During the night we sailed through the straits of Gibraltar out of the Mediterranean and north to Cadiz for the final port on this leg of the cruise. It is located on a narrow strip of land that restricts its growth and looked like a walkable town that we would enjoy if we had more time here, but we headed out to see the highly recommended White Cities.
Muslims settled in southern Spain about eighty years after their faith began and they brought their building style to the area - walled cities, white washed homes, wrought iron grill work over the windows. They lived here in peace and harmony for about 450 years allowing Christians and Jews to worship as they pleased and even intermarrying at times. Their culture and habits were much more advanced than the rest of Europe which still languished in the Dark Ages. They introduced good hygiene, many new plants that became staples of the Spanish diet, and literacy and education. Local Christians had to pay a small tax. Everyone was happy.
Then Queen Isabella came along. A most energetic monarch - she united Spain, marrying Ferdinand to latch onto his piece of the country. She sponsored Christopher Columbus on his four voyages to the New World and he left from Cadiz on two of them. Then she decided that everyone who lives in these parts should be a Catholic. While Muslims and Jews were free to convert, these conversions were regarded with great skepticism and many of them left Spain which is probably what Isabella wanted. Others were tortured in an attempt to get them to confess that they really were not Christians. Not Spain’s finest hour. It all didn’t totally come to an end until Francisco Franco took over and launched another miserable period in Spain’s history. During colonial times Cadiz had a monopoly on trading concessions with the New World and the money flowed in big time.
One legacy from the time that the Arabs lived here is cute little white towns that could as easily be found in Morocco as here in Andalucia. Vejer de la Frontera, the first white village we visited has won a prize as the most beautiful town in Spain - rightly so. It was not a tourist town and we wandered the narrow lanes snapping photos and enjoying the view. Then we paused for a brief beach and light house visit at the Cape of Trafalgar. In 1805 Admiral Nelson defeated a much larger armada of French and Spanish ships here using superior tactics. His death that day ruined the victory celebration and his body was put in a cask of local sherry to preserve it for its long voyage back to England for burial. Today the beach was a peaceful spot until we all trooped over the sand dune to photograph the light house surprising a nude sun bather. The coast of northern Africa was also clearly in view just nine miles away. Our final stop was Conil de la Frontera, another white village that looked more appealing from a distance than up close. It is a beach town and the season is clearly over. I couldn’t even buy an ice cream cone; everything was closed.
And so our first cruise comes to an end.