Tag Archives: Seville

Southwestern Iberia – A Caravan of Dreams


Standing near the narrowest point between Africa and the Iberian peninsula is Djebel-al-Tarik, a mountain named after a Berber general. He led a mixed Arab and Berber army that helped establish a spectacular civilization whose remains still fascinate today. Tarik’s Rock is better known as Gibraltar.

The Arabs brought with them a developed way of life that included the use of coffee, chess, Algebra, silks, carpets , perfumes and maybe most importantly, advanced irrigation methods, vital for a dry sun-burnt land. There was much more , including those strong pointed arches that feature in their landmark structures still seen in major Andalusian cities.

At Cordoba, the Mezquita or Great Mosque, into which a catholic altar was inserted after the Reconquest, has one of the most remarkable architectural interiors in Europe, a “forest”of stone arches that is a treasure in itself.

A 320 ft (98m) former minaret is today the tower of Seville cathedral. The Giralda, as it is known, towers like a marker by the tomb of Columbus inside the church.

Overlooking Granada, the mysterious Alhambra (Calat Al-Hamra or Red Castle ) has inspired all who visit. An early American ambassador, Washington Irving, expressed the (surrounding?) nostalgia in his stories recorded as “Tales of the Alhambra”. Garcia Lorca, one of Spain’s greatest poets and dramatists, writing in Granada on memory, a mood of forgotten times, claims that “at the heart of all great art is an essential melancholy”. While guitar great Andres Segovia captured that feeling in his famous, lingering rendition of Francisco Tórregas “Recuerdos…”

South of the mountains , the coast gradually curves until it reaches what was considered the end of the occidental world, Al-Gharb or “The West”, now the Algarve. The furthest point is at Cape St Vincent and the dramatic setting of the Sagres peninsula, 200ft/60m above the Atlantic Ocean, whose enormous panoramic seascape truly deserves the description of “a balcony open to infinity”.

CapeSagresIt was here that the enigmatic fifteenth century Prince Henry (known as “the Navigator”), Grand Master of a knightly religious order, an ascetic usually portrayed in black, established a naval research center which introduced navigation by the stars. For 40 years, Henry gathered astronomers, cartographers, seamen, traders and adventurers keen to discover new trade routes to India and the riches in the spice trade. Still surviving today is the great wind-rose (32 segments, 135ft/43 m in diameter), a huge compass-chart laid out on the ground to record th strength and directions of prevailing winds.From this research centre ships were to sail to West Africa, Angola, Guinea, then round the Cape of Good Hope to Mozambique and towards Goa,Macao and on to Jakarta and Japan. Historian William Manchester noted eloquently that in just one generation, a few hundred small ships “discovered more of the world than had all mankind in all the millennia since the beginning of time”.

Still today, that magnificent coastline is a magnet and a challenge. Surfers come, some regularly from the coastline – even from as far away as Cadiz, and even others from California, Hawaii and everywhere around the world, because Sagres is the most consistent point, a westernmost point, where currents meet and the waves are good.

Also inspired were the 1960’s truly iconic California band, the Doors. They made a major classical-jazz-rock crossover impact with a piece of music which was released as “Spanish Caravan”(see The Doors – Spanish Caravan, at the Roundhouse). In it a lightning guitar riff, echoing the “Asturias”of composer Albeniz, is taken up by the legendary Jim Morrison who expresses the yearning romanticism towards that era when he sings:

The Doors ..Roundhouse First Night FRONT“Carry me, Caravan take me away

Take me to Portugal, take me to Spain

Andalusia with fields full of grain

I have to see you again and again…”

and adds

 “Trade winds find galleons lost in the sea

I know where treasure is waiting for me…”


Sentiments that world surfers have expressed many times in their search for the highest wave, often in the fiercest storms. Among those is self-proclaimed “psycho”(“I got to be a little crazy”) Hawaiian veteran from Oahu, Garrett McNamara, a daredevil surfer who has been on the highest waves ever surfed, claims some of his favorite beaches are on the western side of the Vila do Bispo area near Sagres but sees the Ericeira/Nazaré region, north of Lisbon, as a Mecca of European surfing.

article-2059755-0EBF0C3100000578-598_634x381His 78ft/23.77 m wave, recorded at Nazaréin November 2011 is still the official accepted world record although his training companion Andrew Cotton as well as Brazilian Carlos Burle have also been seen on the 100ft “killer”waves of the Praia do Norte at Nazaré Canyon, geologically deeper and longer than the Grand Canyon, USA (see the fantastic Carlos ride of of Oct 28th 2013).

Mc Namara appreciates that “the world has no idea of the marvel that is this country”. He considers Portugal and its coast to be the best kept secret in Europe and southwestern Iberia to be always a land of dreams to be rediscovered, as Jim Morrison sang “again and again”

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Sympathy for the Devil::

!8108499268_580a47c21e_zA good story has always had the power to evoke imagination in the mind of the reader – but nowhere more so than in Europe – where we can see evidence of that power everywhere.

For example:  Casa de Pilatos, Seville; Lago di Pilato in the Marche of Italy ; The Pilat regional nature park near Lyon; The Tomb of Pilate (a Roman pyramid) in Vienne and particularly Mount Pilatus in central Switzerland.

It is possible that Mt Pilatus got its name from “Mons Pileatus” or “cloud-covered” according to early traveller John Ruskin. But the more frequently  cited meaning of the name refers to the Roman procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate,who presided at the trial of Jesus Christ in Jerusalem.

It is said that, following his death (possibly by suicide, although there are those that have other theories),the body of Pilate was thrown into the Tiber, thrown into the Rhône, into Lake Geneva near Lausanne or ultimately carried by bearers who, panicked by thunder and lightning, threw the remains into a glacier pool on the mountain which also bears his name.

Climbing the mountain itself was forbidden until 1400 when bishops led a procession from local communities to perform acts of exorcism and purification. It is still believed, however, that every Good Friday a shadow appears from the waters and washes its hands….

These and other legends provided fascination for countless European artists and writers: Anatole France in  “Le Procurateur de Judee” , Nikos Kazantzakis in ” The Last Temptation of Christ”  or perhaps most memorably ” The Master and Margarita” by Stalin-period Russian great Mikhail Bulgakov.

This last book concerns a version of the trial of Jesus imagined by the Master in which Yeshua (Jesus) states to Pilate that  “In fact I am beginning to fear  that this confusion will go on for a long time . And all because he writes down what I said incorrectly.”

Bulgakov’s tale intrigued Mick Jagger so much in the late 1960’s, that the Devil appeared in the Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet disc on the track “Sympathy for the Devil”, where he  “made sure that Pilate washed his hands and sealed his fate”.

Some old stories never die but are recreated in our imagination.

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