Monday 17 June 2019 – Friday 21 June 2019 Almeria – Sorbas – Cartagena
We arrived in Almeria late in the afternoon and parked on the marina at the harbour.
Almeria is located in the southeast of Spain on the Mediterranean Sea. It was founded in the 10th century as the defensive watchtower of the city. The city had a fortified castle and a wall surrounding the whole medina and its outskirts.
We visited the Alcazaba a fortified complex located on a solitary hill overlooking the town and bay of Almeria. Its present-day structure is the result of its historical evolution and the many alterations made to it over the centuries. As it was declared a Historical-Artistic Monument and National Treasure in 1933 work on restoring it to its former glory is continuing today. The Alcazaba, with its 1430 m. walled perimeter is Spain’s second largest Muslim construction, after the Alhambra Palace in Granada.
The complex is divided into three sections: the first two of Islamic design and the third of Christian origin.
The first section, the garden area, was occupied in Medieval times by a tangled web of streets and houses. Some archaeological remains have been conserved, including a hydraulic system consisting of a well, a cistern and a waterwheel which raised water from a depth of 70 metres in order to supply the area and the eastern end known as Promontory Bastion.
The second section, Muro de la Vela, the citadel’s basic nucleus, which formed a small city palace and all its ancillary buildings and facilities: cisterns, mosque, public baths, houses and palace, with their public and private areas. In this area is a reconstructed Muslim house. Inside the Aljibe Califie (palace) are displays of parts of columns, capitals and Arabic tablets found during the excavations.
Replica of Arab House
Archaeological finds during excavations
The third section comprises of a real Christian castle to which access is gained via a drawbridge. This castle was constructed for three reasons: to resolve the city’s defensive problems resulting from the old fortress falling into disrepair, to fulfil new military requirements with the development of artillery and to create an image representative of the newly established Christian authority. As a result, the architecture changed and finely cut ashlars, semicircular towers and ball and cross loopholes located at ground level for the positioning of cannons.
The castle is surrounded by a courtyard, in the centre is a cistern and a silo which was at times used as a dungeon. There are three towers: Torre del Homenaje which has a Gothic gate with heraldic arms of the Catholic Monarchs and was originally used as residence; Noria and Polvora Towers which has spectacular views over the port and various old pieces of artillery.
Also, on one side of the fortress there is a line of wall, leading to the hill “Cerro de San Cristobal”, built during the eleventh century. It is a left over that surrounded the once Muslim neighbourhood and descended from the hill to the street. On this hill, there are seven towers. Three square ones, from Muslim times, and four semicircular ones built by Christian Templars, after the Christian conquest of the city under the commanding troops of Alfonso VII in 1147.
There is also a large pedestal, made of marble representing the image of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, blessing the city and the Mediterranean Sea. It was built in the early twentieth century and restored in 2000.
After visiting this site, you can see why the fortress was built here: the sheer slopes of the hill and the dominating views of the surrounding area.
On our way back to the motorhome we passed Plaza de la Constitution, a square in the centre of the old town. It is enclosed by three storey buildings – on one side the Town Hall, with an emblematic clock. In the Muslim era, the 10th to 15th centuries, the square housed the souk (market).
In the centre of this plaza is the white marble monument to the Martyrs of Liberty, or Los Colorados. This is a 1988 replica of the original monument, destroyed by the authorities in 1943 ahead of a visit to the city by General Franco. The Colorados were a group of 24 liberal revolutionaries who rose up against the tyrannical King Fernando VI in 1824, demanding the 1812 Cadiz Constitution be reinstated. This group is not dissimilar from Torrijos adventure in Malaga.
Our next destination was Sorbas to visit the Sorbas Caves. Our overnight stop was in the desert about 20-minute drive from the Sorbas Caves.
Cuevas de Sorbas are located in the Gypsum Karst Natural Park of Sorbas, a landscape of surface and underground rock formations, which was declared a Natural Area of Protection in 1989. The area consists of an amalgamation of caves and underground channels covering an area of around fifty kilometres. The only way you can visit the caves is on an organised guided tour which has to be booked at least 24 hours in advance especially for an English guide.
After arriving at the site ready for our guided basic tour, we were presented with a helmet with a light. We followed the guide, who spoke excellent English through the landscape whilst she explained the trip of two hours duration. As we would be at times crawling and sliding through small crevices we were not allowed to take backpacks or cameras.
We put on our helmets and turned on the light as we entered the cave entrance. As we progressed through the cave with only the light on our helmet to illuminate the path, we discovered underground landscapes full of crystals that shone in the darkness and the water erosion that has been shaping the cave. The guide explained that the action of rainwater on the gypsum of Sorbas over thousands of years has given rise to a spectacular karst landscape with sinkholes on the surface and a series of underground caverns. She also demonstrated that burning a gypsum crystal produced a white powder that is exported worldwide for gyprock plasterboard and plaster of paris uses.
As we advanced along the route, we went through a series of galleries of a gypsum cave where the reflection from our lights we were able to see the crystal arrows. At times we crawled through tiny tunnels and small crevices and slid down small sections of rock. At one point we turned off the light on our helmet and spent one minute, which seemed like ten, in silence to listen and experience the darkness, which was quite eerie. We saw sinkholes which formed a natural entrance and enabled a sliver of light to enter the caves, a small pool of water and small stalactites hanging from the cave ceiling.
We arrived back at the entrance covered in dust from the experience. It was the great way to experience the world of caving. After brushing the dust off our clothes, we got back into the motorhome, had a shower and headed to Cartagena.
Cartagena is a Spanish city and a major naval station by the Mediterranean coast in south eastern Spain. It has been inhabited for over two millennia, being founded around 227 BC. The small coastal city is famously packed with historic monuments and many layers of ancient and maritime history. It’s been a naval port since the 16th century and today is a base for warships, cruise liners and a shipyard. The harbor area is defended by forts while the town itself is walled and dotted with Roman ruins.We decided to visit the Museum of UnderwaterArchaeology and the Roman Amphitheatre.
Our first historic place was the ship-like shape of ARQVA, the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. Its half-submerged bulk occupies a stretch of the southern waterfront just outside the walls. The two buildings link below ground level and are designed to create an underwater effect. The museum is dedicated to the exhibitions of objects found in underwater archaeological excavations with particular emphasis on the Phoenician and Roman times.
Highlights include remnants of a 7th century BC wreck of a Phoenician ship Mazarron I,
the gold coin collection from Nuestra Senora de las Mercedes, a ship of the Spanish Armada, which sank in 1804 but whose treasure the Spanish government successfully claimed back from US treasure hunters in 2012,
a collection of elephants’ tusks with Phoenician inscriptions,
a Sabazia hand dating to the 1st century BC used as part of an initiation rite for protecting seafarers
and lead ingots stamped with identifying marks of mine landlords.
This is just a part of the collection on display. There is also some detailed miniature dioramas showing scenes of port activity and model vessels from various eras and interactive resources. It was a great way to see underwater archaeology methods and discoveries.
Next, we visited the Roman Theatre built between the fifth and first centuries BC. The theatre remained hidden for many centuries and was eventually rediscovered in 1987 and restored by 2003. The museum is split into two parts – the first housing archaeological items found at the theatre and detailing the restoration project, and the second a guided tour of the amphitheatre itself.
The site remained hidden for centuries because of its location in a part of the city that had been constantly inhabited since its founding. The restoration of the amphitheatre is amazing because you enter from the area in front of the town hall, wander through exhibitions via three escalators and through an archaeological corridor under the Church of St Maria la Vieja and reappear to see the stunning Theatre and then leave the area in a back street.
dioramas of the Amphitheatre
remains of walls throughout the centuries
There are many other archaeological sites in Cartagena- the remnants of Roman, Cartheginian and Muslim civilizations, but we didn’t visit these as we have previously visited a variety in our travels to date.
The main area of La Plaza del Ayuntamiento (the Town Hall Square) has marbled avenues filled with shops, cafes and other tourist attractions but the most picturesque building is Palacio Constitutional built between 1900 and 1907. The unique thing about this building is its triangular shaped floor with rounded corners. It is built entirely of white marble and topped with domes. A stunning piece of architecture.
Our next destination is Valencia.