30. Almería; the Province’s Capital – A Jolly Good Day Out!

Almería is about 30 miles away and is the capital city of Almería Province, in which El Ejido and Almerimar Marina lie. (Andalusia is the less catchily-titled ‘Autonomous Community’, one of the 8 in Spain).

map_of_andalucia
Almería lies in the South-East of Andalucia (Map: Lonely Planet)

It is the closest place to Almerimar that has anything like the feel of ‘lots going on’, and we often take a trip there when we have a vehicle, or when friends come to visit.

So, first a bit of history…

Almería is named after the Alcazaba (or ‘fortress’), which overlooks the city: Al-Mari’yah (meaning ‘watchtower’), which was founded by Abd-ar-Rahman III in the 10th Century. Silk and textiles were the original economy of the area, but after Christianity came to the area in the late 1400’s, and a huge earthquake struck in 1522, the economy took several hundred years to return to the prosperity it had enjoyed previously. Rebuilding after the earthquake didn’t even start until the 1900’s! It is only relatively recently (under Franco, in fact), that the area has regenerated itself – in the forms of vegetable growing and tourism – and is slowly starting to shrug off its reputation as the ‘poor cousin’s area’ of Spain.

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Greenhouses are big here…

The Alcazaba is the second largest Moorish fortress in Andalusia (the Alhambra in Granada being the largest – see blog post 27. And they’re off (again)!! for more on our trip to the Alhambra!), and is an impressive and interesting way to spend an hour or two in Almería. It is also older than the Alhambra – a fact that the Almerienses are very proud of. There is even a local saying to reflect this: “Alcazaba tenía Almería cuando Granada era sólo alquería” (“Almeria had the Alcazaba when Granada was still a farmstead”).

The Alcazaba is the main – but by no means only – attraction that Almería boasts. There is also a Cathedral, several museums, El Cable Ingles, and market hall to mention but a few.

Our favourite place to go in Almería: the Market Hall! It is fabulous – the nicest building, and the most impressive range of produce that we have seen on our travels so far. The fish section is fantastic – stalls that have fresh swordfish display the sword prominently so that people know where to go for all their fresh swordfish needs! Tuna heads are similarly displayed, and stalls selling other fish will often display them in a way that allows you to see the colour of the gills, and of course the eyes of the fish – so you can confirm the quality and freshness for yourself.

The fruit and veg (we assume it mostly comes from the invernaderos), is varied and wonderfully displayed, and the hams… Oh! The hams!! Ranging between 20 and 200 Euros a KG, there is a broad range of qualities. The two main types are Serrano and Iberico (the Serrano having a pale hoof, the Iberico a black one; the hoof is always left on so that people know what they’re buying) – prices depend on curing times and methods as well as type. Serrano is generally the cheaper of the two, while Iberico is more expensive and – thanks to the fat marbling – generally more flavoursome. The olive stall is our most frequently visited though, with the green olives stuffed with garlic an absolute must-buy!

But what of the other sights?

Almería is an important port city in Ancalusia; these days it is less commercial, but it still has ferries running to Morocco, Algeria, and the Spanish enclaves in North Africa. Casting back to those profitable commercial shipping days, El Cable Ingles (the English Cable) is part of a railway line that runs to the dock from Almería Station, and was used for loading minerals mined inland onto ships that would carry them around the world. Built in the early 20th Century (1904, to be exact), it was built of steel that had been shipped from Scotland, and constructed in the architectural style of Gustav Eiffel (the similarity in the structures can be seen immediately). Various disagreements between the railway company and inland mining company stunted an otherwise lucrative industry for the area. This, followed by the nationalisation of the mining and processing plants after the civil war, meant that it finally closed for use in 1973 but has since been preserved as a ‘Monument of Cultural Interest’. There is also a concrete ‘French Cable’ around half a mile further along the coast, but it isn’t quite as famous, or as attractive…

Museums abound in Almería, but our favourite two are the Museum of Almería (formerly the Museum of Archaeology, but perhaps this sounded too dull?), and the Guitar Museum. They both do pretty much what they say on the tin, but both are definitely worth a visit!

 

We have seen festivals (Carnival week in August is the most chaotic time to be in the city) and random open air markets, parades, displays etc that we haven’t understood, but enjoyed all the same. There always seems to be something going on here:

There are also plenty of film locations to spot for the film buffs amongst you. Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, Cleopatra, 007’s Never Say Never Again, Empire of the Sun, and Conan the Barbarian to name but a few. Many of the classic Westerns (e.g. For a Few Dollars More, A Fistful of Dollars, The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly) were also filmed nearby in the European Desert – which starts just a few miles away from Almería. Made cheaply by Italian Directors (though mainly Sergio Leone) in Europe due to the high costs of filming in America, they came to be known as ‘Spaghetti Westerns’.

So although the time has come to move on, we have become pretty fond of this small city in the months we’ve been here – it’s not a place for a stag do, but we’d definitely recommend it as a sunny weekend away from the UK!

 

 

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