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Radar search could help reveal Cervantes grave

Scientists will start scanning the floor of a Madrid convent with a radar on Monday in the hope of finding the body of Spanish writer Miguel de Cervantes, author of "Don Quixote".

Radar search could help reveal Cervantes grave
Cervantes is beleived to be buried in Madrid's Convent of Trinitarians but the exact location is unknown. Photo: Gerard Julien/AFP

They said on Friday they were ready to begin searching in the Convent of Trinitarians to identify the writer, who died in poverty despite creating one of the landmarks of Western literature.

Cervantes is recorded as having died on April 22, 1616 and been buried a day later in the church of the red-brick convent, but the precise spot is now unknown.

 "We have marked out an area to search. It seems logical that if he was indeed buried there, it was below the floor of the church," said Francisco Etxeberria, a forensic anthropologist.

"The radar cannot tell you whether it is the body of the writer, but it can indicate the place of burial," said the expert leading the first phase of the search, Luis Avial.

"The geo-radar can tell us that location… then comes the delicate work by archaeologists and forensic scientists to exhume the body and identify it," he told a news conference.

Etxeberria said the searchers would also scan parts of the walls and the sacristy, in the floor of which there is a padlocked door thought to lead down to a crypt.

The work of scanning, exhuming and analysing any remains found is due to last months, he added.

Another expert involved in the search, historian Fernando de Pardo, put the estimated cost of the project at about €100,000 ($138,000) overall.

If Cervantes's remains are identified there, it is planned that he "remain buried in the church, but with a plaque that says he is there", de Pardo added.

Born near Madrid in 1547, Cervantes has been dubbed the father of the modern novel for "The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha", published in two parts in 1605 and 1615.

The convent is still inhabited by nuns and has been designated part of Madrid's cultural heritage since 1921, complicating any effort to excavate in blind pursuit of Cervantes' remains.

"Finding the tomb of Cervantes would mean paying a very important debt to the Prince of Letters in Spain," Jose Francisco Garcia, Madrid city hall's director of cultural heritage, said last month.

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HISTORY

Why Spain is still in the wrong time zone because of Hitler

As Spain again prepares to put the clocks forward on Saturday night, we look at the fascinating reasons why the country has been in the wrong time zone for the last 75 years, the possible effects of this historical blip on Spanish society, and why there's still no sign of it changing.

Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)
Nazi leader German Chancellor Adolf Hitler (R) shakes hands with Spanish Generalísimo Francisco Franco at Hendaye train station on the French-Spanish border in October 1940. (Photo by AFP)

Why is Spain in the wrong time zone?

Madrid lies directly south of London. Spain is geographically in line with the UK and Portugal. It makes sense, then, that Spain was in the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) zone until around 75 years ago.

But that all changed in 1940. With Nazi Germany occupying Belgium, Holland, and recently invading France, Spain’s own facist dictator, Francisco Franco, travelled to the French border to meet with Hitler, the man he and many other believed would go on to dominate Europe.

The momentum was clearly with the Nazis, at the time, and Italy had already pledged its support to Hitler. Although he wanted the same from Spain, Franco, however, didn’t have much to offer. With the country ravaged by its own recent Civil War – in which Franco’s victory was heavily supported by Hitler –  Franco felt obliged to make a gesture of some sort.

Although ultimately remaining neutral in the war, Franco decided to show his support for Hitler by agreeing to put Spain’s clocks forward by an hour in an act of solidarity with Nazi Germany. 

Spain has remained in the Central European Time zone ever since, in line with countries as far east as Poland. That means that Madrid currently has the same time as Warsaw in Poland 2,290km away but is one hour ahead of Lisbon which is only 502 km away. 

The consequences of Spain being in the wrong time zone

But Franco’s decision all those years ago isn’t just a quirk of Spanish history, or testament to the extent to which the legacy of that period still looms over Spanish society, it was a decision that, experts say, has had a lasting impact on Spanish culture and society that underpins everything from Spaniard’s sleep cycles and meal times to the country’s birth rates and economic growth.

In recent years there have been calls to make the switch back to GMT because many believe the time zone quirk is affecting Spaniard’s productivity and quality of life. In 2013 a Spanish national commission concluded that Spaniards sleep almost an hour less than the European average, and that this led to increased stress, concentration problems, both at school and work, and workplace accidents.

Some experts believe this explains the Spanish dependence on siestas – that is, that the lack of sleep makes them necessary – but in reality the siesta has been a consistent feature of Spanish life for centuries for many of the same reasons it still is today: in southern Spain, the fierce summer temperatures make it necessary to stay at home during the afternoon. 

Spain's most famous clock is the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr
Spain’s most famous clock is at the Puerta del Sol in central Madrid. Photo: Jorge Franganillo/Flickr

One effect of the siesta however is that the break in the day means Spaniards work the most hours in Europe yet at one of the continent’s lowest levels of productivity. A lack of sleep contributes to siesta taking which, in turn, means Spaniards work later into the evening and could partly explain Spain’s notoriously nocturnal lifestyles and late meal times. 

Despite the country running on CET, Spaniards’ eating patterns roughly mirror GMT. Many Spaniards eat lunch at what would be 1 or 1.30pm in London (the traditional 2 or 2.30pm in Spain) and dinner at a reasonable 8pm in London (but 9pm or even 10pm as is customary in many parts of Spain).

Making the change and returning to GMT would, according to Nuria Chinchilla, professor at Spain’s IESE business school, help Spaniards “return to the natural order of our circadian rhythm (our 24-hour physiological cycle) that goes with the sun… and the sun in Greenwich, not Germany”.

“If we don’t (change to GMT) we lengthen the day, eat very late and then don’t sleep,” she added.

Why hasn’t Spain moved to the right time zone yet?

The debate about which time zone Spain belongs in was reinvigorated following recent proposals at the EU level to scrap entirely the daylight savings custom. 

In 2018 the EU Commission announced a proposal to abolish the custom after polling showed that 80 percent of Europeans are in favour of staying permanently on summer time.This debate naturally had many in Spain wondering about whether they were in the right time zone.

But owing to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic, Brexit, and various other bureaucratic difficulties, the proposal was shelved. Member states cannot decide unilaterally on the question of daylight savings, but they can decide which timezone they want to be in. 

Spain has had various commissions over the years exploring the impact of daylight savings and timezones, but no concrete proposals over a return to GMT have ever been made, despite the benefits experts claim it could bring.

Although the government’s focus has been drawn by more pressing issues in recent years – and the issue of time and daylight savings shelved at the European level – expect discussion of whether Spain is actually even in the right time zone this weekend when the clocks do go back, or if the linked issue of daylight savings is eventually taken off the shelf at the European level.

Article by Conor Faulkner

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