We had a 7 am wake-up call to be ready for our 8:30 tour departure and were able to watch the sunrise during sail-in. Cartagena is the major naval port in Spain. As we sailed into the harbour we saw several navy frigates and a submarine. The big doors in the hillside in the photo above are to access repair yards for the subs.
None of the Cartagena tours appealed to us (although we were told it was a lovely city to walk around) so we chose an 8 hour trip to Caravaca de la Cruz, the fifth holiest Roman Catholic city in the world. The city is a place of pilgrimage because of the miraculous appearance of a two-armed cross that appeared in the 13th century when the king of the Moors demanded a demonstration of the Mass from an imprisoned priest. The priest hesitated at the beginning of the service when he realized there was no cross available. The Moorish king asked why he had stopped and no sooner had the priest told him there was no cross to use in the Mass than two angels descended through the ceiling carrying the unique cross, which the priest proceeded to use during Mass. This miracle caused the conversion to Christianity of the Moorish king. The original cross was stolen in the early 1900s and a replica is housed in the cathedral.
It was a one and a half hour drive from Cartagena through multi-crop agricultural fields, Mediterranean pine forests, and desolate dry scrub badlands. The fortified castle of Caravaca stands atop the hill in the center of the town. Access is via a small street train. The fortress is Muslim in origin but was extended by the Knights Templar and the Santiago Order. The Visitor’s Center had a display of the elaborate embroidery panels created to cover the seven white horses used in a race up the hill to the fortress each year during the Christian Moorish Festival. The faces of local people are used in the embroidery. It takes 7 embroiderers working full-time for a year to complete the sections. Cost per horse is upwards of $40,000. There is a fierce competition between groups for the best decorations. We spent an enjoyable time wandering around the ramparts of the fortress. You could see for miles in every direction. Each of the seven white horses that race up the steep hill are accompanied by three men; two hole leads on the bridal, the third runs alongside. To win, all three must stay in their positions all the way up the hill and be in place when the horse gets to the top.
We had a delicious four-course lunch with wine and beer followed by time to relax in the town square.
After lunch we went to the Festival Museum where costumes from former year’s “King and Queen” were on display. The two outfits of the groups (Muslim and Christian) cost about $30,000 per set and new ones are made every two years. Thousands and thousands of people line the streets and the courtyard of the church to see the horses and handlers run up the hill. The cross is used to bless the water for the season’s crops. Every three years they re-enact the battle and the story.
The bus ride back to Cartagena was equally as diverse and interesting as the outward trip since you get see all the things on the other side of the bus during the return trip. A huge solar ‘farm’.
We arrived back in Cartagena 20 minutes before departure. The next day was relaxing as we crossed the Mediterranean once again to Tunisia, on the north coast of Africa.