September 21, 2012

Road Trip Spain: Art on the Autovía Mudéjar, Route A-23

This roadside sculpture nicely evokes the Autovía Mudéjar
iconography of highway meets Mudéjar star.
I've long been struck by all the art sculptures one encounters along the streets, roundabouts, and highways of Spain. America, for all of its "On the Road" car culture, can't beat Spain for its public investment in decorating its byways with visual spectacles designed by Spanish artists. My Spanish family and I frequently take road trips out of Valencia, many of which utilize a particularly well-decorated highway, the Autovía Mudejar or A-23, which runs from Sagunt to north of Huesca, and which features sculptures and tile decorations much of which invoke the "Mudéjar" art tradition of the moors who stayed in Spain after the reconquista. The highway links up to a variety of wonderful day-trip jaunts and "pueblos con encanto", such as Sagunt, Albarracín, and Linares de Mora, among others.


The 434 kilometer trajectory of the Autovía Mudéjar highway.

On the day I took most of these photos, there were a lot of cars like this one on the road
with bikes on top... Cycling team cars from La Vuelta a España cycling race,
moving bikes from the Jaca stage the day before to the Alcañiz site for that day's race.

Of course, the most famous highway decoration in Spain is the Osborne "toro", the highly popular bull logo billboards originally used to sell Osborne's sherry, left up all across Spain even after the government banned all other highway billboard advertising in 1994. The bull transcended its commercial roots to become a staple of Spanish national iconography. This kind of advertising-turned-pop-culture is more akin to the Route 66 Americana one finds back Stateside.

But in Spain, and especially along the Autovía Mudéjar highway section between Zaragoza and Huesca, one finds works of sculpture planted there not for profit, but solely for the edification of highway drivers. Some are quite impressive, others merely elegant embellishments to the scenery, and many are just plain humorous.


On a recent trip up to the Spanish Pyrenees and the Valle de Tena, me and the family once again drove along this visual feast, and I decided to take the opportunity to photograph some examples. Here are some photos of sculptures that I managed to photograph despite driving by them at 120 kmph...

Many of the sculptures and embellishments follow a decidedly Mudéjar design...

For a period of the highway, the overpasses are marked with these Mudéjar stars.





There is also a segment of the A-23 highway where one can see a wide variety of tiled or clay displays under the overpasses, on the side. Though these were much harder to capture in a photograph while on the go...







I got a kick out of this shrub design at one point along the Mudejar highway...


Then there are the curious, abstract art sculptures...

These sculptures, for example, which I took to resemble palm trees.
Note the painted underpass art on the left.


This sculpture looks like a cigarette in cigarette holder. Not sure why it was chosen for highway art.

This one near Zaragoza reminds me of a dancing fiddler.

I thought this sculpture was particularly cute and ingenious...
looking like an old-fashioned road signpost.

This post-modern shape on the left marks a highway exit roundabout


While I'm at it, it's worth mentioning other joys that come with driving the Spanish countryside... above all the scenic landscape...

So this is where all that "aceite de girasol" comes from...

Nothing more Spanish than windmills on the horizon...


And occasionally there were some real gems of sculptures to be found...

I liked this twist on the Osborne bull.

This region is famous for its "Jamón de Teruel", so it's only natural
that one sculpture would take up the jamón itself as an inspiration.
What a riot suddenly seeing this jamón looming large on the side
of the road.

My particular favorites along this stretch of highway were two of San Jorge (patron saint of the Crown of Aragon) killing the dragon, one located just north of Huesca and the other just south of the turnoff for Albarracín...

The Huesca San Jorge, shown killing the dragon that is attacking his horse

The Huesca San Jorge shown from a different angle

The other San Jorge located nearer to Albarracín, which nicely blends into
the rocky terrain along the highway.

And this is just a sample of one stretch of highway. I don't include the many other sculptures I've seen which decorate the Valencia city's roundabouts, or curiosities of other Spanish roads and highways traversed.

I propose to my readers that we make a game of it, much like my earlier "Great Granada Hunt" game. Have you discovered great "Road Art" in your local regions of Spain? If so, email a photo of it to me or a link to your blog post on it, and I'll include it in this post (with proper credits and linkbacks) in a "Viewer's Choice" section. Thanks!

13 comments:

Mr Grumpy said...

I did the soul-destroying drive from Valencia to Bilbao a few months back (via Zaragoza) and wondered what these decorative distractions were, so thansk for clearing that up.

An Expat in Spain said...

"Soul-destroying drive"?!? Maybe it's because I'm a Texan, but I _love_ road trips. About the only soul-destruction I get on the highways here in Spain comes from the toll roads (peajes), which are steep and obnoxious for how they break up a good cruisin' mode.

Tumbit - Mr Grumpy said...

Maybe so, but having a factious 5 year old asking "are we nearly there yet ?", together with broken aircon didn´t endear me to the endless nothingness heading towards Zaragoza.

Anonymous said...

Hi,

Really (visually) very impressive blog. Congratulations.

I am a spaniard living in Russia (13 yrs already) and a regular of 'Thoughts from Galicia". Last summer I bought a flat in Valencia (Campanar) near the "Nou Camp" construction site.

Moscow

An Expat in Spain said...

Ah, Mr. Grumpy, now you're painting a more Dantesque picture of trapped on the road. Fair enough! That does sound unpleasant.

To the anonymous reader living in Russia with a flat near Campanar, many thank yous! I'm glad you're enjoying what you find here. I've added "Thoughts from Galicia" to my expat blog roll. Thanks for bringing it to my attention!

Serengeti national park said...

Those road art are probably ways to prevent drowsiness while driving. Something a mind could process so that one could not fall asleep.

An Expat in Spain said...

Dear Serengeti, thank you for reading. (I admit, I'm intrigued to know what brought you here.) You might be right about the function of this road art... Though I've noticed from some of my web traffic to this page that many Spaniards think they are just a way for corrupt officials to display their wealth and power:
http://estrategiastendencias.blogspot.co.at/2012/09/21912-interes-compuesto.html
So everyone has their own theory.

Luxury Villas said...

Having that road trip provided you with more opportunities to see the real beauty of Spain. :) Thanks for sharing!

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Aeldra Robinson said...

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Aeldra Robinson said...

Having that road trip provided you with more opportunities to see the real beauty of Spain. :) Thanks for sharing!

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Aeldra Robinson said...

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