19 April 2014: Messina, Taormina, Etna

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Early Saturday morning we sailed south from Sorrento through the Tyrrhenian Sea into the funnel-shaped Strait of Messina.[whohit]-Messina 19Apr-[/whohit]

On our left was the bottom of the mainland of Italy. To our right was the large island of Sicily, the football being kicked by the toe of Italy’s boot.

At the northern entrance to the strait, the passage narrows to less than two miles, or three kilometers.

At its exit to the south, the strait is nearly 10 miles of 16 kilometers wide.

Almost anywhere the sea funnels into a strait, mariners expect strong and sometime treacherous currents.

That’s only one problem.

The Eurasian plate is moving down—south, if you will—toward the African plate. And one of the hotspots, where the plates grind against each other, is southern Italy.

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Mount Etna, letting off a bit of steam, as seen from the hilltop village of Taormina. Photo by Corey Sandler

And so we have Mount Etna: the tallest active volcano in Europe, nearly constantly bubbling over like a bowl of Arrabiata sauce left on the burner.

We docked in the once-handsome classic Sicilian city of Messina.

I say Messina was once-handsome.

In 1783, an earthquake devastated much of the city, and it took decades to rebuild and rekindle cultural life.

On December 28, 1908 Messina was all but leveled by a terrible earthquake that killed between 80 and 100 thousand people.

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Scenes of classic and ancient Messina. Most of the city was severely damaged in the earthquake of 1908 and World War II bombing, but has been lovingly rebuilt. Photos by Corey Sandler

And then during World War II Messina was subject to massive aerial bombardment by Allied forces.

So, between the earthquakes and the wartime bombing, what you see in Messina today is almost entirely rebuilt.

Oh and one other thing: on our way into the Strait, we sailed between Scylla and Charybdis.

A quick reminder from Greek mythology:

Charybdis was a horrific sea monster whose face was all mouth. (Sounds like an entire class of politicians to me.)

Apparently she ran afoul of Zeus, who turned her into a creature who swallows a huge amount of water three times a day and then belches it out again: a treacherous whirlpool.

Scylla is described as a creature with four eyes, six long necks each topped by grisly heads filled somehow with three rows of sharp teeth.

Oh, and twelve tentacles and a cat’s tail.

Yes, I think I’ve met her type as well.

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The Orion Fountain, near the Duomo of Messina. Photos by Corey Sandler

Near Mount Etna, today it is Taormina that is the jewel of the region, a lovely little town with a spectacular Greek Theater and an even-more spectacular view of the volcano.

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The church at Tindari, home of the Black Madonna. Photo by Corey Sandler

17-18 April 2014: Naples, Sorrento, Capri, and Pompeii

The Caves, the Road, and the Elephant in the Room

By Corey Sandler, Destination Consultant Silversea Cruises

Sorrento is a gem of one of the most beautiful, dramatic, and dangerous regions in all of coastal Italy: Campania. On the mainland, it stretches from the Amalfi Coast and then Sorrento north to Naples. In between are Pompeii and Herculaneum.

And from almost everywhere you can see the hulking threat of Mount Vesuvius: one of the most dangerous volcanoes in the world.[whohit]-Naples 17Apr-[/whohit]

As we sailed toward our planned anchorage at Sorrento, the Master of our ship read the tea leaves (and the meteorological charts) and decided to change our itinerary so that we could avoid possibly rough seas at Sorrento. Instead, we docked at Naples.

The wide Gulf of Naples is framed by three major islands: the most famous is Capri just west of Sorrento. West of Naples is Procida and further out Ischia.

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The best real estate value in Amalfi: a miniature village at the top end of town. Photo by Corey Sandler

Capri has been a resort since Roman times. Actually the Greeks were there earlier, and are believed to have given the island the name Kapros, meaning wild boar.

Natural wonders include limestone masses called Sea Stacks (Faraglioni) and the famed Blue Grotto.

Now, let’s consider the mainland of Campania: Sorrento, the Amalfi Coast, Pompeii, Herculaneum, and Naples.

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Positano from above, midway through our drive of two thousand turns from Sorrento. (I counted them.) Photo by Corey Sandler

Positano was a relatively poor fishing village during the first half of the 20th century. It began to attract large numbers of tourists in the 1950s.

John Steinbeck may have helped.

In an essay in Harper’s Bazaar, Steinbeck wrote: “Positano bites deep. It is a dream place that isn’t quite real when you are there and becomes beckoningly real after you have gone.”

Positano was featured in the film, “Under the Tuscan Sun” in 2003. Mick Jagger and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones somehow used the solace of the cafés of Positano to write the song “Midnight Rambler.”

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Huge lemons of the Amalfi Coast. Granita (real Italian ice) for lunch, Limoncello after dinner. Photo by Corey Sandler

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Fruits for passion? Red peppers at a roadside stand along the Amalfi Coast. Photo by Corey Sandler

Naples was founded in the 8th century BC, as a Greek colony, first called Parthenope and later Neápolis (New City). Neápolis became Naples.

The city was at its peak as the capital of the Kingdom of Naples, from 1282 until Italian unification in 1816.

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Inside the spectacular Naples Cathedral (parts dating from the 13th century), and the shadow of the church on the street outside. Photos by Corey Sandler

By the 1st century, Pompeii was one of a number of towns located around the base of Vesuvius. The area had a substantial population which grew prosperous farming the rich volcanic soil.

The 79 eruption, which is thought to have lasted about 19 hours, released about 1 cubic mile (4 cubic kilometers) of ash and rock over a wide area to the south and south-east of the crater, with about 10 feet (3 meters) falling on Pompeii.

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More treasures of Herculaneum at the Archeological Museum. Photo by Corey Sandler

It is not known how many people were killed, but the remains of about 1,150 bodies–or casts made of their impressions in the ash deposits–have been recovered in and around Pompeii. The total number could be between 10,000 and 25,000.

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The greatest treasures of Pompeii and Herculaneum are on display not at the ancient cities, but instead safely and handsomely displayed at the Naples National Archeological Museum. Photos by Corey Sandler

Most of those killed at Pompeii died from a combination of blast and debris, and suffocation through ash inhalation. About a third were found inside buildings, probably killed by the collapse of roofs.

By contrast, Herculaneum, which was much closer to the crater, was saved from tephra falls by the wind direction, but was buried under 75 feet (23 meters) of hot material deposited by pyroclastic surges.

The last major eruption took place in March 1944, in one of the almost-forgotten moments of World War II.

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Scenes of the town of Amalfi. It’s not easy, but it is possible to find back alleys free of tourist throngs. Photos by Corey Sandler

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All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

16 April 2014 Olbia, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

In Sardinia, the traditionalists are partial to Sardinian, although in Olbia many old-timers speak a dialect of Catalan Spanish.[whohit]-Olbia 16Apr-[/whohit]

But these days the old-timers are much outnumbered by an influx of international persons of great wealth and portability.

We used to call them “jet-setters.”

I think of them as sometimes interchangeable denizens of places like Saint Bart’s, Monte Carlo, and other playgrounds of the party people.

In Olbia itself, much of the older architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

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Ancient Nuraghi are scattered throughout Sardinia, most about three to four thousand years old. Archeologists are at work on examining and restoring a major site near Olbia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The newer construction in Olbia and in nearby modern gathering places like Porto Cervo are a little bit Las Vegas, a little bit San Tropez.

The lingua franca is Euros, American Express, MasterCard, and Visa.

And they call the region the Costa Smeralda: The Emerald Coast.

Sardinia is about 23,821 square kilometers or 9,200 square miles, the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

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Archeologists and workers restore an ancient nuraghe. Photo by Corey Sandler

Olbia is at the northeast corner of Sardinia. On the other side of the north end of the island is Alghero, about 136 kilometers or 85 miles away. Cagliari, the capital, is at the south end about 277 kilometers or 172 miles away.

The Greeks, Romans, Carthaginians, Popes, Aragonese, the Dorias, the Italians, and a few others remade the settlements of Sardinia over the millennia.

There’s one other who had an impact in the northeast corner of the island.

Prince Shah Karim Al Hussaini Aga Khan IV has lived far from his family’s historic roots in Persia and Iran for all of his life.

Born in Geneva in 1936 and now a British citizen, the Aga Khan is the 49th and current Imam of Nizari Ismailism, a denomination of Ismailism within Shia Islam. He has an estimated 15 million followers in more than 25 countries.

Most Nizari Ismailis live in African and Asian countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Iran. There are also sizeable communities in the United States, Canada, and Britain.

The imam part of his job description accompanies other roles as a business magnate, real estate developer, and racehorse owner and breeder.

His name was regularly found in close proximity to the phrase “international playboy”.

Not to matter: the Aga Khan IV is considered by his followers to be the proof of God on earth as well as infallible and immune from sin.

The Aga Khan claims to be a direct descendant of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad through Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law, Ali, considered the first Imam in Shia Islam, and Ali’s wife Fatima az-Zahra, Muhammad’s daughter from his first marriage.

According to Forbes Magazine, the Aga Khan is one of the world’s ten richest royals with an estimated net worth of US$800 million, although some think he has a lot more than that.

He is unique among the richest royals in that he does not rule over a geographic territory.

Which brings us to Sardinia.

In 1962, the Aga Khan began development of Porto Cervo and by extension the Costa Smeralda. It grew quickly from a hangout for the Aga Khan and his crowd to become an international destination.

All sorts of characters, including former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, bought villas there. A large home up on the hill is said to be owned by–or in the possession of–Vladimir Putin. That falls under the category of “interesting if true.”

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Lifestyles of the rich and infamous at Porto Cervo on the Costa Smeralda of Sardinia. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Aga Khan sold off most of his Sardinian holdings in 2003 to an American real estate baron.

And in 2012, the Smeralda property was sold again, this time to the Qatari royal family (Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani) through the Middle Eastern state’s sovereign fund, Qatar Holding.

Today the Costa Smeralda and Porto Cervo is known for summer events like the Rolex Cup sailing race,

The Rally Costa Smeralda off-road driving competition, a very high-end food festival, and a new event, Fashion Week.

There are also white sand beaches, a much-celebrated golf club, private jet and helicopter service, and hotels costing several thousand dollars per  night in the peak season.

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A modern evocation of things ancient, at Porto Cervo. Photo by Corey Sandler

And if you’re looking to buy a little pied-a-terre, consider that luxury real estate brokerage Engel & Völkers ranked Costa Smeralda as the most expensive location in Europe.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler, and all rights reserved. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact me.

 

 

13-14 April 2014: Monte Carlo, Monaco

Monte Carlo: Playground of the Côte d’Azur

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Monaco has all the ingredients for adult fantasy.

A seven-hundred-year monarchy in a country smaller than New York City’s Central Park.

The romance and heartbreak of Prince Rainier and Grace Kelly.[whohit]-Monac 13Apr-[/whohit]

Also the other royal wedding of 2011, between the playboy prince and a lovely and nervous Olympian bride.

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Monte Carlo morning. Photos by Corey Sandler

Here in Monaco we also bid safe travels to many friends who have sailed with us from Barcelona and beyond, and welcome new guests for our journey to southern Italy, Sicily, Malta, and Turkey.

Silversea Map 2410

Our journey ahead, from Monte Carlo to Istanbul

A prestigious Formula One automobile race through its winding streets. A major tennis tournament. A major jewel heist by the Pink Panther gang, still unsolved.

Sandy beaches, spectacular yachts, don’t-ask-the-price shops, don’t-look-at-the-bill restaurants, and a fabled casino where—in our mind’s eye, at least, the men are all dressed in tuxedos and the women are dressed to kill.

Speaking of James Bond, although author Ian Fleming never actually set any of his books in Monaco, he clearly had the place in mind. The first James Bond novel, “Casino Royale”, mostly takes place in the fictional French seaside resort of “Royale-Les-Eaux.”

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A gallery of views of the Casino de Monte-Carlo, on the morning after the night before…without gamblers or gambling. The casino opens in the afternoon and high stakes continue until dawn. Photos by Corey Sandler

But without doubt, the most famous and glamorous actress associated with Monte Carlo was Grace Kelly. After her debut she became a favorite of the great director Alfred Hitchcock and he starred her in three consecutive films: “Dial M for Murder”, “Rear Window” and “To Catch a Thief.”

It was “To Catch a Thief”, filmed in 1955 in the south of France, that changed her life and the history of Monaco.

When filming was completed, she returned to the United States to accept her Oscar for Best Actress for “The Country Girl.” Then she flew to Cannes to attend the film festival, and there she was invited to meet Prince Rainier of Monaco.

By early 1956, she was engaged to be married.

The Principality of Monaco has been ruled by the Grimaldi family for more than 700 years, since 1297 to be exact. The oldest Royal Family is that of Denmark, from about the year 900. England’s royal house is so intermarried that by some measures it could make the same claim.

What was once absolute rule is now a constitutional monarchy, in a very close relationship with France.

Each year, about 5 million visitors invade.

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Inside the Cathedrale of Monte Carlo, on Palm Sunday before Mass. Photos by Corey Sandler

The entire principality is about three-quarters of a square mile or just under two square kilometers.

In this tiny land are about 32,000 residents, but native Monegasques are a minority in their own country.

About 47 percent of residents are French nationals), followed by 16 percent Monegasque), and 16 percent Italians.

In 1861, after a period of back-and-forth with France and the Kingdom of Sardinia, Prince Charles III of Monaco relinquished half the country’s territory to France in exchange for cash and independence.

By giving up land to France, Monaco had gained some measure of independence but lost most of its natural resources.

Something had to be done to reestablish an economy. Charles decided the answer was tourism…and gambling, or the other way around.

By early 20th century, Monaco began to promote itself as the playground of the rich.

Over the years, Monaco expanded its reliance on attracting visitors in search of a tax haven and playground. There is no personal income tax.

Luxury hotels, marinas, and shops now hug Monaco’s coastline. Gambling accounts for only 3 percent of the revenues of the principality.

But they do have a famous little casino.

The Grand Casino and Opera greatly resembles the Paris Opera House, which is no coincidence since both were designed by the same architect, Charles Garnier in 1878.

You can wear a tuxedo or a killer cocktail gown if you want. But no military or religious uniforms are allowed, and ordinary citizens of Monaco are not allowed in the gaming rooms, which says something about something.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

11-12 April 2014. Livorno, Florence, Pisa, Lucca

The Glories of Florence, a Tower in Pisa, and the Rooftops of Lucca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Livorno is Italy’s second-largest port, after Genoa. It’s a city of some interest itself, although most visitors use it as a gateway to inland gems.[whohit]-Livorno 11Apr-[/whohit]

From Livorno you can easily reach the great city of Florence (Firenze) or see one of the world’s iconic sites, a certain tower in the town of Pisa. Or you can head to beautiful Tuscany, Siena, and Lucca.

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The Terrazza Mascagni along the waterfront in Livorno honors the hometown composer. Photo by Corey Sandler

Livorno, home to about 160,000, is on the Ligurian Sea on the western edge of Tuscany.

Livorno was considered an ideal, or model town during the Italian Renaissance; it is among a relative few Italian towns that was actually planned.

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Not Venice, but the Venice District of Livrorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

At the end of the 17th century it was within fortified town walls—a few still stand—and crossed by navigable canals. The remnants are in Livorno’s Venice district.

This region, and especially Florence and Tuscany were advanced places for language, art, and music. The Italian Renaissance was centered around Florence from the 1400s to the 1700s.

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The Central Market in Livorno. Photo by Corey Sandler

Not coincidentally, it was the home of the Medici family, patrons of many of the great artists of the time.

In Florence, the Basillica di Santa Maria dei Fiori was begun in 1296 and completed in 1436.

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Il Duomo in Florence. Photo by Corey Sandler

Alongside is Giotto’s Tower. And it is topped with Filippo Brunelleschi’s dome, one of the world’s largest.

The Medici Chapels are the private sanctuaries of Florence’s most influential family of the Renaissance period.

Michelangelo’s David is the centerpiece of the Florence Academy, the Accademia.

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Deeper within the Accademia, past David, is a storehouse of antiquities that would be the star of most other museums anywhere in the world. Photo by Corey Sandler

David is certainly quite a man, but my favorite part of the Academy lies deep within, kind of like an art museum’s attic. There are shelves of busts and vases, any of which would be a treasure at a lesser museum.

The largest collection of art in Florence, worth a trip all by itself, is the Uffizi Gallery. Built as the offices—the Uffizi—for Florentine magistrates, it became a museum in the 17th century.

By most appraisals, the world’s greatest collection of Italian masterpieces.

And there’s this old bridge, the Ponte Vecchio (which means, old bridge). It’s lined with shops and tourists.

It’s also an easy way to cross over the River Arno to the Oltrarno, (Beyond the Arno) the Left Bank of Florence, the south side of the Arno.

On the Oltrarno is the fabulous Pitti Palace which includes three major museums. The Galleria Palatina is known for its collection of Raphaels. The Museo degli Argenti (The Silver Museum) for its applied art objects. And Boboli Gardens a handsome landscaped garden with a café.

The Pitti Palace is mostly Renaissance in design. The core dates from 1458 and was originally the little town residence of Luca Pitti, an ambitious Florentine banker.

The palace was bought by the Medici family in 1549 and became the chief residence of the ruling families of the Grand Duchy of Tuscany.

It’s almost like a private gallery in a great home, featuring Raphael, Caravaggio, Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona.

Another of my favorites is Santa Croce, near the Duomo but off the regular tourist beat. It appeals to my preference for unusual mixtures.

The Basilica is the largest Franciscan church in the world, with sixteen chapels.

Construction replacing an older building was begun in 1294 and completed in 1442. The floorplan is an Egyptian or Tau cross (a symbol of Saint Francis).

And from 1857 to 1863, a neo-Gothic marble façade was added.

The architect was Niccolo Matas from Ancona. He worked a prominent Star of David into the composition.

Presumably he had permission from the Franciscans, and presumably they also knew he was Jewish.

Matas had wanted to be buried at the church, but they couldn’t bend that much. Instead he is buried under the porch and not within the walls.

Inside are crypts for some of the most illustrious Italians, including Michelangelo, Galileo, Machiavelli, Gentile and Rossini.

Okay, so there is this city with a tower. Pisa is on the right bank of the junction of two rivers, the Arno and the Serchio, a city of about 87,500.

There is more to Pisa than just the Leaning Tower: at least 20 other historic churches, palaces, and other sights.

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The Tower and the Baptistry in Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1063 admiral Giovanni Orlando, coming to the aid of the Norman king Roger I, took Palermo from the Saracen pirates. The gold treasure he took from the Saracens allowed the Pisans to start the building of their cathedral, campanile or bell tower, and baptistry.

Construction began in 1173. Almost immediately, the tower began leaning to the southeast.

The reason was quickly apparent: an insubstantial foundation on loose and wet soil. It took five years, until 1178, for the tower to reach the third floor.

Then construction was halted for almost a century. The Pisans were unsure how to proceed, and they were distracted by wars with Genoa, Lucca, and Florence.

This was actually a stroke of good luck, since it allowed time for the underlying soil to settle. Otherwise, the tower would almost certainly have toppled.

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The Arno at Pisa.Photo by Corey Sandler

In 1272, construction resumed. To try to compensate for the tilt, engineers built upper floors with one side taller than the other.

The tower began to lean in the other direction. Because of this, the tower is actually curved, banana-like.

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Within the Baptistry at Pisa. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 1990, after several heart-stopping incidents in which modern instruments showed a sudden shift, the tower was closed to the public. The bells were removed to take some weight off the top, and cables were fastened around the third level and anchored several hundred yards away.

The tower was straightened by 18 inches (45 centimetres), returned to the angle it had held in 1838.

Prior to the restoration, the tower leaned at an angle of 5.5 degrees. Today the tower tilts 3.99 degrees southwest.

The medieval walled city of Lucca dates from the time of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus.

Major sights include the Romanesque Duomo, built in the 13th century;  the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Mansi; and San Michele in Foro.

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Other gems of Pisa including the Piazza Cavalieri. Photos by Corey Sandler

Or you can go to the former Roman forum and sit at a sidewalk café in the circular piazza and feel like a Lucchesian.

While you’re there, listen for the echoes of favorite son Giacomo Puccini, born in Lucca in 1858.

 

10 April 2014: Civitavecchia, the Port of Rome

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with Civitavecchia, but most people make it their goal to get out of town.

It’s actually an interesting small city with an old fortress, an impoverished but rich cathedral, and a history that includes the Emperor Trajan and a sculptor and designer named Michelangelo.[whohit]-10APR2014 CIVITAVECCHIA ROME-[/whohit]

Civitavecchia—the name means ancient town—is the port of Rome, about 50 miles away.

The modern city of Civitavecchia was built over an ancient Etruscan settlement. The port was developed by the Emperor Trajan at the beginning of the 2nd century.

The original town was called Centum Cellae, which may have been a reference to the centum (“hundred”) cellae (cells or halls) of the villa of the emperor.

Centum Callae was a Byzantine stronghold in the Middle Ages, then captured by the Saracens in 828. Later it came under control of the Papal States.

In 1696 it became a free port under Pope Innocent XII and soon the main port of Rome.

In the modern era, an event of great importance was the inauguration of the Rome and Civitavecchia Railroad in 1859; today’s track pretty much follows the same route.

During World War II, Civitavecchia was heavily bombed by the Allies to hinder use of the port for supplies and military purposes.

Civitavecchia’s massive Forte Michelangelo is impossible to miss. The designer Donato Bramante was commissioned by Pope Julius II about 1500.

Bramante also produced the original designs for the rebuilding of Saint Peter’s Basilica in Rome. That job was ultimately completed by Michelangelo.

In Civitavecchia, the same thing happened. The maschio or “male” tower was begun by Bramante, but the upper part was finished by Michelangelo and he’s the one who gets the credit.

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The Pines of Rome, near the Vatican. Photo by Corey Sandler

The fortress was built over an ancient Roman structure, probably the barracks for the Imperial Fleet.  The old bronze chain to raise the drawbridge is still there; on the side jamb the carved words “LEAVE YOUR WEAPONS” are still visible.

The small Cathedral of Civitavecchia, dedicated to Saint Francis of Assisi, was built at the site of a seventeenth century Franciscan church.

Less than an hour away is Tarquinia, an ancient city even by Italian, Greek, or Etruscan standards, dating back at least 1,500 years B.C.

Many of the great families and royalty of ancient Rome came from there.

Etruscan necropolises hold some 6,000 tombs and 200 of wall paintings.

Venimus, vidimus, vicimus: Rome

We came, we saw, we conquered…and shopped, toured, and ate in Rome: one of the most stirring, culturally grand, and chaotic cities in the world.

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Castel Sant Angelo, also known as Hadrian’s Tomb in Rome. Photo By Corey Sandler

A grandiose name for Rome is The Eternal City. Another nickname, Caput Mundi (Latin for “Capital of the World”) has a history of about 2,500 years.

Neither goes back to the dawn of time, but this is nevertheless a place of great antiquity.

Rome was one of the few major European cities not heavily damaged during World War II, with most of its ancient, Renaissance, and Baroque structures surviving. Allied raids avoided Vatican City and most of the great treasures of Rome, concentrating on the San Lorenzo steelyards, military installations, and outlying areas.

As ground troops advanced toward Rome in June 1944, the Germans declared it an “open city” and there was no significant further fighting as the Allies came in and the Germans retreated.

The Roman Colosseum is near the center of Rome, just east of the Roman Forum. One of the greatest works of ancient Roman architecture, construction began between 70 and 72 AD under Emperor Vespasian, completed in 80 AD under Titus.

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Inside Saint Peter’s Basilica, dominated by Bernini’s altar. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles, although not all of the images we have in our mind of these events have been verified.

There were hunts of captured wild animals, re-enactments of famous land and sea battles, dramas based on classical mythology, and more than a few executions.

The elliptical amphitheater could seat at least 50,000 spectators. Today’s huge football or baseball stadiums are not much different in concept.

It even had a retractable roof—a bit of canvas awning to shield the most favored from the sun and the elements.

The sovereign city-state of Vatican City is a walled enclave within the city of Rome. It occupies 110 acres, less than half a square kilometer, across the Tiber from the ancient city of Rome.

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The Vatican Museum is one of the most spectacula (and crowded) museums in the world, receiving 25,000 visitors on an ordinary day. Photos by Corey Sandler

The only way to be a citizen of the Vatican is to get yourself elected Pope or be one of the 800 or so people (and their families) who work for him or the church.

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Inside the Vatican Museum, and outside on Saint Peter’s Square where the chairs were already in place for Palm Sunday. Photos by Corey Sandler

 

9 April, 2014: Alghero, Sardinia

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

“Sardinia, which is like nowhere. Sardinia, which has no history, no date, no race, no offering.

“They say neither Romans nor Phoenicians, Greeks nor Arabs ever subdued Sardinia. It lies outside; outside the circuit of civilization.”

Those were the words of D. H. Lawrence in his book, Sea and Sardinia.[whohit]-9APR2014 ALGHERO-[/whohit]

Very evocative.

Not fully true, although it certainly is an unusual place.

Sardinia is part of Italy, while its neighbor Corsica is part of France.

Although: French Corsica is closer to Italy than France. While Italian Sardinia is closer to France (at Corsica) or Tunisia than it is to Italy.

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Preparing for Holy Week in Alghero. Photo by Corey Sandler

Much of the architecture and a bit of the culture is still heavily influenced by the Spanish and the Habsburgs who ruled here for many centuries.

Sardinia is the second-largest island in the Mediterranean. Only Sicily is larger.

Scattered around Sardinia are thousands of megalithic ruins known as nuraghes in Sardinian or nuraghi in Italian. The name is believed to come from an old word meaning heap of stones, or confusingly, a cavity in the earth.

In any case, they are usually located in panoramic or strategic locations; about eight thousand have been cataloged, but perhaps 30,000 once stood.

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The Nurgaghes at Primavera. We know very little about the people who built them, or their purpose. Somehow, though, thousands of them have remained standing, without benefit of cement or mortar. Photos by Corey Sandler

They date from the middle of the Bronze Age (18th-15th centuries BC). Many were in continuous use when Rome entered in the 2nd century BC.

We don’t know much more. They may been used for religious purposes or as military posts, or both. And we know little about what are known as the Nuragic people.

Outside of Alghero is the fortified town of Castelsardo, founded in the 12th century by the Doria family.

The original castle is still there, although modern structures crowd around the base of the hill.

About 20 minutes by car is the limestone headland of Capo Caccia.

The name literally translates as “head hunting”; in context, it’s the hunting lands at the cape.

At its base is one of the local sights-to-see near Alghero, at least for the tourists. Neptune’s Grotto: the Grotta di Nettuno.

The cave was discovered by local fishermen in the 18th century, and named for the Roman god of the sea. Somewhat like the Blue Grotto on the island of Capri, the entrance to Neputne’s Grotto lies only around a meter or three feet above sea level at the foot of the Capo Caccia cliffs.

And for those of you who are fans of bad horror movies, you might want to make a pilgrimage to Neptune’s Grotto to honor a renowned work of cinema.

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Above Neptune’s Grotto at Capo Caccio. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the summer of 1978, the decidedly unclassic film Island of Mutations, was filmed there. The Italian title for the movie was L’isola degli uomini pesce. The Island of the Fish Men. A combination of a horror film, a Western, and a wet t-shirt contest.

The movie’s stars included the American actress Barbara Bach, whose first claim to fame was being the Bond girl in the 1977 James Bond movie The Spy Who Loved Me.

But her other, enduring claim to fame is her marriage to former Beatle Ringo Starr, at last report still ongoing after 33 years.

 

8 April 2014: Porto Mahon, Menorca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

For geographers and travelers, here’s one of those relatively unusual cases where a place name has some logic:

Grand Canyon I get.

Long Island I get.

Nova Scotia is New Scotland. Understood.

Puntarenas means Sandy Point—Gotcha.

Los Angeles: I sorta understand the concept.

In the Balearic Islands we have Mallorca—the major island. Good name.

And so we also have Menorca, from the Latin phrase Insula Minor, the minor island. Menorca is smaller than Mallorca.

So far so good, except that Menorca is not the smallest of the Balearic islands. Ibiza is in second place, ahead of Menorca. But Menorca lies near Mallorca, and therefore it is the minor of the two islands.

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As Holy Week approaches, cathedrals and churches throughout Menorca were bringing out icons to be paraded through the streets and in a circuit of the island, Photos by Corey Sandler

Porto Mahon’s name is believed to come from the Carthaginian general Mago Barca, brother to Hannibal, thought to have taken refuge here in 205 BC.

Menorca is known for its megalithic stone monuments: navetes, taulas, and talaiots, which speak of a very early prehistoric human activity.

They were built by what is known as the Talayotic culture between about 1800 and 1000 BC. There are at least 274 talaiots, or talayots in or near the sites of ancient settlements.

A naveta is a chamber tomb unique to Menorca. It has two vertical and two corbelled walls giving it the form of an upturned boat, the source of its name. While some certainly had a defensive purpose, others may have served as lookout or signaling towers.

And then there are the taulas, which are usually found nearby. A taula (the word means ‘table’ in Catalan) is a T-shaped stone monument. Taulas can be as much as 3.7 meters or 12 feet in height. They consist of a vertical pillar (a monolith or several smaller stones on top of each other) with a horizontal stone lying on it. A U-shaped wall often encloses the structure.

Similar but not necessarily related are the “nuraghes” of Sardinia, the “torre” of Corsica, and the “sesi” of Pantelleria, an island off Sicily.

It is, though, believed there was a connection—or at least an influence—on Menorca from other Mediterranean cultures, including the Minoans of ancient Crete. Some of the same features found at Knossos on Crete are seen on Menorca.

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The Carmelite Church, from about 1770, is still in use. Alongside it, the former cloister has been converted into the municipal market. Photos by Corey Sandler

The two official languages are Catalan (including a dialect called Menorqui), and Spanish. Without getting too deep into the weeds here, Menorqui has some unusual components that are closer to Sardinian than Spanish or Italian.

Many civilizations have been through the Balearic Islands. Some left bad tastes, some good ones.

Lingering British influence is seen in the Menorcan taste for gin. At most of the many festes held on the island, gin is mixed with bitter lemon to make a drink known as a Pomada. Actually, it usually does not require a festival for a bit of Pomada.

And here is more important news for gourmands: it appears that a celebrated recipe was brought back to France from Mahon, Menorca, after Louis-François-Armand du Plessis de Richelieu’s victory over the British at the city’s port in 1756.

The sauce was originally known as “salsa mahonesa” in Spanish and “maonesa” in Catalan (as it is still known in Menorca), later becoming mayonnaise as it was popularized by the French.

Did anyone happen to pack a tin of tuna in their suitcase?

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Sausages at the Mercat, and an oasis of a courtyard in the heart of Mahon. Photos by Corey Sandler

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

7 April 2014: Palma de Mallorca

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Mallorca is Spain’s largest island possession, and its second-most populated island (after Tenerife in the Canary Islands.) Palma is the capital of the autonomous community of the Balearic Islands.

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On the streets of Mallorca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Spain was officially non-belligerent during World War II; in reality General Francisco Franco leaned heavily toward the Axis powers. In any case, Mallorca was a backwater through the war.

Since the 1950s, tourism has transformed the island.

In 1960, Majorca received 500,000 visitors; today about 10 million tourists come to Majorca or the other Balearic islands each per year. Most come by air, but about 1.5 million come in by cruise ship or ferry.

The Cathedral of Santa Maria of Palma, more commonly referred to as La Seu, is a Gothic Roman Catholic cathedral built on the site of a pre-existing Islamic mosque…atop the former citadel of the Roman city.

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Palma below and above ground. Photos by Corey Sandler

Just to boot, it overlooks the Mediterranean sea. You can’t miss the Cathedral; it dominates the waterfront.

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The Cathedral of Palma de Mallorca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Begun by King James I of Aragon in 1229, it was not finished until 1601. It was designed in the Catalan Gothic style with Northern European influences.

In 1901, fifty years after a restoration of the Cathedral had started, the great Spanish architect Antoni Gaudí was invited to take over the project.

While some of Gaudí’s ideas were adopted, he abandoned his work in 1914 after an argument with the contractor. The planned changes were essentially cosmetic rather than structural, and the project was cancelled soon after.

Es una lástima. That’s a shame.

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Not by Gaudi. but the Catalan’s influence is everywhere in Mallorca. Photo by Corey Sandler

Sóller is one of the most beautiful towns on the island, thick with palatial homes built in the 19th and early 20th centuries by the owners of agricultural estates and the merchants who thrived on the export of oranges, lemons, and almonds.

Some of the buildings were designed by associates and students of Antoni Gaudí.

The focus of the town is the Plaça Constitució which is surrounded by cafés and has plane trees and a fountain in its centre.

You can drive to Sóller from Palma by car, taxi, or bus, passing through the hills and a long tunnel.

But my favorite way to get across the island is a ride on the historic railway, the Ferrocarril de Sóller. The Ferrocaril was completed in 1911 with profits from the orange and lemon trade.

The narrow-gauge train is an attraction of its own, passing through some beautiful countryside and towns, through a dozen or so tunnels and several significant bridges including a spectacular viaduct in the mountains.

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Street artists hanging around and ready to pose (for a tip). Photos by Corey Sandler

And finally, a bit of Chopin.

The great Polish composer, who spent much of his time in France, also dallied—and composed—for a short while in Mallorca.

In Valldemossa, the Reial Cartuja (Royal Carthusian Monastery) was founded in 1339, but when the monks were expelled in 1835, it was privatized, and the cells became apartments for travelers.

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Food for thought. Photos by Corey Sandler

Undoubtedly the most famous lodgers were Frédéric Chopin and his lover, the Baroness Amandine Dupin—better known by her nom de plume, George Sand—who spent three difficult months here in the winter of 1838-39.

Chopin and Sand were not very happy here, for different reasons.

Sand, well, she was just unhappy.

Chopin had to rent a not-very-good local piano. Still he managed to compose the memorable “Raindrop” prelude.

6 April 2014: Ibiza, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Silversea Silver Wind is making a grand tour of the Balearics: three of the five major islands. We start with Ibiza, the principal town on the island of the same name.

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Approaching Ibiza at sunrise. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Balearic Islands sit offshore of Spain, very attractive in many ways:

Rich and fertile land.[whohit]-6APR2014 IBIZA-[/whohit]

Safe harbors, on the ancient trading routes for long-vanished peoples, as well as for wave upon wave of empire builders including the Carthaginians, the Romans, the Byzantines, the Vikings, the Spanish, and the English.

And then right along the watery highway for incoming Islamic tribes, and then for outgoing Crusaders.

And today, close enough for invading holiday makers to hop on a ferry or a flight from the mainland to the beach.

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They party hearty in Ibiza, deep into the night. We arrived on Sunday, the morning after the night before. Photo by Corey Sandler

In the 16th and 17th centuries—under the Habsburg Dynasty—the Spanish Empire was the world’s greatest power. It held dominion over Spain, the Low Countries of Europe, as well as parts of France, Germany, and Italy.

In Northern Africa, Spain held Morocco and the surrounding area. In the New World, Spain held Louisiana. The Viceroyalty of New Spain included Alta California and all of Mexico and Central America. Plus South America from Venezuela to Peru on the western half of the continent and the Falkland Islands on the eastern side.

In the Caribbean it held the significant islands of Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and Cuba.

Oh, and Florida.

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Fortifications of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

From 1580 to 1640, in dynastic union with Portugal, it included territories in Malta, Africa, India, the Middle East, Ceylon, and Brazil. A bit later on, the Spanish were as far north as Vancouver and the panhandle of Alaska.

To modern Spain, the Balaeric islands today new gold: from tourists.

From the mainland of Spain at Porto Denia to Ibiza, it is about 75 miles or 120km. On some summer weekends the Balearics seem like a suburb of Valencia…mixed in with jet-setters from around the world.

Ibiza is one of the two western “Pityuses” or “Pine Islands”, along with Formentera. The island’s largest cities are Ibiza Town; in Catalan called Vila d’Eivissa, or simply Vila, as well as Santa Eulària des Riu and Sant Antoni de Portmany.

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The morning light casts a shadow just outside the city walls. Photo by Corey Sandler

Modern Ibiza is very much a party town for the young. But it does have an ancient past.

In 654 BC, Phoenician settlers founded a port they called Ibossim. The Phoenicians—great traders and travelers—had adopted an Egyptian deity, the god of music and dance Bes. The Romans later adjusted the name to “Ebusus.” Ibiza next came under control of Carthage. By 400 BC, Ibiza was a major trader in the Mediterranean with outposts on the nearby, larger Balearic island of Majorca.

Ibiza produced dye, salt, wool, and the very popular fermented fish sauce known as garum, a very, very distant relative of Worcestershire Sauce.

It also supplied some fierce mercenaries who fought for Carthage. Ibiza became part of the Roman Empire but was far enough away from Rome that it was mostly left alone. But after the fall of the Roman empire—and brief rule by the Vandals and then the Byzantines, the island was conquered by the oncoming Islamic tide.

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The view from above, with the walls. Silver Wind was at the dock at lower right. Photos by Corey Sandler

The Moors were on their way to taking Andalusia and much of the Iberian peninsula.

The pushback against the Muslims occurred in many places in many forms. Ibiza, Formentera, and Menorca were invaded by Norwegian king Sigurd I in the spring of 1110 on his crusade to Jerusalem.

Sigurd I was not a minor player: before clearing Ibiza he had conquered Lisbon and returned it to Christian rule.

The island was next conquered by the Roman Catholic King James I of Aragon in 1235.

This was still two-and-a-half centuries before the rise of Spain as a global power in 1492.

Ibiza has been a Spanish possession ever since.

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Within the Museum collection of artist Narcissa Puget Viñas in the old city. Born in Ibiza in 1874, he was an important though lesser-known impressionist. Among his favorite subjects the ancient alleys of the old city of Ibiza. Photos by Corey Sandler

As I said, today Ibiza is party central for many Spaniards and Europeans. The Spanish have been trying for years to make the claim that Ibiza is not just beaches, bars, and bikinis.

Not very successfully. Some call the place, “Gomorrah of the Med.”

If you ask someone about the principal attractions of Ibiza, you’re not likely to hear about great museums, cathedrals, and historical sites.

You are much more likely to hear about Paradis, Amnesia, Privilege, DC-10 and other clubs presenting live acts or DJs featuring techno or dance music.

The peak Gomorrah season runs from about June through September, so we’re a bit early.

In the late 1960s and 70s, Ibiza was considered at the forefront of high fashion.

Today, not so much, although shopping is still a major sporting activity.

Looming over the old city are the massive medieval stone walls of Dalt Vila—a UNESCO World Heritage site—and its Gothic cathedral.

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Inside the Cathedral of Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler

In Sant Antoni de Portmany on the Western coast you can visit a monument called “The Egg.” It was erected in the 1990s in honor of Christopher Columbus.

And thus Ibiza joins the non-exclusive club of places purporting to be his birthplace: Genoa, Corsica, and Sant Antoni among them.

But if he did come here, I’m sure there would be a party in his honor.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Ibiza. Photo by Corey Sandler.

ALL TEXT AND PHOTOS COPYRIGHT BY COREY SANDLER AND MAY NOT BE COPIED OR OTHERWISE USED WITHOUT PERMISSION. If you would like to purchase a copy of a photo, please contact the author.

 

 

5 April 2014: Barcelona, Spain. Hello and Goodbye.

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

I don’t know anyone who doesn’t love Barcelona…except someone who hasn’t been there yet.

Great museums, spectacular architecture, fine food, good people.

Here we bid arrivederci until we meet again, to friends from previous cruises and welcome aboard new friends as we proceed deeper into the Mediterranean.

Silversea Map 2409

Our next voyage, from Barcelona to the Balaeric Islands, Sardinia, Rome, Livorno, and Monte Carlo.

Barcelona is Spain’s second largest city, after Madrid, the capital. The metropolitan area is home to about 3.2 million.[whohit]-5APR2014 BARCELONA-[/whohit]

Founded by the Romans, Barcelona became the capital of the Counts of Barcelona, and then one of the most important cities of the Kingdom of Aragon. The town was well established by 15BC when the Romans re-cast the town as a castrum or military camp.

The center of the settlement was on a small hill near the current city hall at Plaça de Sant Jaume. In the Barri Gòtic (Gothic Quarter), the Roman grid-plan is still apparent in the street layout and some fragments of the Roman walls have been incorporated into the cathedral.

The city was conquered by the Visigoths in the early fifth century and by the Moors in the early eighth century. Then it was reconquered in 801 by Charlemagne’s son Louis, who made Barcelona the seat of the “Spanish Marches”, (Marca_Hispanica) a buffer zone ruled by the Count of Barcelona.

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Street scenes in resplendent Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

The most famous street in Barcelona is Las Ramblas, or the Promenade. It runs up from the harbor through its historic districts and toward the Cathedral and Sagrada Familia.

The street signs call it La Rambla, the Promenade. But it’s actually a series of linked streets, so it is commonly referred to in the plural, Las Ramblas. The name rambla refers to an ebbing and flowing waterway, derived from the Arabic ‘ramla’ which means ‘sandy riverbed’.

At the base of Las Ramblas, is the Museu Maritim (Maritime Museum) in the drassanes or shipyards where the great Catalonian fleet was constructed. The Columbus Monument, which stands nearly 200 feet tall, is located near the site where Columbus returned to Spain after his first voyage to the Americas.

The statue is said to depict Columbus pointing toward the New World with his right hand, a scroll in the left. However, his hand actually points east, which could be a mistake or it could show the direction toward Genoa, where Columbus may or may not have been born.

Each section of La Rambla has a specialty for the street vendors and some of the shops. La Rambla de les Flors is devoted to flower stands. Another section sells birds, monkeys, and pets.

The beautiful Gothic Quarter was the location of the ancient Roman village. It lies to the right of Las Ramblas as you go up from the harbor. Narrow, winding streets are like a labyrinth. El Barri Gòtic is home to the Cathedral of Barcelona, the Catalan government hall, the and l’Ajuntament (the Barcelona city hall).

One of the jewels of Barcelona is its old cathedral, in the Gothic Quarter. The oldest known religious structure on this site was a basilica with three naves built about 343. There may have been a Roman temple on the site even before then. The basilica was destroyed by Moorish invaders about 985.

And then we come to the modern building, Santa Església Catedral Basílica de Barcelona. Begun in 1298, it is certainly has a place on the list of lengthy construction projects: the façade was completed in 1898 and the final spire in 1913.

Barcelona Cathedral (also known as La Seu) is a triumph of Catalan Gothic architecture. Especially notable is the Cappella de Sant Benet behind the altar, with a magnificent 15th-century interpretation of the crucifixion by Bernat Matorell.

The crypt beneath the high altar contains the alabaster sarcophagus of Santa Eulalia, patroness of the cathedral and co-patroness of the city. The virgin daughter of an upper-class Barcelona family, Eulalia was said to have been burned at the stake in 304 by the Romans.

The cathedral’s 14th-century cloister is known as “the loveliest oasis in Barcelona.” Its vaulted galleries overlook a lush garden filled with orange, medlar_(apple-like_fruit), and palm trees surrounding a pond.

The cloister is also home to a gaggle of white geese whose ancestors have lived here for five centuries, a bit unusual for a cathedral. One legend says they represent the virginity of Saint Eulalia or the former splendor of Rome.

Few cities are more imbued with the artistic vision of one man than is Barcelona. The visions, and some of them are a bit strange—were those of Antoni Gaudi, one of the masters of the Modernist or Art Nouveau style.

There are works by Gaudi throughout the city. Most begin with elements of Spanish Gothic, mix in Modernism, and finish off with phantasmagorical flights of fancy.

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La Sagrada Familia, still under construction, one of the wonders of the world. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi was born in Reus in 1852, the son of a coppersmith. Over his career, Gaudi developed a sensuous, curving, almost surreal design style. With little regard for formal order, he juxtaposed unrelated elements at every turn. It is Gothic architecture, warped by modernism, if you will.

In his youth, Gaudí was sickly and spent much time in isolation. Gaudí was inspired by nature, he says, because: “Those who look for the laws of Nature as a support for their new works collaborate with the creator.”

He studied architecture in Barcelona from 1873 to 1877. When he was given his diploma, a school official is said to have wondered if Gaudi was a nut or a genius.

Time will tell, he said.    And it did.

His first major commission was in 1878 for a private residence in Barcelona for the industrialist Manuel Vicens. The basic structure of Casa Vicens is Gothic Revival, but quite unlike the somber black and gray buildings you may associate with that style.

He mixed in Art Nouveau and Moorish elements, and some very flashy ceramic tiles from the factory owned by Vicens. The home—today a private residence—is in the Gràcia district of Barcelona.

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Silver Wind at the dock in Barcelona; nearby the old port of Barcelona terminal. Photos by Corey Sandler

Parc Güell is a magical mystery tour of a municipal park, another Gaudi wonder. Disneyland for adults, but much more fulfilling. The park, on the hill of el Carmel in the Gràcia district, was built from 1900 to 1914, originally intended to be a housing subdivision, the idea of Count Eusebi Güell­.

The buildings flanking the entrance have fantastical roofs with unusual pinnacles and curves. The focal point of the park is the main terrace, surrounded by a long bench in the form of a sea serpent.

To get just the right curve for the bench surface, Gaudí sat a naked workman in the wet clay.

Casa Milà  was completed in 1912 in the Eixample district as a private house. Nevertheless, it is a wondrously wavy and whimsical creation. One of our favorite places in Barcelona is up on the roof of La Pedrera.The building, the roof and an apartment within are open daily for tours.

I highly recommend it as a way to really get close to the mind and hands of Gaudi. This was a man who could not stand the thought of an undecorated wall or a straight line. Even the arch supports for the roof are works of art.

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Along the waterfront north of the city is the Maremagnum and Barceloneta beach and entertainment district. It’s just another facet of the marvelous city of Barcelona. Photos by Corey Sandler

Casa Milà was mockingly nicknamed La Pedrera (Castalan for “the quarry”), a name it now bears with pride.

Gaudí began his work as a secular architect and artist, but in his later years he devoted his life to the Catholic church. His crowning achievement was—or will be—La Sagrada Família, the Holy Family.

Technically, it is not a cathedral—home to a bishop. Its full name is the Basilica and Expiatory Church of the Holy Family.

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Details of La Sagrada Familia. Construction is scheduled to be completed, perhaps, in 2026. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudi designed it to have 18 towers: 12 for the apostles, 4 for the evangelists, one for Mary and one for Jesus.

As he began work, his closest family and friends began to die. Gaudi’s pace of work slowed, and he fell on hard times economically.

Work on La Sagrada Familia came to a halt. In 1918, Eusebi Güell, his principal patron, died.

Gaudi became a recluse, concentrating entirely on the church.

He spent the last few years of his life living in its uncompleted crypt. On June 7, 1926 Gaudí was run over by a tram. Because of his ragged clothing and empty pockets, he was taken to a paupers’ hospital in Barcelona. Nobody recognized the injured artist until friends found him the next day.

When they tried to move him to a nicer hospital, Gaudí refused, reportedly saying “I belong here among the poor.” He died three days later at age 73. He is buried at La Sagrada Família.

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More art in Barcelona. At left a contemporary salute that echoes a bit of Gaudi. At right, a sculpture from the Franco time of order. Photos by Corey Sandler

Gaudí was constantly changing his design, and the only existing copy of his last known blueprints was destroyed by anarchists in 1938 during the Spanish Civil War. This has made it very difficult to fully complete the church in the fashion Gaudí intended.

Like many of you I have visited hundreds of cathedrals all over the world, many of them many centuries years old.

Gaudi’s La Sagrada Familia may well be the last monumental cathederal to be built, and it is amazing to watch the work underway.

 

3 April 2014: Cartagena and Murcia, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Cartagena is on the Costa Cálida, the Warm Coast of Spain’s Murcia region.

Cartagena is one of Spain’s more historically significant places because of its superb and easily defended naval port.

But Cartagena is less-known than many other coastal cities of Spain. In fact, its distant namesake, Cartagena de Indias, in Colombia, may be much better known.[whohit]-3APR2014 CARTAGENA SPAIN-[/whohit]

Cartagena, Colombia grew as one of the principal Spanish fortresses to hold the treasure taken from South America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

I spent the day about 50 kilometers or 30 miles inland, in the much larger and historically wealthier city of Murcia.

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The Fuensanta Monastery is on a hill overlooking the city of Murcia. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Fuensanta (Holy Spring or Holy Fountain) today serves mostly as the home of the icon of the Virgin Mary that is the patroness of Murcia. As Holy Week approaches, the icon is moved to the Cathedral of Murcia, where we saw it. Photos by Corey Sandler

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The Cathedral of Murcia holds pride of place in this city of 450,000. In the principal chapel, we found the icon from the Monastery, preparing for Holy Week. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Near the Cathedral is the Murcia Casino. No slot machines or games of chance: this is an opulent men’s club from the 19th century whose rooms offer a tour around the world. Women have been allowed to join since the 1920s. Photos by Corey Sandler

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If you’re looking to join the Casino, you’ll have to pay an initiation fee and a monthly membership but you won’t get into the club with the recommendation of two elder members–and that is the most difficult credential to obtain. Photos by Corey Sandler

Cartagena, Spain has long been a crossroads of civilizations and navies. It has a fine collection of early 20th century Art Nouveau buildings, intermixed with a spectacular Roman Theatre and remains of Phoenician, Byzantine and Moorish structures.

As far back as the 16th century Cartagena was one of Spain’s most important naval ports. Today it has a contingent of minesweepers and submarines, and a large naval shipyard. The original settlement was called Mastia. About 227 BC, Hasdrubal the Fair established a town at the great harbor. Hasdrubal used the port as launching point for the conquest of Spain.

Roman general Scipio Africanus conquered it in 209 BC. The Romans, from Julius Caesar to Octavian and beyond used Carthago in their conquest of the Iberian Peninsula. When the first wave of Islamic tribes came to Hispania—the Umayyad invasion—the port was one of the landing places they used, along with Gibraltar.

With the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the city went into decline.

All the usual suspects tried their hand here. The Vandals (409–425), the Visigoths (425–551 and 624–714), and then the Eastern Romans (551–624), who made it the capital of Spania, the Byzantine Empire’s westernmost province.

The Visigoths returned, but they were displaced by the Muslims in 714. Various Caliphates and Taifas held Cartagena from then until 1245.

It was in that year that King Alfonso X of Castile (Alfonso the Wise) conquered Cartagena, re-establishing Christian rule. In 1296 Cartagena was annexed to the Kingdom of Aragon as the Reconquista focused on the remaining Muslim kingdom, Granada, which fell in 1492.

Cartagena entered a period of decay, because Spain’s colonial activities used ports to the west. It did not fully recover until the 18th century. The Spanish began to use Cartagena as the home of their navy. That also made it a target. In September 1643 the French defeated most of the Spain’s fleet here.

Although there are some ruins from the Carthaginian ages, like the remains of the Punic rampart (built in 227 BC with the foundation of the city) and visible at the Muralla Púnica or Punic Wall museum in town, most of its oldest monuments date from the Roman Empire.

The restored Roman theatre of Carthago Nova was built about 1 BC, and was in use for more than four centuries before being abandoned. The remains were rediscovered in 1988 during a construction project, and in 2008 reopened as a museum.

Other Roman remains include a colonnade, the House of Fortune, the decumanus and the Augusteum. Not far from the Roman Theater are the ruins of the Santa María la Vieja Cathedral, built sometime after the Reconquista—the expulsion of the Muslims, which took place here about 1243.

The cathedral had been built over the upper part of the Roman theatre, recyclying some materials. A decorated floor of a Roman house of the 1st century BC was found in the crypt of the Cathedral.

 

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.

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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.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

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.

 

31 March 2014: Gibraltar

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

Gibraltar is one of the planet’s odd corners, also one of the most recognizable pieces of geology: The Rock.

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Silver Wind approaches the dock at Gibraltar. Photo by Corey Sandler

It has a quirky mix of cultures: a British territory clinging to the bottom of the Iberian Peninsula of Spain. To some eyes, the last remaining colony in Europe.[whohit]-31MAR2014 GIBRALTAR-[/whohit]

There a few other places of this sort, including Spain’s exclaves of Melilla and Ceuta on the Moroccan coast not far away. We’re headed to Melilla soon.

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The Rock, from the rock next door. Photo by Corey Sandler

The Strait of Gibraltar is the only natural gap between the Med and the world’s oceans. At its narrowest, the Strait of Gibraltar is only about 13 kilometers (8 miles) wide.

Scientists say about 5 million years ago the two continents were connected here. The Mediterranean Sea was more like a huge lake, and had evaporated into a deep basin much lower than the oceans.

Gibraltar is a very small place: 2.6 square miles or 6.8 square kilometers. About two New York Central Parks, or three Monacos.

The base of the rock is home to about 30,000 people, one of the world’s most densely populated cities.

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Streets and alleys at the base of the Rock in Gibraltar. Photos by Corey Sandler

The narrow isthmus ends at Spain. The Gibraltarians and the British call it a frontier; the Spanish call it a fence.

In Greek mythology, Hercules had to perform 12 labors to please the gods. The tenth labor—the westernmost assignment—took place here.

Hercules had to cross the massive Atlas mountain in North Africa, on his way to the Garden of the Hesperides. Instead of climbing Atlas, Hercules smashed through it by tearing down a pair of mountainous pillars.

The two points marked the limit to the known world. By his action, Hercules opened the Strait of Gibraltar, connecting the Mediterranean to the Atlantic.

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The extraordinarily strange airport at Gibraltar. Windston Churchill Avenue crosses the runway, and cars and other vehicles are stopped at a barrier to allow planes to land or take off. Photo by Corey Sandler

One of the pillars was Gibraltar. The other, in various versions, could have been Monte Hacho which overlooks the Spanish exclave of Ceuta in Morocco.

The other suspect: Jabal Musa (Mount Moses) in Morocco.

Where was Hesperides? Some place it in what is now Libya.

Others say the Garden of Hesperides was on Gran Canaria in the Canary Islands, where our voyage began.

It was across this gap that the Moors—the Muslim tribes—came across to Europe in 711, surrendering al-Andalus in 1491.

In 1501 Gibraltar passed back to the Spanish Crown: Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile.

We jump forward to 1704, when Spain’s great empire was crumbling.

An Anglo-Dutch force captured Gibraltar during the War of the Spanish Succession.

And then it was made official—at least to the current satisfaction of the British. In 1713, Gibraltar was ceded to Britain by Spain under the Treaty of Utrecht.

Spain attempted to retake Gibraltar in 1727 and again in 1779, when it entered the American Revolutionary War on the American (or at least the anti-British) side as an ally of France.

Spain helped finance the American effort, and fought against the British in Spanish Louisiana and Central America.

But back in Europe, the Great Siege of Gibraltar was the first and longest Spanish action in the war, from June 24, 1779, to February 7, 1783.

The Franco-Spanish army was as large as 100,000, greatly outnumbering the British. But the British were able to hold out in the fortress. The Rock became an important base for the British Royal Navy.

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Notable residents of The Rock. Photo by Corey Sandler

It played a role in the Battle of Trafalgar, Nelson’s victory against the combined fleets of the French and Spanish in 1805.

Its strategic value increased with the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 as it controlled the sea route between the UK and the British Empire east of Suez.

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The Courts of Justice in Gibraltar. Photo by Corey Sandler

Spanish dictator Generalisimo Francisco Franco was no saint; not even close.

But he did not trust Hitler, a feeling that was mutual.

Franco’s reluctance to allow the German Army onto Spanish soil frustrated a German plan to capture The Rock.

The detailed plan for Operation Felix was ready to go, but on March 10, 1941 Hitler instead launched Operation Barbarossa—the invasion of its one-time ally the Soviet Union.

Operation Felix was delayed and ultimately abandoned.

Although it was bombed several times and suffered other privations, the Rock came through the War relatively unscathed.

Inside the Rock of Gibraltar, miles of tunnels were excavated from the limestone. By some measures, there are more miles of road within the Rock than outside.

All photos copyright 2014 by Corey Sandler. If you would like to purchase a copy, please contact the author.

 

29 and 30 March, 2014: Casablanca and Rabat, Morocco

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

After visits to the islands of Cape Verde, the Canaries, and Madeira, we move back now to mainland Africa: Casablanca in Morocco. And some of us went on a side trip to Rabat, the capital.

From our ship, or from any high point on land, it’s easy to see at a glance the geographic relationship between northern Morocco and Spain.[whohit]-29 and 30MAR2014 AGADIR and CASABLANCA-[/whohit]

The two continents were bridged by land as recently as 5.3 million years ago, a few moments in geological time.

Today only about 9 miles or 14 kilometers separate Africa from Europe.

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A Gnawa musician inside the Kasbah at Rabat. Gnawa is a stirring form of music with a strong rhythm; its roots are in Ghana but nearly the only place it is played is in Morocco. Some believe it gave birth to jazz. Photo by Corey Sandler

Morocco has a population of about 35 million, about the same as Canada.

And you won’t hear this sentence all that often: Morocco and Canada are similar in another context.

The vast majority of the population of Morocco live within about one hundred miles of the coast; in Canada, nearly all of the population is that far from the border with the United States.

Morocco, though, is much smaller.

Only about 172,410 square miles; Canada is 22 times larger.

Casablanca is the largest city and principal port; Rabat is the national capital.

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The King’s Palace in Rabat. Photo by Corey Sandler

When World War II began, North Africa quickly fell under control of Axis powers. Italy moved first, into Ethiopia.

Germany dispatched Field Marshal Erwin Rommel—the Desert Fox—and his Afrikacorps Panzers and they had initial victories in Egypt, Libya, and Tunisia.

And Morocco—a French protectorate—came under the collaborationist Vichy French.

That was the environment under which Rick Blaine (or Humphrey Bogart, if you prefer) operated Rick’s Café Américain in Casablanca.

The Allies pushed back in late 1942.

It was decided it was too soon to launch a cross-channel attack from England to France. The British pushed for a second front: against Axis forces in Africa, in what was called Operation Torch.

In addition to forces from the United Kingdom, Operation Torch was the first major operation by Americans.

They sailed directly from the United States, the only instance in World War II where a significant force was loaded in American ports and landed directly on a hostile beach.

The Allies achieved strategic surprise, but the operation was delayed by French forces, who fought back in many locations including Morocco.

Why? French Vichy troops were told by the Germans there would be retribution in France if they failed to fight off the Allied invasion.

But French opposition ended in November. And some 275,000 Germans and Italians surrendered on the Cape Bon Peninsula in Tunisia on May 12, 1943.

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The Mausoleum of Mohammed V in Rabat. Mohammed VI, his grandson, is now on the throne. Photos by Corey Sandler

Once Morocco was under Allied control, it became an important base for air raids on Sicily and France, and also crucial in controlling the choke point of the Strait of Gibraltar.

Before, during, and after World War II, Moroccans did not much like their French overseers. They were denied freedom of speech, assembly, and travel.

Just as happened in other colonies—including Algeria—a nationalist movement rose in Morocco.

On March 2, 1956, after forty-four years of occupation, the Kingdom of Morocco gained independence from France and Spain.

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Inside the ancient Medina of Casablanca, which bears no resemblance to a Tesco or a Safeway or most any other place most of us shop. At right, the apparent losers of camel races, ready for roasting. Photos by Corey Sandler

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Haute couture in the Medina of Casablanca. Photos by Corey Sandler

Spain held on to the Spanish Sahara, to the south and west, until the death of Francisco Franco in 1975. Today that territory is still uncertain.

What is now called the Western Sahara is considered by the United Nations to be a non-self-governing territory.

That is the same status given by the UN to Gibraltar.

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Not-so-haute cuisine in Casablanca. Do they know his name is Colonel Sanders? Photos by Corey Sandler

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

 

 

26-27 March 2014: Funchal, Madeira

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Cruise Consultant

The Portuguese island of Madeira has beautiful beaches, spectacular mountains, abundant sun, a moderate climate, a toboggan ride with no need of ice or snow, and an airport that makes many pilots reconsider their occupation.

Madeira is part of an archipelago in the north Atlantic Ocean about 522 kilometers or 326 miles north of the Canary Islands.[whohit]-26MAR2014 FUNCHAL MADEIRA-[/whohit]

The archipelago comprises the major part of one of the two Autonomous regions of Portugal; the other is the Azores to the northwest.

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Downtown Funchal, as flowers burst into color for the oncoming Spring. Photos by Corey Sandler

Today, Madeira is a popular year-round resort, drawing about one million tourists per year.

Madeira is currently ranked the second wealthiest region in Portugal, after Lisbon, with a GDP per capita of 104 percent of the European average.

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The Cathedral of Funchal, and the main shopping and dining street. Photos by Corey Sandler

Even before the great expeditions began to use Madeira as a stopping-off point on their way to the New World, it was used in commerce to and from Europe.

Among the sailors who used it as a base was Christopher Columbus who lived for a while with his first wife and child on the lesser island of Porto Santo in Madeira.

As Portugal, and by extension, Madeira began to grow in wealth the island attracted attacks by pirates and privateers. And we’re not just talking about small freelancers.

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Terraced farms high in the hills. Some of the farms grow grapes for sweet Madeira wine. Photo by Corey Sandler

In September of 1566 French corsairs under the command of Bertrand de Montluc departed from Bordeaux with a force of 1200 men, on three main ships and eight support craft. The corsairs landed on Madeira and marched toward Funchal and laid siege to the city, which eventually fell.

The following year, the Portuguese decided to install a better defense, including fortresses and other installations. Better protected, Funchal became an important stop-over for caravels travelling between the Indies and the New World.

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Up in the hills above Funchal, a dramatic landscape with roads not for the faint-of-heart. Photos by Corey Sandler

Just as an aside, in February of 1815, one of the great naval battles of the War of 1812 took place just off the coast of Madeira. The War of 1812 was essentially a re-ignition of the Revolutionary War fought between the American colonies and Great Britain.

The USS Constitution, one of the first ships of the U.S. Navy and now better known by her nickname of Old Ironsides engaged two smaller British ships, the HMS Cyane and HMS Levant. The American vessel carried 52 guns and 451 men and crippled both British vessels.

None of the three captains had any way of knowing that the War of 1812 had ended three days earlier.

After his wartime service as Prime Minister and before returning to office in 1951, Winston Churchill discovered Madeira for himself. He favored a small fishing village called Câmara de Lobos—Wolf’s Den—about 5 kilometers or 3 miles from Funchal, as a place to paint.

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Camara de Lobos, a favorite setting for painting by Britain’s Winston Churchill. Photo by Corey Sandler

The town has a lovely bay surrounded by banana plantations, vineyards, and other vegetation on the hills. And Churchill generally chose to stay at a hotel called Reid’s Palace. The atmosphere at Reid’s has changed little since the hotel opened in 1891, even though it is now part of the Orient-Express Hotels chain.

If you arrive by boat, as Churchill did for his visit in 1950, a lift carries you up from the hotel’s private bathing pier. In the hotel lobby you can see old photos of British and European elite who came to visit.

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Sea cliffs east of Funchal on Madeira. Photo by Corey Sandler

Now, as I said, Madeira is a generally temperate place. You’re not going to find snow and ice on a groomed toboggan run.

In fact, you’re not even going to find a real toboggan run. Just some twisty-turny streets. With cars and trucks and potholes.

For more than a century, people have used toboggans for the quick way down the hill to Funchal. The Carro do Monte toboggans are made of wicker, with wooden runners.

They are guided—not really driven—by a pair of carreiros, dressed in white with straw hats. They’ve done this before, but you’ve got to marvel at their success rate.

All photos copyright by Corey Sandler. All rights reserved. To purchase a copy, please contact the author.

Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession: The Tragic Legacy of the New World’s Least Understood Explorer  (Kindle Edition)

Now available, the revised Second Edition of “Henry Hudson Dreams and Obsession” by Corey Sandler, for the Amazon Kindle. You can read the book on a Kindle device, or in a Kindle App on your computer, laptop, tablet, or smartphone.

Here’s where to order a copy for immediate delivery:

http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00IA9QTBM

Henry Hudson Dreams cover

 

25 March 2014: Arecife, Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, Spain

By Corey Sandler, Silversea Destination Consultant

We’re on the first day of a voyage that will visit some of the more intriguing remnants of the great Colonial empires of modern times.

Here where the Mediterranean narrows to meet the Atlantic, nearly every island or port got caught up in war, intrigue, religion, and politics: an unfortunate quartet that often travel together.

Silversea Map 2408

Our scheduled itinerary from Las Palmas to Barcelona

Among the more interesting places on our schedule are a pair of political thumbs-in-the-eye established by and held on to former colonial powers: Gibraltar, a tiny finger of land on the mainland of Spain stubbornly held by Great Britain, and across the strait in Africa, Melilla one of two tiny exclaves of Spain that sit on the coast of Morocco.

The Greek writers and philosophers Herodotus, Plato, and Plutarch described the garden of the Hesperides, a mythic orchard at the far West of the world; that might refer to the Canaries.

Pliny the Elder later wrote of an expedition to the Canary Islands, including reference to an island called Canaria.

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The Fire Mountains in Timanfaya Nationa Park on Lanzarote. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The bus driver’s view climbing the volcanoes of Timanfaya. Photo by Corey Sandler

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The taxi squad for guests seeking even more thrills in the mountains. Photo by Corey Sandler

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My friend Blanco, before we headed into the hills. Photos by Corey Sandler

In 2007, a team from the Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and a team from the Universidad de Zaragoza, Spain uncovered a prehistoric settlement at El Bebedero that included Roman pottery shards, some pieces of metal, and glass. The artifacts were dated between the first and 4th centuries.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the Canary islands were ignored until 999 when Arab tribes came from Africa to an island they called al-Djezir al-Khalida. The Spanish took control of the Canaries in 1479, and very quickly it became a link in the chain from Europe to the New World settlements.

The modern city, with a population of about 142,000, gets its name from the black volcanic reefs near the port and beaches; Arrecife is Spanish for “reef.” Those reefs provided some shelter from rough seas, but equally important some hiding places from pirate attacks at the time the city was founded in the fifteenth century.

Perhaps the most notable Lanzarotean was artist and architect César Manrique, born in 1919 in Arrecife.

In addition to his sometimes playful and colorful modern art, Manrique also had a major influence on planning regulations in Lanzarote.

He worked to limit the size and especially the height of hotels on the island.

Manrique died in a car accident near his home in 1992. The César Manrique Foundation manages his home and raises funds for art on Lanzarote and promotes environmental and civic planning causes including ongoing efforts to block over-development of the island.

At the Manrique home is a collection of work by the artist as well as others, including original sketches by Pablo Picasso and Joan Miró. Manrique also designed a Cactus Garden on the island, integrating volcanic structures with plantings. The garden also includes an old whitewashed mill once used for the processing of “millo” flour, made from maize or wheat.

24 March 2014 Another Voyage Begins: Canary Islands to Barcelona

By Corey Sandler, SIlversea Destination Consultant

We wish safe travels to most of our guests, debarking in Las Palmas, Canary Islands after a trip up the western coast of Africa.

And we say hello to new friends, as we head to Barcelona by way of Gibraltar, Moroccco, Melilla, and the Balearic Islands of Mallorca, Menorca, and Ibiza.

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The port at Las Palmas, with Silver Wind reflected in the glass. Photo by Corey Sandler

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A typically quirky bit of Spanish architecture in Las Palmas, and a quixotic name for a coast guard rescue vessel in port. Photos by Corey Sandler