Friday, 25 October 2013

A Load of Bull(s)

There seems to be a very strange ambiguous attitude towards bulls here in Spain. People purport to have great respect for the animals and then promptly turn round to organise nonsensically cruel "traditions" such as bullfighting, or chasing the bulls through narrow streets, or making them jump off harbour walls, or running after them with spears on horseback, or tying flaming torches to their horns, or…

Well, you get the picture. For a supposedly civilised country still to allow such cruelty is just crazy. And the excuse that it is all done in the name of tradition is too pathetic to be taken seriously.

Anyway, there are bulls in Spain other than those poor creatures who have to undergo such senseless treatment. Sadly, few people, either in or out of Spain, seem to know about them, so here's a piece to whet your appetite.

We recently travelled to Belgium by car. SWMBO had decided that it would be a good idea to visit Toledo on the way, so we decided to make a trip of it and to also visit Avila and Segovia. Well, on the road between Toledo and Avila I noticed a small sign pointing to the Toros de Guisando. That rang a bell; somehow I knew something about these bulls, but I had no idea from where. Anyway, it was a quick left hand down a bit in order to turn onto the direction indicated. Within a couple of kilometres we arrived at the location of the bulls. In fact, we almost drove past the place, as it is so poorly indicated.

There is just a small parking area at the side of the road with a couple of very small signs, hidden by the branches of some large trees, to point out to the weary traveller that this is the place.

Behind a fairly substantial wall, hidden from view of passing traffic and with just a single small entrance gate, is an open area of ground in which stand four magnificent stone bulls.

The bulls are over two thousand years old and were once spread over the surrounding fields. Nobody knows their purpose: magical, religious, fertility symbols…? Perhaps there were more such bulls in the area, certainly the types of rocks that lie in the fields offer plenty of suitable raw material. In any case, these four were brought to their current location probably in Roman times, in about the third century.

Each sculpture is about two metres long and perhaps one metre-thirty high. The carving is naive, but very beautiful and the bulls present a very strong impression. They each seem to have its own character. They are, of course, well weathered, but remains of exceptional detail can still be seen, most notably in the skin folds on the neck of one of them.

Carving details still visible

Another bull carries a Latin inscription that dates from the time that the Romans moved them.

Latin inscription on side of bull

Although the site of the bulls seems to be little known nowadays, it must have been held in some esteem in times gone by, for it was here that Enrique IV proclaimed his sister, Isabella the Catholic, as his rightful heir to the Kingdom of Castilla in 1468.

A small information panel provides some history

Tuesday, 22 October 2013


 Driving back from our recent trip to Belgium, we had intended to make a detour to revisit the Auberge de La Truffe in Sorges. However, the weather in France was very poor and going over the Massif Central was so disheartening that we decided instead to head straight for the Spanish border.

Looking for a suitable place to stay, we noticed that we would be passing very close to Pézenas and remembered that we had visited the town some 35 years ago, when we had stayed at a hotel that Elise thought had once been Molière's house. We wondered if we could find hat same hotel again and if it would be equally impressive.

Driving into the town of Pézenas we saw a small sign advertising the Hôtel Le Molière, so our hopes were high and soon we drove onto the main square, on the opposite side of which we could see the fine old hotel, which still looked suitably impressive from the outside.

Inside, the hotel still maintains an equally impressive air, as can be seen from the photos.

It seemed smaller than we remembered, especially the gallery that looks up to a glass ceiling. The stained glass of the ceiling was unfortunately hidden behind some drapes, placed there to keep the sun out during the long summer. Looking up through the gallery, you can see the various levels and their walkways which lead to the rooms of the hotel.

Downstairs in the entrance hall, which also serves as the breakfast room, the walls still carry the huge paintings that depict scenes from some of Molière's most famous plays. Other parts of the walls are filled with framed and signed photos of notable names of French stage and screen, as well as numerous sports personalities, all of whom have stayed at the hotel.

Sadly, however, the hotel now seems tired and in need of careful and thorough renovation. It is unfortunate that what could be such a fine hotel is located in Pézenas, a town which really has very little to offer and itself looks tired and in need of some renovation.

According to the hotel's own website, it was "entirely refurbished" in 2003 (it also reveals that it was never Molière's house). Well, it really doesn't show. The rooms are clean, no problem there, but the bathrooms need replacing, the passageways need redecorating, the lift is megalithic, the staircase is in a terrible state… A great shame, for the place has so much character, so much potential elegance, so much history…

I truly hope that the Hôtel Le Molière will not be allowed to fall further into disrepair. It most assuredly deserves a better fate.

And, who knows, perhaps we shall be able to visit it again in another 35 years.