Murallas Reales de Ceuta, Spain

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The Murallas Reales (Royal Walls) de Ceuta were built as a system of coastal defence date from around 960AD and were still being improved in the 18th Century. Effectively dividing the area in two, the waterways are navigable by small boats and there are three bridges connecting the city. The area has been ‘visited’ over time by Carthage, Rome, Byzantium, Visigoths, Muslims, Berbers, Almohads, Tunisian Hafsids, Aragon, Portugal, and Spain to name a few. So it’s strategic position and sheltered port made it worth defending (and attacking!). Incidentally it is a possible site of one of Hercules’ pillars, standing opposite Gibraltar.

The capture of Ceuta by the Portuguese in 1415 began their global empire, which became the longest lived modern empire spanning nearly 600 years.

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Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo, Ceuta

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo

Parque Marítimo del Mediterráneo is a man-made leisure facility in the autonomous Spanish city of Ceuta.  Ceuta borders Morocco and is a natural harbour on a spit of land which has the Mediterranean Sea on one side and the Atlantic Ocean on the other. This makes for dangerous swimming conditions, hence this park! The salt water pools are filtered directly from the sea and it’s open during the summer months. The park also houses an casino, sun lounging areas, a concert area, gardens and eating facilities. It is a beautifully designed facility and was commissioned to César Manrique, the architect and artist.

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Italica, Spain

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Mosaic of the Birds

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Mosaic of Neptune

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Mosaic of the birds

Founded in 206BC to settle wounded Roman soldiers, the settlement of Italica now lies 9Km from Seville in Spain. Italica’s Roman population of the time was an astonishing 8000, but now all that remains are the ruins which have been excavated since the late 18th Century. Most of the mosaics have been removed to museums, but some notable ones remain, and the viewpoints give a good idea of the layout and scale of the place. The amphitheatre which could seat 25 000, is impressive and it’s scale gives an indication of Italica’s importance. Emperor Trajan was born here, and he is generally thought to be a positive leader. His relatively untarnished reputation has lasted nearly 200 years! Perhaps his demeanour was inspired by this vibrant Roman town. No matter, I am no history scholar but this is a place well worth a visit. And for EU citizens it’s free! Non-EU it’s Euro1.50 so not too bad.  Parking is free, and for public transport, buses run from Seville from Plaza de Armas (though don’t quote me on that since we drove!)

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Amphitheatre

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Amphitheatre from Gladiatorial entrance

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Amphitheatre at Italica

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Italica Mosaics

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Italica, Spain

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Mosaics, Italica

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Statue of Trajan, italica

 

 

Sunset Song or “I saw Agyness Deyn”

1-P1010287Sunset Song, the novel by Lewis Grassic Gibbon is a story of a woman’s life and times in early 20th Century Scotland. It is regarded as almost symbolic of Scotland itself; hardship, grief, toil, dysfunctional family life and death. The good news for fans of the book is that it is being shot partly on location in the area of its setting. North Angus, Kincadineshire and Aberdeenshire all feature in the setting.  Agyness Deyn is cast as ‘Chris’ and the small town of Fettercairn is the backdrop to a lot of the shooting. 1-P1010299Travelling to Cairn ‘O Mount I was detoured by police round the town, but being curious, stopped for a quick look. Cameras on set while filming were banned, but I did manage a couple of quickies! (Unfortunately I couldn’t get one of Ms. Deyn)

The images do give some idea of how the town looked not so long ago.

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Alarcón: a Parador in Three Images

This 1300 year old Moorish fortress is now a Parador. 1-P1000027It sits above the Rio Jucar as the river twists around it, giving the castle even more defensive attributes. Now, of course the river serves modern purposes apart from irrigation and drinking. It’s range of canoeing tours and paddle activities can be accessed from the village. The Parador itself is imposing, and the road to it has an almost foreboding quality, quickly dispelled by the welcome of the staff within. Alarcon itself has a variety of museums and antiquities, and is a typically Castilla la Mancha village. Ninety minutes from Madrid this is a different world, and repays the traveller for the effort.1-P10000331-P1000031

Cuevas del Diablo, Alcala del Jucar, Spain

By the side of the gorge carved by the Rio Jucar, lies Alcala del Jucar. This pretty hillside pueblo clings to the precipice like a Scotsman with a five pound note. 1-P1000069The little town hides many charming attractions, all of which demand a visit. On a Parador-style tour this fits well travelling between Alarcon and Albacete. The river itself meanders an impressive 509 km winding past Cuenca on its way to the Mediterranean Sea.

Cutting through the rock the river bends and twists, secreting itself in ravines and gorges; occasionally splashing into view. 1-P1000067At the foot of the town is a weir which affords swimming for the brave and restful gardens. However, the main attraction here are the caves. 1-P1000058And three Euros to visit the Cueva del Diablo is money well spent. The cave is a big surprise seemingly cutting through the rock to the steep sides of the gorge. At the end of the cave is a bar, and a beer was included in the price! 1-P1000063

1-P1000066 The views from here are worth the money alone. In all, a pretty little town which repays the weary traveller who stops there.

Convento de Cristo: Tomar, Portugal

Built between the 12th and 13th Centuries, The Rotunda of the Convento de Cristo rivals all other monuments of Templar architecture. It has eight sides on it’s central ‘drum’ and sixteen on the outer walls; influenced by the Holy Sepulchre or indeed the Mosque of Omar given the Templars varied exposure of the time. From the outside of the building, there is little indication of the wonders awaiting within. However, this is one of Portugal’s most important buildings for good reason.

Built as a fortified citadel with a ‘keep’, it has Norman inspired round towers (novel at the time in Portugal) which are better suited to defence than square ones.

The Convent has eight cloisters, built some 3-400 years later.

The building underwent restoration in the latter part of the 20th Century, but remarkably the inner Rotunda stucco-work showed no particular problems after eight hundred years, with most of the colour schemes still discernible (modern builders take note!)

All in all, this is the best value 6 Euros you will ever spend, and be prepared to set aside a few hours for the privilege.