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Posts tagged ‘Pilar’

Zaragoza – Day 2: La Ofrenda de Flores

Looking out of the window in the city of Zaragoza on Sunday the 12th October was a bizarre experience. On the streets there was not a single car or vehicle which resembled modern times, but instead, passers by and groups of people walked along and gathered in the otherwise empty streets wearing incredible period costume. Decked out in heavy silken dresses, embroidered cloaks, wooden clogs, extravagantly frayed shawls and floral headdresses, the inhabitants of Zaragoza looked either like they had gone back in time, or were appearing as extras in a Hollywood blockbuster. But before I could conclude that I had somehow awoken in a dream, scenes from local television flashing up on the television screen at the end of my bed betrayed the truth: that this was no Hollywood blockbuster, but an event surely worthy of the live film reel remitting images of the event onto TV screens all over Spain. Showing extraordinary images of the streets of Zaragoza packed to the rafters with locals wearing traditional costume and carrying bouquets of flowers, the cameras had captured the very centre point of the Fiestas del Pilar – the Offering of the Flowers.

Floral dedications being carried by traditionally dressed locals towards the Plaza del Pilar

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La Ofrenda des Flores (the offering of flowers) is a great demonstration of the people’s devotion to the patron saint of the city, the Virgen del Pillar, during which hundreds of thousands of people, dressed in the traditional costume of Aragon or of any other region in Spain, bring flowers to the Virgin, a statue of whom is placed in the centre of the Plaza del Pilar. Around the statue stood on high, an army of volunteers slot the flowers offered into a vast pyramidal structure, tiling a huge sloping flower mantle around the Virgin, which remains in the square for the rest of the festival so that all the people in the city can see it. From an early beginning, when the first bouquets filled the area of the mantel immediately below the glinting gilded statue, we were lucky enough to see this vast floral cape as it gradually filled with floral tributes, while thousands more offers flooded into the square, brought by locals queuing patiently in their lavish local costumes and entertained by a wide variety of superb traditional dancing and music shows.

Handing over the flowers and the vast floral mantel built around the Virgen del Pilar

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It was an incredible event to watch and be part of, from regarding the vast human river of flower-carrying locals slowly winding its passage all the way down from the main thoroughfares North of the city to the vast Plaza del Pilar, to seeing the great floral mantel slowly develop flower by flower. The air was filled with human spirit, with shared happiness and with a tangible expression of positivity and celebration, and was certainly an unmissable event in all of my adventures in Spain.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Zaragoza Focus – All the fun of the fiesta

From the moment we arrived in Zaragoza in North Eastern Spain, continuing right up to (and no doubt beyond) the time we left, the city was tangibly pumping with the rhythm of fiesta. The leafy squares and vast piazzas standing amidst Zaragoza’s world-famous cathedrals were alive with open air concerts playing throughout the day and evening; the streets were packed so full of people that it took 10 minutes to make one’s way even down the shortest; the skies periodically erupted with the pop and crackle of a distant firework display; tapas bars and restaurants were full to over brimming; and the air was filled with helium balloons of every shape and size and bubbles blown by children. And despite all of the inconvenience and noise that this festival inevitably created, there is no denying the magical atmosphere that filled the air, as the whole city seemed bound by an intangible electricity of celebration, and almost the entirety of its population came out to enjoy the party, to stroll in the crowds, to listen to the live music, to dance in the streets.

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This selection of photographs attempts to convey something of the atmosphere which filled every inch of Zaragoza when we made a visit the weekend before last. The reason for the festival was the Fiestas del Pilar, an annual ten day celebration, centred around a religious festival when huge crowds pay homage to the patron saint of the city: the Virgen del Pillar, but actually incorporating a packed programme of traditional music, modern pop, excuses to dance, and occasions to get out, eat and meet with loved ones and friends. And no wonder it was so crowded: for this annual festival is not only the biggest in Zaragoza, but one of the largest in all of Spain attracting thousands from outside of the city, and indeed the country: like us. It certainly was something unique, and made our visit to Zaragoza a hundred times more memorable.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Zaragoza – Day 1: Cultural Calm before the Fiesta

The city of Zaragoza, the 6th largest in Spain and the capital of the landlocked region of Aragon to the West of Catalonia and Northeast of Madrid, has always drawn me with promises of its majestic river setting along the banks of the Ebro (the longest river in Spain don’t you know) and it’s vast Basilica del Pilar, a church so grand they had to give it four bell towers. But because direct flights from the UK are not all that common, and largely involve braving the distinct downgrade to comfort-stripped Ryanair, I had never made it there despite visiting Spain with the same frequency as the changing seasons. But this year, what with it’s being my Mother’s big birthday (don’t worry I won’t betray which one) I considered that it was time to give Zaragoza a go, even if it meant suffering Ryanair’s cushionless cramped flight to get there. 

And to be fair to Ryanair, they got us there with the full efficiency of carefully oiled machine, all the earlier then to gain our first views of the much promised Basilica del Pillar which was every bit as stunning as its reputation suggested, as well as enabling us to get a feel for the buzzing electric spirit filling the city. For by sheer coincidence, we happened to be visiting the city during the high point of its annual calendar: the Fiestas del Pilar – 10 days of unrivalled partying, street concerts, traditional costumes and religious devotion. Despite the excitement on the streets, we were keen to sleep after our night time arrival, and all the sooner to wake up to our unbeatable hotel room view: not one, not two but all four of the stunning bell towers of the Basilica del Pilar creeping up from behind the residential street opposite. And as if this scenic view needed to get any more picture perfect, there was even a hot air balloon rising high into the sky besides the great church. What a start to our Zaragoza story!

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Breakfast did not keep us from seeing the city for long, and walking out into the warm autumn sunshine, we made our way to the Basilica, stopping en route to delight our senses in the local market, where every kind of fruit, vegetable, sweet and savoury treat were on view to delight and entice, although some products were perhaps more enticing than others – I should warn you that those sensitive to gruesome sights may want to look away now!

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After the market and an amble through Zaragoza’s old town streets, we were able to get a fuller view of the majestic Basilica from the very best viewpoint – across the River Ebro to the gardens which line the riverbank opposite the old town; gardens whose sun-bleached auburn leaves provided the perfect frame for this most wonderful of city views.

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Having satisfied ourselves with the ultimate view of the city, and having enjoyed the basilica from all angles, we soon discovered that the city of Zaragoza, asides from being a city bustling with festivals and containing one of the most architecturally magnificent of all Spanish churches, is also a city of considerable cultural offerings. As we traversed the characterful streets of its old town, we literally stumbled upon museums without having to so much as open our guide book.

The first cultural event we found ourselves wandering into was the exhibition of Enrqiue Larroy – Chapa y Pintura – held in La Lonja. Like many such “Lonjas” in other Spanish cities, La Lonja of Zaragoza is a former merchants hall constructed in a palacial gothic style with soaring ceilings and pillars reaching darlingly up to the vertiginous height of its lofty stone latticed ceiling. But this beautiful architectural site was perfectly set off by the contrasting bright colours of Larroy’s acrylic works, which not only presented wonderfully dynamic, zinging paintings in their own right, but as an artistic installation worked fantastically as they were reflected into the shiny stone floors of this important historical space.

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Just up the road from La Lonja is the Museum of local sculptor Pablo Gargallo. Sculpting in the height of the roaring 20s, Gargallo’s work is a wonderful mixture of avant garde figuration and cubism, as the sculptor managed to create three dimensional portraits with only a few hard cast features, allowing the interplay of light and shadow to fill in all of the missing details.As with so many of the art museums I have visited in Spain over the last decade, the Gargallo museum is yet another which is set amidst a stylishly renovated palace, meticulously conceived creating a seamless and highly polished exhibition space.

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But having had our fill of art for one day, we found ourselves ending this first day in Zaragoza back where we started – at the magnetic nuclei of the city: the Basilica del Pilar, where excitement for the oncoming festival was tangibly building. Inside the great Basilica, large queues were forming of pilgrims wishing to catch a closer sight or even kiss the pillar on which Mary was supposedly once sighted and around which the entire church was built. Meanwhile outside, huge stages were being constructed in the main squares, people were out dancing in the streets, and more and more visitors seemed to be pouring into the city.

DSC09382 DSC09373 DSC09389Amongst all this excitement, we took refuge in the charmingly old fashioned Grand Café Zaragoza. Reminding me of Florians in Venice, it provided the perfect sanctuary from the madness on the city’s streets, as well as a throwback to the past which seems to be so prevalent in this city where tradition and folk law is enthusiastically  celebrated. As for us, we ended our day contenting ourselves with our own tradition – a welocme cup of earl grey tea and a chocolate covered palmera pastry: the perfect way to look back and reflect on this first exciting day in Zaragoza.

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All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2014 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.