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?
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, the Moors built the largest fortress or Alcazaba in Spain. Today the Alcazaba dominates the old town that clings to the rock below the fortress and the urban sprawl that has grown around since.
The authorities are trying to put Almería on the tourist map but tourism is a new idea here so, at the moment, you can explore this city without dodging the crowds of coach trippers you find at Granada for instance. On the debit side there are not many decent hotels and even fewer good restaurants but all that will change for Almería has the potential to become a major attraction. Apart from the Alcazabar the main feature is the museum. This has been purpose built over the last five years 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 history this museum is an outstanding example of what can be achieved. Los Millares and the museum will be the subject of a separate article next month.
This month concentrates on the Alcazabar. 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 desert. 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 southeastern 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.
Around the Cathedral is the old town with typical narrow streets and bars and restaurants hidden away in cul de sacs. None looked very appealing which is a pity since the local places are usually where you can sample some of the best regional cooking. However if you walk onto Avenida de Federico Garcia, you will find a modern tree lined boulevard with cafes, restaurants and bars, including, surprisingly, an Irish Bar called Molly Malones.
© Nicholas Craig Nutter 2004 - 2012. Nick Nutter asserts his rights as the author of this article and all associated images. This article and images may not be copied or reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.