Archive for the ‘History’ Category

Encierro by Bilbao Sculptor Rafael Huerta

Pamplona has a lot to offer. This Basque city is vibrant and offers so much in culture. For the pilgrim of El Camino Frances it’s a beautiful walk over bridges and cobble stone streets and a night of world famous pintxos (not to be confused with tapas or bocas) and beer or wine in prep of the next day’s journey.

Though the Running of the Bulls of Pamplona occurs in July, there are reminders of it in the city centre…then…there is the statue. El Encierro was designed by Bilbao Sculptor Rafael Huerta. This detailed life sized work of art captures a moment in the life of both runners and bulls.

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We only spent a part of day in Périgeuex (for our first trip). After walking the Red Line Tour we ended our day walking thru the typically narrow and windy streets of the medieval city towards the Cathedral of Saint-Front.  In 1998 it was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site since it is an important site for El Camino de Santiago de Compostela.  (see previous blogs on El Camino 2017)   The Cathedral is impressive, built in the shape of a Greek cross with domes—a lot of domes.  There is much to discover in this beautiful Cathedral.  One item that struck me as interesting as I first walked inside were the chandeliers.  They are beautiful but don’t seem to fit…yet… they do.  They once hung in Paris’ Notre Dame for Napoleon’s wedding.  They add an incredible elegance to the open space.  The space goes fro stone to beautiful art.  It allows the eyes, mind, and soul time to take it in.  It adds a calmness to the heart.

On the left of the entrance as one walks inside is a small chapel called Confessions.  This is where the simple wood statue of Santiago is.    

 ¡Buen Camino!

The shop above with the corner door is called Maison Tenant (now a men’s clothing store). It has an interesting entry with the door opening at an upward angle.  There is an inscription on the lintel: “Remember we all have to die one day.  He who enjoys speaking ill of those who are absent, let him know that this house is forbidden to him.  The greatest glory comes from displeasing the wicked.  This house, built in 1518 with the blessing of the Almighty.”   

Cathedral Saint-Front

Old chapel called Confessions dedicated to Santiago

Périgueux is definitely a town that needs more exploring as well as the countryside around it. We will be back!

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The final trek of the Red Line took us to a public garden: Jardin des Arenes which was created over the 1st Century Amphitheater of Vesunna in 1875. 

Map of the Red Line

 The Amphitheater could seat 18,000 people and its façades were 3 times higher than the houses that surround it today.  

In the 4thCentury the Amphitheater was incorporated within the High Wall with the openings being walled up and towers built to reinforce it.  Around 1150 the Count of Périgord had his castle built here.  Today there are still signs of the Amphitheater circling the garden and play areas.  The floor of the Amphitheater lies 21 feet below (see above).  The castle was destroyed in the early 1400’s.

Unfortunately, we did not have time to explore the final point of interest: the first Cathedral of Périgueux:  Église Saint-Étienne-de-la-Cité.  We wanted to head into the city center (next post) and explore there as well as see the new Cathedral.  Périgueux is a city that we plan to return to.  Not only is there more to see but it is also close to other towns that have their own stories to tell.

Domes of Église Saint-Étienne-de-la-Cité

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The Château Barrière was built in the 12th century on top of the lower part of a 4th century tower and wall.  Later a second noble man’s home was built beside it.  This wall/castle was burned down during the 1577 French Wars of Religion.  Some of the upper floors were restored, though, in the early 20th century and used by the Historical and Archeological Society of Périgord.

small6026 copysmall_wallmap6096small6119It’s a beautiful example of medieval architecture that can be enjoyed from across the railroad tracks at the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum and then following the Red Line and crossing a bridge one can walk around the ruins and enjoy finding both Roman and Medieval carvings.

Always a cat or two

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In 1959 a Roman home, Domus de Vésone, was discovered during a construction project near the Tour de Vésone.  This home is from the 1st century A.D. and was perhaps an official palace.   The Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum was built over it and opened in 2003.  Wooden walkways allow visitors to stroll thru what was once a grand home of ancient luxury and beautiful gardens.  Glass displays show common everyday items such as weaving tools, medical supplies, toiletries, etc.   It had a central heating system that ran hot air under the floors of the home called hypocaust and a central garden with a fountain.

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The entrance is on the left side where there is also what seems to be a rectangular pool.


View of the central garden from above.


View from below showing the gallery floors above.

Top: garden. Middle: dining room Bottom: looking down on the bath.

This is an excellent museum for understanding the workmanship and ingenuity of a Roman home…Yes…a rather wealthy Roman home.

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Périgueux (pare-ee-go) has been an important settlement since 200 B.C. when the Gaul tribe Petrocorii established their capital, Vesunna, there along the banks of the Isle River.  The site was sacred for its spring.

When the Romans came in 16 B.C. they took over the area and created a city of their own.  Vesunna became City of the Petrocorii that over time changed into Périgueux and Périgord.  The City included a forum, basilica, amphitheater, arena, aqueduct, temples and mansions.  Since the 3rd century A.D. invasions of the Barbarians and later in 418 A.D. the Visigoths, the city was reduced to ruins.  Some of the old Roman buildings were used as supplies for new buildings while others ended up buried and almost forgotten.  From this a new city arose.  Today one can discover the glory of the past as well as enjoy a beautiful, vibrant city.


Roman wall uncovered in a neighborhood.small6114

A wall made up of various pieces from Roman buildings.


Along the railroad tracks is a park where the Tour de Vésone (Tower of Vésone) can be seen.  This 2nd century Roman temple was dedicated to the goddess Tutela Vesunna, a Celtic goddess of prosperity, abundance and good fortune.  In her images she carries  a cornucopia.  For the Romans she is the goddess of luck and good fortune.

The tower is all that is left or at least revealed of a larger complex.  This tower was the Cella or heart of the temple where only the priests could enter.  The interior was once covered in marble.


The temple of Tutela Vesunna.  The center is the tower.



The Tour de Vésone from different sides and angles.

Playing around for effects:

When I was in the Gallo-Roman Museum that is located in the same park as the Tour de Vésone there was an old etching of the Tour that showed it with different colored stripes.  So I decided to try and enhance these colors thru photoshop and filters.  Here’s what I came out with:


1. Original photograph.


2. Photo with saturated color.


3. #2 converted into Black & White


4. #2 with filters.  I used Nik Collection: Nostalgic 2


5. Black & White version of #4

Photography is my first love.  I fought digital photography for awhile, had a difficult time wrapping my mind into it.  When I finally did I jumped in head first and have been amazed by how creative one can become.  I use a lot of layers and play with the filters that are available imagining how I want it to look until it does.  I shoot in RAW or ARW where I end up with more options to play with.  Depending on the use of my photo depends on how much I play with the effects.  For the blog I do as little as possible with effects so the photo is as natural as possible…Photo Journalism.  For my artist side there are no limits.

Note:  We arrived to Périgueux by train from Bordeaux.  Not far from the Gare (train station) there is a tour trail marked by a red line.  This will lead you to several points of interest.  Afterwards one can go up the hill to the center of the Medieval section of the town were the Cathedral Saint Front is located.  For Pilgrims there is a small chapel with a statue of Santiago.





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Today I picked out my stone. I have a collection of stones that I have picked up along mountain passes and beaches thru my lifetime. Quite a few of them are from California. Many have fossils embedded in the ancient and hardened sand. That’s what I chose:  A small stone the color of blue grey with white flakes thru it…ancient shells embedded in sand that time hardened. It’s flat and round. 1.75 inches across and feels good in the hand. I picked it up on a beach in Northern California.

I will carry it now in my daypack. Carry it while I go on practice hikes here in Illinois and carry it on the plane when I head out to Southern France. I will carry it across the Pyrenees Mountains into Northern Spain. Than about 553 kilometers or 343.5 miles into the walk near Ponferrada at the highest point of El Camino in Spain, 1,530 meters above sea level (5,020 feet) I will be standing on the “Roof of the Way” in front of an iron cross perched on top of a 7 meter (23 ft ) wooden post that is surrounded by stones, stones that pilgrims (peregrinos) have left over the years.


The iron cross, Cruz de Fierro, sits upon a point in the Leon Mountains that once had an altar dedicated to the Roman god Mercury. Now it is where pilgrims come and leave a stone from their home. The stone can symbolize a deliverance from sin or protection from the dangers encountered along El Camino. It’s what one wants it to be. For me it symbolizes the release of unneeded weight that gets in the way in life. It’s an offering to all that have traveled this road thru the millenniums.


“When I let go of what I am,

I become what I might be.

When I let go of what I have,

I receive what I need.”

                                                                             — Lo Tzu

“We must be willing to let go of the life we’ve planned,

so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”

                                                                                            — Joseph Campbell





Photograph of Cruz de Fierro by Guillermo Gutierrez, 2015

Ramos, Sergi.  Camino de Santiago. 2014



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The Blarney of Blarney Castle


When I began planning to go to Ireland the first thing that came to mind was that I MUST go to the Blarney Castle and kiss The Blarney Stone. As an oral storyteller this was a true pilgrimage. So I chose a day and booked myself on the Cork/Blarney Tour through Irish Day Tours and chose a Saturday to go. I had been in Ireland since Monday and it had rained on and off everyday. That’s really not a big deal if you are prepared for it but to climb up stone spiral stairs and walk along the upper battlement to lie on your back to kiss a stone while it’s raining—well can’t do anything about it.

As it turned out, Saturday was a beautiful, sunny day and now here I was looking up a spiral stairway with only a thick rope running down the center of it to hold onto. I slowly made my way up, stopping at the “Young Ladies Room” then the “Priest’s Chamber” above it and finally the kitchen. On the forth floor there are some modern stairs that take you to the battlements where the Blarney Stone is located on the south end. The interior of the castle has long rotted away so from this height you can see to the first floor of the main area as well as the countryside around it while you wait in line to The Blarney Stone. It’s a beautiful view.

Finally on my back, with my hands holding tightly onto two metal bars, a nice young man helped me lean all the way back to the area of The Blarney Stone for the kiss. The Blarney Stone was rather rough until you reached the part where you kiss it. There at the bottom lip it was smooth all across.

This intrigued me.
IMG_2021smallLater I asked a friend about it and was told that it was from all the kissing.   “Well,” I pointed out, “it was smooth all the way across not just where you kiss it. It’s like there was a lot of liquid that passed there at one time.”

“Oh,” she said, “I did hear that it is located where the toilet was.”

“Oh great.” I thought. “I kissed the arse of a stone lion in Girona, Spain so I will return there and now I kiss the bottom of a stone that was once a medieval toilet.”

I needed to find out the truth.   So I asked another friend and he told me that he had heard that the young men liked to climb up there at night after a good night’s worth of drinking and relieve themselves at The Blarney Stone.

Okay…this was all beginning to sound like a bit of Blarney to me so I did some research…Historical research.

The Blarney Stone that is kissed today is actually located on the south end and the medieval toilets or garderobe are located on the north end where the spiral stairs and rooms are. The Blarney Stone is actually a part of a machicolation, which is an opening where rocks, burning objects or hot liquids were thrown or poured down upon attackers. Ah, my lips are safe.

There is also a bit of confusion through history as to where The Blarney Stone is actually located. Some historical reports place it high up in the tower where it was rather difficult to reach, others place it on the highest north-east part of the castle, and still other reports place it on the face of the north-east wall.  All of which are difficult to reach. Wherever the true Blarney Stone is located, its magic of the gift of gab has permeated throughout the castle.

I should know.  I kissed it and that’s no blarney.


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The beginning of the 19th century was a turning point for Spain. Napoleon was able to get both King Charles IV and his son, Ferdinand, to surrender any legal claim to Spanish rule and placed his brother Joseph there in 1808. Believing that the Spanish people would want a change in their government, he soon found how wrong he was. If Spain had learned anything from the French revolution, they learned nationalism: They were a unique nation with their own diverse culture and history. France, though allies for many centuries with Spain, was not welcome in this new form of thought.

Meanwhile, Napoleon had his sights on Portugal. He saw it as the gateway to the rest of the world and his way to follow in the footsteps of Alexander the Great. He was also not pleased with the Portuguese trading with England and wanted England out of the Mediterranean. So he sent his troops over the Pyrenees mountain range, through Spain and on towards Lisbon. Along the way the French troops were to take over major cities throughout Spain.

The Spanish people revolted against the French. They were supported by the Spanish military; England who allied themselves with the Spanish rebel leaders; and the Catholic Church who had excommunicated Napoleon in June of 1809 where in retaliation Napoleon had had Pope Pius VII arrested and held him prisoner in his palace of Fontainebleau near Paris till early 1814. With this support, the Spanish rebels used guerrilla warfare against the French army.

All over Spain there were revolts against the French. Soldiers, farmers, tradesmen, women and children came to the call to defend their country and local towns. The Spanish painter, Goya, tired of how Napoleon would have his own personal painters create romantic scenes of battles, traveled through Spain and sketched drawings depicting the horrors of this war.

Small towns became strategic necessities for the French military. Girona, Spain, located on the Onyar River was one such town. Its location made it a key point from France to Barcelona. In June of 1808 when the French first tried to take control of Girona the military and citizens of this town were able to defeat them. There was a second siege from July 24 to August 16 with victory again going to Girona. It was the third siege though that Girona lost. Seven months from May 24 to December 11 of 1809 the citizens and military fought back the French. When it fell to the French there was a rallying call all through Spain that helped strengthened the Spanish resistance.

Every year, at the end of September, the town of Girona, Spain puts on a reenactment of the siege and battle between the French and citizens of Girona during the Peninsular War that finally ended in 1814 when the Spanish and English were able to push the French back over the Pyrenees mountain range and out of Spain.


Rothenberg, Gunther. The Napoleonic Wars. Cassell, London. 1999.

Streissguth, Thomas. The Napoleonic Wars: Defeat of the Grand Army. Lucent Books, MI. 2003

Howard, Emma. Spain. Compendium Publishing, London. 2007.




A warm thanks to the sponsors of the TBEX 2012 Costa Brava, Spain Convention and tours:

Costa Brava: Pirineu de Girona: Costa Brava Girona Tourism Board @ http://www.CostaBrava.com
Catalunya Tourist Board @ http://www.catalunya.com
Ajuntament de Girona @ http://www2.girona.cat/ca
Palau de Congressos de Girona @ http://www.auditorigirona.org/eng/pc.presentacio.php
Europe TBEX ’12 in Spain @ http://www.tbexcon.com (for more information on the Travel Blogger’s network, sponsors, and conferences)

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