Sail the Iberian Peninsula - 2019

Sailing the Iberian Peninsula

Author: Lois Gray

Photos: Kay Gilmour

Travel Arrangements: Zegrahm Expeditions

April 2019

Sailing the Iberian Peninsula

April 16 to May 19, 2019 Zegrahm Expeditions: Around the Iberian Peninsula by Expedition Ship

Introduction ............................................................................................3 Abbreviated History of Spain ..................................................................4 Barcelona ................................................................................................5 Murcia...................................................................................................11 Cartagena..............................................................................................17 Granada ................................................................................................21 Cordova.................................................................................................33 Seville....................................................................................................40 Ronda....................................................................................................49 Porto, Portugal......................................................................................53 Santiago de Compostela .......................................................................58 Lugo ......................................................................................................62 Gijon/Oviedo.........................................................................................66 Bilbao ....................................................................................................74 Conclusion ............................................................................................79


Sure, we had already visited Barcelona and Madrid and walked the French Way of the Camino de Santiago and had done a little sightseeing in Portugal (mainly Lisbon and environs), but when the Zegrahm brochure arrived advertising this expedition ship cruise around the Iberian Peninsula, we happily signed up to visit the historic cities of Spain (Cartagena, Seville, Cordova, Granada, Bilbao and several more. That the trip included Porto, Portugal, was another big plus. Even though we were enthusiastic when we booked the trip, we had no idea about the wonderful surprises that awaited us in Iberia. Ten days in glorious Croatia was an add-on with friends for a self-drive visit. It proved to be one of the most beautiful countries we have ever visited! We had no real preconceptions of what we would experience, so every day was filled with wonder! Look to our website for the journal and phots of that portion of our one- month-long adventure.

So – let’s begin in Spain.


Okay, I give up. Spanish history is much too complicated and lengthy to be abbreviated in any meaningful way and this journal is not trying to be a history book. So, instead, I will just provide some salient dates that were important in our exploration of the storied cities of the country. 1. ROMAN RULE 3 rd Century BC to 4 th Century AD: The Romans ruled Spain for 700 years. Amazing ruins and other influences from this period. 2. VISIGOTH RULE: 5 th – 8 th Century AD: The Arian Christian Visigoths ruled after driving out the Romans as the Roman Empire collapsed. Though the Visigoths did not leave much in the way of architecture or art, we saw some interesting evidence of their presence. 3. ARAB MOOR’S RULE: 711 AD – 1492 AD: The Moors conquered Spain and stayed in power until Ferdinand and Isabella completed the Reconquista that turned Spain back into a Catholic country as Jews and Muslims were expelled from the country. Moorish influence was visible everywhere, in language, architecture, art and decoration, forts and palaces. 4. CATHOLIC RULE: Ferdinand and Isabella unite Spain into one country in 1469.

Though these are only a few of the many significant dates and periods in Spanish history, they are the most important ones governing our visit.

Now on to the cities we visited in the order shown on the introductory map.


This will be our third visit to this iconic Spanish city, but we have never before been able to visit Sagrada Familia by Gaudi. Zegrahm made sure that we were inside the curious but overwhelming cathedral this time. Barcelona is such a wonderful walking city because of the tree-lined pedestrian walkway—The Rambla which begins at the harbor (The monument to Christopher Columbus) and ends at the Plaza Catalonia to the north—3/4 quarters of a mile in length. This walkway is lined with restaurants, shops, hotels, kiosks, and statuary. We were here on Easter Holiday time so the crowds strolling along were especially large. However, that does not detract from the experience because everyone is having a good time. After sleeping away our first afternoon at the Hotel 1848 because of jetlag, we wandered out into the evening in search of something to eat. Right next door to the hotel was a tapas café called La Luzia where we thoroughly enjoyed our supper. Then we went back out onto La Rambla into a balmy and beautiful evening with the almost full moon shining brightly overhead. We walked around until 11 p.m. before returning to the hotel.

One stop found us in an open neighborhood church for a look around and a listen to some lovely recorded music.

We slept late again on the next day because we had nothing scheduled until the welcome cocktail party and dinner with Zegrahm and our fellow travelers. We learned that the trip had been undersubscribed and thus there were fewer of us “explorers” than there was staff. But true to Zegrahm’s style, the trip was not cancelled and we were provided with the usual fabulous trip and an almost private yacht for our sailing, The Ocean Adventurer (formerly the Clipper Adventurer). The Zegrahm trip started April 20 with our visit to the Sagrada Familia (Sacred Family) which was proclaimed a minor basilica in 2010. Times to see the interior of the church are assigned according to the tickets purchased—an attempt to control the number of people inside at any one time.

Antoni Gaudi received the commission to design and construct a special church for Barcelona and he began the process in 1882. He worked for 40 years on the project, until he died in 1926 and it is still unfinished. His detailed plans and studies are available still and the current architects and builders are using those instructions to complete the church. In 2012, the church was designated a minor basilica. The goal now is to finish the building by 2026 in time for a papal visit.

The church looks to me like a gigantic melting mountain with icicles and snow drifting down the exterior walls.

The East-facing Nativity Facade

Gaudi’s overarching theme is the life of Christ to be understood by illiterate people. The carvings on the three facades depict the Nativity, the Passion and the Glory of Resurrection. The Glory part of the threesome is not on display at present. Each of the facades is topped by 4 spires but only 8 are already finished and dedicated to the apostles. Others will be dedicated to the 4 evangelists. Gaudi wanted light to pour into the sanctuary at all times of the day as the light changed according to the angle of the sun and conditions in the sky at any time. The effect is mysterious and magical.

The colors of stained glass windows also affect the quality of the light. There are so many elements of nature decorating the interior as well. Gaudi was a master of attention to detail. There are plants and animals depicted in various niches and chapels.

The Nativity façade was designed by Gaudi himself. We entered the basilica through the door on the east-facing façade.

We exited the church through the door of the west-facing Passion façade which was designed by the artist, Josep Maria Subirachs.

Through the years, this monumental architectural masterpiece has had its critics. But, like it or not, no one can deny the mastery of Gaudi and the beauty of his creation. Probably it needs to be seen in person to be believed. Book yourself a trip to Barcelona to see that basilica; but be sure to know there is much more to enjoy in Beautiful Barcelona. There are many impressive and older churches and cathedrals in this wonderful city, but none of them has the majesty, originality, beauty and mystery of Sagrada Familia. Just strolling down La Rambla, wandering through busy plazas, visiting the statue of Columbus at the harbor with a stop at one of the excellent eating places and enjoying the outdoors under the big shade trees makes a visit here marvelous.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Barcelona Album


This city is the “twin” city to Cartagena in that it is the site of the administrative half of the provincial government. Actually it is the lovelier of the two and especially during our visit because of the Easter (Spring) carnival that began on Good Friday. The Spring Festival We were lucky enough to be in Murcia on the first day of the 7-day Spring Festival (a revival of old folk custom to celebrate the renewal of life and propitiation of the gods to insure a bountiful growing season for olives and all other crops grown in the area. In this celebration, the city is bedecked with colorful and beautiful flowers everywhere—government and public buildings and entrances, city parks, commercial businesses, streets, and private homes.

The city, even though the skies over our heads were overcast and threatening rain, was ablaze with color and buzzing with happy people. What an outstanding way to celebrate Mother Nature and her bounty as well as the Easter Season! Our guide told us that as the week progressed, there would be singing and dancing in the streets and very little work would go on.

The Funeral (Burial) of the Anchovy In conjunction with the Spring Festival, the city celebrates the anchovy which is a dietary staple in Spain, most especially for those areas closest to the coastal fishing grounds. There are effigies, plastic statues and banners depicting a rather unattractive anchovy in and among the flower displays, draped on buildings and fences, and set up at intersections. At the end of the festival, the effigies will be burned and the other decorations will be removed and burned to honor this very important part of the Spanish economy. This too is a revival of an old folk custom to insure a rich harvest during the next fishing season. The Romeo Theater This theater is of more recent vintage than the Roman Theater (in Cartagena) despite the closeness of their names. This theater, dedicated to a Spanish poet whose last name was Romeo, was built during the post-Reconquista era. It is a venue for plays, musical performances, readings, and other arts.

It was built on land confiscated from a monastery of Dominican Monks who cursed the theater in the following way: Fire will destroy the theater three times! The first fire will occur while the theater is empty. And that actually happened. The second fire will occur when the actors and theater workers are present with no audience. And that curse came true as well. The curse continued by predicting that the third fire will occur when the theater is filled to capacity and all will die. After the first and second curses came true, the theater was rebuilt each time. By

now the theater folks had figured out what to do to ward off the third catastrophic fire. So they never sell the theater out. One seat is always left unsold. The theater still stands and is used for performances of all kinds regularly. No further fires have occurred. The Casino of Murcia Don’t get excited now—this was not a building dedicated to gambling—this was not Las Vegas of Spain or Monte Carlo of Murcia. This remarkable structure was actually more akin to the famous men’s club in England, except ladies were definitely members as well. However, both sexes had to be of a certain high class of society with plenty of money to spend on membership and the Casino’s other benefits. The building was dedicated and opened on June 11, 1847.

The building opens on a main street and there are high windows facing the street. Was this so that the rich could watch the less privileged citizens stare in wonderment at the high life the members were enjoying? The nickname that the non-members titled the club was “The Aquarium” because they felt like they were looking in on lives of some strange beings on display. We were not asked our pedigrees or for our bank account numbers before being allowed into the club to explore the elegance, lavish décor, beautiful appointments and art everywhere displayed.

The various rooms were “themed” so there were rooms with Moorish designs, rooms with a more modern flair, rooms for special purposes, like the men’s and women’s special dressing rooms (both also beautifully decorated, tea rooms and dining rooms, conversational areas, smoking rooms, billiards rooms and a grand

Main Hall - Library - Ceiling of Women's Dressing Room

ballroom. The wealthy of Murcia did have a pampered lifestyle available to them. Three Roman emperors hailed from this area of Spain: Trajan, Hadrian, and Theodosius. However, the royal casino came a little too late for them to enjoy. The Cathedral and Episcopal Palace of Murcia These buildings are located on one of the most famous squares of the city: Cardinal Belluga Plaza (nothing to do with the famous beluga whales). The Cathedral Church of St. Mary dates from 1385 and it was built on the site of a previous mosque. It is Gothic inside and Baroque on the exterior. The stained glass windows are high on the walls and not as large as could be expected. There are 3 naves, 1 apse, and 23 chapels. The Bell Tower stands 300 feet not including the weathervane, making it the tallest campanile in Spain. There are 25 bells, all of them from the 17 th and 18 th centuries. In 1854, the church was heavily damaged in a fire and the altar had to be replaced and the new one was created in the Neo-Gothic style. At the same time, a mighty organ was commissioned from a justly admired Belgian Company.

The Episcopal Palace is an 18 th century edifice which flanks the cathedral but is constructed in the rococo style, more flamboyant than the cathedral itself. The Palace can be visited but the outside is much more impressive than the interior which is rather dark and neglected in appearance.

Murcia is a lovely city with history abounding and more enjoyable to visit than its governmental twin—Cartagena.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Murcia Album


This city was founded by the Carthaginians in 220 B. C. and has been an important port on the Mediterranean Sea ever since, no matter which civilization held it. Like so much of the lands around the Mare Nostrum (“Our Sea” to Romans), it was conquered by the Romans, the Goths and Visigoths, the Vandals, the Arabs and later on by Ferdinand and Isabela as they united the several provinces of Spain. There are traces of all these cultures, but some are so minor as to be known only by history and archeological experts. Even in the 20 th century, Cartagena held out against Franco and was the last major resistance area to surrender to him. Cartagena’s most productive period occurred during the Roman occupation, chiefly because of the lead and silver mines in the area as well as its excellent port. The ruins of the Roman Theater discovered by serendipity in recent years is the most easily visited of the many Roman ruins in the area. A partial Punic wall (raised by the Phoenicians) is also fairly easy to see.

The town was poor and neglected after the Romans left and though the Arabs valued it for the port, they never developed the area as the Romans had done.

It underwent a brief resurrection in the early 20 th when plastic factories were established. The air pollution, rank odors and sticky residue that these factories produced rendered the city virtually uninhabitable and the population fell. When Franco conquered the city, he purposely punished the population due to its prolonged resistance. After he died, Cartagena regained much of its former population and the port became even more significant because besides being the home harbor of the Spanish Navy, it also began to see visits by the cruise industry and tourism became the major biggest economic driver and remains so today. Tourists brought money which was spent on renovating the older buildings, clearing away the results of years of air pollution, inviting development of hotels, restaurants, shops and other tourist amenities. The discovery of the 1 st century BC Roman Theater has produced an even bigger draw for tourist visits. Furthermore, after a competition between Murcia and Cartagena over which city should be the seat of provincial government, a

satisfactory compromise was reached wherein Cartagena became the home of Parliament and Murcia is the seat of the administrative functions of the area.

The Roman Theater This theater was built between the 5 th and 1 st centuries B.C. and dedicated to Gaius and Lucious Caesar, grandsons of Augustus. Incredibly, there is an ancient plaque citing the dedication and the dates of onset and completion of construction. The theater is quite large, seating 6000 residents for performances of dramas, music and other arts. It was not a gladiatorial amphitheater. Several other structures had been erected over the Theater during the centuries, including markets, meeting halls, and even a cathedral. So the “dig” to uncover the Theater has produced historic artifacts of several different eras of Cartagena history.

In addition to seeing the Roman Theater, we saw the impressive Town Hall Building and were invited in to the vestibule and foyer. The Town Hall is a restored baroque architectural example and it is mainly used ceremonially these days.

Town Hall of Cartagena

Welcoming Foyer

Once again we were impressed with the public art featured around the city streets and plazas. There were statues commemorating victims of terrorism, monuments honoring fallen soldiers in the war with the USA in the Philippines, statues of sailors (appropriate since this is port city) and ordinary citizens of the city.

There is a fine Naval Museum in the city as well which features the first battery- powered electric submarine designed and built by Isaac Peral for the Spanish Navy. It was also the first fully capable submarine, equipped with a torpedo tube (and two torpedoes), air regeneration system, a shape which was the forerunner of much more modern submarine vessels. What it lacked was a way to recharge its batteries which was a fatal limitation on its use in wartime. The biggest Plaza in the city is the Ayuntamiento Square around which are other interesting and attractive buildings as well as boutiques and restaurants. I would have to admit that the most compelling reason for us to visit this port city was the Roman Theater and the excellent Museum that is now the entrance to the archeological site. Sadly, the once beautiful baroque cathedral of Cartagena was bombed into ruins during the Spanish Civil War. No effort has been made to reconstruct or resurrect it.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Cartagena Album


A little history Granada The Moors captured Spain in 711 and when they reached Granada they found a thriving culture of Sephardic Jews. The Moors of that period considered Jewish adherents to be “people of the book” and they were not reviled or removed. For many years the two religions co-existed in the city with the Jewish sector acknowledging the political power of the Moorish emirs and the Moors allowing the Jews to pursue their own way-religiously, commercially, artistically and philosophically. All good things usually to come to an end, and this peaceful co- existence period is no exception. When Jewish people began to show restlessness under Moorish rule, an unfortunate leader picked a fight injudiciously and that was the end of the Golden Age of the Sephardic Jews in Granada, though they were still tolerated, taxes and other restrictions were placed upon them. When Ferdinand and Isabella established the Roman Catholic religion and their own monarchy after 1492, both Jews and Muslims were expelled from Spain. Conversion was offered and a few from both religions accepted that choice, but it was an uneasy compromise that rarely worked well for the “conversos” whose sincerity was never really accepted. Very few Jews still live in Spain today (a little less than 1% of total population) and the descendants of the Moors (less than 2%) are few and far between as well. However, reminders of the lengthy Moorish occupation of Spain are very much present in Spain today. This lovely Spanish town is named after the delicious fruit “Pomegranate” probably because of the vibrant colors seen all over town as well as the sweet taste of the wines and foods of this area of Spain. Unfortunately, we were not treated to warm Spanish temperatures and sunshine. Instead our day here was rainy, overcast, and chilly, especially for some of us who had not come prepared for this kind of weather. We had raingear but insufficiently warm clothes even though we layered with everything we brought. The streets were very crowded and the pretty paving stones were somewhat slick. But refusing, to be cowed or discouraged, we continued exploring the city of the Alhambra and other delights.

Many people are familiar with the concert song, written by a Mexican composer Augustin Lara, as a tribute to this vibrant city. Many tenors still use it in an operatically sung style in their recitals.

Granada, land of dreams for me My song becomes gypsy-like When it is for you! My song made of fantasy My song a melancholy flower That I come to give to you.

Granada, blood-stained soil In bullfight afternoons, Women who preserve the enchantment Of Moorish eyes.

I dream of you rebellious gypsy Covered with flowers. And I kiss your scarlet mouth Juicy apple that speaks to me Of love affairs. Granada, lovely woman, sung In precious verses, I have nothing else to give you Than a bouquet of roses,

Of roses of sweet fragrance That framed your brown virgin face.

Granada, your land is full Of lovely women Of blood and sun!”

Possibly this Mexican composer created a fantasy that the city of Granada must now honor and continue to perpetuate. Smacks a little of the Hemingway version of the city as well. The song is known the world over whereas not too many citizens of the world ever actually visit the city.

The Alhambra One of the most famous is the Alhambra in Granada—medieval palace and fortress complex of the Moors. We initially saw the structures from below as we walked along the Darro River.

Hours later, we were privileged to have a nighttime private tour of this beautiful site which meant that we had the rooms to ourselves, a private guide, and no other tourists getting in the way of our photographers or the rest of us who merely wanted to study the fine decorations, the elegant construction and the incredible history located within its walls. The original fortress section of the Alhambra was built over the ruins of previous Roman fortifications in 889. Never completed, the structure was abandoned until it was renovated again and morphed into a palace in 1333. After the Reconquista and the expulsion of the Moors, it was again deserted and allowed to pretty much disappear. After the Napoleonic invasion of Spain was repelled, the ruins were discovered by a British man who worked with the Spanish government to excavate it and restore it to the former glory. And it is indeed magnificent. And now, it is one of the top tourist attractions in Spain. It is situated on the hills above the city at 2000+ feet in altitude. Wonderful views of the city and surrounding landscape are available from the Alhambra, if anyone can tear their eyes from the beauties of the palace/fortress construction. The underpinnings of the design are an effort to mirror the 7 levels of Islamic heaven here on earth. God is believed to sit in the 8 th level so it would have been blasphemous to try to imitate that tier. After seeing as much of the complex as

we could both in the late afternoon and evening, we would probably agree that this view of heaven is quite spectacular.

High points of our visit include The Comares Tower, The palace of Charles V (Holy Roman Emperor), The Hall of the Ambassadors, The Alcazaba, The Watch Tower and the many wonderful patios, gardens and reflecting pools all over the complex. No wonder the Moors were in love with water features since they came from such a dry place on earth (North Africa). The comparative lushness of Spain and its abundant water supply must have seemed miraculous to them.

The Comares Tower: This is the tallest of the several towers in this complex at 148 feet and it is composed of several floors used for different purposes. Charles V used the highest floor as his bedroom. Muslim dignitaries used some floors as receiving rooms, libraries, and prayer nooks. The two most important things we know about that took place here in the tower are 1) the Muslims formally surrendered to Ferdinand and Isabela there and 2) Queen Isabela accepted Columbus’ request for funds and permission to explore to the West in the name of Spain.

Comares Tower Behind Court of Myrtles

She not only agreed with his proposal but she also sold some of her fabulous jewelry to finance his expedition. Most historians would agree that hers was a savvy investment for herself, Spain, and the Old World (but not for the people of the New World for which it was disastrous)

The Round Palace The round palace of Charles V was a newer addition to the original Alhambra. It is fronted by an enormous circular esplanade surrounded by numerous columns in a symmetrical design. Quite impressive!

Hall of the Ambassadors

This is the most majestic of all the rooms in the Alhambra. The royal throne was thought to be positioned here. The walls and ceiling are completely covered with decorations; inscriptions in Arabic writing, niches, arches with vegetal carvings in stucco, Arabic poems, even the dressing rooms off the large room. One could probably spend a week in this room and never see every one of the many details that decorate it.

Hall of the Ambassadors

The Alcazaba

This part of the complex is the very oldest extant. It is actually the fortress and while not as beautifully decorated as the places described, it was solid and utilitarian to its purposes.

The watch tower is part of the Alcazaba since it was vital to observing the surrounding territory to determine if any incursions were on the way. The view from the tower is complete and surveys 360 degrees. Today it is the perfect place for tourists to see the entire city of Granada and the mountains and terrain around it.

The 12 Lions Patio This is one of the many distinctly different patios and pool areas. It is a large fountain in a huge circular area with the lion statues surrounding the fountain. It is said that the lions represent the 12 Zodiac signs.

Twelve Lions Patio

The Myrtle Patio

The Myrtle patio is composed of a rectangular reflecting pool surrounded by myrtle trees and flowering plants. Very calming environment and the myrtle trees were important in Islamic gardening because of their fragrance which was considered productive of serenity.

Myrtle Patio


The Royal Chapel Pictures were not allowed. Despite the rain, we enjoyed a walking tour of the bustling city and entered the Royal Chapel and then the Cathedral. The royal chapel was commissioned by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in 1505 and completed in 1517. Both are buried there as are Isabela’s sister and brother-in- law: Joanna the Mad and King Phillip II, though in a subordinate placement. As would be expected, the Chapel is richly decorated and the biers of Isabela and Ferdinand are elevated to show their closeness to God. The Granada Cathedral of the Incarnation As often happened after the Catholic Kings retook Spain from the Moors, a catholic cathedral was commissioned by the monarchy to be built over the

previous mosque structure. The result is the present building which was designed in a Renaissance esthetic. Three naves instead of two, side chapels, stained glass windows, and an elaborate façade. It was associated with the Royal Chapel previously described. The original architect given the job wanted a gothic appearance for the Cathedral but when he was removed from the position, the new architect preferred Renaissance designs; therefore the cathedral still has hints of Gothic influence but is mostly of Renaissance flavor.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Grenada Album


A rather long bus ride was necessary for us to reach Cordova from the port in Malaga, but that was actually rewarding because the scenery was so beautiful and typical of this part of Spain—olive orchards everywhere—thousands of acres. The famous “white villages” stood out brilliantly against the different greens of the trees and the overarching blue skies. These small villages are the homes of the olive “farmers” who live within their acreage to better care for and harvest their precious trees. These people live off the products that olives provide.

Spain is the largest producer of olive oil in the world, followed distantly by Italy, Greece, and Tunisia. However, Italy uses the most olive oil in the world. Besides the wonderful olive oil itself, table olives are very important for production and now olive oil used in cosmetics as well. There is a small industry using olive tree wood for items like salad bowls, salad sets, and art objects. Cordoba is the most productive area in Spain so we were definitely seeing the greatest profusion of olive orchards and the “white villages.’

We arrived in the historic and beautiful city at 10:00 a.m. and were greeted with the sight of an old Roman bridge still in use today.

The Roman Bridge

The Romans built the bridge in the 1 st century BC to create a crossing of the Guadalquivir River to complete the Rome to Cadiz highway. The original bridge featured 17 arches. Through the years the bridge has been renovated and restored several times. Today only the 14 th and 15 th arches are original and there are only 16 arches now. The bridge is 810 feet long and 30 feet wide. The Moors did the most extensive restorations in the 8 th century, adding the Calahorra Tower and the “Door to the Fountain” at either end of the bridge.

Though the bridge is an amazing architectural and engineering feat from ancient history, it is not the most incredible structure in the city. That honor goes to the Mosque Cathedral of Cordova! This huge edifice is overwhelming in its size, history and sheer beauty. During its history, the building has been Visigoth Christian, Muslim, and Roman Catholic.

The most outstanding aspect of this multicultural site is that the Roman Catholic cathedral is totally enclosed inside the Mosque. A schematic picture will demonstrate this almost unbelievable entity.

The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordova

Probably the most implausible feature of this building is that succeeding religious groups did not destroy the work of the previous ones but incorporated decorations, altars, architectural styles, religious iconography, and uses into the new purposing of the edifice. As we wandered through the enormous structure we could see the evidence of all these eras. Too often in history, we see that when one religion drives out a previous one, the first task is to destroy the evidence of the first one. Why this did not happen in Cordova is hard to grasp nor do the various specialists studying the Mosque-Cathedral have a coherent explanation. Not historians, theologians, or archeologists. But there the structure stands, through the ages, as an outstanding example of human tolerance and respect for history. Of course, it has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site (1984) and more recently (2014) has been classified as a Site of Outstanding Universal Value!

The Moors constructed the Mosque from 784 to 786 A.D. Extensions were added in the 9 th and 10 centuries doubling the original size. Current dimensions form a vast rectangle 590 feet long and 425 feet wide, making it just a little smaller than St. Peters in Rome. The converted minaret has become the belfry which is 300 feet high. One third of the structure is taken up by the Cloister of Oranges which flanks 3 sides of the structure. We entered thru the Southern Doorway off the Orangery into a veritable forest of 850 pillars which create 19 north-south aisles and 29 east-west ones. The pillars are made of jasper, porphyry, and multicolored marbles, each row supporting a tier of open horseshoe arches with various marvels of decoration.

Views of the Moorish Architecture of the Complex

Views of the Christian Architecture of the Complex

An Example of the Blending of the Two Faiths’ Architecture

The Patio of Flowers Contest Older housing is still occupied - particularly homes built around central patios. A wonderful tourist attraction build around these home is the annual competition among the inhabitants called “The Patios of Flowers Contest”. The Town Council supports the contest by providing funds to retired residents to help them lavishly decorate their patios for tourist visitors. Visitor donations are accepted at the door but no general admission is required. Winners get a bit of prize money to supplement their income. Seems a wonderful way to give retired people a little extra income as well as to help the general economy. We were lucky to visit Cordoba during this competition and were invited into many of the interior gardens to see for ourselves just how beautifully they are decorated and filled with riotous colors and surprising ways to exhibit the plants.

Lady Tends Her Wall Garden in Her Patio– Street Art Statues Fit into the Theme

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Cordova Album


The city of “Don Giovanni,” “The Barber of Seville” and “Carmen”—all opera favorites of mine. But it was much more than that! Seville is blessed with beautiful parks and big trees, historic buildings like the Real Alcazar, neat and clean streets, warm weather and sunny skies, wide assortments of restaurants, museums, the calm and lovely waters of the Guadalquivir River which is navigable from the Atlantic to this very city, friendly people, the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, and very little unemployment or crime! Its only curse: constantly entangling traffic jams and insufficient parking. We could actually walk faster along the streets than the cars were moving. Not only that, the horse and carriage ride we were treated to moved more steadily that the motorized vehicles. Actually that horse-drawn exploration of the city was one of my favorite activities. The horses are majestic Spanish-Arabians so inured to the terrible traffic that they just trotted right along with a jubilant air. The carriages were lovely, elegant and comfortable too. The horses were fitted with blinders which might have accounted somewhat for their serenity in that maddening setting. The carriages held 4 passengers and the driver.

Our beautiful “engine” was dapple-grey and named Romero. He was totally calm, responsive to his driver, and wended his way through cars, trucks, motorcycles, bicycles, buses, a tram system and hordes of people crossing streets. What a delightful way to tour the city!

Seville’s Gothic Cathedral

This magnificent edifice has been called the largest Gothic Cathedral in the world, though there are some naysayers. However, for purposes of the journal, I am going to go along with those who make the “large” claim. It is also called by many different names: Seville Cathedral, Cathedral of St. Mary of the See, Holy Church and it has gone through several iterations. It started out as a Muslim mosque when the Moors ruled Spain. After the Reconquista, it became a Christianized Mosque from 1248 to 1434. In 1434 the project for creating a Gothic Cathedral to replace the mosque began and was finally completed in 1517. In 1987, the Cathedral, the Alcazar near it and the General Archive of the Indies building (also close by) became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The enormity of the cathedral is exemplified in its numerical statistics. It covers 253,000 square ft. and in the 16 th century it exceeded the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul as the largest cathedral in the world. There are 15 separate doors into the edifice on the 4 facades. There are 80 separate chapels inside, including the Royal Chapel where Queen Isabela and King Ferdinand are entombed. The Bell Tower, called El Giralda (“Triumph of the Christian Faith”) was created using the original mosque minaret. The Tower stands 343 ft. high and sits on a base of 23 sq. ft. It has been damaged at least three times including once by an earthquake which removed the bells from the belfry. Though size statistics are surely impressive, these pale when one considers the magnificent interior with its art works, its huge retablo, and choir box, the high vaulted ceilings and all the Gothic decorations. No wonder an episode from “Game of Thrones” was filmed here. Being inside this amazing ancient cathedral is truly overpowering in many ways.

The Real (Royal) Alcazar

Part of the UNESCO site along with the Cathedral, this building with its beautiful Moorish gardens is partly a palace and partly a fortress dating back a thousand years through many changes in religion, government, leadership, and power. The beginnings of this royal residence can be traced back to 712 when the Moors conquered Spain. The more “modern” features include Christopher Columbus’ Tomb Its earliest designs and architectural style was of course Moorish with the distinctive arches, calligraphy as decorations, arabesques, tile and mosaic work as well as geometric shapes. After the Reconquista, many changes occurred to align the building with the Catholic tastes of the Spanish. Now the styles reflected Gothic, Romanesque and Renaissance designs. Today only 4 of the rooms of the Alcazar are purely Moorish. The new style which incorporates all of the different traditions is called Mudejar.

The Moorish Gardens with their reflecting pools, framing devices, and fruit trees and flowering shrubs have also been somewhat changed through the ages with some being labelled English Garden, Poet’s Garden, Ladies Garden and many other names. The Moorish desire was to imitate a sort of paradise in the gardens and indeed the effect is heavenly beautiful.


Sepulcher of Cardinal Juan de Cervantes

The City Council of Seville owns and administers the Alcazar but it is also the oldest royal palace still in use today. The Spanish Royal Family uses the palace occasionally today and it is also a place for meeting and greeting dignitaries from all over the world.

General Archive of the Indies

This building dating from 1572 was included in the UNESCO designation for the Cathedral and Alcazar because of its unusual Italianate Spanish Renaissance architectural style and because of its invaluable contents. The building was originally the Merchant’s Exchange, the stock market of the region. It is now the repository for records of Spanish colonial history while the Empire explored, conquered and colonized the Americas and the Philippines. It is a treasure trove for historians, geographers and geologists, ethnologists and anthropologists.

Hotel Alfonso XIII, Seville

This luxurious hotel is quite “modern” when contrasted with the UNESCO buildings. It was constructed in Neo-Mudejar style from 1916 to 1928 expressly for the upcoming Ibero-American Exposition held in Seville in 1929. We were lucky to have a reception in one of the ballrooms with drinks and Spanish snacks and hors d’oerves. We were waited upon with elegance despite the fact that we were just tacky tourists clad in inappropriate expedition clothing. The suave servers did not allow their disdain to affect their attitudes.

This hotel was originally planned to house such folks as presidents, royals, ambassadors, high clergymen, and the like. Nowadays, if you have the money, you can stay there with rooms starting around $1,100 per night. “Royal personages” have included Madonna, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bruce Springsteen, Brad Pitt and other pop culture stars. Do you think the old hotel feels itself a bit declassee because of the change in clientele? It was from the front entrance of this elegant hotel that we boarded our horse-drawn carriages for a “horse’s eye” view of the city.

Along the way, we rode past the Teatro de Lope de Vega de Seville and the immense Spanish Square.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Seville Album


This bull-fighting center city was a favorite haunt of both Ernest Hemingway and Orson Welles, among many others I am sure. And no wonder, the city is geographically spectacular. It sits perched at 2460 feet above a canyon called El Tago that is 328 ft. deep.

The city is divided in half by this canyon and the Guadalevin River which has carved the gorge. Three bridges span the two halves of the city: The Puente Romano, Puente Viejo and Puente Nuevo. All three are still in use today and views from those bridges are wonderful. This city is old enough to have Neolithic Age cave paintings in its environs (Cueva de la Pilate) but it is generally agreed that the Celts were the original settlers. After them came the Phoenicians, the Romans who made it the capital of the province, the Christian Visigoths, then the Moors, and finally the Spanish Roman Catholics. Rather a familiar history for so many areas of Europe. Today, the town is probably most famous for its “largest in Spain” bull ring and seasonal bullfights attracting thousands.

Our visit did not concentrate on history but on the beauty of the area and the many beautiful churches and buildings and storied neighborhoods with interesting architectural styles. Of course a visit to the bull ring was mandatory but luckily there was no “blood in the sand” while we were there. This ring is the largest in Spain, seating 4800. There are also fewer “escape doors” for the matador than in other Spanish bull rings. In addition to entering this neoclassic designed structure, we also visited a small included museum devoted to famous toreros.

Statues abound in the city as well, bulls, horses, famous matadors, important human figures. Ronda resembles somewhat the famous white villages of Spain— small agricultural towns set amid the huge olive tree orchards and vineyards. Most of the buildings here are all also white. Exceptions include the main cathedral of the city: Santa Maria la Major, Church of La Merced, and the buildings around the Plaza de Espana leading into the New Bridge. Even the exterior of the Plaza de Toros is white-washed. Since we were lucky in the weather here, enjoying brilliant blue-skies and bright sun, the city was dazzlingly white. Most splendid though were the many overlooks down into the gorge. Farmlands stretched away in the distance from the bottom of the canyon and the river. Probably most of the agriculture was either olive groves or grape vineyards. Just a beautiful landscape all around this precariously situated really old city. Best of all, none of us really knew anything about this part of Spain, so everything was a delightful surprise.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Ronda Album


The Portuguese Way and the Maritime Way pilgrimages to Santiago both begin in the beautiful city of Porto. Because Portugal was never colonized, there is no Moorish influence or Roman ruins. Portugal has been an independent country 300 years longer than Spain! The Douro River runs through the city and its nickname is the “city of bridges” because there are so many spanning that navigable river. What Porto has in abundance are acres and acres of fascinating architectural styles: Baroque, Modern, Art Deco, Art Nouveau and Renaissance. Many churches, episcopal buildings, governmental structures, museums, offices, apartment buildings, and a train station that exhibit these many architectural and artistic styles.

Public statuary is also prominent in this beautiful city.

Don’t Pee on the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse!

Several accessible viewpoints offer panoramic views of the predominantly red-tile roofed municipality. There is even a gondola ride at riverside that offers that birds-eye look.

The city bustled with street activity, both tourists and locals enjoying the lovely weather and the chance to be outside –at least while we were there. And to prove that this is a people-friendly city, there is even a wonderfully designed public restroom facility in one of the central city parks.

Porcelain Wall to Wall

Cafes, bakeries, restaurants and little shops crowd the riversides offering good food, tasty treats and snacks, and cold drinks as well as coffee and tea.

Busy Street along the River: Cais de Gaia Quayside

Iron Bridge: Ponte de Dona Maria Pia

We were treated to an hour long river cruise on the Douro (labelled the cruise of 6 bridges) to float beneath some of the famous bridges.

As we headed seaward, the right side of the vessel revealed housing of several kinds lining the river. On the left side were the afore listed commercial activities and a pretty public park. One of the bridges was called “The Iron Bridge” and it was designed and built by Eiffel, of Parisian fame, and his students. It is used today for trains.

Yet another way of getting an overview of Pulchritudinous Porto is by climbing the Tower of Clerigos, the Bell Tower for the Church of the Clerigos (Church of the Clergymen). The tower is 248 ft. high and is visible from all over the city. The Church was built from1732 to 1750 and is Baroque in style. The Tower is also a baroque structure and it joined the church complex in 1763. And, no, we did not have time to climb its many steps. The Tower is now a symbol of the city.

It should be easy to guess what alcoholic beverage is famously made in this city— port wine of course. We were given a tantalizing tour of one of the oldest of the city’s distilleries called Cockburns—named for two entrepreneurial brothers from Scotland who emigrated to Porto to begin producing quality port wines. After wandering through what seemed to be miles of oaken kegs, barrels and even steel containers with dates dating from the 1800s to the present day, we were given a tasting of three of the famous wines made here. We were offered a reserve red port, a different red, and a tawny port. Interesting but not persuasive to me, but then I am not a wine drinker. Others in our group seemed much more enthusiastic about the offered glasses.

Though we weren’t converted to port wine enthusiasts, we certainly embraced the beautiful city of Porto. Kay’s pictures should document the stunning beauty: natural, architectural, artistic, and human in this picture-perfect coastal city of Portugal.

For more photos of this portion of the trip see Kay’s Flickr Porto Album


Our 2 nd visit to this storied religious “mecca” in Spain. Three years ago we reached the city after the 180 mile walk of the French Way Camino. That visit was characterized by fatigue, exhilaration, and wonder at having completed our “Camino.” The Cathedral is of course the goal for the many pilgrims from around the world who may come for spiritual reasons, personal challenges, curiosity, historical interests and many more motives, perhaps as many as there are individuals who choose to walk “The Way.” We enjoyed the marvelous “pilgrim mass” with the incredible “botofumeiro” ceremony. Mostly, we were proud we had survived the long walk and achieved the “Compostela”—the certificate given to pilgrims who complete the required 80 miles or more.

On this much less strenuous visit, we arrived by van and we were deposited in the main square in front of the magnificent cathedral. There was no effort required on our part this time, but no “Compostela” to be awarded either. However, there were prizes to be enjoyed. The cathedral had been cleaned since our last visit and it was dazzling in the sunlight. We had not realized how much the building was in need of cleaning when we were there before. Now the city is readying for an anticipated visit from Pope Francis in 2021. Sadly, pilgrims in the next few years will not

witness the “swinging censor ceremony” nor have their mass said in the cathedral which is now being renovated and restored inside to accompany its now shining façade.

Renovations in Progress

We visited during a special year and therefore were able to enter by the Holy Door to view the relics of St. James housed there. This door will remain closed until the Pope’s visit.

Plaza de Quintana with the Holy Door

The Holy Door

However, today’s arriving pilgrim will be accorded a visit to the Portico of Glory which has only recently been open to tourists. Its 10 year restoration has just been completed in the last weeks. This fantastic carving of heaven, earth and hell is simply spellbinding. Original colors have been discovered under years of dust, neglect and sometimes even deliberate damage. The beauty that has emerged is definitely worth the hours and hours of work in restoration. The video that precedes the chance to see the carvings is a must since it documents the painstaking work. Among the wonders of the Portico is the delicacy of the carvings which have been executed in granite, a much more difficult stone to work than marble. Actually, the only piece of marble in the entire piece is section depicting Christ’s mother, Mary! The portico was originally the main entry into the cathedral and it was commissioned to Master Mateo who worked on his masterpiece from 1168 to 1188. It is considered to be the finest piece of Renaissance architecture in Spain. Quite modern for its period, the tableau was meant to teach the largely illiterate Spanish population the stories of the Bible, particularly the New Testament

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