspective moments to depict the anguish of the war prisoner… He must be doing great now. Famous guy, Oprah, late night shows and the like.

Now, it would have possibly been that way. Suffering, then glitter. But this is now, and that was then: the man died four hundred years ago.

This man was no nephew of the Uncle Sam either. At that time, there were no United States of America, and the fight raging on the Middle East was between the Christian European princess and the Sublime Porte Sultan. He was a Spaniard, and his name was Miguel de Cervantes.

Born to a deaf barber-surgeon, Rodrigo, he spent his early years of which little is known, travelling around Spain with his family as his father did his trade (and tried, sometimes without success, to elude his creditors). Born in 1547, we know that  by 1566 he was at Madrid, studying with López de Hoyos. Then, all of a sudden, in 1569 he fled to Italy, allegedly after a duel in which he wounded the other duelist, although the story is not confirmed.

Anyway, to Italy he went. Soon, he was serving in the Spanish Tercios as a soldier. And so he went to the sea and took part in one of the most famous battles of its time, at Lepanto, in 1571, where he took two arquebus shots in the chest and one in the left hand. After six months recovering in a hospital in Messina, Miguel had lost use of his left hand due to the complications of the wound, but was again ready to service. He kept raiding the Mediterranean shores with the Christian armies against the Ottomans for some years. Then when his ship was almost in sight of the Spanish coast, it was assaulted by a Turkish flotilla, and after a brisk fight, Miguel and his brother Rodrigo were taken prisoners among other members of the crew. Because he had in his power some impressive-looking letters of recommendation, he was believed to be a VIP (which he was not). Therefore a handsome ransom of 500 golden escudo was asked for; pity he was just a soldier. Maybe a good one, maybe he has caught the eye of the top-brass, but no way he or his family had that huge amount of cash (or connections strong enough to get it paid).

He was sent to Algiers and spent five years in captivity. There is some controversy about his days there. Seemingly he tried to escape no less than four times, but his adventures were thwarted by bad luck, traitors, a captured messenger…in between, Cervantes’ mother got some money to pay for her sons, but the money was not enough for both of them. Miguel, always the tough guy, stays in prison so his younger brother could go home…or so. Most of this we know because he himself wrote later about his years as a captive, so we may want to be…cautious about the veracity of his writings. He became, after all, one of the world’s greatest fable-spinners.

Nevertheless, he was finally freed, almost by chance. On the verge of being transported to Constantinople itself, were his fate would have been surely gloomy, he was released after a Trinidadian friar paid his ransom, partly with money collected amongst the Christian merchants in Algiers. So, in 1580, after eleven years and a lot of adventure and stories to tell, Miguel de Cervantes was bound to Spain again. And he was yet to discover even war heroes have hardships when returning home.

A spy job (maybe). A daughter (her mother was married to another man). A marriage (didn’t go well: childless, ended in a separation as divorced was strictly forbidden in the most catholic Spain). A desired position in the New World (never came). At least, first publication: La Galatea, a pastoral romance (not that popular, if you know what I mean)…

Finally, in 1587, a proper job as for the Army, provisioning food for the Spanish Armada. Extensive travel across the land. Finally lands in Seville in 1588, but having a place to stay and a steady job doesn’t improve his life that much. To begin with, he is excommunicated after requisitioning Church goods; then, he is transferred to the Exchequer as a tax collector, living among disputes and quarrels; finally, in 1597, as his father before him, he goes to prison.

Now, we find him imprisoned in the Royal Gaol, Seville. The bank when he was expected to put the tax money has bankrupted. The money is not there, or at least not all of it is there. Allegedly, he kept some for himself. While investigated, Miguel serves some months in jail; but, lucky us, while in there, he outlines a story that is going to bring him fame and fortune (albeit, unlucky Miguel, a little too late to enjoy the fortune part).

Somehow, then, he is released from prison by the end of 1597. Maybe he didn’t keep that much money for himself. The fact is that, at this point, fifty years old, not wealthy, with his prestige marred because of his legal troubles, he definitely turned to his real passion: theatre. More or less at the same time, one William Shakespeare of Stratford-upon-Avon is doing magic in the theatrical scene in London; Miguel de Cervantes, again has no such luck. He is very keen on the classic style at a moment when not only Shakespeare, but also Lope de Vega in Spain were transforming the way theatre is written, and played, forever. Lope, by the way, is a seventeenth century rock star avant la lettre: instead of drugs and rock’n’roll there were money and theatre (seemingly, the sex was there indeed. He kidnapped his first wife, had countless lovers, and a womanizer reputation…). Even other playwrights, as for example Tirso de Molina, had the people’s favor, whilst Cervantes’ theatrical production was at the time considered quite obsolete at the time. He was probably regarded as a minor yet competent writer, but the money, the popularity for which surely Cervantes was craving didn’t arrive.

Anyway, that story he first thought of while in jail was taking shape. Some weird yet sympathetic tale about an old man and his servant. In an unexpected turn of events, the man thinks himself a knight and, craving for adventure, took the roads of deep, old, dusty Castilla in search of giants, evil-doers, bandits and the like, willing to offer his good deeds to his romantic interest, a damsel called Dulcinea. With the reluctant help of Sancho, Don Quixote goes on the loose. At some point, the tale is finished and Cervantes finally gets permission from the censors to publish it, what is done in 1605 to immediate success: only during that year the printers produced six editions, with the novel being translated into English in 1607, into French in 1614…At last, some luck for Miguel, the soldier, the adventurer, the tax collector, the prisoner, the playwright, the writer.

What a film, don’t you think? One can easily imagine say, Ryan Gosling as Cervantes, maybe even doubling as Don Quixote with some prosthetics and make-up…the Academy Award winner and all that…But this is now, and that was then. Media exposure was unknown, and there was no place for more than one big star (and that one was Lope). No Oscars then, no talk shows, no big money. Just some comfort, at long last. And more ideas coming. In his last years Cervantes also published the Exemplary Novels, in 1613, to a great success, and in 1615, the second part to Don Quixote on the wake of the publishing of the “Avellaneda’s Quixote”,attributed to a friend of Lope (again), in which Cervantes’ character was also the main one (plagiarism was a problem then as it is now. Even without Internet access). This second part is unanimously considered his best work, and his final legacy, setting the tone for the new novels all around the world, he that once was considered outdated because of his classical approach to theatre. Good joke, Mike.

Now, we have this man’s story. A tale full of adventures, search for glory, hardships, mishaps. Somewhat…quixotic, don’t you think so? And it was all for real. But he created a fiction so powerful that led us to forget the man behind the pen and paper. Miguel de Cervantes: soldier, POW, spy, tax collector, playwright, novelist. Dreamer.

 

Monsters of Cantabria: Rural Epics, Ancient Myths

I am back with another update on Cantabrian mythology, as we are sporting a new look and the month is still young. So gather around to hear stories of my home land. This time, as promised, I bring you stories of monstrous creatures and impossible animals, which the Cantabros believe to inhabit their mountainous, green land.

I will first introduce you to a beast known only to inhabit in the area of Cabuerniga, which is one of the municipalities in the centre of the region: proper rural area, all full of stone houses and old farmsteads. This small odd-looking creature is called Cuegle. It is a bipedal, of humanoid shape but feral looks. It has a big, fat head, with a rough horn and hair like wild bush. Supposedly it has 3 eyes, one blue, another green and the last one red. Usually, it is also portrayed as having a long harsh beard. The Cuegle also has 3 arms but with no hands or finger, and its legs are very sturdy full of wounds and scratches, and they cover their bodies with the pelts of animals they kill. There is a popular believe, almost now forgotten, that these monsters are conceived from cursed Anjanas, who due to an evil spell turn into dreaded witches that every 30 years mate with old bears, giving birth to this abhorrent beast. It is said that Cuegles have a taste for meet, particularly foxes, but they will also eat small children. So the women of the villages put a small branch of holy or oak by the cradles for the smell of the trees sap makes the Cuegle have nausea and flee in horror. On a final note, and just so you see how all Cantabrian myths interlinks together, they say when a Cuegle dies, the insides turn into funny coloured worms, and if you catch one, this will bring you eternal luck and even prevent you from the evil doing of Ojacanos.

Now moving on to a relatively local legend for me, is the tale of the Sierpe de Peñacastillo. Peñacastillo used to be a small community outside of Santander, but now it has become part of the suburban area of the city. There is a cave known as Cueva del Tesoro (treasure cave), where it is said that inhabits a horrendous creature, half human-half serpent, that guards this treasure hidden in Peñacastillo. This legend goes back to the 16th Century, and it is said that Felipe II, sent an Italian wizard to find and defeat the beast, and steal the treasure. However, the legend says that upon seeing the monster, the wizard got so terrified that he run away never again to be seen or heard of again. And ever since, the secret of the cave and its treasure has remained a myth. And following on this serpents motif, we move on to the biggest and most epic monster of Cantabrian mythology: el Culebre.

In Spanish, particularly in the Cantabrian manner, a culebra is a word used as a synonym for a snake. In the rural areas of my region you hear lots of farmers using the work culebra rather than snake, simply because for us a culebra is a smaller kind of serpent type, (we would not use it to refer to a python, if you see what I mean). I remember being called “culebrin” (little culebra) many times, for being little and always twisting and turning, and moving from one place to another, trying to be sneaky but hissing and doing weird noises playing with the chickens and the like. So, you may get the hint by now what the Culebre may be: yes, Cantabria has its own Dragon! And a very famous one in fact! For it is said that this creature inhabited the caves located at the cliffs of San Vicente de la Barquera, a port town at the far west cast of Cantabria. This is the kind of dragon that spits fire, guards treasures and demands tributes. Legend has it that many centuries ago the people from San Vicente use to offer a maiden so the beast would leave them be. If you know a bit of your Spanish geography, Cantabria, and particularly San Vicente, is in the pilgrims route for El Camino de Santiago. And it is said that in his was to Compostela (Galicia) the apostle Santiago saw a maiden tie to a post on a path, as she was crying for help. He approached her and she explained that she was the sacrifice for the Culebre and that any time the beast would come to eat her. But Santiago being a courageous and noble apostle freed the maiden and rode into the cave where the Culebre lived, and slayed the monster. And there is the popular believe that, even nowadays, if you visit these caves you can see the imprints of Santiago’s mighty white steed on the rocks, from the fiery battle against the dragon.

Once again, Cantabrian myths prove that the people of the region were conscious of their harsh landscape, and the isolation of many communities allowed for these legends to pass down from generation to generation, perpetuating stories of strange ogre like creatures like the Cuegle. However, it also shows that not all these stories are just a local rumour, for guarding serpents and dragons that require the interventions of kings and apostles are the stuff the European medieval epics are made of. Thus, Cantabrian folklore is not only the reminiscence of the Celtic heritage, but it echoes the grand narratives of the Germanic tribes that inspired stories such as the Nibelungenlied, Beowulf, or St. George and the Dragon.

…I would like to see you try to find dragons in the dry, arid lands of the interior like Madrid, though I am sure the Castilian farmers would like to blame their missing sweep on a Culebre or two, if you know what I am saying… 😉

Cantabrian Mythology: Into the Deep

Hi there! I come back with this third blog update on Cantabrian mythology for our month of local history. Today I am going to talk to your about folklore and creatures from the deep woods. As you may recall from my first blog post on the subject, Cantabria is a very green regions covers in forests, rivers and steep mountains. Due to the Celtic origin of the Cantabros, it only makes sense that a great part of the most mysterious stories of the region come from what happens in the forests and most isolated mountainous areas, as a residue of the Telluric tradition. In these areas of the region is where the more obscure and mysterious creatures and tales originate, evoking the isolation of sheep farmers, the unknown within the woods.

One of the most intriguing characters of the deep areas of Cantabria is el Musgoso. He is this solitary male figure that lives like a hermit in the forests, and who no one has ever heard speaking. But no words are needed from him. All the farmers and locals know him to be a kindred spirit, the keeper of the woods, the protector of nature. He is usually described as an elderly man, with a long beard and an outfit made of moss (hence the name musgoso: moss=musgo in Spanish). The also carries with him a flute of a very rare wood unknown to man. It is said he is always walking, and never stops, and he plays this flute on his way, warning the locals of any dangers that may come. But during the night he does not play, he only whistles. In this way he is supposed to not disturb the creatures of the forest but send this signal to the farmers that danger may be near. El Musgoso is not the only mysterious wanderer of the Cantabrian woods. A man of long ginger hair, who wears a white habit with purple paint splashes, he also has a green cross painted on his forehead, surrounded by keys and locks. Like the Musgoso, he always appears to be walking, and no one ever knows where he is going or where he came from. The one consistent thing in all stories about the Arquetu is that he dislikes people wasting their money. However, if he find in the woods someone who, because of their wasteful live style, has nowhere to live and is finding refuge with the trees, he takes pity and takes care of them. Then he opens this locked box he always carries around and gives them a couple of ounces of gold, so they can invest them in finding a job and a home. But if for whatever reason this wealth is wasted again, he condemns them to life of poverty, asking for charity and pity of others. 

In connection to wealth, there is another group of creatures that inhabit the rivers of Cantabria. I believe the reason why several of our creatures hold treasures is due to the very rural background of locals, who were mostly farmers or fishermen, people working the fields, who never had many earnings. Thus, these creatures of their legends reflected this social anxiety, in a land which is rich in other non material ways like its fertile vegetation. These creatures are known as Mozas del Agua: the water maidens. These girls share similarities with the Anjana regarding their beauty and wealth, but they are of a different kin. They live in luxurious palaces under the waters of the Cantabrian rivers. Their riches are displayed in their silver clothing, their many rings, and golden locks which they tie in long braids at their backs. A common characteristic of these women is that they are always said to be of small size, almost fay like. It is said that they only emerge to the surface on sunny days to dry reels of golden thread which they produce at night in their homes, for they do not sleep. While the threads dry, they hold hands and jump, sing and dance together always in a very jolly fashion. And it is said that while they play out of the water, wherever the step, little flowers grow, and if you were to catch one it would bring you eternal happiness. The tales say that when the threads are dry the go back into the water, but if a youngster was to catch the end of the thread, these water maidens will pull them into the river, but he would not drown. Instead, he would be taken into their palaces to live with them and marry, but they will never be able to live in the surface again. It is said they can then only emerge once a year with their otherworldly wife , for the purpose of leaving a jewell in the woods, visible only to maidens of virtue. These jewells are supposed to have healing qualities, and the folk say that the healers from Cantabria have acquire their powers from these supernatural gifts.

But not all the creatures that live in the depths of the Cantabrian region are of kindred spirits. Although these are not as well-known or as feared as the Ojancano, they are still regarded as malign spirits. Legends talks of a bird of yellow eyes that lives in the harsh mountain tops, particularly around the valleys between the rivers Nansa and Saja. Its said to be of different shades of blue feathers with red spots on his wings, and that his gaze would bring the death of any that would look into its eyes. The tales advise he was born from the unholy union of a bat and a barn owl. Oddly enough after 10 years this bird loses its wings, and seeks refuge under water, where it dies after a hundred years. Another strange creature of the deep wilderness is the Roblon. This was an old and common oak that developed a hollowness in its trunk. It is said one rainy eve, a beautiful maiden took refuge in the hollow part of the tree and its youthfulness activate the sap of the old tree, bringing it alive and absorbing the spirit of the girl. With time the Robon grew bigger and adopted human like features, and due to its size and need for life, it drained away other trees around leaving them dry and dead. A few years after this happening, it is said the Roblon got so big it felt the need to move so it pulled the roots out of the ground, and that since then he wonders the woods causing illness to the vegetation or smashing bushes while he walks. He is also made responsible for the mist in the forest and tremors of the land. However, it is a common story among the Cantabrian lumberjacks and hunters is that Roblon has now died, for some of this trade found the creature resting in the woods one day and manage to set it on fire…

Many other stories of strange wild beasts populate the deepest areas of the region, like the Monuca, and animal only known to Cantabria, born out of feral cats, blinded at birth and of fierce nature who lives of the blood of animals and children. Similarly, there are mythical creatures like the Alicornio: a unicorn with winged hooves, who lives in the most inaccessible mountain tops and drinks only from the purest water streams. It is said the only way of capturing such a wonderful creature is by the presence of a young fair maiden, and that if its horn is cut and you drink from it, you will never suffer any illness or evil. Nevertheless, this usually end with the death of the animal. Perhaps these reflect the fear of Cantabrian people to the wilderness which they ought to respect for their livelihood, but at the same time their will to control and use it for their own gain.

And thus I reach the end of my story today, but do not worry, I shall return perhaps once more, to tell you about the most feared monster that dwell in the Cantabrian caves…

The Anjana and The Ojancanu: Dualism in Cantabrian Mythology

Welcome to our second post on Cantabrian mythology. Today’s post will be dedicated to some of the best well-known figures within these legends. Like in many other supernatural narratives, there are agents of good and evil. This is in a way characteristic of the Celtic tribes, and it is likely that it all roots from their ancient cults of the Sun and the Moon, their funerary rites and their ideas of life and death. Moreover, the Celts had deep connections with the land, particularly the woods. In other cultures, like the Irish, we have myths of fairies, and gnomish creatures. The Old Norse believed in trolls and giants, and so did many other Germanic cultures. This is also reflected in the two main protagonists of Cantabrian mythology: la Anjana and el Ojancanu.

The Anjanas are fay creatures of beautiful appearance and kind spirit. They are characterised by their long blonde hair that falls down their backs to the ground, creating highlights of gold under the sun on their blue mantles. They are very pale, and usually appear wearing a crown of flowers, and a magical staff which they use to cure and protect the sick, lead the way to those that get lost in the forest, and stop the evil doing of the Ojancanus. They are said to inhabit old secret caves, where they hide their wealth of gold and silver, which they use to help those in need. There are stories of pasiegos (peasants and farmers inhabitants of the area around the river Pas) who claim that at night, they have seen these fairies visiting their villages and leaving these gifts in the doorsteps of the houses of those who called for their aid and who showed good intentions. However, the Anjanas are not to be summoned lightly. They are mighty creatures, and if their help is used for ill-doing or their advise is contradicted, they will issue a punishment for the aggravation. The Anjanas are also believed to be protectors of the trees, and they are often seen by travelers through the Cantabrian woods. They are said to strengthen the roots so the trees grow stronger, delicately tend to the branches, leaves and flowers, and keep their seeds to help the forests grow. This is a clear reminiscence of the Celtic telluric tradition associated with the cult of the trees. As we have said previously, Cantabria is a region full of woodlands and green areas. Therefore, the tradition preserved with the figure of the Anjana is one of existing at peace with nature, being respectful of the land and the land of others.

On the other hand, we have the Ojancanu. This creature is similar to that of the cyclops of Greek mythology, which is known to exist in some other Indo-European traditions. The Ojancanu has a yellowy flesh, covered by reddish hair covering most of his body except his round one-eyed face. They are completely the opposite of the Anjanas in nature. They are mean, destructive creatures, known for stealing sheep, breaking over trees, blocking wells and rivers streams, as well as causing landslides. The Cantabrian farmers fear them the most, for not only their lands suffer but also their families. There are many tales of how an Ojancanu has come down the valley before dawn, and stolen away young maidens never to be seen again, killing or eating most of the cattle in the process of this kidnapping. However, it is said that all these ogres have one white hair hidden somewhere in their red beards, and if it was to be pulled from their skin, the creature would die. Yet, the people of Cantabria say that once every 100 years a good Ojancanu is born, and if taken in by the people of the local communities, this creature would warn the inhabitants against when his kin are near, so the villagers could protect themselves. 

Nevertheless, the Ojancanu is not alone. This beast lives with another: the Ojancana, or Juancana. The Ojanca, however how has 2 eyes, long messy, dirty hair, and two enormous breasts that she puts over her shoulders when running or charging down the mountains. She is perhaps even worse than her husband. She steals children who she then devours, as she feeds on their blood. These evil ferocious creatures resemble in their aspect the giantesses of the Sagas. However, the most interesting aspect of this companionship is the way these creatures reproduce. It is said that when an Ojancanu is far too old, the rest kill him. Then they take those things inside him (treasures, body parts) that they desire and bury the body underneath a great oak. Then 9 months later from the oak spawn these yellow worms that the Ojancanas then feed with the blood of their breasts, nurturing more Ojancanus and Juancanas to roam freely in the mountains, caves and woods of Cantabria. 

Therefore, we see in the shape of these creatures how the myths have evolved from ancient Celtic believes into allegories of the sociocultural anxieties of the rural Cantabrian communities. These formed mainly by farmers and peasants. If their livestock and lands were ruined so would be their livelihood. The Anjanas and Ojancanus of Cantabria are the embodiment of the forces of nature that had such a great impact in the lives of the Cantabros. Perhaps the reason why out of our entire mythos these creatures are the best remembered is due to their ordinary, yet mighty characters.In addition, these are entities common to all the localities within the region, thus perpetuating the tradition across different sectors and producing a continuity within the oral history, which is not always possible with more local legends, only relevant for the inhabitants of a certain district.

Now that you have got to known the more famous figures of La Montaña, please stay tuned to discover some of the most obscure, yet interesting characters of Cantabrian mythology.

Discovering Cantabrian Mythology

We start again a series a theme posts – based on the supernatural, and/or local history. I have taken the task to combine these two synergies and to bring you something very personal for me. I want to tell you the stories of creatures now forgotten to many. I am talking about the mythology of my home region: Cantabria. The north of Spain is very different from the rest of the Iberian Peninsula. It is cold, wet, and green. It is also blue, with the brave and treacherous Cantabrian sea shaping out the coasts of the Basque Country, Cantabria, Asturias and Galicia. Although the northern regions share similarities amongst themselves, Cantabria is, well, special. People from the  south say we speak like singing. Traditionally our diet was based on milk and beef, pulses, and fish: essentially what the farmers could grow in this tought landscape. As the modernisation of Spain occurred after Franco’s dictatorship, traditions, however, have become more like the rest of the country. Yet, we know Cantabria is different.

We still remember that the Cantabros kept the Romans away forcing them into a long campaign. Champions like Corocota forced Augustus to come in person to oversee the Cantabrian Wars (29 AC-19 BC), for my people came from a long lineage of bellicose celts, living in fortified castros. These dexterous and relentless warriors were so fierce that Roman accounts tell us how the legionaries would chop off the arms of the combatants to hinder the Cantabrian army. Yet, years later, when Cantabria raised in rebellion, the Romans noticed many of the warriors had become left-handed, and nothing would stop them from fighting. These warriors would also use the berries from one of their sacred trees – the Yew – to poison their weapons, or even eat them to take their own lives rather than falling at the hands of the enemy. The Cantabros, living in a well defended land by the sea, the mountains and the forests, had a rich culture of myths and legends, like many other celtic tribes. However, through the process of Romanisation, that was later on perpetrated by the Visigothic rule over Iberia, many legends were replaced by Christian traditions, or mingled and undermined as simple folk tales. They have been preserved thanks to oral tradition. Nevertheless, as the rural exodus increases due to modernisation – Cantabria was always a rural region – and the urban communities grow while villages drop dramatically in population, these tales are being lost.

Many of our folk tales are similar to those of other cultures. The celebration of San Juan, still popular nowadays that is, in essence, a summer equinox festivity. We light fires by the sea or in the woods to send away evil spirits. You can sometimes hear people speak in spells, drawing seven crosses over the fires to keep away the Caballucos del Diablo. These are seven faylike creatures, similar to dragonflies and fireflies, that go in groups. The red one leads the way followed by the other six: white, blue, black, yellow, green and orange. Legend has it that the Devil himself rides the on the red, and other demons and sinners ride the others. To keep them away you shall go to the forest searching for a four-leaved shamrock or flores del agua (water flowers). But this becomes a difficult task as by night the Caballucos destroy all the flowers and plants in their hellish ride. However, most people would just brush myths like this as blatant Christian superstition.

However, I was lucky to have known my great grandparents who owned a mountain house in a very remote village hidden in the mountains by the river Miera, close to the town of Liérganes. It was almost automated in the speech in the villagers to warn me against the Trenti or the Trasgu; these little gnome like creatures who were mischievous. Trentis would get travellers lost in the mountains for a joke. They wear clothes made of leaves and moss that allows them to camouflage in the woods. Trasgus, or trastolillos, are house gnomes who like messing around with your food, misplacing your items, and in general making a mess. But these creatures are mostly inoffensive. Whether the villagers actually believed in them or whether they were part of their cultural memory is difficult to tell. However, remember I just mentioned a place called Liérganes? Well, we used to go there regularly as it was the closest train station and the biggest town near by. Legend has it that many, many years ago there was a man there, who loved being in the water, he used to swim constantly in the Miera river. Turns out this man was somehow capable of breathing underwater. So his longing for the sea took him down river to the Cantabrico, actually to my natal city – Santander – and as he saw the vast sea before him, he became enamoured with it and disappeared into the deep. Some years later, it is said some mariners found this strange thing coming out of the water all the way down the bay of Cádiz (Andalucia). This creature did not look human to them, but fish like, however it could walk and talk, but he would say nothing except the word “Liérganes”. It seems some monks took pity of him and brought him back to his home town, to shortly after disappear into the water once more. This is was actually first recorded by Fray Benito Jerónimo Feijoo (a clergyman), and later on written by a Cantabrian author in 1877, José María Herrán. The book was called El Hombre-Pez de Lierganes – the Man-fish from Liérganes. I recall clearly, that when I was a child, one of the cafe places down in Liérganes operated under that very same name. 

Thankfully, there some attempts by the people of Cantabria to keep their legends alive. Many have now been amalgamated with other tales of the north – but those are not our tales. We do not have a Basque Maya, or Galician Meigas; we have our own stories. I was pleased to find out that last year, my family went to celebrate the fayre of Cantabrian Mythology to a village called Barriopalacio (Anievas). There the villagers make their own festivity about our mythsby crafting costumes, recreating scenes from the folktales, and they even have folklore talks, where someone shares these ancient stories. They even have a play!

http://jesusfrleal.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/fiesta-de-la-mitologia-2012-un-pueblo.html

In addition, the makings of the Parque Mitologico Mina Pepita are showing great progress:

http://www.turismomediocudeyo.es/web/parque-mina-pepita/

This is a natural park repurposed as well as a place where to celebrate Cantabrian mythology, although there are still many creatures to be included. It is nice knowing that the hard work of Manuel Llano, a famous Cantabrian author who compiled all these stories towards the end of the 19th century/beginning of the 20th century, was not in vain, and that Cantabrian people are slowly waking up to their own heritage.

So if you are intrigued by the creatures of La Montaña, please follow me in this personal trip and set of updates where I will share with you the rest of our mythos in the course of the next couple of months.

 

Guanche – The People of the Canary Islands

Today we travel to a part of Spain that many people know mostly due to its touristic value: the Canary Island. However, this archipelago is the home to a usually forgotten and mysterious people – The Guanche. The are plenty of conspiracy theories as to where the Guanche came from and what was their involvement with the bizarre pyramids around Tenerife. However, recent archaeological and scientifical research are helping us understand the origins of these people and their role in the history of the islands. According to a study published in 2004 in the European Journal of Human Genetics, the Guanche are most likely related to the Berbers settle in the area of Morocco and other parts of northern Africa. This is also backed up by the similarities between Guanche language and Berber dialects from the area of the Atlas mountains. Nevertheless, further DNA analysis has shown that the Guanches may in fact be the result of an aboriginal tribe, natural to the islands, and their mix to the nomad tribes from the Sahara. The study even contemplates the idea that perhaps the Guanche DNA sequence mutated due to the settlement of the tribes in the islands affected by the new environment they were exposed to. However Spanish scholars from the University of La Laguna (Tenerife) believe it is likely the original population of the islands was of Punic-Phoenician ascendency. Yet others like Professor D. Juan Álvarez Delgado are inclined to believe that the islands became first inhabited when prisoners from the Numidian kingdom were abandoned in this location during the 1st century BC. But in any case, their actual geographical genesis is fairly complicated to identify. This cast shadow over our understanding of the Guanche identity and cultural traditions from an archaeological and ethnographic point of view.

The occupation of the islands by the Guanches is another matter that historians face. It is recorded by Pliny the Elder that the archipelago was not inhabited when the expedition of Hanno the Navigator visited the islands in the 5th Century BC. However, Pliny does advise that the Carthaginians did see ruins in the landscape, so this may suggest there were other people populating the islands before the Guanche settled there. Moreover, it seems that depending on the island, the name of this aboriginal people changed – Guanche is supposed to refer only to the inhabitants of Tenerife, while we have other names such as Gomeros for those living in La Gomera, or Canarii for those of Gran Canaria. Where all these people Guanche or of Guanche ethnic? Did the different names relate to the island they inhabited or to their ethnic background? This is almost impossible to determine. In any case we do know that the Canary Islands were well-known to their European and African neighbours – the Romans traded there with the locals and gave the islands individual names, and many Arab navigators and travellers visited this location during the early Middle Ages. From a historical point of view, the brutal invasion of the islands during the 15th century by the Spanish army does certainly make things complicated. Although some artefacts survive in the African continent, most of them could be related to Berber communities, so it is difficult to establish whether they are purely of Guanche origin, a mix, or neither. By 1496, Spain imposed its definitive rule over the archipelago, defeating for good the reminiscence of the Guanche opposition and absorbing them into their social structure. We know the Guanche did not easily let the Spaniards in as this is commemorate in several statues around the islands. Particularly this is symbolised by the statues of Bencomo – principal caudillo Guanche of the resistance. Although many cultural traditions remain, these are now mingled with customs from insular Iberia, so it is difficult to establish where the Guanche synergy begins and where the Spanish influence ends.

However there are a few things that remain from Guanche culture known to us. Of particular interest is their religious practices. It seems the Guanche culture had its own deities and they all varied from one island to another, although the concepts for each major god remain unchanged. Achaman was the supreme deity for the inhabitants of Tenerife, and he was ruler of the skies and thunder. This figure was replicated in the other islands under the names of Acoran (Gran Canaria), Abora (La Palma), Orahan (Gomera), Eraorahan (El Hierro). There was also a malign deity that inhabited the insides of the volcano Teide called Guayota. According to the legend, Guayota captured the god Magec – Sun deity – and the Guanches implored Achaman to rescue him and after a long battle Achaman prevailed and rescued Magec. As a punishment he trapped Guayota inside the Teide. Ever since the eruptions were interpreted by the inhabitants of the islands as the god trying to escape. There is a reminisce to the god Magec in the modern culture of Tenerife and the islands with the figure of the mago – which is the name people of higher social status gave to the peasants who worshipped Magec praying for good harvests.

There is one further aspect that has brought mysterious allegations around the Guanche people, which is the discovery of the pyramids investigated by Thor Heyerdahl at Guimar. Heyerdahl maintained that these were erected by the old Guanche population and that they were some sort of ritual site, which many conspiracy theorist have associated with similar builds in Meso and South America. However archaeological surveys from the 1990s seem to point out that these were constructed in the 19th century for agricultural purposes like the modern terrazas used all across the Canary Islands. However there is still room for interpretation and not all scholars are convinced by either theory.

Perhaps we have not learnt all that much about the Guanche people – or at least not as much as I would like. But here is to a little introduction to the known facts of this culture and to shedding some light on a part of Spanish history which is usually not mentioned in schools, gran narratives or known to the ordinary man. Hopefully the new scholarships of the 21st century will bring forward new hypothesis and discoveries on these people.

Incest and Royalty: The Reasons and the Effects

Jokes about inbreeding and incest are common in discussions about royalty, for non-historians such jokes can actually be some of the basis of their knowledge about royalty. However why royalty decided to choose incestuous unions and what the effects of such unions are less considered. This is despite incest and inbreeding being apparent across the world and history.

So why did royalty decide to marry relatives? The most simple and common answer was political stability. The offspring of two relatives who had strong individual claims to the throne would have an even stronger claim themselves, which theoretically should lead to an easier pass over of power. This was apparent with Incan emperors who went to the extreme of marrying their sisters, those who had the next best claim, to produce heirs. Thai kings married their half-sisters instead of their full blood sisters for the same reason. Such actions were not restricted to brother-sister marriages. Emperor Claudius married his niece Agrippa the Younger to strengthen his own claim as emperor. In Europe, many royals married cousins, although some, the Habsburgs in particular would have even more incestuous unions to strengthen their dynasties and political stability. Philip II of Spain married his niece Anne of Austria as his fourth wife. Of his three previous marriages one had been to his first cousin and one to his first cousin once removed, only Elizabeth of Valois was more distantly related. Philip IV of Spain married his niece Mariana of Austria and produced the sickly Charles II. While it did produce stability it did have ill effects on their health. However it is important to realise it was not a guarantee of political stability as infighting still would happen within families. The Ptolemy dynasty of Pharaohs is one example, instead of killing rival claimants from other families; they would often kill family members who were claimants.

Another, less common, reason for inbreeding was the ‘sacredness’ that such offspring would have this. This is apparent in societies where royalty were considered to be gods. For Pharaohs, incest meant that the sacred blood line was kept pure, which considering the emphasis placed on Pharaohs being gods was extremely useful. This was to the extent that in Cleopatra’s family tree only six individuals make up her sixteen great grandparents. In Hawaii inbreeding was preferred and sometimes even obligated for royalty. The child of two full blood siblings was considered to have the highest ‘mana’, meaning the most sacred. Avuncular relations, those between an aunt/nephew or uncle/niece were also accepted for similar reasons.

There was also the case that by a certain point with European royalty that almost everyone was related due to such a small pool of people who were considered eligible. However the effects of inbreeding were lessened somewhat as unions were not always within the first degrees of relation. For instance Henry VIII was related to all his wives however he was no closer than third cousins with any of his wives and in the case of Anne of Cleves they were ninth cousins.

The basis of many jokes about royalty and incest are that of the effects they have on the offspring of royalty. Surprisingly there does not always seem to be as many ill effects as one would imagine, especially in the case of brother-sister offspring. Although in some countries there may have been due to reliance on oral history which could mean such issues may not have been recorded. However there are two prominent cases of how disastrous inbreeding could be on health. The first is that of Tutankhamun who has been proved to be the product of incest. Work on his mummified body has shown that images of him in his tomb were far from accurate of what he looked like. Physically he had a club foot, which would have prevented him being able to stand independently; severely limiting activities as a Pharaoh he should’ve been able to participate in such as chariot racing. He also had an extreme overbite and what has been described as ‘feminine hips’. He also suffered from conditions such as Kohler’s disease and epilepsy. These problems are thought to have hastened his early death.

The second is the Habsburg family. While as previously mentioned above, intermarriage was practiced by all the European royal families, the Habsburgs took it up a notch. Family members married other close family members, such as their first cousins and as mentioned above there were several avuncular marriages. Such inbreeding led to the infamous Habsburg jaw which caused severe pain and a number of medical issues that made simple tasks such as eating difficult for those who were inflicted with it such as Charles V and Ferdinand I. The Habsburg jaw can still be seen in the Spanish royal family today, although in a much less exaggerated form. However the real victim of Habsburg inbreeding was Charles II of Spain, whose numerous difficulties are thought to have been the result of this inbreeding. He was unable to speak till the age of four and walk until he was eight. He is now believed to have suffered from two genetic disorders: combined pituitary hormone deficiency and distal renal tubular acidosis both of which do not allow the body to properly function. He was also infertile and failed to produce an heir which led to the extinction of the senior branch of the Habsburg family.

Incest was practised widely across the world by royal families, although the reasons and to what extent such incest was practised varies. Similarly the effects that inbreeding had on royalty has also varied, which somewhat challenges our preconceived ideas of what the results would be. Thankfully royalty these days generally don’t practise such close consanguinity.

A Visigoth Interview: Daniel Gómez Aragonés

I met Daniel some years ago, as my parents were living in Toledo (Spain). He happened to frequent their workplace, and moreover, it would seem we were involved in the same Spanish medieval history magazine! What are the chances? Yet, it happened, and by chance I got to meet a formidable Spanish scholar, who is madly in love with the Visigoths! Daniel’s enthusiasm for the Visigoth culture is fueled with passion, and the fantastic atmosphere from where he lives: Toledo, the ancient Spanish capital. So I dared asked him if he would be so kind of sharing his research and true love with us and- although I had to do some translation- here it is. I hope you enjoy it!!!

Tell us about your Research

I was already interested in the Visigoth Hispanic past by the time I stated university and, in fact, as soon as I finished my degree, I started working towards my PhD in this period of history. So, I began my work for the DEA diploma (diploma of advanced studies) regarding the Visigoth and neo-Visigoth movement in Toledo from the 16th to the 17th Centuries, so I could investigate the actual image there was of the culture of Visigoth Toledo a thousand years after its apogee. This involved working with a lot of historiographical material and the earliest type of local histories produced in Toledo regarding every aspect that had anything to do with its culture, religion, identity and ideology. At the same time I started working in some of my first articles and sharing my knowledge about my specialty.

Once my DEA was approved, I jumped into my thesis, however this is currently work in progress-actually more in stand-by than anything else, as I was given the chance to publish my first book! This one was more focused on the actual Visigoths from a military and political point of view. And once I thought I was done with the book and could get back to the thesis, turns out that the editorial decided they wanted a second book, and then a third book…And so on and so forth until today, where I am in means of producing said third volume. All of this work is on the political/military subject- I do feel pretty confident about it and I do actually enjoy working on this area and sharing it with other people this distant but otherwise deeply fascinating time period. I am of the opinion that the dissemination of history is extremely important and necessary nowadays, so i have decided to follow this path, to provide exceptional and quality research for the public as well as good historiographical work.

So Why the Visigoths?

That’s an excellent question Lillian, and even though some may consider it rude to answer a question with yet another question, I say to you: and why not?! Certainly, this is something a lot of people ask me and have asked in the past when we have been in open discussions, interviews or forums, and my answer is always the same. I am quite fond of epic history (yes, epic), and I quickly found myself all tangled up with everything linked with the Visigoths. So I decided this was going to be my path- Plus, living in Toledo, it seemed natural to pursue this route. After all, it was during the Visigoth period that the pillars of the nation were settled, and I believe in these turbulent times we live in, it is important to know where we come from; return to the roots, to our identity and historic ancestry.

Now, tells us about your book success!

Well, I am obviously very, very happy with the success of my first two books. The first book was only published in 2013 under the title “La invasión bizantina de Hispania 533-625. El Reino Visigodo frente a la expasión imperial” (Ed. Almena) – trans. as The Byzantine invasion of Hispania 533-625. The Visigoth Kingdom against the imperial expansion- and then in 2014 I published “El esplendor del Reino Visigodo de Toledo” (Ed. Covarrubias) – trans. as The Splendour of the Visigoth Kingdom of Toledo. I am always thrilled when I get word that someone has read any of them, as I am aware they talk about subjects not entirely familiar to most. However, my exciting and entertaining way of approaching the time frame is helping to remove this barrier. In addition, the great reception of these two volumes has contributed to further dissemination as I have taken part in radio programs, press publications, all sorts, even activities such as tourism routes in Toledo and surroundings. Now, I am working hard on the third book, which I hope will be just as good as the other two, and I hope the audience enjoys just as much or even more. More importantly, I hope the readers will get my enthusiasm and will get imbued with a deep desire for historic knowledge.

What can you tell us about the current state of this field and its historiography in Spain, as well as in Europe?? I am ware, like you said, that it is not a particularly popular subject.

Hmmm, that is a tricky question. In case you didn’t know, the Visigoth period has suffered, and I think still suffers, from an acute stigma within Spanish culture. I think this is mainly due to the educational system in Spain, and how polarised history is within this system. Effectively, the Goth and Visigoth period of Spanish history is barely mentioned in school texts books, nor even in high-school or college, were the knowledge should be in more depth. And this is very sad, considering that many of the aspects that built our society, sparked from the Visigoth period. On the other hand, we do count with some of the best experts in the subject, such as Garcia Moreno, or Orlandis whose works are simply spectacular. However, in Europe the period of Migration after the fall of the Roman Empire is in good shape. There is a lot of work invested in the Germanic tribes. I think as we are finally moving away from the concept of the Dark Ages, we are eventually obtaining good results regarding this area- although with and after a lot of work and effort, that goes without mention. It is true however, that little by little this discipline is become more widely available in Spain, not only from an academic point of view, but for the everyday consumer too. But there is a lot of work to do, especially in what regards the education of our own youngsters, and within my area of influence- the dissemination press. There is still a long road ahead of the Visigoth Hispania, to put it back in the books and on the spotlight it so well deserves. Therefore, I’ll take this opportunity to invite everyone to have a look and get into our long but interesting Visigoth king list!

Thanks a lot for this opportunity and for your attention.

A Visigoth Hug!

We would like to thank Daniel for a fantastic interview and the best of luck with his next book!!!