2 April 2014: Melilla, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We jump now across the Strait of Gibraltar from the Kingdom of Spain to the Kingdom of Morocco.

From Europe to North Africa.

And there we find not one but two pieces of Spain hanging on—against logic and against protest—to the bottom of Morocco. Ceuta and Melilla are the last vestiges of Spanish Colonial rule in northern Morocco.[whohit]-2APR2014 MELILLA-[/whohit]

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The winding alleys of the old city above modern Melilla. At right, Silver Wind can be seen at the dock below. Photos by Corey Sandler

Melilla is on the north coast of Morocco, about twice the size of Gibraltar but still a very small place: about 12 square kilometers or 5 square miles. Ceuta, closer to Casablanca and to Gibraltar on the other side of the strait, is slightly larger. Between them they are home to about 120,000 people.

They have been exclaves of Spain for more than 500 years.

And Madrid insists it will not relinquish control of either.

Gibraltar and Spain’s Ceuta and Melilla are not exactly mirrors of each other, but they are in some ways similar.

Centuries of colonial rule has resulted in communities that are markedly different from the countries to which they are attached.

And in both place politics and nationalism long ago trumped any attempt at logic and diplomacy.

Melilla has a population of nearly 79,000 people, a mix of Christians, Hindus, and Muslims with a small Jewish population.

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The symbol of Melilla is the letter “M” in Hindi, Arabic, Hebrew, and Roman characters. Photo by Corey Sandler

This is Spain, so Spanish is the official language.

But many also speak Tarifit or Rifeño, a Berber dialect of the Riffians.

There’s a bit of French, too, that has leaked across the border from Morocco.

Riffian is a Northern Berber language, spoken by about 4 million mostly Muslim people in North Morocco and nearby Algeria as well as a few tens of thousands in Melilla.

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Old Melilla is on the high ground, overlooking the modern city and port. Photos by Corey Sandler

Northern Morocco and Melilla includes an unusual mix of DNA, including Viking or Nordic lineage. Many Riffians have lighter skin, lighter colored eyes, and other traits that are not common in Africa and different from Sicily, Sardinia, and other parts of southern Europe. Blond hair is relatively common, and red hair also found in higher numbers than might be expected.

Melilla has a history of its own, somewhat different from Morocco and Spain.

It was a Phoenician and later Punic settlement under the name of Rusadir.

From the Greeks it passed to the Romans as a part of the Roman province of Mauretania Tingitana.

Successive rulers included the Vandals, the Byzantines, and the Visigoths.

As Muslim tribes came to the area and then crossed over to Andalucia in Europe, Melilla became part of the Kingdom of Fez.

Which brings us to the 1490s, when the Catholic Monarchs Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon sought to take the city. In 1497, a few years after Spain had ousted the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada—the last Muslim stronghold of Al-Andalus—an invasion force conquered Melilla with little resistance.

But the Muslims in Africa sought to take back the lands they had held in the Magrehb. Melilla was under siege from 1694 to 1696 and again from 1774 to 1775. But Spain held on. The current limits of the Spanish territory around the fortress were fixed by a series of treaties with Morocco in the second half of the 19th century.

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Modernism on the street and as reflected in the windows of the Spanish Ministry of Defense. Photos by Corey Sandler

Melilla and other parts of Spanish Morocco were used by General Francisco Franco as staging grounds for the Nationalist rebellion in 1936, starting the Spanish Civil War. A statue of Franco—said to be last like it in Spain—is still prominent in Melilla.

Since Melilla is part of Spain, emigrants regularly try crossing the border to stake a claim in the European Union.

Spain has spent a huge amount of money for border fences, crosspoints, and patrols. The Melilla double border fences are six-meters or 20 feet tall. Yet refugees frequently manage to cross it illegally.

Detection wires, tear gas dispensers, radar, and night vision cameras are planned to increase security and prevent illegal immigration.On the day of our visit, we heard warning gunfire and saw low-flying fighter jets above the border.

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A section of the border fence is visible from the ramparts below the old city. Photo by Corey Sandler

There is a similar border fence between Morocco and the other Spanish city at Ceuta.

With the land side now sealed off more securely, refugees have instead been crossing the Mediterranean in ramshackle boats.

They originally started going via the Canary Islands, but patrols increased there too and now they end up landing primarily in Italy—including Lampedusa Island—and Malta.

Although we certainly are welcome in Melilla, tourism is not the heart of the economy. The principal industry is fishing.

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We have our sea legs. Elsewise the tile pavement at Parque Hernandez could have caused a problem. At right, the grand Ministry of Defense. Photos by Corey Sandler

As a prosperous port with a lot of interaction with the mother country, Melilla was built up in the first part of the 20th century with many Modernist structures, the Catalan version of Art Nouveau.

The small exclave is said to have the highest concentration of Modernist works in Spain after Barcelona. Architect Enrique Nieto designed the main Synagogue, the Central Mosque, and various Catholic Churches.

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Some of the Modernist architecture of Melilla. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some of the best Modermismo architecture can be found on calle López Moreno and calle del Rey Juan Carlos.

Melilla has been spoken of as a multicultural exemplar, a small city in Africa with three major religions represented. However, the Christian majority of the past—about 65 percent at one point, has been shrinking—while the number of Muslims has steadily increased to about 45 percent.

Jews, who had lived in Melilla for centuries, were about 20 percent of the population before World War II. Now Jews are less than 5 percent, departed for Israel, South America, and elsewhere. There is also a small, commercially important Hindu community.

Cross-border trade is an important part of the economy of Melilla, even though the border is tightly guarded. Nearly every day, dozens of women pass through the pedestrian-only border crossing at Barrio Chino.

They are known as the Mule Women of Melilla, or more kindly as porteadoras.

As long as a porteadora can physically carry her load, it is classed as personal luggage, so Morocco lets it in duty-free.

The women have the right to visit Melilla because they live in the Moroccan province of Nador. But they are not allowed to reside in the Spanish territory.

Traders in Melilla prepare huge bundles to go to North Africa: second-hand clothing, bolts of fabric, toiletries, and household items. The bales are wrapped in cardboard, cloth and sacking and fastened with tape and rope. A typical load might be 60 kilograms or 132 pounds; some as much as 80 kilos or 172 pounds.

For carrying the bundle across the border, a porteadora might be paid 3 Euros; some make three or four trips before the gates close at midday. This is not small business; one estimate is that the trade is worth about 300 million euros to Melilla.

And now the tradition of women as mules is under threat from unemployed Moroccan men. The women are objecting, but losing that battle.

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1 April 2014: Malaga, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Málaga: its very name brings to mind sweet repose, and sweet wine.

Both are conducive, I suppose, to great art, and it was here that Pablo Picasso was born and it is here that members of his family contributed pieces—some well-known and others quite obscure—to a museum.[whohit]-1APR2014 MALAGA-[/whohit]

Málaga is the capital of the Costa del Sol, the Sun Coast.

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The modern terminal at Malaga frames the handsome city on the hill. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Siesta time along the promenade in Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

 

That seems to be a well-deserved nickname: the coast averages about 324 days of sunshine each year, which means we have about a 90 percent chance of sol.

The Costa del Sol is more or less a linear town, stretching from Málaga to Cadiz.

A few blocks inland from the beach is Málaga’s bullring, La Malagueta, built in 1874. It’s a hexa-dec-agon, a building with sixteen sides.

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The bull ring in Malaga, in preparation for a major contest during Holy Week. Photos by Corey Sandler

Some of Spain’s most famous bullfighters have appeared here, including El Cordobés and Manolete. Spanish-style bullfighting usually ends with the killing of the bull in the ring.

Above the bullring in Malaga is the Alcazaba, a Moorish fortification from the 8th to the 11th century. Alcazaba comes from the Arabic al-qasbah, meaning the citadel, and this is the best-preserved example in Spain.

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The Alcazaba of Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

Next to the entrance to the Alcazaba are the partially restored ruins of a 2nd century Roman theater. Some of the Roman materials were used in the construction of the Alcazaba. There are two walled enclosures, originally connected to the city’s ramparts, creating a third defensive wall.

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The Roman amphitheatre of Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

I mentioned Málaga was the birthplace of Pablo Picasso in 1881, and he is much celebrated here, even though he left town at the age of ten.

The Museo Picasso Málaga is in the old quarter at the foot of Gibralfaro hill, near the Alcazaba and the Roman Theatre.

Picasso once said that he was the world’s greatest collector of Picassos. His family had a few, as well, forming the original core of the museum.

The collection ranges from early academic studies to cubism to his late re-workings of Old Masters.

The museum is in the Palacio de Buenavista, originally built in the 16th century incorporating the remains of a palace from the Nasrid dynasty, the last Arab and Muslim dynasty in Spain.

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Silver Wind seen from above in Malaga. Photo by Corey Sandler

About an hour west of Málaga in the inland hills is Ronda. Ronda was first settled by the early Celts, but what you see today is the result of later Roman and Moorish rulers. Catholic Spain took control of the town in 1485, during the Reconquista.

Ronda is in a very mountainous area about 2,500 feet above sea level (750 meters) (2,500 feet).

The Guadalevín River bisects the city with the steep El Tajo gorge. Three bridges cross El Tajo: the Roman, the Old, and the New.

All of them are old.

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The Arab baths at Ronda. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Puente Romano (the Roman Bridge, also known as the Puente San Miguel), dates from Roman times at least one thousand years ago. The Puente Viejo (“Old Bridge”, also known as the Puente Arabe or “Arab Bridge”) is a mere four centuries old, built in 1616. The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) was begun in 1751 and took until 1793 to complete. This is the tallest of the bridges, towering 390 feet or 120 meters above the canyon floor.

A chamber beneath the central arch was used as a prison. During the Spanish Civil War of 1936 to 1939, both sides were alleged to have used the chamber to torture prisoners, killing some by throwing them to the rocks below.

Ernest Hemingway spent many summers in Ronda’s old town quarter, La Ciudad. Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls describes the murder of Nationalist sympathizers early in the Spanish Civil War. Some say Hemingway based the account on killings that took place at the cliffs of El Tajo.

Another frequent visitor was actor and director Orson Welles. About Ronda, Welles said, “A man is not from where he is born, but where he chooses to die.” Welles’ ashes were scattered in the Ronda bull-ring in 1985.

One of Spain’s most spectacular and famous cities is Granada, just under two hours to the northeast of Málaga.

Granada sits at the base of Sierra Nevada mountains, at the confluence of three rivers. The city has been inhabited for thousands of years. The original settlers were perhaps Ibero-Celtics. Then came Phoenicians, Carthagenians, and Greeks.

The heraldic symbol of Granada is the pomegranate: Granada in Spanish.

The city became the capital of a province of the Caliphate of Cordoba.

By the 16th century, Granada took on a Christian and Castilian character, as immigrants came from other parts of the Iberian Peninsula.

Many of the city’s mosques, some of which had been established on the sites of former Christian churches, were converted to Christian uses.

Although many Muslim buildings were destroyed by the Catholics, those that remain represent the most complete group of Moorish domestic architecture in Europe.

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The Alhambra in Granada. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Alhambra, Arabic for “the red one”, or the red fortress, was built in the mid-14th century.

It originally was the residence of the Muslim rulers of Granada and their court.

With the reconquest by the Spaniards, it became a Christian palace. Within the Alhambra, a new palace was erected in 1527 by Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor.

After falling into disrepair, the Alhambra was “rediscovered” in the 19th century. It is now one of Spain’s major tourist attractions.

It exhibits the country’s most famous Islamic architecture, together with Christian 16th-century and later improvements.

Like a house that has been built, rebuilt, and expanded dozens of times over centuries, the Alhambra is a bit of an architectural mess.

That’s actually one of its charms.

The overall design is chaotic, with some rooms at odd angles to each other and styles abruptly changing at every turn.

Because the Muslims in the original settlement were isolated, the Islamic art here is classical

It does not include more recent styles that arose in the middle east and Africa.

The Alhambra’s westernmost feature is the alcazaba (the citadel).

The rest of the plateau is enclosed by a fortified wall, with thirteen towers, some defensive and some providing vistas for the inhabitants.

After the Christian conquest of the city in 1492, some of the art was covered with whitewash.

The Palacio de Generalife gets its unusual name from the Arabic: Jannat al-’Arif‎, meaning Architect’s Garden.

This was the summer palace and country estate of the Nasrid sultans of Granada. The palace and gardens were built between 1302 and 1324.

Within is the famous Court of Myrtles and the Patio of the Lions, like something out of Ali Baba.