Cape Trafalgar

The Atlantic side of Andalucía is amazing.  Driving west from the Straits quickly leads to beautiful, lush countryside, considerably greener than the coast or Guadalquivir valley.


Cape Trafalgar itself is relatively remote, situated several miles south of Cadiz.  The beaches are long and sandy, especially when compared to the Mediterranean beaches, but tucked between rocky headlands.  A modern lighthouse sits on the cape itself, beside the ruins of its ancestor.  Only a small plaque commemorates the massive sea battle which took place a few miles off shore.


New lighthouse


Old lighthouse

The nearby Los Caños de Meca, which seems to be more hippy commune than beach resort, which in many ways makes this place doubly attractive.  The striking nature of this corner of Spain is accentuated by the forest of umbrella pines that separate the cape from the interior.


A few miles south of Cape Trafalgar lays an even more attractive seaside jewel, Zahara de los Atunes.  The beach here exactly resembles American Atlantic beaches: long and sandy, with dunes and marshes.  The town is certainly more of a beach community than a commune, but not at all over-developed or touristy (at least in early June).  Dinner in a small beachfront restaurant did not disappoint.  This is a part of Spain that definitely merits a longer visit.


Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Gibralfaro


At the peak of the hill in central Málaga sits the sprawling castle of the Gibralfaro.  The name is a pretty clear amalgamation of the Arabic jebel (mountain) and the Latin faro (lighthouse), though despite this, the castle’s literature simply says “there may have been a lighthouse here in the past”.  The putative lighthouse and ancient enclosure was replaced, in the middle of fourteenth century, by a castle, connected to the lower Alcazaba with impressive battlements.


Looking down to the Alcazaba, and city, from the Gibralfaro

The hike up to the Gibralfaro is stout, but offers the very best views of this picturesque city.  The castle apparently shares the peak with the Parador, which may be worth checking out one day.


View from the mirador near the castle

The castle itself sprawls over a considerable space at the top of the hill.  It once enclosed a large military encampment, but most of the structures of the camp do not survive.  What does survive are the massive walls which, perched high up on the hill, made the site virtually impregnable.  Not surprisingly, the fortress was more than capable of holding out against the siege of the city by King Fernando during the conquest of Granada.  The leading citizens of Málaga had chosen to support Muhammad az-Zaghal (‘the valiant’) in his civil war against Muhammad XII, better known as Boabdil (Abu Abdullah).  Boabdil  was a Castilian vassal, and essentially the lever by which the Christian monarchs hoped to destroy Granada, via internal division and conflict.  Therefore a Castilian/Aragonese army besieged the city for several months in the summer of 1487.  The siege was protracted, and Fernando had to send men all the way to Algeciras to collect cannon balls fired during the siege of that city, nearly 150 years earlier, in order to keep up his attack.  The defenders also employed cannon-fire from the Gibralfaro, making the siege the first conflict in which cannons were used on both sides (so says the castle literature– I have my doubts).  The city refused lenient terms of surrender in May, and so when the city walls were finally breached, and the population reduced to starvation, no terms were offered. Most of the inhabitants were enslaved, and only the elites, who held out in the castle, were allowed to depart safely for Granada or North Africa. The governor of the city was executed. The capture of the port of Málaga ultimately proved to be the pivotal act of the war.  When Boabdil was restored to Granada shortly thereafter, he found his kingdom completely untenable without its sea-connection to the rest of the Islamic world, and within a couple of years found himself compelled to surrender the whole thing to the soon-to-be-known-as Catholic Monarchs in 1492.


The castle remained a military base until the early twentieth century, which I suspect helps to account for its survival.  Aside from the views, the best part about the visit was feeding the particularly manipulative sparrows, who had clearly perfected the art of begging.



Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Alcazaba

IMG_7371The palace/castle at the heart of the old city of Málaga was built, perhaps over the ruins of early military structures, in the eleventh century. The site, whose name derives from the Arabic al-qasabah, or fortress, and indeed, the site is principally made up of a double ring of curtain walls protecting a palace which sits at the heart of the complex.


The palace itself is not particularly well-preserved, certainly not when compared to the Alhambra.  One suspects that at in its day, the palace was intended to appear as a miniature copy of its larger, more famous Granadan counterpart.


What stands today is largely the work of the Zirid dynasty, which ruled Málaga and Granada in the eleventh century.  They came to the Maghreb originally in the service of the Fatimid Caliphs, but one of the junior members of the dynasty came into the service of Hisham II, Caliph of Cordoba right at the end of the tenth century.  They were key players in the chaos that followed, and ended up in control of a substantial Taifa state in the south of al-Andalus.  In the mid-fourteenth century, under the reign of Yusuf I of the Nasrid dynasty, the additional fortifications of the Gibralfaro were added, which I will cover in my next post.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Gibraltar, again


Looking east from the Mediterranean Steps towards the ships waiting to pass the Straits.

I am not sure I have a lot more to add to the remarks I made after my first trip to Gibraltar. It is still a very unusual place, and I am glad I visited again, especially considering that, writing the day after the Brexit vote, it may not be so easy to visit in the future.


Tunnels carved out by the British military

This time, I had the chance to explore the Mediterranean Steps trail at the back of the Rock. The very steep trail, which doubtless originated as part of the British military fortifications, climbs from the Pillars of Hercules monument up to a high battery. It passes abandoned gun positions and shallow caves, and while safe, appears to cling precariously to the cliffs above the Mediterranean. It appeared to be a very popular route for local trail runners.


Looking south from the Mediterranean Steps across the Straits

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment


This afternoon I had one of the most intense memory-sense associations I can recall.  In a lovely little candy shop down the street, I bought myself a small bag of piñones, which are candy-coated pine nuts.  I already enjoyed some of their big brother, peladillas, the equivalent of Jordan almonds.  I eat Jordan almonds all the time, but had not touched piñones in, I suspect 25 years.  Then I shared them with my father, as piñones were some of his favorites (though truly what Spanish candy did he dislike?).  The second I popped the first one in my mouth, the memories hit me like a blow.  Though it has been nearly 20 years since I heard the man’s voice, my memories of my father were suddenly crystal clear, as if I was just talking to him.  It is amazing how the mind works sometimes, and despite the inherent sadness of the situation, I am thankful for my bag of candy-coated pine nuts.


Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Roman Málaga 

Málaga, like most of the other cities of southern Iberia, was a Phoenican settlement. It’s name, Malaka, is derived from the Phoenician word for salt, and the city, founded about 750 BC, was from its earliest existence dependent on trade in salted fish.

This seafood economy was of some interest to the Romans, who took control of the city in 218 BC, during the course of the Second Punic War.  Málaga became, by the first century BC, a center for garum production. 

Garum fermentation pits

Garum was a fermented fish sauce, in many ways akin to modern Thai and Vietnamese products, and was essentially the ketchup of the ancient world. Malaca, as the city was called by the Romans, was one of the major production sites for the stinky condiment (alongside southern Italy and the Peloponessus). Garum production involved placing a mixture of chopped fish and salt into baskets, which then sat in the above pictured fermenting pits for at least a month, before the liquid could be siphoned off and bottled. 

First century shipping container

The economic integration of the city also sped along the process of romanization. By the early first century AD, Malaca, while still officially an allied federate city, incorporated many of the institutions of Roman culture, such as wheat/grape/olive agriculture, baths, temples, and most prominently today, a theater.

Delightfully, Málaga schools hihold Roman themed events in th theater, and parents dreas up too.

The process of integrating the Iberian Peninsula, or at very least its southern half,  was largely complete by the end of the first century AD. In 74, the emperor Vespasian issued the Lex Flavia Malicitana, which officially made Malaca a municipum granted full Roman citizenship to the people.  The Lex itself was a series of regulations for the organization of municipal government. They were recorded on bronze tablets, a full set of which were unearthed in the city during the 1950s, and now reside in the Museo Arqueológico in Madrid.

This is not the Lex Flavia.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

More Málaga

Mostly just more images of the beautiful city.  I had no idea, for instance, that poinsettias could grow to be huge:


Yup, the plant you throw out after Christmas.  All it wants is to live in the sun at the beach.

The flowers here really are a dominant theme.


But, of course, this is a beach town, and the Mediterranean dominates the landscape.


View from the small park above the Cerrado de Calderon

The beach below my accommodations here, the Playa del Carmen, is home to a nearly century-old restaurant with atrociously bad service and amazing views.


I guess the million-dollar-view means the waiters don’t have to try very hard?

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment


I have lots to say about the beautiful city of Málaga, where I get to spend nearly three full weeks.  I have visited before, but my first impression this time has been shaped by the flowers.  Late May is the perfect time to be here, as the parks and countryside are all in bloom.


The Parque de Málaga, which divides the center of town from the harbor, has the most beautiful collection of tropical plants and trees.  It is also full of Quaker Parakeets, who add to the tropical setting.  They are hard to photograph, so no pictures yet.  I do have plenty of pictures of the botanical wonders, which hold still much better for photographs.IMG_7215Among the most striking of the flowers are the Paulownia trees, which grow everywhere here.


Paulownias on the flank of the Alcazaba


The Paulownias are simply the largest of the flowering plants.  The park is full of smaller but no less wondrous denizens.


Orange Hibiscus


Bird of Paradise


Mock Orange


A member of the Datura family




Russelia, aka the Firecracker Plant


African Lily





Bougainvillea must be one of the most ubiquitous Mediterranean flowers.  I have seen it all over Spain and Italy.

But, all that being said, the flower I most identify with Spain is and will always be the rose.


This city is also chockfull of water features, the park no less than everywhere else.

Exploring the park and surrounding gardens was a wonderful introduction to the city.  I will have a lot more to say in the coming days.

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ermita de San Eugenio

IMG_7190Just when I think I know everything about Toledo, I stumble across something new.

So a while back I remember seeing something in the treasury of the Cathedral of Toledo about the arm of San Eugenio, the first century bishop of Toledo.  I came across the story again while reading a history of the archbishops of Toledo this week.  The whole story of this arm, of the first bishop, and the above pictured church is a bit interesting.

In 1148, the archbishop of Toledo, Raymond de Sauvetât, traveled to France to participate in the Council of Reims, called by Pope Eugenius III.  On his journeys, he made his way to Saint-Denis, probably in the company of that church’s famous Abbot Suger.  During this visit, Raymond was apparently surprised to discover that the church of Saint-Denis preserved the relics of the first bishop of his very see, Toledo.  He inquired about getting a relic before leaving.

Apparently this request put some wheels in motion, though Archbishop Raymond would not live to see the destination.  However, his successor, Juan (incidentally the first Castilian-born Archbishop since before the conquest of the city by Alfonso VI in 1085) did indeed receive the sought-after relic.  In 1156, King Louis VII of France traveled to the Iberian Peninsula, in part to visit the great pilgrimage site of Santiago de Compostela, and in part to arrange a marriage to Constance, the daughter of Alfonso VII.

During this visit, King Louis delivered the relic of San Eugenio, his right arm.  The transfer of relic must have been planned well in advance, because Alfonso VII had a special chapel built about a kilometer to the north of the Bisagra gate to receive the precious relic, which still stands today.

So far my research has not made it clear how long the relic stayed in the little Mudejar church, but it eventually became a thriving religious community.  However, over time the church of San Eugenio faded in importance.  It was likely closed and sold as private property during one of the dis-entailment projects of the late-nineteenth or early-twentieth century.  I certain hope the Circulo de Arte can get their hands on it and preserve what remains of this neat little church.  Also see this nice website about the church.


Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Toledo, 2016

My return to my favorite city came in the form of the first real event of the study abroad program which I am helping to teach/lead this year.  Traveling with 35 other people is rather different than what I normally do.  However, I think teaching the history of Spain in Spain is going to be great.  The students seem enthusiastic.

Toledo students

The UD group above the Puerta de Bisagra

But beyond sharing Toledo with the students, I did get a chance to do a little new exploring.  Stay tuned…

Categories: Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Create a free website or blog at