Last summer I went to visit some of my in-laws and the World’s Coolest Nephew in Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, and disappointed our dear editor John O’Neill by missing the Piracy Museum.
Well, I just got back from another trip to Lanzarote, and this time I made it there! The Piracy Museum is housed in the 15th century Castillo de Santa Barbara and is a delightfully cheesy tourist trap. You get cardboard cutouts of pirates, a mock up of a ship complete with a cabin boy taking a dump, televisions playing old pirate movies, and of course a big Jolly Roger. You even get a bit of history.
The Santa Cueva Oratory in Cádiz was finished in 1796
and is one of the best examples of its kind. It features some
unusually bright and cheery paintings by Francisco de Goya
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Phoenician and Roman Cádiz, the early history of one of the oldest continually inhabited cities in Europe, on the southwestern coast of Spain near the Strait of Gibraltar. While Cádiz was important throughout its history, its sheltered harbor on the Atlantic made it a good spot for launching the many exploratory vessels that Spain sent out into the world starting in the late 15th century. Columbus made his second and fourth voyages to America from Cádiz, and some of the tropical plants growing in the city squares are said to be descendants of samples he brought home.
On a beautiful sunny day, there’s nothing I enjoy more than walking in the English countryside. Unfortunately, most of this August has been more like autumn, with overcast skies, unseasonably cold temperatures, and rain. Ah well.
But at least I got out for one walk, along an eight-mile stretch of the Thames Path National Trail. The trail took me from the old Anglo-Saxon burgh of Wallingford to the pretty little village of Goring-on-Thames. Like most of the Thames Path, it’s an easy, level walk through attractive countryside and historic sights.
El Castillo de Santa Barbara, built in the 15th century to protect
the port of Teguise from pirate attacks. It was extensively rebuilt in the 16th century and
now houses a piracy museum. Photo courtesy Almudena Alonso-Herrero
When I told Black Gate‘s editor, high guru, and overall generalissimo John O’Neill that I was headed to Lanzarote in the Canary Islands and would visit a castle that had a piracy museum, he was over the Moon. What fantasy blog wouldn’t want an article on that?
Unfortunately for him, I spent my week eating, swimming, and learning to play Grand Theft Auto 5 with my son and nephew. When I finally got around to driving out to the castle, it was closed. Yeah, I failed in my job as a travel writer because I enjoyed my vacation too much.
But the island itself is worth a look, and its history is fascinating. Lanzarote lies in the Canary Island chain just off the coast of Western Sahara. It’s volcanic in origin, with a dramatic coastline ringing an interior that looks like something from a post-apocalyptic movie.
An hour’s train ride from Madrid is a small medieval town that’s often overlooked by international visitors. Cuenca has been an important town since the 8th century and has heaps of historic sights as well as natural beauty.
Located in rough hills and on a spur between the deep valleys of the Júcar and Huécar rivers, it’s a naturally defensible position and was fortified by the conquering Moors in 714. There is little remaining from the Islamic era because after it was conquered in 1177 by King Alfonso VIII, the city was extensively remodeled by him and several later monarchs.
In the North Holland province of the Netherlands stands the atmospheric ruin of Brederode Castle, a battered survivor of a violent past.
Unlike the more popular Dutch castle Muiderslot, which I’ve also written about here on Black Gate, Brederode is mostly ruins but still makes a rewarding day trip from Amsterdam.
Brederode started as a bailey and square keep built in 1282 by Willem van Brederode to guard an important coastal road. In 1300 the original fortification was rebuilt with a large keep with three square and one round tower at the corners. A moat surrounded the entire structure. In 1351, it was the scene of fighting in the so-called Hook and Cod Wars. This was a struggle over the rights to the title of the Count of Holland. The “Cod” faction was mainly made up of city merchants and was called this by their enemies in the landed nobility because a cod will continue to greedily eat and grow as long as there’s food to consume. The traditional nobility called themselves the “Hooks” because, of course, that’s what you use to catch a cod. The Brederode family was part of the Hook faction but this proved to be a bad decision because a Cod force besieged the castle in 1351 and destroyed it.
These colors don’t run! Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons.
Well, the pseudo-Muslims are at it again, killing innocent people and trying to turn one of the world’s great faiths into a whacked-out death cult. It’s been 24 hours since the Brussels attacks and now people are mourning, the politicians are posturing, and the police are hunting down suspects. A few extra bombing runs against Islamic State are probably being planned too.
It is, sadly, all too predictable. We’ve seen this before and we will see it again. So I’d like to buck the vibe and take a look at what Brussels has to offer visitors. It’s a beautiful European capital that’s all too often overlooked by people headed to more popular destinations such as London and Paris. That’s a shame, because I’ve visited Belgium several times and have always enjoyed my visits to the city. It’s a fun place with great food, awesome beer, and plenty to see. The fundamentalists haven’t changed that and never will. Here are five things you won’t want to miss.
The building in this photo looks a bit strange. It appears European but also has a style uniquely its own. One might be excused for thinking that this is European Colonial architecture in some far-off colony, but in fact it was built by one of Ethiopia’s most anti-colonial emperors.
The Emperor Fasiladas reigned from 1632 to 1667 and was a strong ruler right from the start. Like the Merovingian kings and the Moroccan sultans, Fasiladas had to contend with powerful noble families who had close connections to their local tribes and clans. Ethiopian emperors would spend much of their time in the saddle, going on “visits” to their provinces with large armies in tow.
Morocco is a country of many parts. While most visitors go down the the Atlas Mountains and the important cities in the interior like Fez and Marrakesh, or strike out into the southern desert, the Moroccan coast is well worth a visit. The Atlantic coast in particular has some interesting historic ports.
Larache is an hour and a half drive along the coast from the Strait of Gibraltar and makes for a good day trip from Tangier. Nearby is the Roman city of Lixus, the main reason we went. Lixus used to be a harbor until the Oued Loukos estuary silted up, marooning it inland and forcing the residents to build the newer city of Larache around the 15th century AD.
For many years it was an important fishing port and was the main shipbuilding center for the Barbary corsairs. Local artisans used wood from the nearby Forest of Mamora, which still stands today and makes a good place for a peaceful stroll.
Last week I wrote about how I spent a month living in Tangier working on my next novel. Luckily my family came down with me for part of the time, and since it was my son’s first trip out of Western Europe I wanted him to enjoy himself and open his eyes a little. So what do you show a ten-year-old in Morocco? Well, besides the Casbah and the medina market, what better than an old pirate port?
Asilah stands on Morocco’s Atlantic coast and like many of the country’s ports started out as a Phoenician trading center about 3500 years ago. It’s most famous as the last base of the famed Barbary pirates, who started being a menace in the early Middle Ages. Their heyday was from the 15th to 19th century, when they terrorized shipping in the Western Mediterranean and the Strait of Gibraltar. Several European interventions, including the United States’ first overseas adventure, failed to stop them. The rampant piracy was one the excuses the French and Spanish used to establish colonies throughout North Africa.