A Stranger in Spain

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1311647H.V. Morton is a scholarly writer unequaled in his ability to meld travel and history. The story of his long and leisurely journey through Spain more than sixty years ago, is crammed with delicious morsels of Spanish history dating back to the invasion by the Moors in the eighth century, and with descriptions of the unparalleled treasures of Moorish and Catholic architecture of Spain. Morton was the Globe Trekker par excellence of the last century, a tireless seeker of interesting information, methodically traversing the country from South to North and East to West. Particularly fascinating features of the book are the anecdotes about a profusion of characters from Spanish history, among others the Caliphs of Córdoba, Ferdinand and Isabel of Castile (one of many Isabel’s), Columbus, Cortéz and Pizarro, Velásquez and Goya, the Habsburgs, but also Charles I of England with the Duke of Buckingham, Henry V of England and Henry VI, VII and VIII, as well as a multitude of colorful historical French and German personages…

One of the many interesting anecdotes involves a visit by Morton to the Escorial in Madrid. He is taken by a saturnine priest to a vault under the Escorial, which contains the marble sarcophagi of all but three Spanish kings since the reign of Charles V. Their sarcophagi are in tiers of four, one above the other on one side of the vault, the sarcophagi of queens in tiers on the opposite wall. Morton points out the curious Spanish propriety in the ranking of kings on one side and queens on the other. (Furthermore, the only queens admitted to that vault were those who produced male heirs to the throne.) This is but one of the multitude of anecdotes which make “A Stranger in Spain” a compelling and captivating read.

(I would be remiss if I did not mention Morton’s similar books about England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Rome and Italy.)

Fred Rubinstein

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