Moors from North Africa crossed the Straits of Gibraltar in 711 and in the course of the 8th Century conquered most of the Iberian Peninsula. A handful of small Christian Kingdoms survived in the far north and almost immediately commenced what history calls the Reconquest. The Moors nevertheless, retained control of the southern peninsula for centuries. This area which stretches from Lisbon on the Atlantic, to Valencia on the Mediterranean, was call al-Andalus by the Moors, or as we call it today, Andalusia. Historians are not certain of either the origin or exact meaning of this name. It may have related to the Vandals, a Germanic people who once ruled the peninsula. It may also have a connection to the Atlantic region, which the Moors ruled, to distinguish it from the Christian north or Hispania. Whatever it's meaning, the name is still applied today to the south of Spain where the influence of Moslem civilization still lingers. Andalusia, the home of the Flamenco, bullfighting, Gazpacho, and the Alhambra, is unlike any other region of Europe, indeed, unlike any other region of Spain.


Although the Moors came to be by definition Muslim, the name Moor pre-dates Islam and is derives from the small Numidian Kingdom of Maure which the Romans called Mauretania when it became a client kingdom of Rome in 44 AD. The inhabitants of Mauretania are people today called the Berbers, an ethnic group indigenous to North Africa west of the Nile Valley. Berber is the modern European term for these people, borrowed from Arabic. Historically they have been variously known as Libyans by the ancient Greeks, as Numidians and Mauri by the Romans, and as Moors by medieval Europeans. Following the death of Mohammed in 632 Arab armies spread Islam across North Africa. After seizing Egypt (640's) there was no political state in North Africa able to resist the Arabs. The Berbers, a warlike nomadic people who inhabited much of North Africa south of the settled coastal areas vigorously resisted the Arabs, but eventually converted to Islam. It was a Berber force under a Berber commander Tariq ibn Ziyad that invaded the Iberian Peninsula in 711.

THE ALGARVE  = Al-Gharb, The West.

The first people in the Algarve were traders that established colonies on the coasts. Phoenicians and Carthaginians for example. One of the most important facts in the Algarve's history is the five centuries of Arab occupation, visible in the regions architecture (lattice chimneys and tiles, for example) and in many place names beginning with 'Al'. The Algarve was once part of the Roman province of Lusitânia, later part of the Visigothic Kingdom. In 711, Tarik ibn Zyad defeated the king of the Visigoths  and in 712 Mussa conquered the "Gharb Al Andaluz". The West. After many battles, the Christians reclaimed the Algarve and from 1249 until the Republic proclamation, the Portuguese monarchs were entitled "King of Portugal and of the Algarve's".


Day 1. Depart Boston                                

Day 2. Arrive in Lisbon and travel to  Albuferia, possibly the most beautiful town in the Algarve. Albuferia was once a thriving seaport with its own castle, that was destroyed in the 1755 earthquake. In Roman times it was know as Baltum and later changed by the Moors to Al-Buhera. During the eight centuries of Moorish occupation the town became an important trading port. In 1532 and in 1755 the town was badly damaged by earthquakes,. During the 1828-34 Civil War the town was besieged and largely destroyed. Consequently, Albuferia suffered a long period of poverty and only recovered with the tourism boom in the later half of the 20th Century.


Day 3. Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain.

Situated at the northern tip of the sherry triangle, the delightful small town of San Lucar de Barrameda is flanked by the Guadalquivir estuary. The specialty of the town is the distinctive (Sherry) manzanilla wine, which acquires its dry, slightly salty tang from the seaside environment and moist wind. The town is equally famed for its excellent seafood, for which manzanilla is the ideal accompaniment.


In 1264 Sanlúcar de Barrameda was recovered from the Moors by Alfonso X of Castile, and during the 15th and 16th centuries became an important port for trade connecting the Atlantic coast with the Mediterranean.

After the discovery of the New World, Sanlúcar became a port for refitting ships, and it was the departure point for various Spanish conquistadors. Christopher Columbus, on May 30, 1498 left for his third voyage from Sanlúcar. Another historical departure was that of Ferdinand Magellan on August 10, 1519, with a fleet of five ships under his command. In 1522  the last surviving ship of Magellan's expedition, the first ship to circumnavigate the world returned to Salucar.

Day 4. Cadiz, Spain. Believed to be the oldest city in Western Europe Cadiz  Cadiz-like sardines

Cadiz stands on a peninsula almost entirely surrounded by water. Named Gadir by the Phoenicians, who founded the site around 1100 BC, it was later controlled by the Carthaginians, until it became a thriving Roman port. It sank into oblivion under the Visigoths and Moors, but revived in the early 16th century as a launching point for the journey to the newly discovered lands of America. Cadiz was later raided by Sir Francis Drake and managed to withstand a siege by Napoleon's army. In the early 19th century Cadiz became the bastion of Spain's anti-monarchist, liberal movement, as a result of which the country's first Constitution was declared  in Cadiz in 1812.


Some of the city's 18th century walls still stand, such as the Landward Gate. The old, central quarter of Cadiz is famous for its picturesque charm, and many of the buildings reflect the city's overseas links.

Worth a visit are the city's Cathedral and churches of Santa Cruz and San Felipe Neri, which is famous throughout Spain as the place where, in defiance of Napoleon's siege, the provisional government was set up with its own liberal Constitution. Other points of interest are La Santa Cueva, home to several paintings by Goya. The old city looks quite Moorish in appearance with narrow cobbled streets opening onto small squares.

Day 5. Tarifa, Spain.

  Tarifa map
Tarifa is a small town on the southernmost coast of Spain and  the European continent. The town is located on the Costa de la Luz ("coast of light") across the Straits of Gibraltar from Morocco. Near the port of Tarifa there is a well-preserved castle, the Castillo de Guzman.

Tarifa is sometimes credited with being the origin of the word, tariff, since it was the first port in history to charge merchants for the use of its docks, but other sources point to the Arabic word, ta'rïf, as the origin. The name "Tarifa" itself is derived from the name of the Berber warrior, Tarif ibn Malik, who led a small force across the straits in 710. Tarifa will serve as a base of operations to visit Gibralter the following day.                             

Day 6. Rock of Gibraltar


The Rock of Gibraltar (sometimes called the Pillar of Hercules is located in Gibraltar, off the southwestern tip of Europe on the Iberian Peninsula. It is 426 meters (1,396 feet) high. It occupies a strategic position at the eastern entrance to the narrow strait and guards the only exit from the Mediterranean to the Atlantic Ocean.

The Phoenicians used it as an important landmark, marking the entrance to the Atlantic. The Greeks gave it the name Calpe which means urn, possibly because of its shape. The present name of Gibraltar comes from the Arabs who invaded Spain in 711. Tariq ibn Ziyad was the leader of the invading army who landed on the Rock in April, 711. Since then the rock has been known as Gibel Tariq - the mountain of Tariq. The Arabic name has altered over the centuries to its present form of Gibraltar.

Tariq did not build the Moorish castle, nor found the city. Both were built five centuries after his death in 1160 when the city was founded by the Sultan of Morocco, Abd-al-Mummin who built a castle and citadel.

The present boundary of Main Street is almost the same today as it was 600 years ago when it was built by the Muslims. It was during the capture of Gibraltar by the Castillians (1309-1333) that the streets of the lower town were constructed and Gibraltar became a substantial city.

The ownership of Gibraltar was transferred to Great Britain by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 after the War of the Spanish Succession. Spain has never been able to accept the loss of Gibraltar and twice during the 18th century tried to recapture it without success. The first time was the short siege of 1727. There was a more serious attempt during the American Revolution when Spain joined forces with France in the war with a specific aim of taking Gibraltar. The Great Siege commenced on June 21st 1779 and lasted nearly 4 years. During this time the rock was defended by a force of 7,000, commanded by the Governor, General Sir George Eliott. The battle eventually ended on February 2nd 1783. The city took many years to rebuild, hence the absence of surviving Moorish buildings.

Most of the Rock's upper area is covered by a nature reserve, which is home to around 250 Barbary Macaques, commonly known as 'apes'; they are the only wild monkeys found in Europe.


These monkeys, as well as a labyrinthine network of tunnels attract a large number of tourists. The inside of the Rock is criss-crossed by a great and complex system of underground fortifications, known as the Great Siege Tunnels.


This network of tunnels was begun by the British in 1782, during the Great Siege of Gibraltar by the Spanish. After the Siege, the fortifications were rebuilt. In the 1800s, the walls were lined with Portland stone which gave them their present white appearance. When World War II broke out in 1939, the civilian population was evacuated to the United Kingdom, Jamaica, and Madeira so that Gibraltar could be fortified against the possibility of a German attack. By 1942 there were over 30,000 British soldiers, sailors, and airmen on the Rock. The tunnel system was expanded and the Rock became a keystone in the defense of shipping routes to the Mediterranean.

Day 7. Ronda, & the Pueblos Blancos

Help Me Ronda!

Between the Atlantic coast to the west and the Ronda Mountains to the east are a cluster of  beautiful mountain villages known to the Spanish as, "Los Pueblos Blancos", the white villages. Every year the houses are meticulously whitewashed to provide a contrast to the brightly colored flowers which fill the streets.


Most of these villages were founded by Berber tribes who settled the area during the eight centuries of Moorish occupation. They were hill farmers and the land that they settled in Andalucía was similar to what they left behind in North Africa. Because of the constant threat of attack they chose sites high and easy to defend.


Ronda is a little town situated high in the Serranía de Ronda Mountains 698m above sea level. Its near impregnable position kept the Christian forces at bay until 1485. Today its main attraction is the deep Tagus Gorge which is spanned by three bridges over the Guadelevín River.

On both sides of it you can see houses clinging to the cliffs that look as though they might fall into the chasm at any time.

The town of Ronda and its surrounding mountains were legendary hideouts for bandits and smugglers. The El Tajo, a 100m ravine divides Ronda into two distinct parts: La Ciudad is to the south and is the Moorish Old Town with a labyrinth of streets and alleyways which are flanked by attractive whitewashed houses.



Cordoba was the political and intellectual center of Andalusia from the 8th to the 12th Centuries. It was the home of the Umayyad Caliphs and it was the largest city in Western Europe at that time. While in the 11th century Paris was the largest city in Northern Europe with a population of 25,00 and London had a population of 10,000, Cordoba was a thriving city of over 250,000. Cordoba’s architectural jewel is the Great Mosque began by Abd-el-Rahman in the 8th century and completed by Almanzor in the 11th Century.

In the afternoon we will visit the Great Mosque (Mezquita), walk through the old Jewish quarter and visit one of the three remaining Medieval Synagogues surviving in Spain. We will also visit Medina al-Zahara, the magnificent (now very much in ruins) palace constructed by the Caliph Abd-al-Rahman III in the 10th Century (with the assistance of 10,000 workers). The palace was built like Versailles, on the outskirts of the capital. We will also see the Alcazar, Roman Bridge, and the Plaza de la Corredera.

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