Saragossa – Spain Travel

Saragossa, now a thriving town of 70,000 people, will be a place of even more importanee. We went at once to an inn which, with some pretense at Italian customs, was virtually Spanish, and here we spent thirty hours or more very pleasantly. For certain annoyances, in the absence of arrangements which the nineteenth century has invented, one must make up his mind once for all in Spain; but as for the eternities of neatness, obligingness, deference, and a knowledge of his place by every man concerned in the inn, and of her place by every woman, I found these central necessities in every place I visited. For my part, I prefer to try the distinctively Spanish inns, and not those which are called English, French, or Italian.

Every inch of Saragossa is curious. I remember a walk among good-natured people, selling their fruits and vegetables in the market-place, as being quite as interesting to me as any Madonna of the Pillar. Here was I, with three ladies, of all four of whom the costume was almost as remarkable to the Saragossans as that of four Chippewa Indians would be in the market of Detroit. And these nice people were not obtrusive in their curiosity, were good-natured to our execrable Spanish, and at every point, with-out knowing it, showed us curiosities which we had never seen before. Why, I went into a twine-shop, and bought some red pack-thread, of which I have some today. The shop, if it were in Tremont Street, would be visited as a curiosity; or, if I could put it into the Old South Church, the fee for admission to see it would make up the annual income needed by the custodians of that monument.

The four regulation lions of Saragossa are, however, not twine-shops nor market-places, but the cathedral, the church of El Pilar, the leaning tower, and the bridge and fortifications. Does the intelligent reader perhaps remember the puppet-show at which Don Quixote assisted, in which the famous Don Gayferos came to the assistance of the Princess Melisendra? Well, the Princess Melisendra was imprisoned in a tower in Saragossa, of which the other name was Sansuenna. Saragossa, if anybody cares, is a modern corruption from Caesarea-Augusta. If the reader remembers, the Princess lowered her-self down from the tower and caught on the balcony by her brocade dress. Don Gayferos found her hanging, and, regardless of the injury to the brocade, the book says, he pulled her down from the iron rail, put her astride on the crupper of his saddle, and took her in triumph to Paris. I will not swear that the tower in which she was imprisoned was not the veritable leaning tower of Saragossa of to-day. Let us rather say this stands on the place of that, as this is called the new tower, and was, in fact, built in 1504. Melisendra, on her part, was the daughter of Charlemagne, so far as she had any real existence.

The guide-books say that the foundation of the tower settled on one side, and that the leaning is, therefore, accidental. I do not believe this. I think it was built to lean. The artists of our party wanted to go up, and I accompanied them to the place, meaning to sit at the bottom. But the climb proved so easy that I went on and on, till we were at the top. It is about as high as Bunker Hill Monument.

It was very curious to look straight down the sloping side, and see the tops of dogs and men and horses. A few years ago the architects got frightened about it; so they built a new wall about the bottom, where it would not show out-side, and shaved off the projections which once were at the top. But I do not think this made much difference. Anyway, our two hundred kilograms, more or less, of weight did not make it tremble.

There are practically two cathedrals in Saragossa, for this reason :—there is the cathedral of La Seo, which means the cathedral of the See, a fine and ancient building, in which Ferdinand the Catholic was baptized in 1456. Parts of the building are very much older. This cathedral would answer every purpose. But very early in the history of the religion the Virgin Mary descended visibly upon a certain pillar, still extant, and gave word that the place was under her direction. She did her worship here for some time daily. Naturally, a church built itself around this pillar, and it became a place of devotion, even pilgrimage, of special interest. At some time in the sixteenth century, I believe, some royal person—but I think I never knew who—took interest enough to pull down the old church, which was, perhaps, burned, and build a bigger in its place, and to give word that this also should be a cathedral.

So you have a chance to see how badly the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries did this sort of thing, in comparison with the admirable success of the earlier centuries, when they had the same thing to do. The pillar itself is the central point of an altar, in a beautiful chapel of its own. It is of reddish marble, and has a sort of extinguisher over it, made of I know not what. A priest was at his devotions before it and some fifty of the people, while in the larger “coro” hard by the choir of priests, and I sup-pose the bishop, were celebrating High Mass. For the first time in Spain I heard here at mass a single boy’s clear soprano voice in some part of the service. We could see from where we were none of those in the “coro.” But this clear treble, alternating with the heavy bass of the chorus, had a musical effect very interesting, and I need not say that I did my best to trans-late it into devotion.

Something similar was going on in the other cathedral, which is truly noble; and here in Saragossa there are a considerable number of people who pass in and out to their daily prayers in these churches. You do not have that grewsome feeling that these are only a set of drummers at work, keeping up the daily drumbeat round the world, so that some one may be able to say that there is a continuous drum-beat. You really feel that somebody here’ takes some vital interest in the service. I saw no monument of the Maid of Saragossa or of Pala-fox, who conducted the defense with so much spirit against the French in 1808. But the old wall still exists on the river-side, and marks of the attack and defense are everywhere shown.