Porto and the Duoro Valley……. June 2018

I’ve been so slack, taking so long to get around to recording last year’s trip. But here I am finally at the beginning of our trip to Portugal.

After Krakow, we flew to Porto and what a surprise. Porto, founded in 417 is the second-largest city in Portugal and has a city population of 287,591 with 2.3 million living in the wider metropolitan region.

To see layers in a city one needs to know something of its history and I came to Portugal with little knowledge. For this reasoning my own reference I have attached a potted history at the end of this blog. I thank Tim Lambert who authored it.

While I always ask if I can photograph people, I admit I took this photo without permission because I found the man’s face so haunting and to me, symbolic of old Portugal.

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This town on a hill running steeply down to the Douro River hits the eye like a visit to an open air art gallery with a colourful cornucopia of tiling styles, decorated windows and wrought iron balconies covering the [mostly] four storey terraces.

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From the traditional blue and white decorative tiles to green tiles brought from Brazil in the seventeenth century during the age of navigation, to modern apartments covered in brightly coloured tiles of only one colour……red, yellow, green, the tiling in the old centre is almost certainly one reason Porto was proclaimed a World Heritage Site in 1996.

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Azulejo tiles, the traditional blue and white patterned tiles, were originally brought from Seville in Spain during the 15th century. Azulejos were very common in parts of the Iberian Peninsula dominated by Islamic expansion during the middle ages.

The standout examples of this wonderful tiling I saw were at:

The Sao Bento railway station

Between 1905 and 1916 the artist Jorge Colaco installed 20,000 painted azulejos in this central station named for the Benedictine monastery that once stood here. Historical events were pictorially represented because even until 1916, the majority of citizens couldn’t read or write.

Education became compulsory in 1980 and in 1987, the role of the public newsreader became obsolete.

The most remarkable panels are those showing:

King João I and Queen Philippa of Lancaster by the city’s cathedral in 1387

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Prince Henry the Navigator conquering Ceuta in Morocco;

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The longest bi-lateral Alliance in the world still in force is alleged to be the Anglo Portuguese Alliance which dates back to 1373 and consequently these countries have never waged war against each other. The marriage of Philippa of Lancaster to the King may have been to cement the Treaty. One of the stories of this union is that when Phillippa was riding into the city rose petals were strewn before her to mask the smells. From this it is said the tradition of  “red carpets” for special occasions grew. At least the Portuguese like to think so.

Capela des Almas

This 19th/20th century chapel has exterior paintings depicting the lives of St Catherine of Alexandria and St Francis of Assisi.

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The Cathedral

This tiling was believed to have been installed  (1729 – 1731). Today 30% of Portuguese practise Catholicism.

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The old town tumbling down to the river is the lively part of town with its al fresco restaurants and tourist crowds. The World Cup playoff were on and crowds gathered outside TVs in bars to watch.

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This group of young women football enthusiasts were wearing their Ronaldo masks

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While some Portugal supporters were not so subtle.

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Bunting flew from apartments above the riverside mostly for Portugal

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Buskers  are an integral part of tourism now and I found this father and son with their monkey, music box and marionette the most poignant of any I have seen anywhere.

The boy just concentrated on the book he was reading.

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In the old town we visited the Misericorde which served as a headquarters for the Santa Casa da Misericórdia since the mid-16th century. It is now a museum to the memory of  those benefactors of the poor. Besides some fine portraits of same, it has a relic from the head of John the Baptist.

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Also from the Misericorde is a fine view of the Cathedral.

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The highly ornate church interiors of Porto are all that one expects from parts of Spain and Portugal.

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My simplistic mud map of the city has the railway station central with the old town running down to the river and upward on one side you can find the monumental Avenida dos Aliados with the town hall and other grand buildings. To the other side you can walk across the bridge to the Cathedral.

In the formal part of town there are long queues to enter the bookshop where J K Rowling took inspiration for images in the Harry Potter series. The crowds make it an unpleasing experience but interesting.

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The grand square with its granite buildings hinted at a formal past.

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Clérigos Tower is the foremost undisputed landmark of Porto and a reference in the city’s history. Clérigos Tower opened its doors in 1763, becoming the highest bell tower of Portugal, with over 75 metres.

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MacDonalds is worth a 5 minute stopover if only for its great Art Deco features

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But my favourite part of the grand plaza is the statue of the Newsreader who was still operating in 1989 because of the high levels of illiteracy in the country.

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Across the river on the south is the town and municipality of Gaia. Twelve municipalities make up the metropolitan region, Gaia probably being the most famous for it is where the wine cellars or “caves” are located. These hold the port (and other wines) for which Porto is famous. It is said that there is more wine stored here than any where else in the world.

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The Duoro Valley

We took a day trip to the Duoro Valley. It was indeed pleasant but the fabled marvellous landscape seemed not much greater than other wine valleys along say, the Rhine.

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The first route stop was at the Sao Goncalo church in the town of Amaramte. The church has a commanding position overlooking the River Tamega and next to the Gonçalo Bridge.

A mix of Renaissance, Mannerism and Baroque architectural styles, construction of the church and monastery was commenced in 1543. There is nothing particularly outstanding about the interior, but it is worth a quick visit.

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Gonçalo is alleged to have struck a rock with a stick, causing wine to flow from it for the construction workers building the bridge. He’s also said to have called out to the river when the workers ran out of food, resulting in fish jumping onto the river bank to feed them. Whether these things happened or not, they resulted in Gonçalo being named a saint in 1561.

The Duoro valley soil is rich in iron. Two billion years ago it was an ocean floor. Now 48,00 hectares of its 250,000 hectare expanse are used for wine. Of course various port styles constitute its famous tipple. Our guide claimed 12 of the top 50 wines in the world were grown in 13 Portuguese wine regions. There was the obligatory visit to a winery, the Croft winery, set up for tours and serve lunch to tourists. This winery was established in 1588 and is now owned by a Yorkshire family.

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The wine trip was pleasant but my interest was more on stories from some smart young Americans. One, a teacher, horrified with a story about how her primary school class had to practise crisis evacuation in the event of a gun attack. Apparently the practice is  true to life down to the noises blaring from the loudspeakers and ways to avoid being killed. I gave thanks to live in Australia with our sane culture of no guns.

Today Portugal with its population of 10.8 million, is known for olives, wheat, wine and cork. Tourism is also an important industry. During the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, Portugal was on its knees. While things have improved with employment down to 9.7% in 2017, it remains a country that still depends on providing cheap labour for the rest of the world. There are 1500 shoe factories, including some Amani ones, in the north. Some Ralph Lauren clothes are manufactured here.

 

 

 

A potted history, thanks to Tim Lambert’s Short History of Portugal (www)

30,000BC Stone age hunters inhabit the land

2,000 BC Bronze is introduced into Portugal

700 BC Celts enter Portugal bringing iron with them. Meanwhile the Phoenicians trade with Portugal.

600 BC The Greeks trade with Portugal

210 BC The Romans invade the Iberian Peninsula

409 AD Roman rule collapses and Germanic people invade the Iberian Peninsula

Medieval Portugal

585 AD A people called the Visigoths conquer Portugal

711 Moors invade the Iberian Peninsula. They conquer southern Portugal.

c 1050 A Visigoth state grows in northern Portugal

1147 The people of northern Portugal capture Lisbon

1179 Portugal is recognized as a kingdom by Papal diplomats

1211 The first Cortes of parliament meets

1290 The first University in Portugal is founded

1348 The Black Death reaches Portugal

1386 Portugal makes an alliance with England

1415 The Portuguese capture Ceuta in Morocco

1427 The Portuguese discover the Azores

1488 Bartolomeu Dias sails around the Cape of Good Hope

1498 Vasco da Gama reaches India

Renaissance Portugal

1510 The Portuguese take Goa in India

1531 The Inquisition is introduced into Portugal

1580 Spain annexes Portugal

1640 Portugal becomes independent

1703 Portugal signed a trade treaty, the Methuen Treaty with England

1750The Marques de Pombal became the king’s chief minister

1755 Lisbon is devastated by an earthquake

 

Modern Portugal

1807 The French invade Portugal

1811 The French are driven out of Portugal

1820 A revolution takes place in Portugal

1828 Miguel becomes king of Portugal. He rules as an absolute monarch.

1834 After a rebellion Pedro becomes king

1838 A new constitution is introduced in Portugal

1846-47 Civil War in Portugal

1910 Revolution takes place in Portugal

1932 Salazar becomes prime minister (and dictator) of Portugal

1968 Salazar resigns

1974 After the Carnation Revolution democracy is restored

1986 Portugal joins the EU

 

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A long weekend in Krakow and then Auchwitz…….June 2018

It is more than 6 months now since my last trip to Europe and while I quickly recorded impressions of Palestine and Israel, I have been slack in getting around to the rest of the journey.

Not knowing Eastern Europe well, just quick visits to Budapest and Prague, the surprise was Kraków, the old capital of Poland – a wonderful university town with a Market Square and Old City boasting buildings from medieval times through to Italian renaissance and then French provincial architecture.

My travel companion, Gill, has a gift for finding just the right accomodation and this time she excelled. My grand apartment was on Market Square with the best of Krakow laid out under the window.

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A better view of the square from my window

Krakow is a university town with a core population of 800,000 plus 200,000 students. The university is among the world’s top 500 and the Med School teaches in English. The fact that all university education is free is enshrined in the Constitution. There are 120 merit based places for non Polish students and 1000 apply.

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A medieval room now used as a cafe in the university

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A close up of one of the many drawings on exhibition in the cafe

With tourists outnumbering citizens 11:1 (11 million tourists a year) there is obviously something  worth seeing. Surprisingly in mid-summer the city did not feel overwhelmed by tourists nor even that its quaint restored centre and castle were merely tourism’s stage settings. I don’t know how Krakow manages the feeling of normalcy, given the constant stream of  “dressed” heritage horse and carriages driven by young women, and the open sided tourist cars and their touts waiting around many corners.

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A street in the Old City

MARKET SQUARE

The Square (200 metres square) was first set out in 1257. In it are the Cloth Hall, a trading hall since the mid 14th century; the tower of the original Town Hall; St Mary’s basilica where every hour a bugler comes to a tower window and plays. The 15th century wooden altar piece took 12 years to make. There is an underground museum , the National History Museum and many outdoor cafes. This is a lively place, a honeypot for tourists and locals and apart from the main attractions it is worth a walk taking in the facades, rooflines and other architectural features.

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The Cloth House

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The Bascilica where every hour at an upper window a bugle is blown

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Sculpture in the Square

This has always been the centre of life (and executions) in Krakow and it was here in 1794 that Kosciuszko inspired the revolt against foreign rule. Here too, Hitler changed the name to his own during the Occupation. The favourite cafe of the occupying Nazis was on the Square

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The Nazi’s favourite cafe was here

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All tourist cities have buskers but this one was a little unusual

The atmospheric Old City  with its many historic buildings and cobbled streets stretches out 1500m x800m around the Square and it itself is ringed by the Planty, the circular park established in the 19th century to replace the demolished city walls.

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The Planty is a place to stroll and to sit and contemplate the world

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A number of old churches are scattered through the Old City

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There are always shrines to remind you that this is Catholic Poland

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Should you be tempted to forget, there is a representation of the Polish Pope, John Paul 11, at the window of his Bishops’s Palace in Krakow

There are many pleasures in Krakow besides the city itself. Is there anything more delicious than pierogi – the dumplings stuffed with many flavours? Yes of course there is but they are pretty tasty when served homemade at a little restaurant!

Then there is finding a concert in the 1597 Church of Saints Peter and Paul  with Bach, Mozart, Chopin etc.performed by members of the Krakow Symphony Orchestra.

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WAWEL

Wawel Castle is such a busy epicentre of the tourist throng, that only a cursory visit could be comfortably paid. The castle is on the cave riddled limestone formation of Wawel Hill. Legend has it the hill was once the home of the Wawel Dragon. Many knights were killed in contest with the dragon trying to win the princess’ hand as a reward but a cobbler tricked the dragon into eating a sulphur filled sheep which blew up inside him. Krak, the cobbler, married the princess and built his castle on the hill. The dragon’s cave in the hill, once a tavern is now a tourist attraction.

The castle was used as a fortified castle before the first Polish ruler (962-992). 36 Polish rulers were crowned there until the 17th century. All lived in the castle and all added some architectural detail. The Austrians used it as a hospital. In the 20th century it was Nazi HQ. Even a short visit shows the muddle of styles from medieval though romanesque, renaissance,  gothic and baroque.

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A photo giving some idea of the myriad styles that make up the castle and its cathedral

The Jewish Quarter

In the Middle Ages, the Jews left western Europe to escape the Crusaders. They walked to Krakow in 1495  and it became the centre of Jewish life. We were told that 50% of all Jewish people have Polish ancestry. Now there are only 1000 Jewish people living here.

Kazimierz was the Jewish quarter of Krakow for 500 years until the coming of the Nazis. Near here is the factory of Schindler whose bravery in rescuing many is recorded in print and film. There are many old abandoned synagogues

Under the communists it fell into further disrepair; was rediscovered in the 1990s and is now in the process of gentrification.

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A Polish hero Jan Karski, a WW2 Resistance fighter  is remembered in the street of Kazimierz and kindly given a yellow umbrella

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One of the better maintained synagogues

On the other side of the river between Kazimierz and the limestones hills lies Podgorze. The Nazis established a prison district here and in March 1941, the Jewish population was herded into this area which became known as  the Krakow Ghetto. The majority of residents were murdered.

Below are sculptures on the bridge crossing the Wisla river between Kazimierz and Podgorze.

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In Podgorze there is a moving memorial, a flat concrete expense with  33 illuminated chairs (1.4 m high) in the square and 37 smaller chairs (1.2 m high) standing on the edge of the square and at the tram stops.

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Auschwitz/

Birkenau

We travelled by bus on a day trip.

I don’t want write about Auschwitz. It is beyond words. The cattle train deliveries of Jewish and other peoples and the scale of the killings, is incomprehensible. The only thing that balances out a fraction of the overbearing  horror is the production line tourism necessitated by so many visitors. You are marched briskly wearing headsets through a number of residential Blocks and many specific sites, aware that hot on your heels another group is coming. And then another. Relentless.

One million one hundred thousand people died in Auschwitz. Photos say it better than I ever could. Glass fronted exhibits of hills of hair shaved from prisoners were too much for me to photograph.

 

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One remaining block and chimneys of others

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Train carriage used to transport prisoners right through the camp to the door of the gas chambers

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Shoes of the prisoners

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Brushes of the prisoners

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Empty tins of the gas used in the gas chambers

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For me though, the gently guided tour of Sachanhausen, a prototype camp just outside Berlin had a greater impact with a slower investigation as details of camp life were spelt out and sites specifically explained.

Here is what I wrote of Sachenhausen:

Suffice to say, at Sachsenhausen I was flattened and tearful. Among the prisoners, there was a “hierarchy”: at the top, criminals (rapists, murderers), then Communists (red triangles), then homosexuals (pink triangles), Jehovah’s Witnesses (purple triangles), and Jews (yellow triangles). This was the HQ of all the camps where many of the worst Commandants were trained for the 2000 other camps across 18 countries. Here industries included making bricks for Speer’s version of the new Germania, sorting glasses and teeth from other camps and testing army boots by excrusciatingly running all day until you dropped to test every possible circumstance. Women were prostituted and if pregnant, their babies killed. Medical experimentation occurred. Over 200,00 enemies of the Reich were imprisoned here from 1936; in 1941, 10,000 Soviet prisioners were brought here to be killed and the Soviets kept it operating for the first 10 years of their occupation when 12,000 people died here. At the end of the war  in the death marches when prisoners were taken into the countryside by the failing regime, 35,000 were taken from Sachsenhausen and only 6000 survived. In one of those sad ironies, the adjoining training camps used by the Third Reich are now the Berlin police training camps.

Perhaps it is just that the scale of horrors of Auschwitz is incomprehensible.

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Nazareth, Galilee and down the west coast…….June 2018

The draw card for Nazareth, the largest Arab city in Israel, was the promise of a session with Jonathon Cook, former BBC journalist and now a freelancer who lives in Nazareth with his Palestinian wife and their children. Jonathon writes a blog on the Palestinian situation in Israel, inter alia. His Facebook page and blog are well worth a follow.

I will not attempt to paraphrase his analysis of the history and current situation in Israel. Best you read his views for yourself.

We caught a taxi from Jerusalem to Nazareth (about 146km) and less than an hour and a half in time – such a small country to encompass so much. Nazareth is an unprepossessing town situated within the Israeli borders. The state of the infrastructure here compared with the roads and development in other parts of Israel demonstrate simply that the Israeli Government starves these Arab towns of funds in contrast to the big expenditures in the Israeli sectors.

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Along the road, wire fences run along the Palestinian/Israeli border.

With a population just shy of 76,000 this – the Arab capital of Israel — is the largest city in the Northern District. The inhabitants, when we were there in June, were predominantly Arab Citizens Of Israel. Now however, since the new apartheid citizenship laws have been passed, presumably they are virtually stateless unless they give their allegiance to the Jewish nation State of Israel.

Sixty nine percent of Nazarenes are Muslim and of those 30.9% Christian. Built on a hill alongside Nazareth, is Nazareth Illit or Upper Nazareth declared a separate city in 1974 and with a predominately Jewish population. Here the infrastructure is much better. A recent and excellent Palestinian movie, Wajib, was set in Nazareth and shows some of the contrast.

I understand some 60,000 ultra conservative Jews will move to Nazareth Illit in the future. Another takeover way of applying pressure on Arabs who remain in Israel.

We sat in the small town square with Jonathon while he told us that this square had been a place of Muslim worship until it was cleared in a beautification program prior to the Pope’s visit in 2000. Now every Friday, the Muslim community moves in with prayer mats and reclaims it for Friday prayers. Nothing is easy in Israel.

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A market at the entrance to the old souq

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For me, this man sleeping outside his shop in the souq, symbolised the Palestinian struggle

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The road in the old souq is being refurbished by enterprising Palestinians

A walk through the small souq mostly passes run down empty spaces but then we come across a special place. Jonathan took us to a social enterprise working to revive the Old City, the cultural heart of Nazareth. Liwan operates as a tourism advice centre and cultural café.

The cafe has its own Facebook page at Nazareth – ليوان– LIWAN

Sami and Silki who run it could not have been more helpful in arranging a driver to take us on the roundabout trip to Jaffa via Galilee. Theirs is a great and wonderful challenge.

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Liwan cafe and guesthouse

Like everywhere in this country, there are overlays and Nazareth is also a Christian pilgrimage destination. It was here, myth has it, that the Angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she was to become the mother of Jesus. Jesus is also believed to have grown up in this town.

The Basilica of the Annunciation, the largest Catholic church in the Middle East had a calm peace about it that made it the best of the churches we visited in Israel. I was so taken that as a long time lapsed Catholic, I even popped into the confessional to have a pleasant chat with the Bangladeshi priest on duty.

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Basilica of the Annunciation

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Artistic homages of the Annunciation and the Nativity, have been sent from around the world.

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The Basilica at night from my hotel room

We left Nazareth for Galilee, the inland sea prominent in Christian myth. Here Jesus found his fishermen disciples; here he preached the Sermon on the Mount; here he fed the multitudes with a few loaves and fishes. In fact much of the story of Jesus is based in this small area in the north.

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The Sea of Galilee

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No guns allowed on this holy, tourist site!!

 

Next we drove to Acre then down the Mediterranean coast to Haifa, Caesarea and Jaffa.

I first saw the walls of Acre  (or their replica) in a TV show about the Holy Grail; in that narrative Muslim forces defeated the Crusaders. I have no idea of the verisimilitude of the series.

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A number of the back alleys were decorated with impromptu art.

The Old City here is an UNESCO Heritage site going back to the Phoenicians.The current building forming the citadel is an Ottoman fortification, built on the foundation of the citadel of the Knights Hospitallers. That citadel was part of the city’s defensive formation, reinforcing the northern wall. During the 20th century the citadel was used mainly as Acre prison and as the site for a gallows. During the British mandate period, activists of Jewish Zionist resistance movements were held prisoner here; some were executed here.

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Boys planning to jump, pitting their courage against the odds

Under the citadel and prison of Acre, are a complex of halls, built and used by the Knights Hospitaller. The complex includes six semi-joined halls, one recently excavated large hall, a dungeon, a dining room and remains of a Gothic church.

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The Crusaders’ tunnel from the old city to the citadel

The city of Haifa is Israel’s industrial heartland with one of the major ports but the drawcard is the terraced gardens of the Baha’i Temple sloping down Mount Carmel to the Mediterranean, This is the world centre of the Baha’i faith.

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The Baha’i Temple garden steps down Mount Carmel

Next stop was the ancient port city of Caesarea with its restored harbour, amphitheatre and aqueduct. Although this is a popular and busy national park and tourist attraction, I found it extremely disappointing. Having been lucky enough to visit Roman ruins in Libya, Tunisia and of course, Palmyra in Syria, these  ruins seemed to lack a certain grandeur. We missed the gated community where Netanyahu and other wealthy citizens live.

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Seating for the Roman amphitheatre

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A kitsch attempt at a gladiator’s chariot

The day ended in the increasingly trendified Old City of Jaffa looking across at the high rises of the modern town. On fields once famous for orchards of Jaffa oranges, all that can be seen now are the glass and steel towers that have risen to replace them. A delightful small town Jaffa, like most of Israel, has been under the rule of, and the homeland of many nations and races.

Some of the names associated with the history of this place include: Noah, Andromeda, St Peter, Napolean.

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The old town of Jaffa has been well restored.

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The view from the Old Town to the  high rises of the new city of Jaffa

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Sensitive renovation and repurposing  of old buildings

Here in Jaffa a guide who although she kept referring to the country as if it had always in history, been Israel, at least had the sense and knowledge to layout some of the civilisations that had ruled here.

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