Spotlight on Spain
In Spain's cities, narrow twisting old streets open to views of daring modern architecture, while bars serving wine from the barrel rub shoulders with blaring, glaring discos. Travel is easy, the people are relaxed, the beaches are long and sandy, and the food easy to come by and full of regional variety. Geographically, Spain's diversity is immense. There are endless tracts of wild and crinkled sierra to explore, as well as some spectacularly rugged stretches of coast between the beaches. The country has superb old buildings, from Roman aqueducts and Islamic palaces to Gothic cathedrals. Almost every second village has a medieval castle. Spain has been the home of some of the world's great artists - El Greco, Dalí, Picasso - and has museums and galleries to match. The country vibrates with music of every kind - from the drama of flamenco to the melancholy lyricism of the Celtic music and gaitas (bagpipes) of the northwest.
Barcelona, the self-confident and progressive capital of Spain, is a tremendous place to be. Though it boasts outstanding Gothic and Art Nouveau buildings, and some great museums – most notably those dedicated to Picasso and Catalan art – it is above all a place where there's enjoyment simply in walking the streets, stopping in at bars and cafés, drinking in the atmosphere. A thriving port and the most prosperous commercial centre in Spain, it has a sophistication and cultural dynamism way ahead of the rest of the country. In part this reflects the city's proximity to France, whose influence is apparent in the elegant boulevards and imaginative cooking. But Barcelona has also evolved an individual and eclectic cultural identity, most perfectly and eccentrically expressed in the architecture of Antoni Gaudí. Scattered as Barcelona's main sights may be, the greatest concentration of interest is around the old town (La Ciutat Vella). These cramped streets above the harbor are easily manageable, and far more enjoyable, on foot. Start, as everyone else does, with the Ramblas.
Madrid - The capital of Spain since 1562, Madrid is located on the geographic center of the Iberian Peninsula. Because of its central location and high altitude, the climate of Madrid is characterized by warm dry summers and cool winters. Madrid is a city of great monuments. Among its highlights are the medieval center dating back to the Habsburg Empire and the Prado Museum. Madrid is not just a cultural destination. It is also a lively metropolis with many pubs, cafes, discotheques and nightclubs open late into the night.
Bilbao, the capital of Vizcaya Province, lies seven miles from the sea and has a coastline featuring rocks and steep cliffs, creeks and small estuaries; small fishing villages nestle in the inlets below green hills. The port of Bilbao is the largest in Spain and is built against the mountains. The city's fine museums include Fine Arts Museum and Guggenheim Museum. The Guggenheim Bilbao Museum is devoted to American and European art of the 20th century. The Fine Arts Museum specializes in paintings by Spanish masters. Our Lady of Begona Church is a 16th-century church on a hill with a good view of the city and valley. Diocesan Museum of Sacred Art is located in an old convent of Dominican nuns, a 16th-century, L-shaped cloister housing this fine museum with an outstanding exhibit of silversmiths' crafts that is one of the best collections in Spain. The Bullfighting Museum shows interesting bullfighting paraphernalia, such as costumes, photographs of famous toreros and a collection of posters. Visitors can try their gambling luck at Gran Casino Nervion.
Valencia is one of the biggest, liveliest cities in Spain. It is located at the Mediterranean Sea with beaches right in its heart that offer every kind of sports. With its active nightlife and various cultural offerings, Valencia is one of the most dynamic cities in Spain. One of the most famous buildings in Valencia is the Cathedral and its tower named, "El Miquelet" (Little Michael) which was built between 1381 and 1424. Try Spain's most famous food right where it was born: "Paella Valenciana". Valencia is the city where "El Cid", Spain's national hero, fought against the Moors, and popular festivals in the city and many villages around still remind of this epoch.
Cordoba -- Today's Cordoba is as impressive and surprising as its past. In the 11th century it was one of the most important capitals in Europe. People of the most different cultures and religions - Jews, Muslims and Christians - have lived peacefully together, and important philosophers, scientists and artists emerged from here. Cordoba has interesting aspects, including its great monuments - the world-famous Mezquita, the Moorish mosque - and museums. Cordoba is as a lively town in the best Andalusian tradition, a town of Flamenco and bullfighting, and one of the most attractive destinations in southern Spain. The Great Mosque, which took up Roman architectural traditions, made use of columns from older buildings around, and added the Muslim sentiment of the abstract and the limitless room. The double arches are representative for the architecture dominating North Africa. Another splendid example of Muslim inheritance in Spain is the old Ummawiyy castle, Alcázar. The main attraction here are the gardens, lavish, extensive, and with water in a central role.
Seville is one place most beloved by visitors to Spain. Although today Moorish influence is architectonically most evident - Andalusia was occupied by Moors for about 800 years - it has been a cultural center long before. Seville was home of famous and infamous figures of history, the legendary "Don Juan" started from here to conquer the hearts of women across all Europe, while Columbus started from a port close to Seville to discover a new world. Prosper Merimée's "Carmen", who couldn't make her decision between the officer Don José and the bullfighter Escamillo, can still be watched today in opera houses. Seville is the very heart of Andalusian culture and the center of bullfighting and Flamenco music. Take it easy and interrupt sightseeing from time to time to have a few "tapas", those typical "small Spanish dishes", and a glass of Sherry wine in one of the many bars in this city.
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