“Random encounters with the unusual” is a repository for the oddities that me and Mrs J have encountered on our travels, which we find interesting or amusing in some way. Have a look, maybe you will find something interesting or amusing herein.

Friday 28 November 2014

The Mummy of the Golden Tower

The pictures below show the Torre del Oro (the Gold Tower) which was a military watchtower in Seville constructed in the early 13th century. The tower sits alongside the Canal de Alfonso XIII, and was originally intended to guard the waterway access into Seville and also acted as a prison. The tower is known as the gold tower due to its colour. Today the tower is home to Seville’s Maritime Museum.

The Torre del Oro is linked to a tragic legend of a women who was pestered by a king into a horrific act of self-mutilation. The woman in question was Maria Fernandez Coronel who was born in 1334 and is reported to have grown into an immensely beautiful woman over the years.

King Peter I (Don Pedro I) who was the king of Castile and León from 1350 to 1369 met Maria (who was married to Don Juan de la Cerda, the lord of Gibraleon) and he was instantly besotted by her beauty. It is said that King Peter was so besotted that he commenced a campaign of harassment against Maria, constantly pestering her, trying to get her to give herself to him. King Peter’s campaign was so intense that Maria opted to withdraw from social life, hoping that being out of sight would help to remove her from King Peter’s mind.

In 1366 the Castilian Civil War began, which saw King Peter in conflict with his illegitimate brother, Henry of Trastámara. During this civil war Maria’s husband Don Juan de la Cerda was in the service of the king’s brother and had the bad luck of being captured by the king’s men. Hearing of her husband’s capture Maria visited King Peter to plead for her husband’s life, but it was too late as he had already been executed at the Torre del Oro. The execution of her husband and the subsequent seizure of all the family’s assets left Maria destitute and she eventually sought refuge at a convent.

Coming to the king’s attention again meant that Maria was again subject to harassment by the king who remained insistent that she should give herself to him. Eventually the king sent his men to the convent to find Maria and bring her to him, but she managed to elude their searches by being temporarily buried alive. Displeased with his men’s failure to find Maria, the king eventually went to the convent himself in order to capture Maria, and he eventually cornered her. Finally having had enough of the king’s advances it is said that Maria picked up a pan of boiling olive oil and poured it over her face to remove her beautiful looks and dissuade the king in his advances. Unsurprisingly Maria was severely disfigured by this act of self mutilation.

After this tragic event it is said that King Peter was so remorseful for his actions that Maria’s family assets were returned to her, and these assets enabled her to found the Convent of St. Agnes in Seville. Maria eventually died on December 2nd 1411 at the ripe old age of 77. In the mid sixteenth century construction work uncovered Maria’s tomb, and her body was found to be very well preserved, with her characteristic burns still visible. Her body was subsequently placed into a glass box and today is still preserved in the Convent of St. Agnes (Convento de Santa Inés on Calle Dona Maria Coronel), and it can be viewed on the anniversary of her death each year (December 2nd). Some pictures of her persevered body can be found on this blog.

King Peter met a suitably nasty end for a sex pest; in 1369 he was apparently stabbed in the face by his illegitimate brother Henry of Trastámara.

Torre del Oro (the Gold Tower).

The Canal de Alfonso XIII.

Pictures: Seville, Spain (November 2014).

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Wednesday 19 November 2014

The Home of the Spanish Smurfs

The Spanish region of Andalusia is known for its white towns and villages,  where all of the buildings are uniformly whitewashed making the settlements stand out against the earthy colours of the countryside. Not all of these settlements are white however, one town known as Júzcar is painted blue, Smurf-blue!

In 2011 this small and remote Spanish town was selected as the location for the worldwide premiere of the 2011 movie “The Smurfs”, which was held on June 16, 2011. Prior to the screening of the premiere Sony Pictures arranged to have the town painted Smurf-blue. It is reported that circa 4,000 litres of paint were used in this undertaking, which saw the entire town including the church and its gravestones painted. This transformation of the town from a traditional whitewashed settlement to a blue haven for Smurfs drastically increased the number of visitors to the town, and as a result of this the inhabitants have kept the new colour scheme to this day.

These little blue creatures, which were first created by Belgian cartoonist Peyo (Pierre Culliford) in 1958 are not just responsible for turning a Spanish town blue. According to the "Topless Robot" website it seems that the Smurfs may have inspired modern day Zombie fiction with their 1963 storyline "The Purple Smurf". The same website also recounts that Smurf figurines may have been responsible for creating a lead poisoning scare in the UK in the 1970s.

For those who care to investigate I am sure there are also many other Fortean themes lurking in the long history of theses little blue creatures.

Looking across the roof tops.

Smurf murals adorn the town.

Pictures: Júzcar, Spain (November 2014).

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Saturday 8 November 2014

Barge(ing) Inn to Crop Circles

Every year across Wiltshire tens if not hundreds of crop circles appear in the countryside during the night, as if by magic. The bulk of these crop circles or crop formations (as they are not always circular) tend occur near ancient sites such as Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill, the West Kennet Long Barrow or near chalk hill figures, which comprise the mystical landscape of Wiltshire.

The phenomenon of crop circles first came to prominence in the United Kingdom in the late 1970s. This new phenomenon soon caught the public’s attention and it was not long before they were attributed to visitors from outer space or in some cases freak weather, such as tornadoes or ball lightening. The reality of crop circles is much more prosaic however. In the early 1990s two Southampton artists claimed to be responsible for a significant number of the circles stating that they were made using planks of wood, rope and a baseball cap fitted with a loop of wire. The latter tool was apparently used to help them walk in straight lines. It is now widely accepted that crop circles are the product of artistic humans as opposed to visiting extra-terrestrials or rare atmospheric phenomenon.

Crop circles still however have significant appeal for many, and each year a considerable number of people from around the world travel to Wiltshire to be the first to see the new batch of crop circles that appear. The hub of crop circle hunting in Wiltshire is the Barge Inn in Honeystreet on the Kennet and Avon Canal. The Barge Inn which dates from 1810 is positioned on the Duke's Ley Line (running from Avebury to Stonehenge) and lies in the centre of the Wiltshire mystical landscape close to both the Ridgeway (Britain’s oldest road), the ancient complex of Avebury. The Inn is also overlooked by both the Alton Barnes White Horse and Adam’s Grave Long Barrow. The Inn has a crop circle room where an up to date record is kept of the current batch of crop formations, with a map showing their location and pictures showing aerial views of the designs. Each summer this room becomes the hub from which circle spotters deploy to try to be the first to explore new crop formations.

The Barge Inn also shows an interest in other aspects of the mystical and unusual.  The ceiling of the crop circle room has a detailed and exquisitely painted mural which shows the ancient Pagan sites that fill the nearby countryside. Some call this mural the "Sistine Chapel of Wiltshire". Taking the Pagan theme even further, the Inn hosts Handfasting ceremonies. During these ceremonies couples can pledge their love for each other by the ceremonial binding of hands. The practice of Handfasting originates from an old Norse custom, and the Norse term “hand-festa” means "to strike a bargain by joining hands". This Pagan ceremony is still practiced today and the ceremony ends by the traditional act of jumping over a broom.

If beer is more your thing, then at the Barge Inn you can partake in numerous suitably named beverages including Area 51 Cider, Alien Abduction Green Ale, Croppie Ale and Roswell Ale. The Inn is also currently seeking planning permission to erect an observatory in its grounds to enable customers at the bar to be able to keep an eye on the stars and to watch out for incoming flying saucers on their way to create a crop circle nearby!

The Barge Inn.

The circle gallery showing the current batch of crop formations.

The circle gallery showing the current batch of crop formations.

The map, showing the locations of the crop formations. 

Pictures, Wiltshire (August 2014).

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