Thursday, February 06, 2014

A road trip along the route of silver part 2: The treasures of Zamora

The architecture of Zamora spans Roman, Romanesque, Islamic, Gothic, Neo-classic, Art Nouveaux, Modernism and Post Modernism. The city, like many others in Spain, is struggling with high unemployment and rising prices. Many of the streets and alley ways are blighted by graffiti; a sign that all is not well amongst a disaffected youth which is understandable given that unemployment in the under 26 years of age is 52%. Winter doesn't bring the tourists in any great number and seasonal work is not available. There are many empty properties in the centre both in terms of shops and apartments, maybe a sign that rents are high and that cheaper social housing and a faltering economy is driving people out of the centre into the sprawling estates on the edge of town.

Zamora will survive not least for it's extravagant festivals, the Tapas and Ribera del Duero wines, its many glorious buildings and the treasure which they contain. Coaches bring people on a daily basis to see the Cathedral, its museum and various other gems dotted around the city, of which there are many.

The cathedral of Zamora dates back to 12th century and is Romanesque in style with later Proto-Gothic additions. The highlights for me were: the dome; the intricately carved choir stalls (15th C); the wrought-iron work.  The craftsmanship of the the richly decorated alter pieces constructed from silver with gold embellishments is to be admired but they leave me wondering how such extravagance could have been justified in past times full of hardship and suffering.

The dome is stunning with its sixteen arched windows that allow light to flood into the Cathedral as the sun circumnavigates it throughout the day.

The stone carvings are spectacular. On the south side of the Cathedral is the Bishop's doorway with its semi-circular arcades and Romanesque sculptures. Many other fine stone carvings can be found around the museum and Cathedral.

The Cathedral museum was equally impressive with its large collection of 15th - 17th Century Flemish tapestries and abundant religious artifacts and iconography. The tapestries include a collection of 5 from 8 original pieces that tell the story of Hannibal and his quest for power. Other pieces tell the story of Helen of Troy and the Trojan war and, the life of the Etruscan King of Rome; Tarquin. The amount of work and detail in the tapestries is mind-blowing. One can only imagine the thousands of hours young women and girls spent in the workshops sewing and weaving by candlelight with their needles and thread creating such beautiful works of art. (Slide show at the end of the post)

There are many churches and and buildings worth visiting but most do not allow photography. The Cathedral and Museum allowed you to take photographs without flash but only if you paid an extra euro on top of the 6€ entrance fee. They even issued me with a sticker. It was worth it just to photograph this magnificent pietra dura table with its polished stone and marble flowers, birds and butterflies. The lack of flash shows on the quality of the photos but I did my best under the circumstances.

Other highlights for us were the Parador of Zamora which we looked around at the insistence of the manager in the hope that we would dine, stay a few nights or spread the word to our friends. The Provincial Government council chambers were stunning if not somewhat over-the-top, but worth a visit as was the permanent exhibition of Baltasar Lobo whose stunning bronze sculptures are tastefully displayed in a modern gallery space built inside a much older town building.

We also came across one or two pieces of street art that were ill-thought out such as this Opus Sectile Mosaic by Domingo Iturgaiz. The majority of the mosaic was obscured by trees planted too close and without much thought of their size or proximity.

Our lasting memories of Zamora are for me, the tapestries and the graffiti which in much the same way tell stories of a time of hardship, war, extravagance, protest and privilege, both making a statement of their time; the difference being is that the former had great wealth and hope whilst the latter have little.  For Luis, the Romanesque architecture is a big draw and something he always relishes.

Don't forget to join us for Part 3 Onward to Cátheres.

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