Metal sculpture of the Indalo man in Plaza de Los Burros, Almeria
By Muriel Feiner
Photos: Muriel Feiner unless otherwise stated
The Andalusian city of Almería, with its privileged location between the Mediterranean and Atlantic Ocean on the Alborán Sea, offers so much to see, do and enjoy. In addition, it has been named the Gastronomic Capital of Spain and so the list of activities is enhanced by the special culinary events scheduled for 2019. But, first, a little historical background.
The name Almería denotes its Moorish history, and is reflected in the extraordinary Alcazaba castle which towers over the city. Built in 955 by Abderramán III, it is perched on the Cerro de San Cristóbal, which had also been the location of the ancient Roman settlement of Portus Magnus, indicating the strategic importance of the city throughout the different civilizations. Recently restored, it was divided into three sections: the residential area, the king’s palace and the higher vantage point, which was added by the Catholic Monarchs after the Reconquest of the city.
A walk through the city can begin in the centrally located Plaza de la Constitución, the site of the Moorish zoco, market place, where we now find the Town Hall and the Monument to the Martyrs of Freedom. Nearby is the Puerta Purchena, the only gateway which still remains from the old city ramparts.
The Catedral de la Encarnación is a unique construction, work on which was begun in 1524 after the previous temple, built on the ruins of an ancient mosque, was destroyed by an earthquake. Perhaps for this reason, Bishop Diego Fernández de Villalán opted for a robust, fortress-like structure, as a symbol for a city, which also suffered frequent attacks from Moors and pirates, so it features a rather odd yet harmonious mixture of styles: Gothic, Baroque, Neoclassic and Renaissance. Its somewhat dour exterior, however, contrasts with its very lavish interior: The Main Chapel, Choir, Cloister and Exhibition Hall.
The city’s Archaeological Museum, founded in 1933, displays an interesting collection of artefacts, dating back to the Paleolithic era, the remains of the El Argar and Los Millares settlements, the Romans and the long Arab domination.
The Church of Santiago was built in the mid-16th century by the Catholic Monarchs and it is located on Tiendas street, noted for its shopping and tapa-hopping options. The Church of San Juan Evangelista is also interesting because it still conserves from the old mosque: the quibla, temple wall oriented towards the Mecca and its mihrab.
The Spanish Guitar Museum “Antonio Torres” bears the name of the artist, born here in 1817, who is considered to be the Father of Classical and Flamenco Guitar. It is said that Torres is to the guitar what Stradivarius was to the violin. Among the Museum’s many activities is the teaching of how to build stringed and percussion instruments.
Film buffs should not miss the Casa del Cine (Cinema Museum), installed in the 19th century Palace of Santa Isabel, where John Lennon stayed while filming How I won the war in October of 1966. It is believed that it was here, too, that he composed “Strawberry Fields Forever”.
A lot of other interesting sites to see are located underground like the 11th century Arab Aljibe de Jairán (wells), the home today of the Peña Flamenca El Taranto and an ideal venue for celebrating art exhibitions. The Refugios, a network of tunnels designed by architect Guillermo Langle in 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, form the largest air raid shelter in the world. The entire town set to work to build the underground galleries to protect the people from the frequent German air strikes and attacks from the sea. It is still possible to see the ruins of the old operating room, infirmary, storage area, ventilation vents and stone benches. The bunker extended for eleven kilometers, measures two meters wide and has a depth of nine meters.
A pleasant stroll along the Paseo de Almería and La Rambla, with the surprising presence of a statue of John Lennon, commemorating the Beatle’s visit to Almería, and down to the waterfront provides a look at yet another unusual attraction, the Cable Inglés. Built in 1895 to transport the minerals from the mines and factories directly to the ships for exporting, the style of this iron bridge reflects the fact that it was constructed by architects belonging to the school of Gustave Eiffel, who designed Paris’s emblematic tower.
A visit to Almería can be enjoyed at any time of year in view of the fact that it boasts of a privileged climate, with 360 days of sunshine annually, although mid-August is when the city celebrates its colorful festivities in honor of the local Patron Saint, the Virgen del Mar, with a wide variety of activities, including special arts and crafts exhibitions, concerts, flamenco performances, bullfights and a traditional country fair.
If you have a car, there are a number of nearby excursions not to be missed. The Cabo del Gata Natural Park, a refuge for many species including the pink flamingos and storks, is also impressive due to its picturesque surroundings, its lighthouse, rugged reefs, rough, rolling waves, salt mines and the nearby Sierra de Alhamilla.
Tabernas, the only desert in Europe, attracted film-makers from all over the world and it was here that Sergio Leone shot his famous Spaghetti westerns, like The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, with Clint Eastwood. Other popular movies filmed here were: Lawrence of Arabia, Cleopatra, Patton, Conan the Barbarian, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade and the James Bond flick, Never Say Never Again. These same movie sets are still in use today, even though they “double” as theme parks, when no movies are scheduled, like the large Oasys, Mini Hollywood, with a special game farm, and Fort Bravo.
Mojacar is one of the beautiful white-washed cities of Andalusia and has always been a haven for artists, bohemians and foreigners.
A highly developed tourist resort is Roquetas de Mar, and other seaside towns such as Garrucha offer splendid beaches for practicing all kinds of water sports, including surfing, snorkeling and scuba diving, combined with fine gastronomic experiences.
And finally, a word about the symbol of Almería, the Indalo, which we can see in all shapes and sizes throughout the city and the province. It resembles a human figure with hands raised and apparently holding a bow over its head. Believed to date back to the Copper Age, it was discovered in the Cueva de los Letreros in 1868. Its actual origin and meaning are not clear but the almerienses firmly believe that it brings good luck and protects against the “evil eye”. However, this charm is particularly effective if it is given or received as a gift.
Places to stay:
-Gran Hotel Almería
-Hotel Ciudad de Almería
-Hotel Nuevo Torreluz
Places to eat and have tapas:
-Casa Puga (a classic tapa bar)
-Las Eras (Tabernas), with chef Antonio Gázquez
Featured image/Ismael Olea, PD
Alcazaba/Benreis, CC BY-SA3.0
Roquets de Mar harbor/Benjamin Nuñez Gonzalez, CC BY-SA4.0