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Sahara

Day 99: Ceuta to Gibraltar

 
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Michael Palin - SaharaIn my experience, hotel brochures, especially of the aspiringly glossy variety, always feature a room spectacularly better than the one you're in and a swimming pool you can never find. In the case of the Hotel La Muralla, Ceuta, I do find the pool, which is similar in every respect to its photo except that the one in the photo has water in it. The brochure is gushingly enthusiastic about Ceuta's history. In fact, I can't imagine why I've never heard of the place.

'Phoenicians, Romans, Arabs, Visigoths, Portuguese and Spanish successively took control of the ancient city.'

Good harbours, like the one I entered last night, so close to the Mediterranean gateway, meant trade, security and wealth. Under its Arab rulers Ceuta had all three, but couldn't hold onto them against the determined and expansionist Portuguese. In 1415 they conquered Ceuta and took their prize seriously enough to build a powerful fortification, La Muralla (City Wall). It remains in place, solid and imperturbable, and I enjoy a good walk around the sturdy, elegantly angled walls, crenellated and studded with barbican towers, which slide down into the clear green waters of a moat. Felipe II united Portugal and Spain and in 1580 Ceuta became a possession of the Spanish crown, and has remained so ever since. Though it has the look and feel of a European city, the central square is nevertheless called the Plaza de Africa. It contains a small church dedicated to Our Lady of Africa and a monument commemorating the Spanish invasion of Morocco in 1859.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Sahara
  • Day: 99
  • Country/sea: Spain
  • Place: Ceuta
  • Book page no: 252

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