If you were asked for a list of tourist attractions in Andalucia it is not likely that Almería would appear on that list. You may mention the Cabo de Gata, just a few kilometres east, or Tabernas just a few kilometres north, but Almería itself? At the moment there are only a few decent hotels in the city itself so the city is not crowded with tourists but that will change as the authorities are trying to put the city on the tourist map. Even in the last few years the city has improved dramatically with modern restaurants in the cloisters surrounding the Cathedral brightening up what used to be a dark, uninviting area. The main street through the city, Avenida de Federico Garcia Lorca, is a modern tree lined boulevard with cafes, restaurants and bars with other streets branching off full of designer shops and boutiques.
In the days of the Cordoba Caliphate, Almería was called Al Mariyat, (Mirror of the Sea) and was one of the major ports in Andalucia with a thriving export trade in silk, cotton and brocade. Merchants visited Almería from France, Italy, Egypt and Syria. Today the still important port exports fruit and vegetables that are grown in the acres of plastic greenhouses that surround the city on three sides. To protect this important asset, in 955 AD, the Moors built the Alcazaba. Today the Alcazaba, the second largest in Andalucia after the Alhambra at Granada, dominates the old town that clings to the rock below the fortress and the urban sprawl that has grown around since.
Apart from the Alcazaba the main feature is the museum. This has been purpose built in order to house the exhibits from the world famous Copper Age site of Los Millares, and they have made a magnificent job of it. For those interested in the prehistory of the area this museum is an outstanding example of what can be achieved.
In its heyday the fortress could house 20,000 troops and one of the main problems overcome by the Moors was supplying them with enough water in this city that sits on the edge of Europe’s only semi arid zone. They built aqueducts from the hills to the north of the city using technology borrowed from the Romans and, by a complicated system of underground water cisterns (aljibes), and a water wheel, piped water through the fortress to provide water for drinking and the bath houses. The aljibe can still be seen today in the first section of the Alcazabar that is now a beautifully laid out garden but was once a major residential area. As you pass through the fortified wall at the north end of this section you will see the wall built in the 11th Century, crossing the ravine to the east that massively extended the town.
The second section is the fortified palace city. Buildings in this area housed the nobles and included mosques, houses, baths and its own system of aljibes. The Palace of the Almotacin was at the north end of this section. Today the great cross-shaped courtyard is still there, with, in the south eastern corner, the Queen’s Private Bath. The third and highest section clearly shows a different style of architecture with circular towers. This area was built after the Christian monarchs took the city in 1489. Access is via a drawbridge over a moat. From the huge Towers of Homage and Gunpowder there are excellent views over the entire Alcazabar and beyond to the port and city.
If you look south east from here into the city, you will see what appears to be another fortress. This is in fact the Cathedral. Built during the 16th Century it served as both a place of worship and as a lookout point to warn of the Berber pirates that were prevalent at that time. The four towers at the corners of the solid square building all had a cannon installed for further defence. Although unusual to find a fortified church, if you enter the building, you will discover why it was thought necessary. In the centre of the cathedral is a great altar with priceless artwork including a tabernacle designed by Venture Rodriguez and paintings by Alonso Canon.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella did not wrest Almeria from Moorish hands until 1489. Over the following hundred years no less than four earthquakes devastated the city so most of what you see now is 16th century and later. The ruined city declined until the 18th century when British and French companies moved into the area to mine the iron ore found there. Their legacy is the elevated rail track at the eastern end of the city that took the ore to the waiting boats.
There is enough to see in the city of Almeria itself that will occupy the visitor for a day. It’s real value is as a centre from which to explore the surrounding countryside, east to the Cabo de Gata with its superb beaches, north to the copper age sites and into the desert to visit western cowboy towns.
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