Seville to Torremolinos

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Seville to Torremolinos

This trip takes us deeper into Moorish Spain, until we reach the southern coast. Many of the towns we pass have the phrase "de la Frontera" tacked onto their names — a reminder that for centuries this area was the frontier at the Kingdom of Granada (the last Moorish stronghold in Spain).

An idiosyncracy of the landscape at one point is a series of small, bump-like hills that look like inverted cereal bowls. These hills are covered with vegetable gardens laid out in long parallel rows, and these undulating stripes give the hills an op-art appearance.

Dos Hermanas  Population: 28,000. Produces oil, wine, cereals. Orange groves int he surrounding fields. This is another of Seville's old "suburbs," where men of wealth built summer villas to escape Seville's heat.

Los Palacios y Villafranca  The reason the land is so flat is that we're on the edges of the Guadalquivir River basin, a broad, marshy area. This town is the center of a large redevelopment project, designed to drain the marshes and turn them into productive farmland.

Las Alcantarillas  Ruins of a fortified Roman bridge.

Jerez de la Frontera  Population: 131,000. Capital of the most famous sherry-producing area in Spain. Began as a Roman town named Asido Caesaris, and was captured by the Moors in 711. Arab tongues had difficulty pronouncing "Caesaris", so they slurred it into Sherish, which is what it was called for centuries. Even after the town was retaken by King Alfonso X (1264), it was called Sherish. In the 16th century, its white wine began to be exported to England, where it became very popular. One of Shakespeare's most unforgettable characters, Sir John Falstaff, always raves about his "sherri-sack," and this word "sherry" comes from Sherish. Britain is still the largest consumer of the local sherry and brandy. The sherry-brandy industry was greatly expanded in the 19th century: 519 sherry dealers in 1837. But only in the 18th century did sherry become popular in Spain itself. The town came to be called Xeres, and is now, of course, Jerez.

The sherry-wine is aged in bodegas, underground vaults where the temperature is cool, then it's bottled and exported. The white grapes are harvested in September, then crushed right out in the vineyards in wooden presses. An interesting process is used to maintain continuity of quality and taste. The "mother wines" (called soleras) set the standard of taste. Each season, new wine is mixed with the mother wine in order to be "educated" by it and by the woodencask which has absorbed the taste. The qualities of the older wine are thus transferred to the new. Several kinds of sherry are made, of which Amantillado and Muscatel are the most famous. The sherry is shipped to England in three kinds of casks: "butts" (holding 108 gallons), "hogsheads" (54 gallons), and "quarter casks" (27 gallons); the sherry is bottled in England. These casks are highly valued, being made of North American oak held together with hoops of English iron. Since they've been used for years and years, the wood has absorbed the flavor of the sherry. Once the casks are emptied of sherry, they stay in England and are used for the ageing of English whiskey.

The largest of the sherry plants in Jerez is operated by Pedro Domecq & Co. In the oldest bodegas, wooden barrels from the time of Napoleon are kept — the sherry still inside. In ne room, teams of workers clean the oaken barrels by loading them with chains and water, then spinning them around. The chains make a deafening noise as they knock against the sides. Visitors to the plant are shown around the bodegas, the bottling plants, and other parts of the factory. Then they're served some of the company's best sherry.

Jerez is also famous for its horse breeding. At the end of April, the Feria del Caballo takes place, a horse show with racing and prizes.

Jerez-Puerto  We travel over miles of chalky desert: brambles and scrub grass. As desolate as this area looks, it is charged with history. Here, on these plains, the most ferocious battles of that fateful year 711 were fought. The Arabs had just crossed over from Morocco, taking a few towns along the coast. The Visigoths, now grasping the seriousness of the threat, mustered all their forces to defeat the invaders. Hence the savagery of the fighting — with all of Spain hanging in the balance. But the Visigoths were badly organized, and the Arabs triumphed, sweeping north to Jerez and farther north to Castile.

El Puerto de Santa Maria  Population: 35,000. This town has always been a port, as its name indicates. The Romans called it Portus Menesthei, the Moors took it in 711, and it was recaptured by Christian forces in 1264. A local legend claims that the Virgin Mary appeared on the walls of the town at the moment Christian soldiers entered it in 1264; thus, the town's patron saint is the "Virgen de los Milagros." In the 18th century, it became a major trading port. Sherry from Jerez was (and still is) shipped from here. Jerez became a sherry center in the first place because of its closeness to this port and the sea. In the 18th century, with trade between England and France disrupted by war, English shippers looked around for alternatives to French wine. They found the sherry of Jerez popular with englishmen, and the convenience of shipping it from here clinched the arrangement. Today, many bodegas in Puerto are still owned by British firms.

Cadiz  Population: 130,000. The Bay of Cadiz now comes into view, and across the bay is Cadiz, spread out like a shoestring on a narrow peninsula. (It rather resembles San Francisco, which sits on the same type of peninsula.) Cadiz is one of Spain's major ports, as well as one of the oldest. It goes back to the Phoenicians, who settled here in 1100 B.C. The city reached its height when the discovery of America opened new trade routes across the Atlantic. This attracted the jealousy of the English, who sent Sir Walter Raleigh to plunder the city in 1596. Another famous raider, Sir Francis Drake, also plundered the town,"singeing the King of Spain's beard." During Napoleon's occupation of Spain, Cadiz was the only territory that resisted successfully — and remained independent. It was in this city that the Spanish constitution of 1812 was proclaimed.

With all this fighting, Cadiz' walls were rebuilt and strengthened over the centuries, becoming the strongest in Spain. Since there are no fresh-water springs in the city, water must be brought from Puerto de Santa Maria; rain water is collected on flat roofs in the city and piped to cisterns.

Salt Flats  We see these to our right: miles of salt beds, with occasional cranes for scooping up the raw salt. Cadiz' wealth in ancient times was based on salt, which was shipped to rome and used as seasoning and preservative. Several citizens made a fortune in salt trading. The son of a wealthy family, Balbus the Younger, went on to become a Roman general; he was the only non-citizen of Rome to be granted a triumphal procession into Rome. This Balbus afterwards returned to Cadiz (then called Gades) and built luxurious villas, avenues, temples, fountains, etc. The excesses and vices of this city became well known in Rome itself, and were adopted by fashionable Romans. The people of Cadiz were called (in Rome) the "improbae Gaditanae." the "wicked Cadizians." Some of the erotic dances of Cadiz have survived, thanks to the gypsies, whose dance, the "Romalis," is based on one of them. But this wealth also supported more scholarly activities: Greek and Roman scientists came to Cadiz to study the tides and the sunsets. The Roman historian Pliny thought that the rock on which the city stands was part of the "lost city" of Atlantis. Julius Caesar granted special honors to the city. The mystique of Cadiz (or Gades) in ancient times was due to its position as the westernmost city of the Mediterranean (of course, it's actually on the Atlantic). People were willing to believe anything about a place so far away from Rome.

Today, salt remains an important facet of the local economy. The raw salt is put out to dry in the sun, scooped up, and exported to other parts of Europe.

Puerto Real  This "Royal Port" was used back in Roman times, when it was called Portus Gaditanus (the "Port of Gades"). It was virtually destroyed in the fighting between Christians and Moors, so Queen Isabella rebuilt the city in 1483. Today, there is a large shipbuilding yard, owned by the Compania Trasatlantica. There's fishing also, with crabs, lobsters, and crayfish the specialties.

Puente Zuazo  This is a bridge that crosses a salt-water channel separating the Cadiz peninsula from the mainland. The bridge is reputed to have been the bridge-aqueduct built by Balbus the Young (Cf. "Salt Flats" above) as one of his public-works contributions. The bridge was destroyed by the Moors in 1262 and rebuilt by Sanchez de Zuazo in the 15th century (hence its name).

Near the bridge stands the modernized Castillo de San Romualdo, built by Moorish engineers for King Alfonso XI in 1325-28.

Chiclana de la Frontera  Another "frontier" town in the days of the Kingdom of Granada. Just outside the town is a rise of land where the English General Graham defeateda French army in 1810, capturing the first French eagle in the Peninsular War (the name given to Napoleon's campaign in Spain).

Conil de la Frontera  The two medieval castles were built by the Dukes of Medina Sidonia to protect their lands from raids by Barbary pirates — quite a menace to towns along this coast. One of these dukes was the head of the Spanish Armada.

Vejer de la Frontera  (like Conil, off the road on a hill). An old Moorish town, known today as one of the few places where old women still wear veils.

Cape of Trafalgar  We can't see it from the road, but this peninsula is one of history's most important sites. Here, in 1805, the British Admiral, Lord Nelson, defeated a French fleet commanded by Villeneuve. Just before the battle, signal flags were hoisted which read: "England expects every many to do his duty." Nelson was mortally wounded in the battle. Napoleon's hopes for invading England were dashed forever by the loss of his fleet; England's supremacy at sea was established. (The name "Trafalgar" — which was given to London's most famous square — comes from the Arabic Tarif-al-Ghar, "cape of the cave.")

Just before the road nears the sea is a marshy plain where three famous battles took place at different times in history. (1) The Visigoths had it out with the Vandals in 417. The Vandals were the barbarians who had swept across North Africa. When they tried to cross into Spain, the Visigothic King Wallia defeated them here, driving them back into Africa. 92) The Arab commander Tarik, having landed from Morocco in 711, had his first brush with the Christian (Visigothic) defenders, let by King Roderic. Tarik won, pushing Roderic west, where he defeated the Visigoths again and again, finally capturing Jerez. (3) In 1340, two Moorish kings got together to try to recapture lands taken by the Christians. Here, on this plain, their forces fought the army of King Alfonso XI. This was the first battle in Europe in which a canon was used. The Moors had brought several canons from Damascus, a center of gunpowder technology at the time. The Syrians, in turn, had learned the secret from the Chinese, which was carried over caravan routes to the West. In spite of this obstacle, Alfonso won the battle. when you think of the tremendous changes that gunpowder made in European society (kings used it to crush rebellious nobles; the nation-state emerged to replace feudalism), this wasteland we see out the bus window takes on surprising importance.

Tarifa  Population: 20,000. The most southern point of Europe. Named for the Arab conqueror Tarif ben Malik, who launched the Moslem invasion of Spain in 711. later the town became a major port of entry for Arabs traveling between Spain and North Africa. Our word "tarif" comes from Tarifa, since a tarif (or tax) was levied on all shipping coming into town. During the Moorish period, much trade flowed through the town, creating prosperity.

The story of "Guzman the Good". In 1292, Sancho the Brave captured the city from the Moors. Two years later, the Moors counterattacked and besieged the city's castle. The castle was commanded by Alonso Guzman. Guzman's young son had been captured by the Moors. The Moorish commander brought the boy up before the walls, threatening to kill him unless Guzman surrendered the city. Guzman threw his dagger over the wall down to the Moors,saying, "II prefer honor without a son to a son with dishonor. If you want to kill my son, here is a knife." The Moorish leader ordered the son stabbed, and his body paraded before the walls. A cry of horror went up from the Christians on the wall. But Guzman, turning to his childless wife, said calmly, "I feared that the Infidels had gained the city." The King of Spain, hearing this story, rewarded Guzman with the title "The Good" (El Bueno), and he became the founder of the noble family of Medina Sidonia. The castle defended by Guzman, with its 26 turrets, is partly intact, and is today a military barracks. (Guards stand watch at its front gate.)

(COURIER: The road comes into Tarifa, turns left, then continues up the hill and out of the town. As the road ascends, have everyone look back over their shoulders for a breathtaking view of the town and the coast. A few miles outside Tarifa is a lookout point where you should make a camera stop, especially if the weather's nice. On a clear day, when the wind blows away the sea mist, you can see across the Straits of Gibraltar to the coast of Morocco, just 13 miles away. The Moroccan hills are rugged and barren, making for a weird checkerboard of shadows. If you look carefully, you can spot the white stucco buildings of Ceuta, a city on the N. African coast that still belongs to Spain. You also have your first view of Gibraltar at this point.)

Algeciras  Population: 65,000 The Romans called it Portus Albus. The Moors called it Gezira el-Khadra ("Green Island"), after a wooded island (actually a peninsula). Today, that island is still called Isla Verde, and is passed by the steamers going to Gibraltar.

Historically, Algeciras is important as the first city in Spain to be captured by the Moors in 711 (commanded by the famed Tarik). It was retaken in 1344 by King Alfonso XI in an equally famous siege. Those soldiers participating in the siege earned special titles; it was a great distinction to have been at Algeciras that day. Chaucer, in his Canterbury Tales (Prologue), speaking of the knight, says that he had been at Algeciras (i.e. he was one of the best): "in Gernade at the sege eek hadde he be of Algezir."

Today, Algeciras is important as the port from which ferries depart for Tangier and Ceuta.

Gibraltar  Population: 25,000. The name "Gibraltar" comes from Gibel al Tarik ("Tarik's Mountain"), the name that Tarik himself gave it after he had landed here in 711 with an army of Arabs. The Moors built a castle on top, now in ruins but still known as the Moor's Castle. Christian forces recaptured it from Granada on August 20, 1462, the feast day of St. Bernard, who became the rock's patron saint. In 17313, the Treaty of Utrecht gave it to the english, who have held it ever since. The Rock has become the focus for a long rivalry between the English and the spanish. The Spanish have made many attempts to get it back again, most recently by political intimidation. Spain has banned travel between Gibraltar and the mainland, and this has prevented many Spanish workers from commuting to their jobs on the island. (The Spanish government has attempted to re-employ these 5-6,000 workers in the oil refineries of the area.) There are jeep convoys, base camps, and army maneuvers along the road — a Spanish show of force. There are also patches of concrete paving; the paving is used to catch the rainwater, which is Gibraltar's only source of fresh water.

Pillars of Hercules: Gibraltar was one of the two Pillars of Hercules, which marked the boundary of the known world in ancient Greek times. (The other "pillar" is Mt. Hacho, in Ceuta.)

The Barbary Apes: For centuries, there has been a colony of apes (the only wild apes in Europe) on Gibraltar. They were probably brought over by the Moors from the Barbary coast. Legend says that these apes know a secret underground tunnel that runs under the Straits of Gibraltar to some caves in the Moroccan city of Tetuan. Legend also says that as long as these apes remain, Britain will hold Gibraltar. In 1944, when the number of apes began to decline, Winston Churchill sent an order to increase their number. They have flourished ever since, roaming among the rocks above the town.

During WW II, it was expected that the Germans or Italians would try to invade the Rock. (There was an air raid in 1940.) Over 20 miles of tunnels were carved out, with munitions stored away in them. Currently, a cable car to the top of the rock is being built.

Trafalgar Cemetery is where the English dead from that sea-battle are buried. (But not Nelson, whose body was shipped back to England in a barrel full of brandy, a preservative.)

Gibraltar remains the last bastion of British colonial power in the Mediterranean.

San Roque  Population: 17,000. A town founded in 1704 by the Spaniards after Gibraltar had been given to the English. Many of the buildings of the town were made of stones brought from a nearby Roman town, called Carteia. In San Roque is an oil refinery where many workers who used to commute back and forth to Gibraltar were given jobs when communication with Gibraltar was cut off by the Spanish government in 1969. Today, its chief industry is said to be smuggling!

Guadiaro River  We cross this river just after the town of Guadiaro. (COURIER: Check map for the Torre Guadiaro.) The Guadiaro Tower was built by the Moors to protect the mouth of this river from Norman raids — a constant menace along this coast in the 9th-10th centuries. Another big castle comes later on (the Castillo de la Duquesa) which served the same purpose. We see a lot of these Moorish castles along this coast — often perched up on hilltops near the sea — and one can imagine the effort that went into building so many of them.

Estepona  An old fishing port, now a bathing resort popular with local people. The remains of the old Sabulda aqueduct can still be seen.

Estepona marks the beginning of the Costa del Sol ("Sun Coast"), fast becoming one of Spain's most glamorous resort areas. Winters are mild because the high mountains cut off harsh winds sweeping down from the north. Subtropical plants grow in the river basins. The development of resort hotels and marinas has brought many jobs to the local population, creating a "boom town" effect. The high-rise hotels and apartments we'll see are a far cry from the poor, rural hamlets we saw just south of Seville.

San Pedro de Alcantara  Formerly a humble fishing village, this town is turning into a high-class resort, mainly because of the development of a brand-new tourist center just down the road, "Andalucia la Nueva," with its marina and hotels. The signs for "El Rodeo" direct tourists to a new beach (to our right) where fun-in-the-sun is becoming the major, and only, "industry."

Marbella  Population: 15,000. The oldest and most traditional of the Costa del Sol resorts: we see many villas almost hidden by luxuriant gardens. The people who come here are not the young "swingers" but older, aristocratic families, mostly Spanish and English. The old walls and castle can be seen, and the town's whitewashed houses are some of the loveliest of the Costa del Sol.

Those who have read William F. Buckley's best-seller, Airborne, will recall that this is the harbor where he landed, after having crossed the Atlantic (starting from Miami Beach) in a 60-foot schooner, Cyrano. The crossing took place in June, 1975.

Fuengirola  Population: 8,000 and growing. Another former fishing village, now one of the fastest-growing resorts of all. Speculators are putting up high-rise buildings along the coast and even inland to the pretty village of Mijas (popular for its view of the coast).

Torremolinos  Population: 3,000 and growing rapidly. This is the center of international tourism on the Costa del Sol — its access to historic Malaga adds to the appeal. Only a few years ago, this was a sleepy village; but it had a 5-mile long beach, one of the finest in the Mediterranean. With the coming of package tours, Torremolinos changed overnight: hotel-building skyrocketed; handsome young men and women charged in, looking for mates and/or paying playmates; English-speaking evangelists booked the halls, hoping to reform everyone in sight; retired Globus Reiseleiters hunkered down with rich American widows, sipping Tequilas and enjoying the screenplay unfolding around them. First, the mainstream tourists were British, living in small villas or cabins. Then came high-rises, and this made Torremolinos by far the leading foreign colony in Spain, catering to British, French, and Americans. The boutiques, bookshops, art shops, bars, and restaurants quickly became international, and urban in character. Because of the large French colony, you can find bouillabaisse (famous soup from the French Riviera) and le supermarket if you look hard enough. Many young visitors now give the resort a "Bohemian," or "Greenwich Village" aspect, with much guitar playing, frequent rock festivals, motorcycle racing, flashy sports cars, and odd-smelling cigarettes.

Environs of Torremolinos: Malaga  Population: 400,000 (sixth largest city in Spain). The capital of the "Spanish Riviera," and popular especially as a winter resort; its winter climate has more days of sunshine than any other European city (save one in southern Sicily). The temperature rarely goes below 44 degrees F. in winter, or above 80 degrees in summer. Malaga is also famous for its wines, from grapes grown on local hillsides, which are also used for making raisins (exported widely). Also a busy port.

Historical sketch: Malaga goes all the way back to the Phoenicians, who called it Malaca. Then it became a Carthaginian port, a Roman one, and in Moorish times it was the main port of the Kingdom of Granada. Moorish eyewitness accounts speak of the city as an earthly paradise, with many gardens, palaces, and squares. Doom fell in 1487 when Ferdinand (husband of Isabella) besieged it, confiscating property and burning many Moors at the stake after it surrendered. The city declined, rising again only in the 19th century as a shippingcenter.

Features of Malaga: Alcazaba. If you like fortresses — and like to climb along their walls — this is the place to see. The name comes from the Arabic al-Kasba (citadel). The Phoenicians started it, the Romans enlarged it, and the Moors built over 100 towers. Next to the front entrance are remains of a Roman amphitheater; archaeologists haven't been able to discover anything about it. Inside the fortress, you walk up staircases, past "hanging gardens" full of bougainvillea, jasmine, and honeysuckle, to the towers, which you can climb up into. There are Roman temples and statues, and even an old Roman bathtub made of stone. From the top, there's a sweeping view of the city and the harbor.

Gibralfaro. Connected to the Alcazaba; you walk along the walls to get to it. This is another castle, built on the hill to be a lighthouse. (The name comes from Jebel (mountain) + Faro (lighthouse).) It had a beacon in ancient times to alert sailors that this was the harbor. 425 feet above the city. The view from the top of this castle is even more spectacular than from the Alcazaba.

Markets of Malaga. You'll find goods of every description, brought in from ports of call all over the Mediterranean. The markets are all over the downtown section, but begin with the narrow streets just north of the Plaza del Queipo de Llano.

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