Those of you who follow my blog will have noticed that some weeks have passed since I last posted anything. The reason for my silence: I have been travelling in Europe, mostly Spain, for the past four weeks. This was a trip that was supposed to have taken place twelve years ago, but which had to be cancelled at the last minute. Mere days before we were to leave, while my husband and I were out for a Sunday afternoon hike, my husband started seeing birds–birds that weren’t there. Later that day, when a ‘black veil’ slowly and inexorably began to reduce the field-of-vision in his left eye, we both knew where we were going–and it wasn’t Spain. This year, as we were pondering what to do with some freebie air miles we had acquired, it occurred to me, “Why not take that trip to Spain we had to cancel more than a decade ago?” So that’s what we did.
After having spent time in Spain, I would suggest that anyone with an interest in Roman history and archaeology (I include myself) should put Spain high up on their ‘bucket list’. In Spain, the ancient Roman province of Hispania and modern-day Spain exist side by side. Driving along a busy city street, you’ll suddenly spot a good-sized portion of a Roman wall as you go flying by at 80 km; or, walking along a side street just off a busy pedestrian mall lined with upscale shops and restaurants, you’ll come upon the pillars of a temple built in honour of a Roman emperor.
Evidence that Spain was once part of the mighty Roman Empire is everywhere, visible and accessible. To describe every ancient site of interest that I visited would make for a very long blog, so I’ll mention only three. At the top of my ‘must see’ list of sites in Spain was the aqueduct in Segovia. It was even more impressive than I had expected.
Built in AD 50 or thereabouts, this remarkably well-preserved aqueduct, with its two tiers of arches and 221 pillars, is a tribute to the engineering skills of the ancient Romans.
Taking a self-guided walk in the Barri Gotic neighbourhood of Spain’s second largest city, Barcelona, is to take a stroll back in time–way back in time. Barcelona is built on the site of the Roman city of Barcino, founded around 15 BC. On a side street off Barcelona’s famed pedestrian mall known as Las Ramblas stand four 9-meter high columns: all that remains of a temple dedicated to Augustus Caesar. Built sometime in the 1st century BC in honour of the Roman emperor who was regarded as divine, the temple was part of the forum located at the centre of ancient Barcino.
The two defence towers that straddle the main gate into the Roman city of Barcino are still standing where they were erected, although only the base of the towers dates from the Roman era. The top sections are 12th century renovations.
Spain was once an important part of a vast empire which stretched from Hadrian’s Wall in the north of Britain to the Middle East. Two Roman emperors, in fact, hailed from Hispania: Hadrian and Trajan. Today, Spain is part of another kind of ’empire’: an economic union consisting of 28 member countries called the EU (European Union). Some see the EU as a revived Roman Empire–maybe, maybe not. (I’ll write more about that in a future blog). What is clear is that Spain faces the same dilemma as her 27 fellow members countries: What to do about the massive influx of migrants, more than 800,000 so far this year. In Madrid, I saw a huge banner draped across a building which read in big bold letters: WE WELCOME REFUGEES. That’s a great statement, but the reality is, almost all of the migrants from the Middle East and Africa head for Germany and Sweden, countries with the most generous social programs.
I have to say, there is something disturbing about the nature of this new ’empire’ taking shape on the European continent. Just today, the EU voted to label the source of origin of all products that come from Israeli ‘settlements’ in the Westbank and Golan Heights, this despite the fact that these businesses employ large numbers of Palestinians. So now all ‘good’ Europeans can boycott any product that originates from an ‘illegal Jewish settlement’. This is nothing short of economic warfare directed by the EU against the Jewish state. I wonder: Will the labels be yellow? You would think the EU would want to address the heinous knife attacks now being directed by Palestinian youths at pregnant Jewish women and 80-year-olds.
My husband and I both agree that our trip to Spain–delayed for more than ten years–exceeded all our expectations. Our exploration of Spain was not confined to ancient Roman sites. Rick Steeve’s guidebook on Spain in hand, we visited Spain’s many magnificent cathedrals; saw the beautiful Alhambra with its Generalife Gardens in Granada and La Mezquita in Cordoba with its 850 red-and-white striped columns–I could go on and on: the great tapas and seafood paellas , the fast AVE trains that transport you at 300 km/hr across Spain in the matter of a couple of hours, the good weather (only two days of rain in 16). The only problem: Now I want to see more of Spain.