Monday, September 12, 2011
If you want to see Morocco without actually risking life and limb, go to Tarifa - the coast of North Africa and the Rif mountains are clearly visible from this the most southerly of towns in mainland Spain!
Seriously though, Tarifa is an interesting place to visit with many features that reflect its historic past. Its geographic location has played a big part in its history - it is the southernmost town of Europe and only 8 miles from
Africa - so it has been pretty much open to all manner of
civilisations since the dawn of time.
Tarifa got its name from a Berber called Tarif ibn Malik and, in the
10th century, under the rule of Abd-al-Rahman III, it became an important town.
Its history goes much further back than that, however - archaeological
discoveries have included Bronze Age burial sites. Later, Phoenicians, Greeks
and Carthaginians all settled in the area but it was the Romans who actually
founded Tarifa in the 1st century.
And then the Moors came - in AD710 a Muslim expeditionary force crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and, led by their leader Tarif ibn Malik, they took Tarifa. It was a trial run for the full-scale invasion of
a year later. Several centuries of Moorish rule followed before Sancho IV of Spain
captured the town from the Moslems in 1292. Since the Christian Reconquest,
Tarifa has been a border town, initially with the Castile
and later it had Berber pirates to contend with. In the 18th century it was a
military enclave in the face of the English occupation of Kingdom of Granada Gibraltar.
Much of Tarifa exhibits a distinctly Moorish character with its narrow, winding streets and whitewashed houses. Entry into the old quarter is through a particularly fine archway - the Puerta de Jerez. There are a number of interesting religious buildings in the town - like the Gothic-Mudéjar Chapel of
the Convent of San Francisco, and the churches of Santa María and but the most
important building is Castillo de Guzman. This 10th-century medieval fortress
is known as the San Mateo the Good. It
was named after Alfonso Pérez Guzmán who in no way would have won the 'Father
of the Year' award - apparently, he threw down his dagger to besieging Moorish
forces for them to execute his son who had been held hostage. He did this
rather than surrender the city to the marauding Arabs. Castle
So the town has a fair bit of history but it is worth a visit for its sandy beaches - there are over 20 miles of them! However, Tarifa is rather windy - it is the windiest place in
Europe, which makes it ideal
for windsurfers and, for most of the year, the long sandy beaches and Atlantic
rollers are a riot of coloured sails.