Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Zamora - a town on the edge when el Catolica re-emerged - April 28

Our stay here in Salabrina area has been interesting in many ways. The chill reported earlier is still uncomfortable but the van is well heated and while we had not equipped for this sort of weather modern gear is easily layered. And it is very lovely here.
But we had promised ourselves one particular run - to Zamora; much less romantically here it is "Thamora" but it is an amazing place. Still entirely walled to 10 metres in the most wonderful soft honey stone it lookes sensational. It has a splendid castillo guarding one end with a fine moat and brilliantly fitted out with walkways to reach all major area without damaging the stone.
But it is the cathedral that entirely takes the breath away. It is not large and it is not at all traditional but it is amazing and it is filled with sensational Spanish Renaisance sculptures, painting and carvings. Zamora is a bit special since it was at the front line when the Castillians decided that Spain was really theirs, the Moors had to go and war was the only way. By 1200 they had secured the northern part of the peninsular and so Zamorsa was at the front edge. It had been a great power in its own right but now the Castillians held sway and today Zamora reflects the fact that it was most certainly a contender.
The cathedral says it all. The honeyed stone is used to huge effect in the main sections and they are fortified. We enter through a side aisle that houses an interesting museum of artworks of astonishing quality and value, even if religious in tone. And then starts a journey of wonder. This cathedral is the sum of its part, not a whole work. There are I think 16 chapels around its chancel, short choir and knave. Each is a work of the highest art. No significant bling here - this is carving, and sculpting and graving and painting of the highets order that needs no gildfing to magnify its worth. And it is in the finest condition. Each is protected by an ornate and masterly grille - arched over and gated to huge effect. An entire artisan skill that seems to be especially Zamora's.
There are wall paintings that other cathedrals would kill to own and tapestrires of great stories, brilliant imaginings of Helen and Troy and Paris and much more. They fill walls forty feet long and twenty high. They are not faded and have lost nothing in the years. For Zamora was in a sense passed by. The high Castillians went their own way; Zamora retained its own way. The brilliantly executed high altar here is a thing that even we atheists could appreciate as art - no significant blig anywhere to be seen. This was quality workmanship, unadorned. And yet elsewhere were more astonishing altar workings that had come and gone to other churches, returning as museum pieces. One was about 20 feet wide and 20 high and entirely in silver gilt, brilliantly worked in the Platereseque style for which Spain is most famous. We could onl;y wonder at what it would have looked like with its scores of candles lit and little other light to kill the sparkle.
And then we saw the choir - 40 feet long, 20 high and forty wide. Three decks of misericords. And all exquisitely carved. We missed the fact that some of the under seat carving of the misericords depict nuns and monks doing what every schoolboy has always assumed they did but which, at least in my school, the masters strenuosuly denied! But we were too busy admiring the quality of the carving in the orther hundreds of location!
And there is one further interesting feature of this wonderful building. It has Romanesque origins and they are mostly hidden by all this later brilliance. Except for its domes on what would have been the Romanesque apses. The honeyed stone gives way here.These domes are built of the whitest limestone you will ever see. They are not large, they are not high - they are ornate and crystalline abd wonderful.
Zamora sjits on the Duero river which wanders off into Portugal which is startlingly close by. Our drive here and back was across miles of this amazing high plateau that is Iberia. Vast fields of wheat with trees retained to aggravate the harvester but presumably aid the pollination or pest control. It seem strange to see such fertifility at 1000 metres. But there are vines too.
We spot the presence of an ancient abbey which our guide book says remains in outline only. We arrive. It is closed. But it has walls and arches and towers 30 feet high? Did her ever come here? We think not. The storks occupy the high points regardless of the scribe's incantations.
Returning we decide to spend the next day exploring the local area and so find ourselves on the far side of our lake. Equally beautiful, equally well supplied with parking, picnic and access. But we visit Ribadelago Vieja and ditto Nuevo. The former swept away with 144 people in 1959 when a hydro electric dam up the river Tera gave way. Ribadellagio the old is entrely new. Ribadelagi the new is entirely horrid. There is a memorial to the lives lost with all 144 names inscribed upon it. It was erected in 2009. Can you believe that?
The usual array of story boards tell of the lakes and flor and fauna and ice age that made it all. And they mention the bursting of the damand the deaths. And they show a pictuire of the dam. They have had the grax=ce to leave it as it was when it had slaughtered all those people down below - smashed ans breached and vacant. In Zamor, a temple to the ambition and the art of man; in Ribadelago a temple to the crassness of the same people.
We have decided Salamanca is a tad too far - maybe next year.

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