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Location: BC, Canada

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Medina Sedonia

29 December 2007

There has been a town at Medina Sedonia for over 3000 years. The Phoenicians were the first to leave some trace and the Roman town Asido Caesarina was constructed over the Phoenician settlements on top of Cerro del Castillo (Castle Hill) 300 meters above the surrounding plain. Like Vejer de la Frontera (December 2007), and so many other historic towns, a hilltop location meant easier defence against thieves, brigands and invading armies.

Under Visigoth rule, Medina was the capital of the province and from the 5th century the centre of the Christianity for the region. Invaded by the Moors in 712 it became the capital of Cora and was known as Sadunia.

It was reconquered by King Alfonso X el Sabio (the Wise) in 1264, becoming part of the Nazarí Kingdom of Granada. In the 14th century the area became part of the fiefdom of the Dukes of Medina Sedonia and remained such until the ending of the feudal age in Spain in 1812.

There are very limited remains of these periods. Although from afar it looks as though there is a substantial structure on the hilltop, the Duke’s castle is in complete ruins, much of the stonework having been carted off. While its location was strategic and defensible, it has not protected against the ravages of wind, weather, time and the population.

There are 30 excellent catacombs from the Roman period that served as a drainage and sewer system. (medina roman sewers)

The most impressive artefact in the town is the church Santa Maria la Mayor de la Coronada. After the Christian reconquest in 1264 the mosque on the site was Christianized and adapted into a Mudejar (Moorish) style church. The persent church was constructed between 1500 and 1550 in a mix of Gothic and Mudejar styles. Its size and grandeur was due in part to the intent of the then Duke of Medina Sedonia to turn his dukedom into the definitive seat of the diocese. He contributed significantly to the costs.

The roof in particular shows Mudejar styling and structure.

The bell tower or steeple was sometime in construction and was completed only in 1623. It has a square foundation with 3 sections above. The first and second are the largest and are decorated with depressed mouldings on the 4 sides.

The third section holds the bells and has round arch-based windows, finished off with a wide balustrade with superimposed balls for ornamental tops on the corners.

The tower is crowned by an octagonal cap with a semicircular arcade covered by a small dome covered in blue and white glazed tiles.

A seemingly endless climb up the spiral staircase to the top of the tower gives access to the bells and to stupendous views of the town, the countryside and the Bay of Cádiz.

The Cloister, with a square floor plan, was built by the end of the 15th century in a Gothic-Mudejar style. The gallery around its perimeter is covered by a barrel vault, supported on stilted arches bonded by thick buttresses. Constructed with bricks, which emphasizes the

Mudejar style, the cloister met the community’s spiritual needs for meditation and retirement. The space is symbolically related to paradise.

In the 1500’s altars were decorated for teaching purposes with the main mysteries and biblical themes of the lives of Christ and the Virgin Mary.

This altarpiece features Santa Maria de la Coronada.

Fifteen meters high and 6.8 wide, the entire altarpiece consists of 168 images, 80 of them full-length, 29 smaller and the remainder are raised patterns. Forty columns support the different biblical stories.

In 1774 the church organist, trying to clean the images, tarnished them. Not a very fitting treatment for a work of art that took 51 years to complete (1533-1584).

The church boasts a number of altars, one of which was being used as the focal point of a baptism during our visit. The most unusual one was the Altar of Cristo del Perdón . It is a mystical representation, not an historic one based on biblical text and shows Christ going to heaven to ask for the forgiveness of human beings and their failures. His only fulcrum, to symbolically support his plea, is the world on which his knee rests.

So let’s leave Medina Sedonia, not looking up to heaven but down these staircases as a reminder that this is a hilltop city, and like life it has its up and its downs.