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CULTURE

Halloween: Spain’s most haunted places

Spain may not really celebrate Halloween like the US, but it reportedly has more than its fair share of haunted spots and ghostly sightings. Here are some of the scariest places to visit in Spain if you're on the hunt for paranormal activity.

Belchite ghost town
The skeletal remnants of two ghost town of Belchite in northern Spain are said to be home to more than a few otherworldly spirits. Photo: David Sánz/ Flickr

Preventorio de Aigües, Alicante

This eery site built in the municipality of Aguas de Busot in the 19th century initially served as a luxury hotel. Later, however, it was turned into a sanatorium for children who developed tuberculosis during outbreaks at the end of the Spanish Civil War.

The Aguas de Busot Preventorium was abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. Photo: Kasiber/Wikipedia
The Aguas de Busot Preventorium was abandoned after the Spanish Civil War. Photo: Kasiber/Wikipedia

Today the building is abandoned but is said to be a hotbed of paranormal activity as the ghosts of sickly children still roam throughout. There are also rumours that staff practiced black magic in the building’s church.

Preventorio de Aigües
They say that under the basement there’s a whole network of tunnels and trenches. Photo: Adriano Agulló / Flickr
 

Los Rodeos Airport, Tenerife 

On March 27th, 1977, two airplanes crashed into each other at Los Rodeos Airport in northern Tenerife and more than 583 deaths were recorded as a result of the accident. Since that day, over the years, several soldiers stationed at a nearby military barracks (Garita sur) have reported seeing the ghostly apparition of a small girl walking past at night. It is said that when trying to identify all the passengers after the crash, one girl was reported missing and her body was never found. Could this be the same girl who still haunts the area to this day?

Tenerife airport crash
A Spanish civil guard looks for survivors among the wreckage of the 1977 double plane crash at Los Rodeos. Photo: STF / AFP
 

El Parador de Cardona, Catalonia

Spain’s Parador hotels are located in some of the most fascinating buildings in the country such as mansions, former hospitals, castles and monasteries, so it’s not surprising that one of them is considered to be haunted.

El Parador de Cardona is an hour's drive away from Barcelona. Photo: Jerry Michalski/Flickr
El Parador de Cardona is an hour’s drive away from Barcelona. Photo: Jerry Michalski/Flickr

The Parador of Cardona is housed in a huge castle, which was once a fortress that served as a prison and torture centre in the Middle Ages. It is said that spirits of the former prisoners still walk the halls, but most of the paranormal sightings have been reported in room 712. Hotel managers never rent our room 712 to guests unless they specifically ask to stay there.

Parador de Cardona
An aerial view of the Parador de Cardona. Photo: Paradores / WikiCommons
 
 

La Casa de las Siete Chimeneas, Madrid

Located in the Plaza del Rey, the House of the Seven Chimneys is currently home to Spain’s Ministry of Culture, but is said to be haunted by several ghosts. The house was built in the 16th century as a love nest for Philip II and his mistress Elena, but Elena was ultimately married off a Captain Zapata before rumors about the affair could circulate. Shortly after the wedding, however, Zapata was killed in battle in Flanders and then after giving birth to their daughter, Elena died too.

Rumours began to fly between the servants that there were stab wounds on Elena’s body and that she was murdered to silence any claims that her daughter might belong to the king instead. It was then that her body went missing. Years later people claimed they saw the ghostly figure of a woman floating above the chimneys. Then, 19th century when the building was renovated by the Bank of Castilla, the bones of a woman were found in the walls of the basement. 

Casa de las Siete Chimeneas
Casa de las Siete Chimeneas. Photo: Luis Garcí / Wikipedia
 

Isla de Pedrosa, Cantabria

Located off the coast of Cantabria, the Isla Pedrosa has today become known as the Isla Embrujada (Haunted Island) because of the strange things that have been seen there. In the 19th century, the island was used to house sailors and others suffering from exotic diseases. People claim to have seen the so-called ‘bird girls’, two sisters suffering from Progeria whose deformities were said to be caused by the devil. Today, some buildings that house juvenile and reintegration centers have been maintained, but many still lay abandoned, including a haunted theatre, which was once attended by the sick.

Isla de Pedrosa, Cantabria
Isla de Pedrosa, Cantabria. Photo: Vanbasten /WikiCommons
 

Belchite, Aragón

Belchite is not just one haunted house or building, no it’s a whole ghost town. The town, just south of Zaragoza was completely destroyed during the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and today remains largely the same as when it was left. Apparently, Franco had wanted horrifying ruins to be a reminder to people that he had the power to punish. Although it remains uninhabited, the skeletal remnants of its church, houses, and school are said to be home to more than a few otherworldly spirits.

Belchite, Aragon
The ghost town of Belchite. Photo: Roberto Latxaga / Flickr
 

La Boquería, Barcelona

Barcelona’s famous historic market, just off La Rambla, is probably a place that many of our readers have been to. But may not have realised is home to several shadowy apparitions. The market was actually built over the ruins of a monastery, founded by the Carmelites in 1586. One night the building was attacked and set ablaze, killing all the monks inside. Legend says that on the anniversary of the fire each year on the night of July 25th, you can still hear the ghostly voices of the monks singing throughout the market. 

La Boquería at night. Photo: Dom Christie/Flickr

El Fuerte de San Cristóbal, Navarra

The mysterious Fortress of San Cristóbal near Pamplona was a military fortress built during the reign of Alfonso XII to defend the city against attacks. However, its main use was as a military prison, in which the prisoners lived in horrible conditions. On May 22nd, 1938, over 700 prisoners tried to escape en masse and more than 300 died while doing so. To this day, people claim to see have seen all kinds of paranormal phenomena around the fortresses, even though it remains closed to the public.

Fuerte de San Cristóbal
Fuerte de San Cristóbal. Photo: Jorab/Wikipedia
 

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HISTORY

‘What did the Moors ever do for us?’ How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

Fans of Monty Python's Life of Brian will be familiar with John Cleese's laughable dismissal of Roman influence over Judea. But how about the progress Moorish conquest and rule brought to modern-day Spain? It's not to be taken lightly.

'What did the Moors ever do for us?' How Spain was shaped by Muslim rule

The Moors ruled much of Spain for almost 400 years from 711 to 1086, before they were driven south and continued their rule of southern Spain and the Kingdom of Granada for a further 400 more until 1492.

The series of century-long battles when the Christians tried to expel the Moors were known as the Reconquista (Reconquest), a term first coined in the 19th century.

However, many historians question the use of this word as Spain wasn’t formed as the nation prior to the Moorish conquest, and Muslim culture and knowledge contributed to what Spain is today.

Most of Spain wasn’t unified in fact until the marriage of the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragón and Isabella I of Castile, after the fall of the Kingdom of Granada in 1469.

It may have been long ago, but the Moors most certainly left their stamp on Spain, evident today from vestiges of their culture we can see in everything from the Spanish language and food, to its architecture and music.

Spanish painter Manuel Gómez-Moreno González’s 19th-century depiction of Muhammad XII’s family in the Alhambra moments after the fall of Granada. Painting: Public Domain

Staunch Spanish nationalists, most notably far-right party Vox, would like to have everyone follow the narrative that Asturian hero Pelagius (Don Pelayo) and other medieval warriors took back Catholic Spain and restored it to exactly what it once was, shrugging off any benefit Muslim rule brought.

That, of course, does not tell the full story. So, what did the Moors ever do for Spain?

They developed Spain’s irrigation systems

The Moors built (and improved on those built by the Romans) thousands of kilometres of irrigation channels or acequias across Spain. These were not only used for agricultural purposes but also brought water to the cities and neighbourhoods, filling public fountains, providing drinking water, water for cleaning and water for washing before prayers at the mosques. Water was also an important symbol of purity in the Islamic rules and integral to their religion too. 

They were great pioneers in medicine, pharmacology and science

The Moors founded modern hospitals, where they combined schools and libraries, as well as gardens for the cultivation of medicinal plants, and separate departments for ophthalmology, internal medicine and orthopaedics. Many modern health centres are still based on these models. The Muslim surgeons of the 11th century even knew how to treat cataracts and stop internal bleeding. They kept lists of plants to be used for medicines and pharmacology. One of the Moors responsible for one of the most important lists was Ibn al-Baytar, born in Málaga in 1197.

As for science, the Moors influenced all facets of the subject, from physics and chemistry to astrology. They were the first to provide more scientific information on substances such as alcohol, sulphuric acid, ammonia and mercury, and were also one of the first people to create the distillation process. They were pioneers in the use of dams for the production of hydraulic energy and in the development of water clocks, which recorded time. With regards to astrology, they built the world’s most important observatories in Córdoba and Toledo (as well as in the Middle East) and studied phenomena such as solar eclipses and comets. 

They influenced the traditional music

The Moors greatly influenced Spanish music, particularly the soulful flamenco tunes. It’s said that the Spanish guitar can trace its roots back to the Arabic oud – a four-stringed instrument brought over by the Moors. Later, this was replaced by the guitarra morisca, the ancestor of modern Spanish guitars. The guttural sad tones of flamenco songs were also greatly influenced by the Moors and even today you can hear a strong resemblance to Arabic music.

The Spanish guitar has its origins in the Arabic oud or lute. (Photo by HAZEM BADER / AFP)

They created a sewage system and public baths

Like the Romans before them, the Moors built many public baths. Hammams were very important to them both for ritualistic cleaning and social gatherings. At the height of the Moorish Empire in the 10th century, Córdoba was its capital and historians estimate that the city had around 300 public baths. Today you can see evidence of these bathhouses, all the way from Girona in the north, down to Málaga in the south. Several Moorish hammams have even been restored or faithfully recreated in cities such as Granada, Sevilla, Córdoba and even Barcelona.

In addition to baths, they also introduced some of the first sewer systems in Spain, where the dirty or used water was carried away through channels. 

They set up Spain’s first universities 

Islamic universities or madrasas were first created in the 11th century and were the forerunners to modern-day European universities. The first madrasa was built in 1349 in Málaga, which was followed by those built in Granada and Zaragoza, the latter dedicated almost exclusively to the teaching of medicine. In fact, classes here were still taught in Arabic up until the 16th century. The capital Córdoba, once had three universities, 80 colleges and a library with almost 700,000 manuscript volumes.

They shaped the language

Although Arabic and Spanish may seem like very different languages, there are quite a few words that the Moors in fact gave us. A clue is that many of these words begin with the letters ‘Al’, as in almohada (pillow), albaricoque (apricot) and algodón (cotton). According to linguists, it is estimated that around 4,000 Spanish words have some kind of Arabic influence, which equals to around 8 percent of the Spanish dictionary. Approximately 1,000 of those words have direct Arabic roots.

Many commonly used words in the Spanish language can be traced back to Arabic. Image: Cervantes Institute
 
They discovered important mathematical formulas
 
Many of the basic principles of arithmetic, geometry, and algebra today are due to the discoveries of Islamic scholars. We even still use the numbers and counting methods they created. They also brought the concept of the number zero to Spain in the 13th century, which was invented earlier in India. Trigonometry was another branch of mathematics that they greatly influenced. 

They designed incredible buildings

Today, some of the most-visited buildings in Spain are ones that were built by the Moors. The Moors built incredible structures, from regal mosques and ornate palaces to spectacular gardens. The most famous of these is of course Granada’s Alhambra Palace and Generalife Gardens. Built mostly during the 13th century, the Alhambra is one of the best surviving examples of Moorish architecture in the world. Other amazing Moorish buildings you can still visit today include Seville’s stunning Real Alcázar, Zaragoza’s Aljaferia castle-like palace, Córdoba’s grand La Mezquita mosque-turned cathedral and Málaga’s palatial fortress The Alcazaba.

Córdoba astounding Mosque-Cathedral is over 1,000 years old. Alexandra Tran/Unsplash
 
 

They introduced popular games

Believe it or not, it was the Muslim rulers who introduced some of the world’s most famous games to Spain. According to historians, in 822, the Moors brought chess with them, which was originally invented in India. Thanks to Muslim influence, expressions such as checkmate have remained, which is derived from the Persian word al-jakh-mat or “the king is dead.” Another popular game, noughts and crosses or tres en raya as they say in Spanish, also comes from the Arabs, who called it the alquerque.

 

They added flavour to Spanish cuisine

Spanish cuisine may not seem similar to that of Northwest Africa, but there are in fact many ways in which the Moors influenced the food in Spain and even some dishes which remain popular today. The main one is paella, as it was the Moors who first introduced and planted rice in Spain, as well as one of its main spices – yellow-hued saffron. Another dish that is in fact both eaten widely across Andalusia as well as in Morocco today is espinacas con garbanzos or spinach with chickpeas.

More than 250,000 flowers are needed to produce one kilo of saffron. For over a thousand years, inhabitants of La Mancha in central Spain have cultivated the flowers to extract the expensive spice. (Photo by DOMINIQUE FAGET / AFP)

The Moors also introduced aubergine as seen in the much-loved Granada tapas dish – berejenas con miel (battered aubergine drizzled with honey or cane sugar syrup). They even introduced orange and lemon trees, such an important symbol of Spain today and used to flavour many dishes. And if it wasn’t for the Moors, the Spanish wouldn’t fry everything in olive oil.

So to slightly misquote John Cleese in Monty Python’s Life of Brian, apart from the Spanish guitar, paella’s ingredients, irrigation channels, universities, public baths, a sewage system science, mathematics, thousands of words, medicine, architecture and cuisine…what did the Moors ever do for us?

Written by Esme Fox and Alex Dunham

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