Sometimes it’s easy to forget that our lives will soon become history. And that the lives of people, no matter how imperfect, create a rich, varied tapestry that reaches centuries back in time, and forward into the future.
Young and old–representatives from several generations–came together this weekend in San Diego to again celebrate the Festival of the Bells. The annual event is held at Mission San Diego de Alcalá, the first Spanish mission to be built in California. Food, song and dancing accompanied colorful religious rituals such as the Blessing of the Bells and the Blessing of the Animals. Everyone was welcome to enjoy the free festival.
The original San Diego del Alcala was founded in 1769–almost 250 years ago–at the site of the old Spanish presidio, near the edge of San Diego Bay. The current mission building was erected by Father Serra in 1774, a few miles up the San Diego River where the land was more fertile.
The distinctive facade and bells of this historical landmark are often used as a symbol for our city, and the ringing of the bells are like echoes from a complex, often strife-filled, but fascinating past. The youngest generation, seeing this old world with fresh, optimistic eyes, jumping free and loving life in the festival’s bounce house, will remember today decades in the future as just another small moment in the journey of history. Hopefully that memory is good.
The campanario is 46 feet high and holds the Mission bells. The crown-topped bell on the lower right is named Ave Maria Purisima–Immaculate Mary. It weights 805 pounds and was cast in 1802 . . . The bells played an important role in the everyday life of the Mission . . . They were used to announce times for Mass, work, meals and siestas. The bells signaled danger, rang solemnly to honor the dead, and pealed joyously to celebrate feast days, weddings and fiestas.
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This afternoon I enjoyed watching some amazing Flamenco dancing. Balboa Park’s colorful Spanish Village, the home to many artist studios, hosted the special event. As beautifully dressed lady Flamenco dancers performed for the public, local artists at easels painted away!
Flamenco dancing is fiery, stately and proud. Each dance and dancer glowed with unabashed human emotion. The audience learned a little about the nature of this Spanish folk dance, but I was so mesmerized I failed to jot down many notes. I remember that one dance was said to represent defiant joy, another a representation of pure, carefree womanhood.
Yesterday I enjoyed a tour of something so unbelievably cool it almost defies description. Along with my photographs I took some notes, but what I’m about to write might not be perfectly accurate. I’m relying to an extent on memory, which with my advancing age isn’t quite what it used to be. So if anyone reading my captions spots an error, PLEASE write a comment at the bottom of this blog post!
Later this month, the Maritime Museum of San Diego will be launching its absolutely fantastic, historically accurate, seaworthy replica of the galleon San Salvador. The original San Salvador was the ship that Portuguese explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo sailed in during his voyage of discovery up the California coast on behalf of Spain. The famous galleon entered San Diego Bay in 1542, making Cabrillo the first European to visit the large, natural harbor. What we call San Diego today he named San Miguel.
Today, the full-size working replica of Cabrillo’s ship is being built at the west end of Spanish Landing, in an area called San Salvador Village, between Harbor Island and San Diego International Airport. The finished ship will be 92 feet long with a beam of 24 feet. As I understand it, construction has been underway for about four years, and for a variety of reasons has taken a couple years longer than originally projected. But once the decks are re-caulked, the shrouds tarred, and a few other things finished, the ship’s exterior will finally be ready for its imminent introduction into San Diego Bay!
The galleon, which without ballast weighs about 130 tons, will be slowly towed to the Broadway Pier downtown, then lifted by a huge crane into the bay. While docked beside the other ships of the Maritime Museum, the interior will be finished, about 60 more tons of lead ballast added, and the vessel’s ability to remain upright thoroughly tested by the Coast Guard.
(Don’t quote me on the 130 tons and 60 tons. Those figures came entirely from my leaky memory.)
There’s simply too much awesome stuff to describe in a few paragraphs, so let me now show you my photographs and I’ll include in the captions some of the cool stuff I learned or observed…
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In the 1920s, prominent San Diego architect Richard Requa visited Europe. During his extensive tour, he carefully observed a Moorish king’s garden in Ronda, Spain. A book that he later authored stated: “In my travels about the world, I had found three gardens of outstanding interest and beauty… The finest of these is in a small town in southern Spain called Ronda. Viewing it for the first time, there came instantly to mind the spontaneous exclamation, ‘I hope to die before I see anything more lovely.'”
Inspired by what he’d seen, Requa designed the Casa del Rey Moro garden (House of the Moorish King) for the 1935 California Pacific International Exposition in San Diego’s Balboa Park. In 1997 the garden and adjacent House of Hospitality were rededicated after a major renovation. The garden, today a popular wedding spot, includes a replica of the wishing well in the Guadalajara Museum of Gardens.
Balboa Park is an enormous place full of competing attractions. It’s strange how I always feel compelled to walk through the Casa del Rey Moro garden!
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San Diego’s 51st Annual Cabrillo Festival was held today. Taking place at Ballast Point near the south end of Naval Base Point Loma, the event allowed the public to view a reenactment of Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo’s entrance into San Diego Bay in 1542. Cabrillo, born in Portugal, commanded his voyage of discovery on behalf of Spain, sailing the galleon San Salvador up the west coast of America.
In addition to the colorful reenactment, the festival included a short ceremony, speeches, costumes, National Park exhibits, food and dance provided by various cultural groups, and just a lot of interesting local history. I took some photographs. Here they are!
A short walk out to a point beside the bay provided a view of the San Diego Maritime Museum’s tall ship Californian, which portrayed Cabrillo’s galleon San Salvador.
I took pictures of two signs by the above fenced archeological site…
I headed back to the gathered crowd to await the main event…
In addition to the four national anthems, a moment of silence honored the Native American Kumeyaay, who lived in this area long before Europeans arrived. Cabrillo spent a few days anchored in today’s San Diego Bay, a place he originally named San Miguel. He took on fresh water and traded with the native Kumeyaay people that he met.
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Please join me as I walk from San Diego’s Old Town up a short but very steep trail to Presidio Park. We’ll see all sorts of interesting monuments, views, and of course, the location of the old Spanish presidio, whose ruins are no longer visible. The top of Presidio Hill is now home to the Junipero Serra Museum. Follow me!
We begin near the trailhead, beside the small Presidio Hills Golf Course, on the east edge of historic Old Town.
The first interesting thing we see is this sculpture, titled The Indian. It was created by famous American artist Arthur Putnam in 1905 and placed at the site of an ancient Indian village. The small village was discovered and named San Miguel by the explorer Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo in 1542.
Up the hill from The Indian stands the Padre Cross. It was raised in 1913 by the Order of Panama and is made up of tiles from the Presidio ruins. The cross marks the strategic location overlooking San Diego Bay where Franciscan friar Junipero Serra chose to establish a Spanish Catholic mission in 1769. (The mission was moved several miles up the San Diego River 5 years later.)
Nearby among some trees we find a memorial to the mission’s friars. It’s a bronze statue titled The Padre, completed in 1908 by renowned sculptor Arthur Putnam.
Our legs are starting to feel the climb as we reach three flagpoles overlooking Mission Valley.
Turning north for a moment, we see the trolley!
Now we’re getting close to the Serra Museum, which was built in 1928 on this historically very important hill. The museum was built, and the land containing Presidio Park was purchased and preserved for posterity, by philanthropist George Marston.
San Diego was born in 1769 at the old Presidio, a Spanish fort in a desert-like wilderness very far from European civilization. It was located just below the Serra Museum.
Not many people are about at the moment. Most tourists never venture up this way.
The Serra Museum is packed with numerous historical exhibits. You can climb the tower for views of San Diego Bay, the San Diego River and Mission Valley.
Now we’ll wander along the hilltop to nearby Fort Stockton, the short-lived camp of the famous Mormon Battalion.
Decades ago, when I was a young man, I remember seeing a cannon set in this concrete overlooking Old Town. I believe that same cannon is now on display in the nearby Serra Museum. Given the name El Jupiter, it was one of ten cannons that originally protected the old Spanish Fort Guijarros on San Diego Bay at Ballast Point.
(A second surviving cannon from the fort is named El Capitan. Today it can be found near the center of Old Town San Diego’s Plaza de las Armas.)
In 1846, President James K. Polk asked Brigham Young of the Mormons to send a few hundred men to San Diego to help in the Mexican-American war effort. On January 29, 1847 five hundred men and about eighty women and children arrived at Fort Stockton after a very difficult 2,000-mile march from Council Bluffs, Iowa.