We are now onboard the Oceania Serena for a cruise around the Iberian peninsula, and to the Spanish and Portugeuse islands, and the coast of Morocco. What an exotic adventure. This is what we decided to spend my Wheel of Fortune winnings on, so thanks Pat and Vanna!
We left from Barcelona (and it was great not to have to go to another airport quite yet), and headed south along the coast, arriving the next morning in the city of Cartegena.
I have to admit to knowing nothing at all about Cartegena before this cruise, other than that there's a city of the same name on the coast of Columbia. It was a pleasant surprise - very interesting and welcoming, and spotlessly clean, at least in the areas I visited. This is the City Hall on the main square. This plaza and the shopping streets leading off from it are all paved in marble blocks.
The archeological museum was a real treat. It was an historic building, remodeled and added onto by the architect Rafael Moneo. The path leads under the next street, and into a second building, then up through the crypt of a romanesque church and into an old Roman amphitheater.
Parts of the theater are original, and other areas have been restored. It actually extends into the church that was built around 1000 years later, and the adjacent market area sits between newer apartment buildings.
The next day we moored in Malaga, but Amy and I opted for the tour of Granada, so we can see the Alhambra, which I remember studying in my freshman art history class! It was a fantastic outing, and the Alhambra is amazing. This is a view out from the castle to the old town center, with white houses leading up to the old church.
The Alhambra itself is a moorish palace, built by Islamic leaders who crossed into Spain from North Africa in the 8th century, and ruled andalusia and many other regions of the country until eventually defeated by Isabella and Ferdinnd, known here as the Catholic monarchs, in 1492. Granada was actually the last stronghold of the moors. I have to admit that i'm now reading a book called the Queen's Vow, by Christopher Gortner, which Amy just finished, and it tells the story of Isabella of Castille from her point of view. Great book, and so fun to read it while visiting the sites
described in it.
Moorish architecture is absolutely mind blowing, and this building is one of the finest examples. The intricate plaster work and tile is just incredible. Also, the creative use of naturally flowing water to cool all of the indoor and outdoor spaces. The building has been under renovation for a long time, so some areas are still covered in scaffolding, but others are now fully restored and amazing.
This is the ceiling of the audience chamber, which is where Christopher Columbus made his appeal to the King and Queen for funding for his trip to reach India by sailing to the west instead of the east. And we all know why happened then!
An example of the incredible detail of the building.
The Sultan, whose family traced back to Damascus, Syria, had quite a lifestyle. He had 4 wives, and the one who delivered the first son became the official Sultana. However, this building is where the concubines lived, because 4 women just wasn't enough for him. We heard quite a tale of one Sultan's jealousy. He came down here one day and found the Sultana in the act with one of the courtiers. He wasn't sure who the guy was, but he was one of 36 brothers in his family. He called them all to the palace for a formal dinner, and proceeded to have them all executed, since he wasn't sure which one was the culprit. The sultana spent the rest of her life in a tower prison along the palace walls. Ouch.
The fountains are just incredible. This one is in the Generalife gardens, which are next to the summer palace, pictured below, which is next to the main palace.
Not a bad place to come and relax and meditate when you need to get away from all the wives! After the conquest, this became the palace of choice for the Catholic monarchs, and there are later additions from the 16th century from King Carlos, who was a grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella.