Favourite Places, 2: Monserrat, Spain

Or more accurately, Benedictine Monastery of Santa Maria de Monserrat atop the mountains in Catalonia, Spain that existed since 880 AD.

About an hour and a half via public transport from Barcelona, the trip there is fun in itself with the cog railway ride up to the monastery.  A lot of travellers go there to see the Black Madonna on the high altar in the Basilica. At noon everyday, choir boys sing the Gregorian Chants in her honour.

Post 88. Monserrat

A Fortress, A Palace, A City

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Who would have thought that beggars and thieves once bunked in the regal Alhambra in Granada?

Archeological excavations indicated that this was where Romans lurked in the early days. Earliest known historical records showed that the strategically located site was occupied and used as a fortress during the civil war fought within the Caliphate of Cordoba. As was typical of battles in the 9th century, the fortress was more than chipped but not entirely ruined since neither canons nor bombs were invented then. Further works in the same century saw the castle of Alhambra built – I still am uncertain if this was for the military or royalty. In any case, it was destroyed yet again, fell into disrepair and vines grew all over it. Forgotten. I suppose this was when the beggars and thieves saw their chance and they all Hi-Ho-ed their way there to make camp.

The transformation of the site began in the 13th century when the first king of the Nasrid Dynasty declared that he wanted to live there, and turned it into a royal residence through one convenient flick of his finger that launched a thousand slaves into action (this is my imagination speaking). More significantly, the finger flick marked the beginning of the Alhambra’s most glorious period.

His heir and heirs after, apparently had the same eye for architecture and all things beautiful, consecutively constructed towers and annexes of magnificent yet intricate structures that were based on the arabesque artform. Some of these are still standing within the Nasrid Palace, and they are a sight to behold. When you get tickets to enter, you’d be assigned a designated time to enter the Nasrid Palace. Be there on time and check that you are at the right location. We almost missed our opportunity because we were stupidly waiting by another entrance that is not the Nasrid. We eventually realised our mistake, ran to the right gate, begged and the guard let our pitiful selves in! Thank goodness; or I’d have to flog me for coming all this way only to wait at the wrong door and have the correct door slam in my face.

Catholic Monarchs came by too, and put slabs of stones on top of those of the Nasrid kings. Charles V built his imposing palace smack in the middle of nowhere. It stuck out like a sore thumb, but it is a nice place. Then the French attacked and bombed everything (18th century, canons are readily available).

I am so glad for the restoration and preservation efforts, without which we’d never be able to beg to see the Nasrid Palace.

Sagrada Familia, Barcelona

Good art is a good artist’s masterpiece, typically recognized in a big way after death. Value usually escalates with age and also the degree of complexity of the art form. But I think how much the works are appreciated is purely attributed the living’s ability to unravel the mystery behind art and weave a plausible tale to coax the audience into the artist’s world and see from his/her perspective. Curation skills of a very high order to successfully accomplish this I’d bet. In Myers-Briggs terminology, one needs to be high FP for tasks like these. I am, unfortunately, quite the opposite preferring analysis and logic – TJ. (Then again, I like to think that I have some ability to recognize and appreciate art when I see it.)

That is why the Sagrada Familia speaks to me. It is an engineering feat; also architectural and chronological feats. I am bewildered that there is no deadline for this project since 1882. I would die over and over again from the stress of not meeting deadlines, which works just as well since you literally do need a few lifetimes to make it from then till now, and it seems 14 more years before completion. And we just accept that cos it is a masterpiece in the making, and making, and making.

Seriously though, it is awe-inspiring. Standing under its dome, I felt my heart’s window open wide, and the angels sang out those windows. Antonio Gaudi was a misfit of his time even his dreams were revolutionary. Some of his designs resemble radiolarians – single cell, oceanic organisms that are spectacularly symmetrical, seen only under a powerful microscope. Oy. Impossible curves and symmetry everywhere I looked, designs of which were inspired by trees, branches, corn and berries. Extraordinary!

What I found to be peculiar too was that this catholic church will show you different sides to it, depending on the direction from where you approached. The facades were constructed separately, each in time periods roughly 30/40 years apart and by various artists so each retained a character that is unique to its side of the church. Though logically speaking, all three sides I saw were physically different, so of course they had different characters. Heh.

Get entrance tickets online in advance so you don’t have to spend hours in the queue that snakes around the UNESCO World Heritage site. From here: http://www.sagradafamilia.cat/sf-eng/?lang=0

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