Robin and I opted to rent a car yesterday and drive to Almería. It was a good decision. We spent 4.5 hours on the autovia in perfect weather and arrived at the Hertz drop off at the Almería airport around 2:30 pm. A short cab ride brought us to the Hotel Catedral right next to the Almería Cathedral. Perfecto.
It is now Saturday (the following day). We cobbled together some things to do over breakfast, and by 10:00 am we were on our way to the Central Market. These markets are always interesting. Everything is out in open display. Packaged items are few indeed. The freshness of everything would elicit a cry of joy from any foodie. Robin’s eyes were scanning ingredients as menu options flashed through her mind.
From the market we went on a tour of the tunnels that were constructed as bomb shelters under the city center in 1937 during the Spanish Civil War. This 4.5 kilometer network of tunnels sheltered many of Almería’s citizens when the city was being bombed. It did not require much imagination to conjure up what life must have been like for the families crowded into these rudimentary shelters. One interesting thing the guide did was to turn off the lights and play a recording of the bombings. The volume was set so what you heard replicated what the people down there heard during the actual bombings. Pretty horrifying. Glad to get out.
The next stop was the Islamic fortress, the Alcazaba. This complex was a work in progress for several generations beginning in 955 when the first fortress walls were built. It was only second to the Alhambra, in Granada, as far as final size went. This is a wonderful site to visit and surprisingly it’s free.
Continuing on we dropped down to waterfront and strolled along a tree filled boulevard searching for a drink and a nibble. We were not disappointed as soon enough we called into a tapas bar called the Ant. Curious name, but no bugs were spotted. Now I have tip my hat to the Spanish cultural imperative of offering free food with the purchase of a drink. Now admittedly in some cheapo places all you get are potato chips, but more often than not it is something of substance. Almería, being a seaport, offers an abundance of fresh seafood daily to its restaurants and bars. So this afternoon along with our draft beers (small ones) came perfectly prepared fried bacalao, and some small whole fish that Robin convinced me to eat without disassembling it. They were, fresh, moist and delicious.
Suitably restored we set off for our final stop of the day, a visit to the Cathedral. This was all according to plan as our hotel was right next door. This church is unique in that it is only one of two in the world (I believe that is what I heard) that served simultaneously as a place of worship and as defensive structure. Almería was a vital port even in its early days and therefore was always a tempting target for marauders. So when the Cathedral was built (1524-1562) all the gothic design elements were reinforced against bombardment and kept out of sight below a flat roof and raised exterior walls. This made it difficult to recognize the church for what it was from a distance while also allowing for flat areas where cannon and soldiers could be placed. Clever guys.
Leaving the Cathedral we rounded the corner and entered the Cathedral plaza where a cluster of tables ranged under a stand of stately palms beckoned us. We felt a siesta coming on but not before we enjoyed a nice glass of chilled white wine and yes another beautifully prepared fried fish tapas (this one was flat and required some disassembling). A beautiful day in another very relaxed city.
Into the tunnels
Infirmary and operating room
The Cathedral cloister