Month: July 2016

My Seaside Recovery in Cádiz


I really enjoyed myself in Cádiz even though I spent most of my time there lying around recovering from GI problems I picked up in Morocco (Netflix Spain had the Matrix films, so I watched those. I also had lots of thrillers and mysteries on Kindle to read.) After Morocco I switched to touristic apartments for Cádiz, Seville and Lisbon so that I could have absolute privacy and eat from the grocery store instead of always having to wait until dinnertime at restaurants. (I found tapas to be unsatisfying, because by early evening I’m generally ready for a full meal.) This was a good thing when I discovered that I needed some serious downtime when I got to Cádiz.

Playground with a theatrical theme
Playground with a theatrical theme

I had a sunny, comfortable apartment that overlooked a town square that was essentially the neighborhood playground. Every evening between around 6 and 9 the square was filled with kids playing and parents gossiping. No one was terribly hungry, nor were mothers worried about cooking dinner, because the kids went home from noon until 2pm to have a big lunch and a rest. Supper would be something that could be prepared quickly after the evening outing (at any rate, these are my assumptions.) The other wonderful thing about this apartment was that it was a five-minute walk from the sea.

This slide seemed pretty popular

There were a couple of (mis-named) supermercados very close to my place. One of my go-to supermercado comfort meals in Spain was frozen breaded chicken breasts, which I fried slowly in olive oil and usually had with couscous and a little salad. I was also addicted to anchovy-stuffed green olives. I always found oatmeal, but usually in large packages so I traveled with open packages of oatmeal, cans of olives, a little jar of Nescafe Classico instant coffee in case there wasn’t a coffee maker, and a package of tiny plastic vials of olive oil.  I found a type of turkey ham/salami that made a really good sandwich along with some cheese, but I also made great sandwiches with small packets of sliced chorizo. Across the plaza I also discovered a vending machine area where hungry visitors could get something to eat after all the stores were closed.

Vending machine mini-mart
Vending machine mini-mart
Food packed and taken to the next apartment
Food packed and taken to the next apartment. There’s a story about how I learned to make coffee without one of those Bialetta coffee makers.

When I felt up to walking, there were miles of seaside esplanade to stroll along. Part of my walking route went inland and high for views of the port and the train yard. Cádiz is a beautiful, clean city with an old town and another more modern area with wider streets and higher apartments. The yellow color of its buildings gives it a cheerful sunny atmosphere. I took a couple of buses along their routes to see some of these other parts of the city. Finally I ventured into the old town pedestrian areas, which were pretty much the same as the neighborhood I was staying in.

Port, trains, bridges
Port, trains, bridges
I finally found out the name of these trees, which were blooming all over Spain while I was there, but I didn't record it because I said "of course!" - then forgot...
I finally found out the name of these trees, which were blooming all over Spain while I was there, but I didn’t record it because I said “of course!” – then forgot…
Narrow street in the old town area
Narrow streets in the old town area
Nice old stone, impossible-to-photograph, church on a narrow street



Ceramics III: the Ibero-American Exposition

plaza-esp-mapsIn 1929 the Spanish hosted the Ibero-American Exposition in Seville. They went all-out with the ceramics. Everything that could be rendered ceramically or decorated with tiles, they accomplished with ceramics: balustrade posts, stair risers, floors, ceilings, wall friezes, etc. There are decorative jars all over. The interior of this huge semicircular building houses government offices. The exterior has stairs and galleries with ceramic ornamentation throughout.

Perhaps the most varied and interesting work is the Provincial Alcoves, where each Spanish province has a map and a representative painting in an elaborately decorated alcove. These run along a huge semicircle on the bottom wall of the main building. (Note: I try to keep my fellow tourists out of my photos, but don’t assume there were none. There was a large and noisy class of Spanish kids, plus numerous tourists from all over the world.)

I had to be patient to get this shot: these alcoves were in the shade and made nice resting places for visitors. Sometimes people lingered. I still remember a shot I never managed to get at the Alcazar garden: a woman just sat there for over an hour. Later, the light was wrong but there was still something about the location that attracted sitters…

plaza-esp-ceramic-map plaza-esp-Toledo plaza-esp-detail

Balustrade around the pond, with the magnificent Plaza España buidling in the background

The Parque de Maria Luisa was also part of the exposition. This is where I found the frog fountain shown in Ceramics I, as well as decorative jars on pedestals.



There’s also a little open seating area that’s a meticulous monument to the novel Don Quixote. donQ1 donQ2  donQ2-3

Ceramics II: Triana

My visit to the Centro Ceramica Triana in Seville gave me a nice overview of the history of Spanish ceramics. The Triana ceramics factories closed down during the 20th century, but someone had the foresight and funding to build an attractive museum to commemorate the work of these artisans. During the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, ceramics was an important medium for sign-making and other exterior decoration.

Triana was actually outside of Seville for many years. Potteries are often away from cities because of smoke from the kilns (also true for Morocco.) Triana now is a lively neighborhood of Seville, but this painting shows what it was like when it was an artisan village.

Triana, 1889 by Emilio Sanches Perrier in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville
Triana, 1889 by Emilio Sanches Perrier in the Museum of Fine Arts of Seville
Mill wheels for grinding minerals for enamels in the Centro Ceramica Triana. “These mills were used to grind the mineral required to make the different ceramic pigments to paint the pieces, a different colour for each mill.”
Panel decorating the exterior of Cento Ceramica Triana
Panel decorating the exterior of Cento Ceramica Triana
A ceramic “frame” on a house in Triana, about two feet square.
At the Triana end of the bridge, these buildings demonstrate ceramics for domes.
Business facade
Facade with a ceramics sampler
I call these "roof jars"
I call these “roof jars” but they can also be found on walls, balustrades and pedestals

Ceramics I


My sister Amy & I have been collecting small ceramics from Italy for a couple of decades. I try to add to her collection when I travel. Unfortunately, on this trip I didn’t have a lot of extra luggage space, so instead of a plate, all you get is this post, Amy!

Modern tiling in Córdoba

The use of ceramic tiles in hallways and on fountains adds to the color and sparkle of Andalucia. The colors can be intense, ceramic wears nicely outdoors, and tiles can be copied and replaced if necessary. The use of ceramic tiles for building ornamentation came to Spain during the days of Al-Andalus, so there are many similarities between the ways tiles have been used in Morocco and the way they have been used in Spain. In addition, Spain has its own heritage of glazed and painted pottery and decorative tiling.

Modern tiling in Córdoba along the right wall

Amy and I generally found that Italian ceramics follow a historical design lineage, so that modern potteries are still producing traditional Italian designs, or newer designs are derived from traditional regional practices. In Spain, however, I ran into trouble trying to find examples of “traditional” ceramic pieces being produced today. I found out why at the Centro Ceramica in Triana (see also the following post.)

First, there was a hiatus in Spanish ceramic production during the late 17th and 18th centuries, so that any developing traditions were rolled back to basic household pottery. Then, when these factories got going again in the late 19th and early 20th century, they promoted ceramic tiles for all sorts of uses, including commercial signs of all sizes, street signs, house numbers and of course interior decoration. One important and traditional technique that they did import from Italy, though, was creating entire paintings with glaze on large tiles.


In the meantime, there is a definite connection between Moroccan ceramics produced today and traditional tiling found in both Southern Spain and Morocco dating from the 13th and 14th centuries.

Mosaic-style fountain at a ceramics showroom in Fes

Since the use of ceramics for exterior and interior building ornamentation came from the Muslim world (who probably got it from the Romans and their Byzantine successors) it was interesting to see how tiles and mosaics were used in Morocco. I didn’t visit any mosques: only a few large houses that had been renovated in traditional style.  In general, the Moors decorated their lower walls and fountains with ceramic tiles and used more fragile carving for higher up. Morocco still sticks with tiles made from small shapes (i.e. mosaic.) The Spanish moved on to painting their tiles: something which opened up all sorts of possibilities.

My customary  guided tour in Fes included a visit to a ceramics showroom that also had some of the requisite artisans working to provide tourists with demonstrations of their crafts.

In Fes, this guy is making a tile from hand-chipped mosaic stones. (The target combo-tile is upside-down.)

The riad where I stayed in Fez had been completely renovated and redecorated in the traditional style for large houses. Carved wood and mosaic tiles made up most of the wall ornamentation, but there was also some of the intricate carved plaster work that has also survived in Spain and Morocco in mosques and madrasas (mainly, I think because it’s high up.)

Rooftop room with fireplace at Riad Rcif in Fez
Rooftop room with fireplace at Riad Rcif in Fez (the tiles on the mantel and the upper part of the wall are painted; on the floor and behind the sofa are mosaic tiles.)
While Moroccan mosaic tiles stuck close to traditional designs, jars and bowls are very imaginative within the strictures of Muslim art.
While Moroccan mosaic tiles stuck close to traditional designs, larger jars and bowls are very imaginative within the strictures of Muslim art. (Actually I don’t know if all these designs are Moroccan or if all this work was done in Morocco.)

Sevilla’s Alcazar

While Granada has the Alhambra, finished in the 13th and 14th centuries by the ruling Nasrid Emir, Seville has the Alcazar. Seville was reoccupied by Christian monarchs earlier than other cities such as Granada. The Christian monarch Pedro I built the main palace of the Alcazar in Mudejar style. (This is what’s architecturally fascinating about Andalucia. While the rest of Europe was going Gothic, Christian Spain was honoring  Muslim architecture by preserving and restoring it, imitating it, and combining it with Gothic elements.)

This is a tile painting in the Salones de Carlos V of the Alcazar. This room is surrounded by tile panels.


A spring with naturally carbonated water: “La Gaseosa” near Ferreirola in the Alpujarras
Pomegranates in Granada


Fountain in Alcazar garden, Seville

And finally—Lisbon

What Lisbon did with ceramics was cover entire buildings with tiles. Lisbon is well-known for their azulejos; however, I found Lisbon frustrating because all the building facades were dirty. I longed to see a block of buildings covered with sparkling clean tiles, and wondered whether these tiles from the late 19th century were cleanable or whether pollution, water and rust have permanently deteriorated their surfaces.

New or cleaned tiles on the building to the right.