W1702 – ‘tites and ‘mites

In my last post, W1702 – Magical Malta, I described a magical day spent in the island of Malta, from our penultimate port of call on this epic cruise, Valletta. From there we had two days at sea crossing the Mediterranean Sea before reaching our very last port of call, Málaga in Spain.

Málaga is the the second-most populous city of Andalusia and the sixth-largest in Spain. It’s history spans about 2,800 years, making it one of the oldest cities in the world. It was founded by the Phoenicians as Malaka about 770 BC. Then, from the 6th century BC, it was under the hegemony of Ancient Carthage, and from 218 BC, it was ruled by the Roman Republic and later the Roman Empire as Malaca. After the fall of the empire it was under Visigothic rule, and then under Islamic rule as Mālaqah for 800 years. In 1487, the Crown of Castille gained control after the Reconquista. A new port was built and with the liberalisation of trade with the Americas, Málaga prospered. Between 1810 and 1812 the city fell into the hands of the French. In the 19th century the city was at the forefront of the Spanish industrial revolution and it enjoyed many years of prosperity; but at the end of the century a recession, followed by earthquakes, floods and failed harvests in the early 20th century, took a heavy toll on the local population. This instability culminated in the Spanish Civil War, during which Málaga and it’s population suffered terribly. Since the 1950s tourism has transformed the city.

We sailed into Málaga early in the morning, just as the sun was rising. I have sailed into the port a couple of times before, and it’s not the most lengthy or interesting approach, but I am glad I went up on deck anyway as the dawn was quite a good one to see and photograph:

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I also noticed how the ship’s bell was getting an extra thorough polish that morning, I’m sure that it being the same day that Mr Fred Olsen himself was coming on board was just a coincidence!

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The tour I had booked in Málaga was to go by coach to the small coastal town of Nerja, around 50 km east of Málaga, where we would visit some prehistoric caves nearby as well as having free time in the town itself. I was doing this tour alone, as Carol was going ashore in Málaga with her Aunt Annie.

Nerja dates back to Roman times, and under Muslim rule, it was known as Narixa, which means “abundant source”, from which the current name derives.

The transfer to Nerja took around 50 minutes, and we alighted from the coach in a car park close to the centre of the town. Our local guide led us through to an area known as the Balcón de Europa, or ‘Balcony of Europe’. This is a mirador or viewpoint which gives stunning views across the sea, and it is in the centre of the old town. This name is believed to have been coined by King Alfonso XII, who visited the area in 1885 following a disastrous earthquake and was captivated by the scene before him. According to folklore he stood upon the site where the Balcón de Europa now stands, and said “This is the balcony of Europe”. Having told us about this history, our local guide left us to enjoy just over a hour exploring the town centre.

The Balcón de Europa offered lovely views of the coastline, including beaches either side of it. At the end nearest the sea was a semi-circular area, featuring a statue of King Alfonso XII learning on the railings:

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I was pleased with this photograph I took of this area, and with the figures in silhouette it is perhaps hard to spot which one is a statue and which ones are real people:

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At the other end of the Balcón de Europa was a large paved square, with a church to one side of it. The church contained plenty of evidence of the Easter Sunday parade through the town that had been held the day before, including the three pasos, or religious floats:

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The shops nearest the square tended to be selling either beach items & souvenirs, or leather goods. Further away the shops were more interesting or upmarket:

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Regular readers might remember that when I explore a new place I like to keep my eye open for quirky or humorous things, here’s what caught my eye in Nerja:

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For once the amount of free time given felt about right, and we all reassembled at the designated spot next to a water fountain on the edge of the square ready for the walk back to the coach.

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It was quite a short drive out of the town to the location of our second stop, the prehistoric caves. On the way we passed the stunning Acueducto Del Aguila Roman Aqueduct:

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The Cueva de Nerja or Caves of Nerja are a series of caverns stretching for around 5 km, which were first formed around 5 million years ago. During the Upper Miocene period, water penetrated the fissures of the marble rock and dissolved it, forming huge subterranean caverns. Seismic movement and landslides during the Holocene period forced the water to find new pathways through the caverns, and began the formation of the giant stalactites and stalagmites that can be seen in the caverns today.

Skeletal remains found in the caverns indicate that they were inhabited from about 25,000 BC up until the Bronze Age, initially seasonally by a small group of humans. By 21,000 BC the human population had taken up year-round residence in the caves and had increased in number. The first cave paintings found in the cave, dating to around that time, indicate a culture based on hunting in the local area had evolved.

Up until around 10,800 BC the hunting culture continued to develop, more prey species were being taken, which included goats, rabbits, fish and marine mammals. By 4500 BC domesticated animals were being kept, the area around the cave was being used for farming, and pottery was being created. By 3800 BC textiles and more advanced styles of pottery were being created, and part of the caverns were being used as a burial chamber.

The caves were re-discovered in modern times on the 12th January 1959 by five young friends, who entered through a narrow sinkhole known as “La Mina“, which forms one of the two natural entrances to the cave system. A third entrance was created in 1960 to allow easy access for tourists. The cave is divided into two main parts known as Nerja I and Nerja II. Nerja I includes the Show Galleries that are open to the public, providing relatively easy access via a flight of stairs and concreted pathways. Nerja II which comprises the Upper Gallery discovered in 1960, and the New Gallery discovered in 1969, is not open to the public. The majority of the cave paintings are found in Nerja II.

Arriving at the Caves, our local guide led us through a side entrance avoiding the queues, and down a staircase to the first of the Show Galleries. As he led us from gallery to gallery, they seemed to get ever larger and more spectacular, each filled with stunning stalactites and stalagmites in the most amazing forms and shapes. The lighting in the galleries is kept low, as there is a problem with algae discolouring and affecting the stone, and we were instructed not to use flash when taking photographs. Looking at the photographs I took in these difficult conditions I’m not sure that they do either the huge scale or the drama of the caves justice, but here they are:

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After climbing numerous steps we eventually emerged blinking back into the daylight, having passed through the inevitable gift shop. Outside there was a monument and sign commemorating the five friends who discovered the caves:

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We then made the coach journey back to Málaga and our waiting ship, passing the large sandy beach which our guide told us had been man-made using imported sand:

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That evening we set sail for the last time on this amazing and epic voyage, for sadly the home leg back to Southampton, which we will reach after three days at sea. (I write this with a certain amount of optimism, as I write this we are entering the Bay of Biscay with gale force winds outside and lumpy seas to match, and the ship is very much on the move!).

I will be making one last wrap-up post about this long and astonishing cruise, featuring some of the on-board events and activities during the past four months, and with some important news too.

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