2012 March 26 – Day 15 – Melilla, Spain

Milella and Ceuta are the only remnants of a once large Spanish Morocco colony on the north African coast.  Melilla was established by the Phoenicians in 1000 BC and pretty much every civilization has settled there at some point.  It came under Spanish rule in 1497 and Ceuta was annexed in 1580.  Both centers were ports of trade for gold, ivory, and slaves.  Despite the lengthy Spanish presence the regions are considered occupied territory by Morocco.The area of  Milella (pronounced me lee ya) covers only about 4 square miles and the historic center is fairly small so you can get around easily on foot.  Popularly known as “El Pueblo” or “The Village,” the old walled monumental town is split up by moats that open to the sea and the continent.  (It wasn’t until about 1900 that anyone dared live outside the protective ramparts due to the high risk of attack by marauding bandits.)  Over the  centuries much of Old Melilla was not well maintained, but it was renovated in the 1990s as a recognized valuable historic district.

Our guided walking tour took us through the Old Town, to the Municipal Museum and into the Conventico Caves.  We had been told our guide would have a translator but Felix spoke English. We were, in fact, the first tour he had conducted in English.  He did very well.

Felix pointed out some of the mason’s marks on the stone blocks.  They would put their mark on the blocks they had cut in order to ensure payment for their work.

Inside the museum there were many displays of pottery, jewelry, and other artifacts that showed the way of life in bygone days, including a typical nomadic tent.

We had quite awhile to wander around.  Felix didn’t seem to be in a big hurry and did his very best to find the correct English words to answer questions.  It was nice not to be rushed hither and yon but by the time we were through our tour all the buses had returned to the ship.  We waited over half an hour for a bus and Felix finally took us to the shuttle stop for a ride back to port. This archway had three dates carved in the stones 1552, 1604 and 1997. There were large reservoirs in the walls of the fortress to keep clean water, assisted by eels who kept the water moving and therefore purified.  I am sure the eels were also a food source.

People sought refuge during attacks in this fortified church and the nuns provided care for the sick.

For me, the coolest part of the tour was the descent into the Convetico Caves, several levels under the fortress.  This was a lengthy three-level natural cave system that the convent used as a refuge during attacks.  The entire city once lived within the caves for three months and they  served as a bomb shelter during WWII.  It was fascinating! After our tour we had intended to take the shuttle into New Melilla which is Modernist in style and had many buildings designed by a student of the famous Spanish architect Gaudi (whose work we will see in Barcelona), but due to our late return we decided against it.

It was 3:30 by the time we had a bite to eat and the last shuttle left town at 5:15 for the 5:30 all aboard.  We had to wait 3/4 of an hour for the shuttle we caught at the end of our tour so we thought the time window was too narrow to risk a trip to town.

The ship crossed the Mediterranean Sea overnight and brought us to Cartagena on the southeastern coast of Spain.

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