The City of Almería And The Amazing Alcazaba
Almería city does not appear to be high up on the tourist trail but having researched the area there were a couple of places in the city we fancied visiting, so we headed there to stay for a couple of nights.
Sticking with the free camping theme we arrived in the city of Almería to park up behind the Auditorium and Concert Hall, where motorhomes are allowed to park up and stay free of charge, although there are no services available.
There were several vans already parked and by the looks of things had been there for a while. Awnings, chairs and tables etc out. (36.8236, -2.4448)
The auditorium is only a very short distance off the main Paseo. We parked up and went for our usual exploratory wander around. The Paseo is about 3.5km long, has dedicated cycle lanes along its entire length and is lined with cafés and bars. It runs right along the seafront towards the docks before turning up into the old town and was busy with locals out for their early evening stroll.
There’s a spectacular iron railway bridge that sweeps right down to the sea port with huge lifting gear for moving containers off ships and onto the train carriages.
Beneath, and in stark contrast to the red oxide metal bridge, is a memorial sculpture which commemorates 142 Jewish inhabitants of Almería who were murdered in the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. There is a white stone pillar for each of the victims surrounding a central plinth.
We found out that night why the other motorhomes owners had parked at the far end of the car park. The front end of the car park seems to be a gathering place for groups of young people to socialise. So we spent a pretty unsettled evening peeking through the curtains at various points to check on activities. Eventually, around 11.30pm everything quietened down and we were able to get some sleep. On Saturday morning though it was all go with lots of cars and people arriving and leaving. Not sure where they were all going to but they were taking advantage of the free parking.
Since the cycle lanes are so extensive, stretching right around the town, we decided to save some time getting into the centre and took the bikes. Cycle lanes are all around Almería and cycling is easy and flat. Following the cycle lane around from the promenade takes you to the tourist information office where we popped in for a free street map to find out where the places we wanted to see were located.
There are multiple cycle locking points spread around the city so we chained up our bikes outside a small church while we explored. First on our list was the cathedral.
It took us a while to find it. It is amazing that these large cathedrals appear in a square so close to narrow streets and can hardly be seen until you are right next to them in the plaza.
From the outside it appeared a typical fortress church – built low so as not to present itself as a target and with thick bastion walls with the windows perched high up to protect it from attack. The cathedral was built in Gothic and Renaissance architectural styles from 1524 to 1562, so was still prone to north African pirate attacks.
The entrance fee was €5 each including an audio guide and the funds go directly towards the upkeep of the building. You enter into a Moorish style building with large colonnaded cloisters which gave no hint of what was to come.
The interior was totally breathtaking in a smack you in the face kind of way. Huge vaulted ceilings and domed recesses housed gilded statues and shrines. The central seating area was faced to the front by an impressive gold trimmed alter table, surrounded on all sides by gilt framed paintings of various scenes from Christ’s life from birth to death. One either side of the alter stood two hooded pulpits reached by a carved wooden staircase each, inlaid with intricately painted scenes.
Directly behind the congregational seating area lay a U-shaped choir area. Each chair individually carved from dark wood with detailed images of saints and bishops. Above was a balcony housing two massive church organs with organ pipes that extended horizontally from the wall to bellow the sound to fill the huge space.
Compared to the Abbey in Moissac and the fisherman’s church in Javea, this cathedral was the last word in excess, but I didn’t feel the peace and tranquillity there that I had in the others. In fact the obvious, “look at me” style in Almería left me a bit cold.
I didn’t feel the need to sit quietly and just reflect on the moment – rather my senses felt assaulted by the gaudy over the top decor which made it hard to concentrate. Of course this is just my opinion. Other people may be blown away by the whole experience but I felt a little bit sad.
Alan and I really wanted to see the Alcazaba which we had been told was used for filming some scenes from Game of Thrones, which we had been watching at night while in the van.
It looked like it might be quite an uphill hike to get to, but in the end it wasn’t too difficult a climb.
The route takes you through the streets of the old town of Almería which have a distinctive Moorish feel. Some of the streets would make you think you were in a town in Morocco.
The Alcazaba of Almería is a huge fortification originally built by the Moors with the work starting in the 10th century and added to after it had been reconquered by Christians.
It consists of the fortress/castle and a further huge defensive wall which drops down from the castle into the valley and up the side of the next hill to the Cerro de San Cristobal – a Rio de Janiereo style statue of St Cristopher (the patron saint of travellers) which looks down over the city .
Entrance into the Alcazaba is free for EU residents. You enter up a step ramp through a small archway which leads to another U-shaped ramp with nice gardens up to another Arabian archway.
Once through this gateway, the Alcazaba opens out with extensive water gardens.
The Alcazaba is divided into three areas, the lower being the water gardens. Above this is the second area behind heavily fortified walls which only has a small entrance doorway at the bottom of a tower on each side, so easy to defend and difficult to attack.
As soon as you enter this section, there is another small water garden which was used in scenes from Game of Thrones.
At the far side of the water garden was the water storage facility. Water was collected in a reservoir facility and then transferred into a lower cavern to keep it cool.
This is the area which would have garrisoned the soldiers and provided protection for the people of the town if under attack.
This area is now mostly in ruins, but a couple of houses have been restored and you can see the remains of the other buildings including the Arab baths.
Like most fortifications, the views are amazing and gave the Moors the perfect platform to survey the area for any impending attacks.
After passing through the ruins, you enter the final area which housed the mosque.
This area has a commanding view around the surrounding landscape giving early warning of any land attack. It also contains the canon room and armoury.
The Alcazaba at Almeria may not contain the pretty interiors of the Alhambra palace in Granada, but as a defensive garrison it can hardly be surpassed and is definitely worth a visit as the entrance is free, or low cost if you are from outside the EU.