tag : Castillo de Canena, Castle, home renovation, interior design, olive oil, palace, Renovation Bootcamp, Robin Siegerman, Toronto
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BIENVENIDO A CASTILLO DE CANENA!
Last week, I started telling you about my extraordinary trip to Spain…
…and our remarkable lunch in the tasting room of the Castle of Canena…
…which is the estate of the Vaño family and their company of the same name who are recognized as the producers of one of the world’s top olive oils (find a list of retail locations at the bottom of the post).
While preparing last week’s post and researching a little background on the olive oil business, I fell down a rabbit hole…
(remember the story of Alice and Wonderland?!)
…and got side-tracked by the incredible world-wide scope of the deception in the olive oil industry, expertly covered in Tom Meuller’s book, which you can find by clicking on the link under this photo…
When I tasted Castillo de Canena EVOO, I realized I’ve never before known what superb olive oil tasted like, and that I had actually been buying some scary, non-virgin, chemical brew at the supermarket disguised as Extra Virgin Olive Oil. If you missed that post, you can see it here.
What I didn’t have room for last week, was to give you a tour of the splendid, swoon-worthy, 16-bedroom palace itself. And, having been a designer for 20 years, I was fascinated by the interior architecture, furnishings, artefacts, tapestries and art.
A splendid example of an intact, medieval, working castle, it’s worthy of a handsome knight in shining armour…
…and the damsel he sweeps up onto his charger….
…it has my imagination percolating as the setting for a seething, historical romance with furious battles, sumptuous feasts and conquered hearts.
Hoping to discover some unknown nuggets of drama in the castle’s history, and wanting to understand the role that these fortresses played throughout Spain’s history, whaddoyaknow…
Back down the rabbit hole! And in the immortal words of Alice herself, it got curiouser, and curiouser…
…a fantastical mystery seemed to unfold, which had been nearly buried under a shroud of history…
Although a precise record and date of construction of the castle has been lost over the centuries, what is known of Castillo de Canena, is right out of an epic spectacle about the bloody battles between the Visigoths (Nomadic tribes of Gemanic origin who flourished in the lands of the Roman Empire including the Iberian peninsula, of which Spain is the major landholder) and Moors of North Africa.
Since Spain is so close to the shores of North Africa (just a modern ferry ride across), over the centuries, the struggle for power of lands careened back and forth between the Muslim Moors and Catholic Spaniards.
The powerful Moors dominated for centuries until the Spanish “Reconquista” (literally meaning reconquest) which spanned over 700 years. The last Islamic state on the peninsula was Granada and the Islamic fortress city of La Alhambra…
…which fell in 1492, during the reign of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain. These were the monarchs responsible for financing the voyage of Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer who sailed under a Spanish flag.
You see what I mean about the rabbit hole?!
It is said, that Castillo de Canena, like many medieval castles throughout Spain, most of which now lie in ruins, was built by the Arabs as a defensive, military stronghold on the ruins of a Roman military outpost. As such, the fortress was strategically perched on a hill, which now overlooks the town of Canena in the Jaén Province, in the Andelusia region of South-East Spain (about an hour and a half north of Granada), and is surrounded by millions of acres of olive groves.
Through my amateur sleuthing, it seemed that if the castle was built by the Moors, that would put its original construction some time between the 8th and 11th centuries, when much of the region was an Arab principality.
This is consistent with the earliest written records known of the castle, which indicate that it was a refuge for the King of the Taifa during the fall of Toledo (a Spanish Imperial city known at the time as the standard bearer for peaceful coexistence between Muslims, Christians and Jews) in 1085, which was the first city captured in the Reconquista.
So that means, if my suppositions are correct, the original castle must have been built BEFORE 1085!
Sheesh! And we North Americans declare 100-year old buildings as heritage sites!…but I digress…
Moorish architecture of the time was extraordinarily ornate, and by their standards, this castle, is almost austere…
So…. according to historical descriptions, the exterior of the castle and interior architecture firmly suggests Christian architecture, but the Christians didn’t rule the region until the end of the 1400s…
so how COULD it have been built by the Arabs in the 11th century?
Now stay with me…this is where we take a hairpin turn…
Remember King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the financiers of Christopher Columbus? Well their Flemish-born grandson became Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, known as Charles I of Spain, in 1516, at the age of 16. (I’m guessing he was too busy to play the medieval equivalent of X-box…)
We know that in 1538, the castle was transformed from a fortress into a more luxurious palace fit for the king, by Francisco de los Cobos. He was one of the most powerful men in Spain at that time and Secretary of State to the teenaged Emperor (who was subsequently a guest in the castle).
To design and supervise the renovation, de los Cobos commissioned the revered 16th century architect, Andrés de Vandelvira (1509-c. 1575), who incorporated his own Andalusian Renaissance style into the conversion of fort to palace, which is recognized today as an outstanding example of the period.
Which means…. that the style we see in the castle today is a result of that 16th century renovation, NOT the original Arab structure.
And you thought your kitchen renovation took a long time? Imagine renovating a medieval fortress!
Without a table saw.
Or nail gun.
Spanish Renaissance architecture shows influences of Islamic design (with the water feature in the middle of the courtyard), but it was largely stripped down and simplified, with its roots in the Roman and Greek Empires, which can be seen in the courtyards’ Ionic columns seen in this photo…
…whereas Islamic architecture of the period, which is in full glory at the beautifully preserved La Alhambra in Granada, was fantastically ornate…
…windows were heavily latticed in Islamic architecture to protect the women within from prying eyes of passing strangers outside…
…whereas windows in Christian architecture of the period were mostly square or rectangular in shape and unfettered with clear, leaded glass to let in the light…
Ceilings in Islamic architecture were heavily carved and complex in their ornate details…
….whereas ceilings in Christian architecture were relatively plain, some adorned with wood beams which provided structural support.
This regal gallery on the second level of the castle is now glassed in to try to minimize the chill of the winter winds, but that is a modern adaptation.
The history of the ownership of the palace after the death of de los Cobos in 1547 is a bit murky. What is known, is that it remained for some generations in the hands of his descendents who, by Royal decree, were granted the title of the Marquis of Camarasa (his son being the first), the last of whom was Victoria Eugenia Fernández de Córdoba, the 17th Marquise who died in August 2013 at the age of 96.
In 1931 the Castle of Canena was declared a National Monument, and ever since the early 1960’s when it was acquired by the Vaño family, it has been carefully preserved and maintained by them.
Today, the castle welcomes the Vaño family for holidays and special occasions, and they welcome special guests like our group of designers…
I hope you found the history and interiors of Castillo de Canena as fascinating as I did! I’m so grateful to have had the opportunity to visit in person and share my observations and impressions with you. And again, I thank Patty Dominguez from Cosentino (who hosted our trip and I’ll be telling you about Cosentino next week) for leading us there and the gracious Francisco Vaño of Castillo de Canena for his hospitality and an eye-opening education in the characteristics of a very special EVOO.
Señor Vaño, muchas gracias por todo!
If your home is your castle and it too needs a nip or a tuck to give it a lift, check out my consultation services here.
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Bien por mis amigos hasta la próxima semana!
(Good bye my friends, until next week!)
P.S. Last week, I wasn’t able to get the names of retailers of Castillo de Canena Olive Oil before the post went live, so here is a list:
Qualifirst Foods (online and in person in Etobicoke)
Whole Foods in California
St. Louis, MO
Ann Arbor, MI