27/07/2007, New Carthage
Cartagena means New Carthage, the name given to the town when they conquered it from the Phonecians. People have been fighting over this natural harbour, its defensible hills and fertile hinterland for 3000 years. It's in a great strategic position too, on the trade routes along the coast and a good landfall from the Balearics, Italy and (as for us) North Africa.
We're a bit touristed out after Grenada, but we have visited the Castillo de la Concepcion and the Civil War air-raid shelters, as well as taking the tourist bus. The latter is just right; not too long nor too short and a good bite of information.
The Castillo is very well presented, and must be the most disabled accessible ancient monument we've ever seen. It has a good interactive exhibition, showing how the town grew and shrunk over the centuries. It got a big boost when the fervid swamp of an inland sea to the north was drained, which stopped lots of diseases and allowed expansion. There was another big boost in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, due both to being fleet HQ and lots of mining. Today it is recovering from major economic collapse in the 1980's, and relying heavily on tourism, the large commercial port and the Navy to do it.
In between, of course, lies the rarely-mentioned 'extreme agitations' of the later 1930's, aka the Spanish Civil War. Cartagena was the HQ of the Republican fleet, used both for the navy effort and to keep Madrid supplied. As a result it was very heavily bombed, even by the standards of that war which saw the first aerial bombardments. The council organised a committee for passive defence, which built a big system of air-raid shelters. Some of these were in the hills that characterise Cartagena, and the ones under the Castillo, in the highest hill, are open to the public.
They are very moving, with recorded interviews with survivors, contemporary films and posters and the like. The first time a bomb was dropped, they had never heard of such a thing, and were all out in the streets watching.
The Civil War is hardly mentioned in Spain, and you rarely see mention of Franco. Giles Tremlett, in his excellent Ghosts of Spain, talks of the deliberate policy of oblivio, forgetting, which followed Franco's death. It was essential to help the country to heal. But now, as people are growing up for whom it is history, not memory, and as they dig up mass graves all over the countryside, now it needs more discussion. The shelters seemed a very good place to start.
The picture is one of the four great water cisterns underneath the castle, a spooky place.
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Everywhere we go we look for the dykes. It should be simple. Go on the net, put in the name of the place and 'lesbian', or in a pinch 'gay', and up it comes. Especially places like Seville, Lisbon or Cadiz. Maybe the guidebook will have somewhere, though it may be out of date, given the speed with which bars come and go.
It works in much of the UK, right? Even in Ipswich it led us to the regular group, and various friends there. (Hi, Sally and Penny!)
But we've pretty much failed till Granada, where we hit gold! The picture is us with new friends Rocio (next to Sarah) and her girlfriend Monica. The bar is the lovely La Sal, at c/ Santa Paula 11, just south of the Grand Via. It's been there for an extraordinary 19 years and doesn't bother with the web. We found it in the Rough Guide, and it was open.
To measure this triumph you have to understand the failures. They fit into various categories. There are the places which simply don't exist; you go to the address and there's a shoe shop, or an empty site. Just not a bar/bookshop/hangout at all. This happened in La Coruna. Then there are places which exist but aren't gay; the Levante bar in Cadiz, or the very popular slightly alternative bar in Lisbon. Or you find somewhere which is open (probably only from midnight and is strictly for the boys: stand up, the Poniente bar in Cadiz. Or somewhere draped in rainbow flags but permanently shut: Oporto, Seville and La Coruna all come to mind. Or there is a nice gay-run bar, but which isn't really a gay or lesbian bar in the sense of meeting and talking to other dykes; welcome to the very pleasant Torito bar in Rota.
Pip argues that the solution to this is to find the address, and then sort of hang around in nearby streets. Before long, other befuddled queers will happen along, and lo! A party. The problem is of course that you still don't meet local people, and it means hanging around some pretty weird places late at night.
You can tell from our list that we've tried. Really, we have. Not that we're major bar bunnies or club hoppers or anything. (Stop falling about at the back there). But we like to meet other women. And we also want to meet people in the places we visit, and we'd hoped that finding the lesbians would be one way to do that.
So it was all the sweeter to find La Sal, meet Rocio and Monica, and the lovely Rosa who owns the bar and took the pic. Certainly, we should find somewhere in Barcelona!
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On Tuesday in Granada we visited the Alhambra museum. This has lots of interesting stuff including some very beautiful 'domestic' items from the palaces, such as a folding chair with delicate marquetery.
They are restoring the famous fountain in the Court of the Lions at the moment, taking each marble lion out and cleaning him up. The museum incorporates a fascinating little film on the work, and the completed Lion No. 4. Having done some restoration work, Sarah was intrigued; these days they use lasers to clean the stone, but it's not obvious how you'd use that 200ft up in a cathedral vault. They are undertaking significant rebuilding on the crumbled lions, which is probably controversial in conservation circles, but the right thing to do in such a well-loved and visited monument that has so many lessons for us today.
On the Wednesday morning we visited the Capilla Real, where Ferdinand and Isabella are buried. It is always interesting to speculate what would have happened if so-an-so hadn't been around. Hitler? Herod? Isabella is a character who invites such speculation, because, like Eleanor of Aquitaine, Elizabeth Tudor and Catherine the Great she is a powerful European Queen who seemed to drive conquest and change in very specific ways. It does seem likely, though, that the internal strains and increasing divisions of the Nazrid dynasty would have led to its downfall anyway. Would another kind of Catholic Monarch have maintained the convivencia, which Isabella broke, or created the Inquisition?
Tolstoy would have argued that the great leaders are the least free - at least that's what he says in War & Peace. And Stephen Fry, in Making History suggests that the larger historical circumstances create the person that the society requires. So, maybe the extraordinary levels of repression and cruelty of medieval Spain after the Conquest were inevitable.
Even so, it was interesting to see them properly buried. Isabella's extraordinary collection of Flemish painting is also in the Sacristy and well worth a look for some very beautiful work.
The picture is a view across Granada from the Alhambra with the Cathedral in the centre; we couldn't get in there because the Mass for Santiago (the feast of St James) was about to start, but we were pretty much cultured out by then.
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So many people have written and painted and composed around this exquisite collection of palaces that it is difficult to add one's humble thoughts. We spent half a day exploring the fortified hilltop that dominates Grenada and is the apogee of Islamic mediaeval Spain. It gets hot and tiring by mid-afternoon, but it's absolutely worth it.
There must have been buildings here since the Romans, if not earlier, but the place really came into its own in the 11th century after the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordova, when Grenada became an independent taifa (or small kingdom) under the Zirid dynasty, who moved its capital here. In the thirteenth century the Nasrid dynasty began; by then the earlier fortress was in ruins and they really are the first builders of the Alhambra we see now. After Grenada fell to Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492, which completed the Christian conquest of Spain, the Catholic Monarchs and their descendents made many further alterations. The biggest of these is the enormous palace Carlos V (their grandson) built on the hilltop, but there are many smaller ones, such as the addition of the Virgin Mary to the Islamic key markings over major doorways. The key and the virgin, next to each other, is a Christian/Muslim dualism which dominates the complex; it illustrates the complex relationship between faith and power here in Andalucia.
The Alhambra divides into several sections, all within a massive wall at the top of El Sabika, the last of the hills of the Sierra Nevada, protruding like the bow of a giant, landlocked ship into the fertile vega or plains. At the pointed end, looking west, is the Alcazaba, the military fortress, itself a small town and wholly enclosed away from the court or the medina. The picture shows one edge of the fortress, seen from the Generalife, with the plains stretching away behind.
There is the medina itself, a town supplying the many needs of the court and garrison, from fullers to armourers. Very little of this remains except floor plans and the ancient public baths.
There are the palaces, which provide many of the famous images of Islamic architecture. Of these, the most complete are the Comares Palace, the Lion Palace and the Palace of the Generalife, but there are the remains of many more. (The Generalife complex, separated from the rest of the Alhambra by a deep ravine, was the 'home farm' of the court, and also houses a pretty summer palace. It is pronounced something like Henerallifay.)
The palace of Carlos V is very different indeed, and houses the Alhambra museum. This is shut today (Monday) so we will go back to it tomorrow.
Finally, there are the gardens. Many of these are of course integral to the buildings, but can also be written about in their own right.
(This is not the traditional division, which divides the Alhambra into the fortress Alcazaba, the royal palaces, and the Generalife. But we're going to say a bit about the different bits as we've carved it up, which allows us a few more pix.)
Although we are neither of us qualified to comment on the history or symbolism of the Alhambra, we are sure that its beauty and history, together with the places we have seen elsewhere in Morocco and Andalucia, will continue to echo in our hearts, and will emerge in different ways in Sarah's writing and Pip's silver-smithing.
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This garrison is at the steepest edge of the crag, with vertiginous walls interrupted at multiple points by highly defensible watchtowers. In plan it is a triangle, and sadly for us, quite a bit of it is closed for restoration at the moment.
We climbed the cylindrical Torre del Cubo ('bucket'), where this picture was taken. The bulky corner on the left of the picture is the Tower of Homage. This is not the tallest tower in itself, but is on the greatest elevation so the top is the highest. This was probably the first Nasrid building, and the first sultan may even have lived here for a while.
On the right hand side, with the flags flying is the Watch Tower, the apex of the triangle of the fortress. This tower (surmounted by a 19th century belfry) has amazing views for miles and miles. This is where the Catholic Monarchs hoisted their flags on 2 January 1492, after receiving the keys from King Boabil.
Inside, the fortress does have a large space which one would normally expect to be an open parade ground. In the Alcazabar, it was built up, with one narrow street running its length, and warehouses, barracks or residences filling most of the space. At the end, under the Watch Tower, is a large bath complex. Underneath there are big spaces with narrow vertical entrances (like an upside down funnel). These were used for storage - grain, water, salt. And people: they were also dungeons.
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If we had not seen the Alcazar of Seville and the Mesquite of Cordoba we would have been even more amazed and awed by the artistry and beauty of these palaces. They bring the beauty of true proportion and the exquisite artistry of work in plaster, stone, wood and tile to a new peak.
A particularly interesting feature are the mocárabes, complex structures of prisms within prisms made in plaster or stone, that hang down in ornate, geometric stalactites. These are suspended from domes and arches all over the palaces.
The picture shows one amazing archway in the Palaces, but they are difficult features to photograph from ground level. The only other place we (Sarah really) have seen such a feature is in the Mogul buildings of sixteenth century India, notably the deserted city of Fatephur Sikkri, near to Agra. The inscription around this one starts 'Sublime piece of work/Fortune wishes it to surpass all other monuments.'
The palaces are built on the same patterns as most Islamic traditional homes. There is a central patio, with water in it in some form. Off this are rooms, often rectangular with an alcove at each end. The surrounds are in at least two stories. There may well be roof terraces as well.
In the beautiful Court of the Myrtles in the Comares Palaces there are four arches leading to rooms said to be the quarters of the sultan's four wives. These quarters are again rectangular rooms with alcoves. We were interested to see that this is exactly the pattern of the riad we stayed in in Fes. A flexible and effective layout in places of extreme temperatures.
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Many books have been written on these beautiful buildings, by people more knowledgeable than we will ever be. You go from one room to another, gazing at the extraordinary detail. Each room is covered in either stucco or ceramic tiling or wood.
The stucco or stone is carved into intricate patterns, which do not represent living things (as this is forbidden in the Koran). They are inspired by plant life, and you see many stylised leaves and fruits, as well as pure geometric design resting on advanced mathematics.
Also, there is a lot of Arabic script, highly stylised and flowing. Some of it is quotations from the Koran, glorifying Allah, or citing the revelatory basis for successful conquest or the centrality of water to the design of the palaces. Other scripts are poems, many specially commissioned, exalting the sultan or marking major events such as the circumcision of the eldest son. The picture shows just one small example, where the letters are inlaid into the surround.
Ceramic tiling is brought to a very high pitch here, with complex geometric patterns with colours that often have specific meanings. (In a palace in Fes, to compare, our guide pointed out the blue of Fes, the green of Mecca, the brown of Marrakesh). There is a particular viewing place, a lovely covered balcony called the Mirador de Lindajara ('the eyes of Aixa's house') which has tiles thinner than a little finger and less than the length of a thumb. These are laid out in complex regular patterns, fitted together with precision and grace.
Many ceilings are coffered in ornate wood, one in particular providing an extraordinary stellar depiction of the seven levels of heaven. These were (some still are) heavily gilded. The Christians continued this tradition, and you see many gilded insignia of the yoke and arrow, used by Ferdinand and Isabella.
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The Alhambra must be fascinating to serious students of garden and landscape design. The rest of us can luxuriate in the lovely flowers and scents and the cool sight and sound of water. (By the way, if you´re reading this in chronological order, ie oldest first, this is one of 5 posts on the Alhambra, which could be read in any order, you might like to go the Contents page and decide.)
As you explore, you can trace the progression from the rigid formality of Hispano-Islamic Classicism, through the stately majesty of 16th century empire, the soft and multiple flowerings of 19th century romanticism and the re-imaginings of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In all of these, water plays a central role. For the Moors, Paradise was very like a garden. Water is glorified and blessed, and the garden patios of the Alhambra bring these beliefs together. In the severe lines of the great courtyards of the Nasrid palaces, the pools are great rectangles of still water. They reflect and soften the hard edges, right angles and severe geometry of the courtyards, shimmering and colouring the entire space. Here water moves quietly, making only the smallest of whispers, giving cause to reflect on the bounty of Allah and the fragile thread on which life depends.
These evolve into ever more complex arrangements of plants and water. The Arabs loved the date palm, and many remain in Grenada. (In Cordoba, by comparison, the palms that were planted in the courtyard outside the Mosque were replaced by the orange trees which still grow there.) In addition, an early sultan installed a complex hydraulic water system, fed by the Acequia Real (Royal Conduit) which brought water from the Generalife into the waterless crag of the palaces and the fortress. In the gardens of the Generalife, this allowed the creation of the wonderful Water Staircase, down each side of which runs, at hand height, a rill of fast, cold water refreshing as you climb up from that palace to its highest view point.
The later gardens of the Catholics have more luxuriant planting, including many more plants in the water itself. Here we find lilies and reeds, the interplay of fish in the leaves, and overhanging branches bringing a different effect of light and shade. Their fountains became more elaborate than the earlier ones, and you can hear the movement of water in jets and streams.
By the nineteenth century the Alhambra (largely ignored for some 300 years) was 'rediscovered' by the Romantics. Gustav Doré made engravings and painters such as Mariano Fortuny, Owen Jones and Lopez-Mezquita recorded and fantasised about the palaces, fortress and gardens. Their works, even when distorted by orientalist romanticising of the past, are a valuable help to the archaeologists today. This is particularly important in recovering the magnificent polychrome on the stucco work, only fragments of which survive.
Their impact is clear in some of the planting, even much more modern developments such as the Cypress Walk.
In the 20th century some areas of the gardens were re-laid out, including the 'New Gardens' in the lower part of the Generalife. These were informed by all sorts of elements of the past, including, in 1951, a reinterpretation of an Islamic garden (designed by the architect Prieto Moreno). The picture is a fountain from that garden.
If we had a garden nowadays, we would rethink the whole design to learn from the tranquillity and inspiration of these outdoor spaces. These gardens manage heat and cold, provide spaces for gracious living, and are both a feast for the senses and a stimulation to the mind. For Sarah, who had the good fortune to live in the gardens of Stowe as a child, they would be yet another dimension to the long view that is required of any serious gardener.
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15/07/2007, North Africa in the EU
The high crag at the heart of old Melilla has been fought over for millennia, as the Phoenician remains make clear. It was taken by the Spanish shortly after the fall of Grenada and they have held on to it ever since, building a massive fort around and within the rock.
This old town is called Medina Sidonia (a familiar name as the duchy was and is very powerful all around Cadiz), after the duke who conquered it. It was fortified in a series of five redoubts, which still bristle with cannon old and new. You can wander around it, looking at the tri-lingual information boards. It is still dominated by Church and Army, so in that respect it's a typical European medieval town.
The rest of Melilla was largely settled in the first half of the twentieth century, because of a very large open cast iron mine nearby, and it now claims to house more modernist buildings than any other Spanish town save Barcelona. The streets are indeed littered with them, their flat and monumental facades creating a harmonious and spacious air.
The caves offer a strange mixture. Originally started in the fifteenth century, they were gradually hollowed out over the years, serving as stores, redoubts, and for a very long time the church and convent. By the end of the 1950's, the whole fortress had fallen into disrepair, but a large archaeological and conservation project began in 1959. (Three years after Moroccan independence; just a coincidence, but we don't think so.) This resulted in some stunning modernist brickwork and building under ground and along the cliffs. The picture is a detail of the arches built into some of the tunnels with complex bends and curves needing these jigsaw keystones.
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This is the splendid lighthouse on the headland north of the town. It's Moroccan and wonderfully ornate.
Melilla is another of the peculiar Spanish enclaves on this coast. Like Ceuta it is an autonomous municipality, fully integrated into the provincial and regional governance of Spain. (There are also several Spanish islets dotted along the coast, at least one of which is a prison.) Independence here, in 1956, was a fairly untidy affair, with significant divisions between different factions and tribes which claimed the attention of revolutionary leaders. The Spanish held on to this confetti of possessions. Now, strange to say, the Moroccans argue that they should be handed back, but like the British in Gibraltar, the Spaniards are hanging on to their strategic valuables.
The town is very sweet. It's much less military and imposing than Ceuta, a laid back sort of place. It's about 50% Riffian and 50% Spanish, about 60,000 in all. Until recently, the Arab half lived in neglected slums. There have been big efforts to clean this up, but you can still see the difference. The tourist info makes a big play of the happy co-existence of Christians, Muslims, Hindus and Jews. There are certainly several temples and synagogues besides the mosques and churches. The crowds in the streets seem pretty laid back and friendly, but of course we can't really tell on a superficial acquaintance.
'Riffian' is the guidebook's term for the peoples of the Rif. They are mostly Berber, rather than Arab, and often do not speak Arabic as a first language. They are Muslim, and the Islamic conquest of Portugal was essentially Berber. Nador, the Moroccan port next to Melilla is a major centre of emerging Berber pride.
This is being written on the boat at the dock in the very comfortable marina. Eventually, Spanish bureaucracy and technical glitches permitting, we should get wifi on board here. The Spanish have a very complicated system for local networks like the one here, which requires essentially registering your laptop on their server. So much for web freedom in Spain!
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12/07/2007, Written in Al Hoceïma, posted in Melilla
We are tied up to the filthiest dock we have ever seen. It is the inside of the southern breakwater and was obviously designed to be or maybe even is used as a ferry terminal, for the ro-ro boats. But where we are is covered in very smelly gull guano. And what gulls! These are the biggest b---rs either of us has seen anywhere - including the back of Preston Street in Brighton. Not particularly aggressive, fortunately, but everywhere.
Al Hoceïma has a reputation of being the least welcoming port to yachts in Morocco. We haven't been to them all (this is our fourth), but it certainly sustains that record. Sharp whistles (a favoured tactic for guiding yachts in this country) finally made it clear that, yes, we were to come over to this quay. The only things to tie to here are a ladder and very large yellow ships bollards. They are a long way apart, and spaced around the very solid permanent rubber fenders that the ferries use. Which are much too solid for us, and too small for us to use as a dock substitute. So we are fitted in between two of them, with two lines trailing alongside this disgusting wharf.
Even before we'd tied up, two sets of policemen turned up. They came aboard and worked their way through the usual questions. (Why are they so interested in what our professions are?) One of them did a cursory search, checking the fore and aft cabins. Clearly, it is only people they are worried about, rather than anything smaller.
We both had to go ashore and wait while they stamped our passports. This was a bit of trial as this is not an easy quay for those of us with short legs. But we got there eventually.
We climbed up into the town, and it is a long way. Al Hoceïma is a resort town, beloved apparently of ex-pats coming back from the Netherlands and Belgium. Many have built property here and the town sprawls over the hills. The headland itself, pictured above, is magnificent, and we did see kayakers exploring it. The town itself was packed, with a big stage up in the main square, complete with at least four pictures of the king. People everywhere, including a substantial proportion of women in western dress. We even found several cyber cafés, but hadn't put this blog onto a stick or anything, so posting will wait to we get to Mellila.
We will leave tomorrow. The forecast is again easterlies (there's a surprise, with no mention of anything else till Sunday. But the smell of the dock would drive us away unless we faced a gale!
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12/07/2007, Written in El Jebha, posted in Melilla
We are still here, though we'll probably leave tomorrow, as there are no signs of a westerly in the foreseeable future. Another very hot chug to Al Hoceima. We found a sweet tea shop yesterday where no-one spoke English but served us a sweet tea and a coke nonetheless. The picture shows the headland east of the port, with its tiny islet. A completely flat sea at the moment.
The mainsail is now working smoothly after a lot of cleaning. We've also removed the worn wire/rope inner forestay halyard which will need replacing, checked the blocks at the mast head, and started fitting the cord to try and stop the main halyard wrapping around the mast steps. Although we bless the steps every time we do need to do work aloft, we curse them when pulling the main sail up. The plan is to run cord down the outside of the steps. This means dangling in the bosuns chair and at each step fastening the cord with twine and then tape. It takes a while (everything on a boat takes longer), and the harness cuts into your thighs, so only the seven steps on the port side above the spreaders got done. Fortunately (from Sarah's point of view) Pip didn't think to take pictures of her up there.
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