Spaghetti and Strawberries
What? You’ll see later. But for now, enjoy this interesting quote by Gerald Grenan from his 1957 piece South from Grenada.
“Do you know what other Spaniards call it (Almeria)? They call it el cula de Espana, ‘the bum of Spain’, and though I regard that as an insult to me personally, because it is directed at my city, I must admit that they’re not far wrong.”
Wrong, wrong, wrong. Sixty plus years later, those Spanish critics are dead wrong. Almeria is now more about real “bums”, all tanned and toned and lovingly brushed with the strong blush of Costa del Sol’s faithful sun. Sure, Almeria isn’t as famous as other Andalusian resort cities. But, it’s been dear to the hearts of powerful people throughout the ages including the Phoenicians, Carthaginians, Romans, Arabs, Christians, and Northern European snowbirds. In fact, mankind carved out a meager existence here as long ago as 2000 years before Christ walked the earth. Europe’s largest Bronze Age settlement is actually found nearby. So, too, troglodyte villages called casas cuevas in Spanish. Resembling Star Wars-type cave houses, these curious structures are literally carved into the cool stone cliffs yet feature front doors, windows, tiled roofs, even chimneys. Barrio de Chanca is the site of Almeria’s such homes.
But Wait, There’s More
Almeria town is also unique in that its architecture and culture are so Morocco-esque. It’s considered to be Andalucia’s most “African” city on the sea. All this becomes palpable when wandering through the looming Arab fortress called the Alcazaba that once was the shelter for more than 20,000 soldiers. It was the project of Cordoba’s caliph Abder al-Rhaman III during the first half of the 10th century. Featured in the Alcazaba’s interior is Ermita de San Juan, a small chapel transformed by Catholic Monarchs from a mosque. In 1489, the Catholic Monarchs succeeded in pushing out all Muslims from Almeria.
Outside all this is a massive wall, the Muralla de Jairan, built in the 11th century by Almeria’s first taifa ruler. Its design for the northern face of the Alcazaba drops down into the adjacent valley while on the far side, it goes up the Cerro de San Cristobal.
Traders left all this behind, departing Almeria with precious cargoes of gossamer silk delicate as butterfly wings. This shimmering fabric was woven from slender silk threads of Alpujarras’ silkworms. Merchants grew rich, houses befitting these grand men were built, and Almeria prospered.
Not long after, a massive earthquake flattened the city. In 1524, craftsmen began to construct the city’s imposing cathedral under the watchful eye of Franciscan Bishop Diego Fernandez de Villalan. His remains rest in the cathedral in a tomb. The cathedral is noted for its ribbed Gothic ceiling and strong fortifications designed to ward of North African and Turkish pirates. In the old city, there’s also the Parish Church of Santiago Apostol, built in 1559.
History buffs will want to visit the ruins of Tabernas Castle where Ferdinand and Isabel sought refuge in the hills during the Siege while citizens of Almeria suffered below.
Did I Mention Flamingoes?
Oh, yes, there are flamingos, pink ones, at Cabo de Gata. Pink flamingoes and saltpans were once the order of the day here. All around this area are chiseled rock outcroppings descending down to sculpted coves and almost untouched sandy beaches. This nature reserve attracts visitors though limited access helps preserve its peaceful tranquility. Another peaceful spot in the area is something called Desierto de Tabernas Natural Area. This is, truth be known, Europe’s only semi-arid desert, which brings me to that which you’ve been dying to know about, the spaghetti and strawberries bit.
The Tabernas Desert looks just like the Wild West. America’s Wild West where the good guys were hunky, the women … loose, and the bad guys wore black. Well, anyway, this desert was the location for many important blockbusting films like Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti westerns” including “A Fistful of Dollars”. Others shot here were “The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly” as well as “Magnificent 7.”
“How I Won The War” was also filmed in Almeria. That brought John Lennon here in the Fall of 1966. And, yes, you guessed right. Between takes, Lennon wrote and cut the early recordings of “Strawberry Fields Forever.” If you’re a huge fan, ask locals about El Zapillo Beach and the Santa Isabel where this famous Beatle and his first wife Cynthia stayed.
And, they weren’t the only stars casting long shadows in Almeria at day’s end. Clint Eastwood did. So, too, Raquel Welch but her shadow was lots curvier which kinda brings me back to the intro about the bum. See, all things in life ultimately do come full circle.
Karyn L. Planett