The body of a five-year-old, fair-haired girl, who lived in the late Middle Ages and was probably of noble lineage, has been found 20 centimeters under the floor of the main altar of the chapel of the Real Alcázar of Seville, Europe’s oldest functioning royal palace, in southern Spain.
A team of archaeologists found the lid of the small lead sarcophagus on April 20, while carrying out tests prior to the restoration project on the palace’s 16th-century ceramic tiles, which were designed by artist Cristobal de Augusta. The sarcophagus contained a disintegrating wooden coffin and a complete skeleton – the first to be found in the Real Alcázar – along with pieces of fabric, shoe leather and two mother-of-pearl buttons.
Archaeologist Miguel Ángel Tabales, who is leading the research, is in no doubt that the altar of the chapel was not the little girl’s original burial place. He also believes she must have belonged to a very powerful family to be buried within the royal palace. His theory is that she was placed to the side of the altar when the chapel was repaved between 1930 and 1940. “We have not found any documentation to confirm it, but the lead coffin was surrounded by a cist [stone coffin] made from reused bricks held together with cement, materials that tell us it is from the first half of the 20th century,” he says. “My theory is that the workers found the sarcophagus in another area, opened it and, on seeing it was a corpse, decided to cover it decently and place it near the altar.”
The researchers are in the preliminary stages of examining the coffin and its contents and are still hoping to find a seal in the lead or any mark in the remains of the wood that will offer clues to the identity of the little girl, who was neatly laid out with her hair combed, as can be seen from the pieces of her skull, fractured by the weight of the marble floor. The theory they are working on is that she lived between the end of the 13th and the end of the 14th centuries. Both the team of archaeologists and the director of the Real Alcázar, Isabel Rodríguez, along with palace warden, Román Fernández-Baca, are convinced that other corpses will emerge. “This is the tip of the iceberg,” says Tabales. “When we saw the sarcophagus, we immediately thought that there could be more in the basement of the chapel. It could be a crypt that was part of the gothic palace, built by [King] Alfonso X, the Wise, in the second half of the 13th century over the old Almohad palace.”
Fernández-Baca, former director-general of fine arts for the Culture Ministry, believes the next step will be to put the body into context. “We are going to make a study of the subsoil using a geo-radar to examine what physical elements we may come across and that information will be passed to the Alcázar’s executive committee who will decide how to proceed,” says the warden, who estimates that in three months they will have the results of the carbon-14 test to determine the age of the girl – jokingly dubbed the Berenguela girl (after the marble-like stone) by researcher Enriqueta Vila, who has been to view the discovery along with archaeologist and historian, Pilar León-Castro, both of whom are on the palace’s governing board.
Anthropologist Juan Manuel Guijo, who is in charge of studying the remains, hopes that the tests will provide information about the girl’s lineage, where she lived, the cause of death and the funeral rites performed at her burial. “She had her arms semi-flexed and crossed over her thorax,” notes Guijo. “And the body had not been tampered with. We will be able to extract her DNA from the root bulb of her hair [rather than the bones], because when the wood disintegrated, the bones came into contact with the lead, which alters the results of this test. If we find remains of oils, we will know if she was an important person and also if she had been embalmed, a ritual forbidden by the Catholic Church, but which the wealthy practiced in their quest for eternal life.”
It is still not known what the girl died of, although a permanent fully formed molar has helped the anthropologist to calculate she was around five years old and fair hairs on the nape of her neck that she was blonde. Besides the location, the fact she was buried in a lead sarcophagus – measuring 116 centimeters long and 40 centimeters wide at the head and 30 centimeters at the foot with a depth of 30 centimeters –suggests she was from a wealthy background. Next to the bones of the little girl, six boxes containing an earthy substance have not yet been examined and may hold further surprises.
Madrid’s famous Retiro Park and Paseo del Prado boulevard have been added to UNESCO’s World Heritage List. The decision, made on Sunday, brings the total number of World Heritage Sites in Spain to 49 – the third-highest in the world after Italy and China.
Up until Sunday, none of these sites were located in the Spanish capital. The Madrid region, however, was home to three: El Escorial Monastery in Alcalá de Henares, the historical center of Aranjuez and the Montejo beech forest in Montejo de la Sierra.
Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez celebrated the news on Twitter, saying it was a “deserved recognition of a space in the capital that enriches our historical, artistic and cultural legacy.”
Madrid y toda España están hoy de enhorabuena.
El Paseo del Prado y El Retiro son ya Patrimonio Mundial de la UNESCO. Merecido reconocimiento a un espacio de la capital que engrandece nuestro legado histórico, artístico y cultural.
Retiro Park is a green refuge of 118 hectares in the center of the city of Madrid. Paseo del Prado boulevard is another icon of the capital, featuring six museums, major fountains such as the Fuente de Cibeles as well as the famous Plaza de Cibeles square.
For the sites to be granted World Heritage status, Spain needed the support of two-thirds of the UNESCO committee – 15 votes from 21 countries. The proposal was backed by Brazil, Ethiopia, Russia, Uganda, Nigeria, Mali, Thailand, Kyrgyzstan, Oman and Saudi Arabia, among others.
Prior to the vote, the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS), the organization that advises UNESCO, had argued against considering the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park as one site, and recommended that the latter be left out on the grounds that there were no “historic justifications” for the two to be paired.
This idea was strongly opposed by Spain’s ambassador to UNESCO, Andrés Perelló, who said: “What they are asking us to do is rip out a lung from Madrid. El Prado and El Retiro are a happy union, whose marriage is certified with a cartography more than three centuries old.” The origins of Paseo del Prado date back to 1565, while Retiro Park was first opened to the public during the Enlightenment.
The ICOMOS report also denounced the air pollution surrounding the site. To address these concerns, Madrid City Hall indicated it plans to reduce car traffic under its Madrid 360 initiative, which among other things is set to turn 10 kilometers of 48 streets into pedestrian areas, but is considered less ambitious than its predecessor Madrid Central.
The 44th session of the World Heritage Committee took place in the Chinese city of Fuzhou and was broadcast live at Madrid’s El Prado Museum. Perelló summed up the reasons to include Retiro Park and El Paseo de Prado in less than three minutes.
“When people say ‘from Madrid to heaven’ [the slogan of the Spanish capital] I ask myself why would you want to go to heaven when heaven is already in Madrid,” he told delegates at the event, which was scheduled to take place in 2020, but was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Every year, UNESCO evaluates 25 proposals for additions to the World Heritage List. In the case of the Paseo del Prado and Retiro Park, the site was judged on whether it evidenced an exchange of considerable architectural influences, was a representative example of a form of construction or complex and if it was associated with traditions that are still alive today. The famous park and boulevard sought to be inscribed on the UNESCO list in 1992, but its candidacy did not reach the final stage of the process.
The effort to win recognition for the sites’ outstanding universal value began again in 2014 under former Madrid mayor Ana Botella, of the conservative Popular Party (PP), and was strengthed by her successor Manuela Carmena, of the leftist Ahora Madrid party, which was later renamed Más Madrid. An advisor from UNESCO visited the site in October 2019.
Ryanair has reported a €273 million loss for its first quarter even as traffic rebounded during the period.
The carrier said it carried 8.1 million passengers in the three month period, which cover April to June. This compares to just 500,000 in the same period a year earlier.
Revenues increased 196 per cent from €125 million in the first quarter of 2020 to €371 million for the same quarter this year. Operation costs also rose however, jumping from €313 million to €675 million.
Net debt reduced by 27 per cent on the back of strong operating of €590 million.
“Covid-19 continued to wreak havoc on our business during the first quarter with most Easter flights cancelled and a slower than expected easing of EU travel restrictions into May and June,” said group chief executive Michael O’Leary.
“Based on current bookings, we expect traffic to rise from over five million in June to almost nine million in July, and over 10 million in August, as long as there are no further Covid setbacks in Europe,” he added.
Ryanair said the rollout of EU digital Covid certificates and the scrapping of quarantine for vaccinated arrivals to Britain from mid-July has led to a surge in bookings in recent week.
First quarter scheduled revenues increased 91 per cent to €192 million on the back of the rise in passenger traffic although this was offset by the cancellation of Easter traffic and a delay in the relaxation of travel restrictions.
Ancillary revenue generated approximately €22 per passenger the company said.
Mr O’Leary foresaw growth opportunities for the airline due to the collapse of many European airlines during the Covid crisis, and widespread capacity cuts at other carriers.
“We are encouraged by the high rate of vaccinations across Europe. If, as is presently predicted, most of Europe’s adult population is fully vaccinated by September., then we believe that we can look forward to a strong recovery in air travel for the second half of the fiscal year and well into 2022 – as is presently the case in domestic US air travel,” he said.
However, the airline warned the future remains challenging due to continued Covid restrictions and a lack of bookings and that this meant it was impossible to provided “meaningful” guidance at the time.
“We believe that full0year 2022 traffic has improved to a range of 90 million to 100 million (previously guided at the lower end of an 80 million to 120 million passenger range) and (cautiously) expect that the likely outcome for the year is somewhere between a small loss and breakeven. This is dependent on the continued rollout of vaccines this summer, and no adverse Covid variant developments,” said Mr O’Leary.
CEO Tidjane Thiam was forced to resign in February 2020 after admitting the bank had hired investigators to follow Khan, head of international wealth management, because he had opted to move to arch-rival, UBS.
As well as sending shockwaves through banking circles, the case sparked a criminal probe in Switzerland.
“All parties involved have agreed to end the case,” Credit Suisse spokeswoman Simone Meier told NZZ am Sonntag, which revealed the agreement.
Meier declined to comment further when contacted by AFP.
The public prosecutor of the canton of Zurich has also ended his investigation, as the complaints have been withdrawn, NZZ am Sonntag reported.
Thiam’s resignation followed a torrid six-month scandal that began with revelations in the Swiss press that Khan had been shadowed by agents from a private detective company hired after he joined UBS.
At one point, Khan physically confronted the people following him.
In October, chief operating officer Pierre-Olivier Bouee resigned, acknowledging at the end of an internal investigation that he “alone” had ordered the tailing without informing his superiors.
He had wanted to ensure that Khan was not trying to poach other employees, according to the internal investigation.
The case was reopened in December 2019 when the bank admitted to a second case of espionage, this time involving the former head of human resources, and then in February after media reports that the surveillance had also targeted the environmental organisation Greenpeace.