Thursday, January 27, 2005

Log 30 - Carmona, Cordoba, the ancient capital of the Muslims, Christmas, and Columbus

"We travel not to escape life, but for life not to escape us." - Unknown

Log 30 covers from November 28th, 2004 and into the New Year 2005.  It is so refreshing to be in a stable place and getting to know all the other cruisers on the dock plus some locals.  We do a regular session of school each morning in a room provided by Club Nautico where we are tied to the dock.  Spanish lessons are going great, the food is wonderful and everyone is happy...what more could we ask for. 

Map of Spain

Here's a relief map of Spain.  We are staying for the winter in the southern part in Seville and visiting the surrounding region all called Andalucia, named after the great  Moorish (Muslim) kingdom of El-Andalus.   It has 8 provinces, the province of Seville being one of them.  Now that we have seen some of the sights in the city Seville, we begin to roam a little further in our trusty car, BUC.

Sunday, November 28th - Carmona and the 'Necropolis Romana'

An elaborate Roman necropolis or burial site.

Our second out-of-town excursion is to the village of Carmona, about a half-hour NE of Seville towards Cordoba.  Carmona shares a similar history to Seville - an important Roman city and later continued prosperity under Moorish rule.  Carmona sits on an elevated piece of land with sweeping views of the valley below. This is a very fertile region so it's no surprise that this strategic site, one of the few high points in the area, has been settled by humans for a long time - there is evidence of human settlement from the Neolithic period!

Family tomb with funeral urns

The Roman necropolis (the burial site shown here) was particular noteworthy. It lies on a low hill at the opposite end of Carmona amid cypress trees and contains more than nine hundred family tombs dating from the second century BC to the fourth century AD. Enclosed in underground chambers hewn from the rock, the tombs are often frescoed and contain a series of niches in which many of the funeral urns remain intact. Some of the larger tombs have vestibules with stone benches for funeral banquets and several retain carved family emblems.

Opposite the necropolises a partly excavated Roman amphitheater.  It's totally fenced in so all we can do is peak through the fence.  
Roman amphitheater in Cormona

Tuesday, November 30, 2004 - Our classroom with many other cruising kids.  

The world truly is our classroom :)
Homeschooling is going well.  We find if we start by 9 am we are done for the day by lunch.  Obviously there is a ton of flexibility in our schedule thanks to the great Argyll Center out of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.   We choose this association due to the great support we received from them when we disclosed our travel plans.  Their moto is "The World is your Classroom".  Sounds like a good fit. 

Wednesday, December 15th - Córdoba

Cordoba's Mezquita or Giant Mosque / Cathedral

A few weeks later, we head further afield to Córdoba.  Córdoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built a mighty bridge crossing the river, now called "El Puente Romano". But Córdoba's hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this, in the 10th century, was when work began on the Great Mosque, or "Mezquita", which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.  At this time Córdoba was one of the largest, most prosperous cities of Europe, outshining Byzantium and Baghdad in science, culture and the arts. The development of the Great Mosque paralleled these new heights of splendour.

Arches & Pillars

Inside the Mezquita -  Arches and Pillars

A first glimpse inside the mosque is stunning. The pillars look like a forest of palm trees with their fronds intertwined.  There are horseshoe-shaped arches above the lower pillars and, apparently solely for aesthetics, brick and stone alternate in the arches, creating the red and white striped pattern, which gives a unity and distinctive character to the whole design. There are more than 850 coloured granite jasper and marble pillars in total. Sunlight streams in from windows in the four cupolas creating interesting effects combined with artificial light from the thousands of small oil lights.  After its last expansion, over 40,000 Muslims could gather inside to pray in the direction of 'Qibla', the direction of the Muslim holy city of Mecca. In every mosque this is marked by a mihrab, a niche in the wall.

The Mihrab

The Mihrab faces Quibla, the direction of Mecca and for prayer

This traditionally had two functions in Islamic worship, first it indicated the direction of Mecca (therefore prayer) and it also amplified the words of the Imam, the prayer leader. At Córdoba it is particularly magnificent. The shell-shaped ceiling is carved from a single block of marble and the chambers on either side are decorated with exquisite Byzantine mosaics of gold. The worn flagstones indicate where pilgrims crouched on their knees. As part of a science experiment coming here, we had looked-up and entered on our spare GPS the coordinates of Mecca.  To our surprise, this Mihrab does not point to Mecca, which was confirmed upon asking by a guide.  The Córdoba Mosque Mihrab looks south in the same way as the Damascus mosque and not south east in the direction of Mecca.    However, Damascus is directly north of Mecca.

The Cathedral

The cathedral vault smack-dab in the center of the mosque

So now we are standing in the centre of the mosque and here squats a Renaissance cathedral, which dates back to the early sixteenth century - go figure.  When the city was reconquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left the mosque standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today. The Mosque was consecrated as a Christian Cathedral in the same year that Córdoba was re-conquered (1236).

Saturday, December 18th - Christmas lights in Seville

Back in Seville, the whole city is now aglow with lights and decorations.  It is beautiful to just walk around at night and absorb the ambiance or to attend a Christmas concert in one of the many churches.

Christmas in Seville with the cathedral in the background

One of the many nativity or 'Belen' scenes

Throughout Seville, and perhaps other Spanish towns, there are life-size and scale nativity scenes everywhere, often sponsored by corporations or clubs.   People out walking will queue up to see them at their various locations, as do we.   The nativity scenes are called Belen, which means Bethlehem.

Monday, December 20th - Christmas Preparations

Making gingerbead men for Christmas

For our Christmas at Club Nautico, we set up our little Christmas tree by the mast for the third year in a row and once again decorated the boat.  Always a favourite time for our kids, they created many decorations and of course, what would Christmas be without gingerbread men?  For our Christmas meal, we organized a cruiser's Christmas dinner in the club's activity room.  In the end analysis, there must have been about 50 people in attendance and in particular we received great feedback on a fun gift exchange, one we were first introduced to at our first Christmas away in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.

Wednesday, December 29th - a day in the wake of Christopher Columbus

The monastary of La Rabida - Columbus's starting point

Taking some time off from school during Christmas, today we make the forty-five minute drive west of Seville to the city of Huelva to visit the nearby 15th-century Franciscan monastery, Monasterio de Santa María de la Rábida. If you're interested in Christopher Columbus, this is one of three places to visit around Huelva. The other two are the nearby town of Palos de la Frontera, where Columbus found his crew, and the Convento de Santa Clara in Moguer, which Columbus frequently visited.

La Rábida is where Columbus stayed between 1491-92 waiting for financial backing from the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, for his voyage to the New World. The monastery was constructed in 1412 on the site of a Moorish stronghold; 'rábida' is a Arabic word meaning fortress. The monastery, surrounded by magnificent botanical gardens full of exotic plants, is worth visiting for its museum detailing the discovery of the New World and Columbus's life.
Christopher Columbus, a excellent navigator put a poor administrator

Initially Columbus had difficulty recruiting a crew because many sailors feared a voyage into the unknown. The royal secretary tried to help by offering freedom to any convict who enlisted. Some experienced seamen objected to this plan, but in the end only a few convicts accepted. More than anything, the friars of La Rábida and Martín Alonso Pinzón, an experienced sea captain from Palos, persuaded local sailors to join the expedition. Two other Pinzón brothers also joined the voyage; all were commanding officers.

Columbus's Ships - the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria
The Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria

Nearby the monastery, on the Río Tinto estuary, the Muelle de las Carabelas (Harbour of the Caravels -- meaning small, light sailing craft) is a waterfront exhibition with life-size replicas of Columbus's three ships: the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa María, built for the 500th anniversary celebrations in 1992.  The boys really like these ships and we spend hours clambering about them.

There is a very interesting museum next to the boats that details Columbus's life.

Wednesday, January 5th, 2005 - Fiesta de Los Reyes or Feast of the Kings

Feast of the Kings parade

We really like the Spanish way of celebrating the Christmas season.  In particular contrast to North America, there are no gifts on December 25th, only the celebration of Christ's birth.  With no gifts to buy for the 25th, there is no mad last-minute rush in the days prior.  This rush is saved for the days leading up to the 12th day of Christmas, the Feast of the Kings!  This is the moment when the three kings of Orient bring their Christmas presents to the children, on the evening of the 5th of January. Three men dress up as the kings, one with a black face, and ride about the town in a procession, scattering sweets to the crowds of excited children. 
The 6th of January is the public holiday in all Spain.

Wednesday, January 12th - Off to Holland

On our way to visit Holland.

Well, time to end this log and another Christmas season.  Sheila's Uncle John and Aunt Mies in Holland are going to be celebrating their 50th Wedding Anniversary and all her Dutch aunts, uncles, cousins, etc. will be there.  We've managed to get a discount flight to Germany, where we will rent a car and drive the remaining few hours to eastern Holland.  Stay tuned for our adventures in the Netherlands.

Stay tuned for Log 31 and  our adventures in the Netherlands