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Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, is said to have been founded by the Phoenicians, and was once the rival of the powerful states of Venice and Genoa for control of the Mediterranean trade. Today, it is Spain’s second largest city and has long rivaled, even surpassed Madrid in industry and commerce. The medieval atmosphere of the Gothic Quarter and the elegant boulevards combine to make the city one of Europe’s most beautiful. Barcelona’s active cultural life and heritage brought forth such greats as the architect Antonio Gaudi, the painter Joan Miro, and Pablo Picasso, who spent his formative years here. Other famous native Catalan artists include cellist Pau Casals, surrealist Salvador Dali, and opera singers Montserrat Caballe and Josep Carreras. Barcelona accomplished a long-cherished goal with the opportunity to host the Olympics in 1992. This big event prompted a massive building program and created a focal point of the world’s attention.
Valencia is located in the middle of Europe’s most densely developed agricultural region. Originally a Greek settlement, the town was taken over by Romans in 138 BC and turned into a retirement town for old soldiers. The Moors controlled the land for 500 years, and this fertile plain, which today yields three to four crops, was considered to be heaven on earth. El Cid conquered Valencia for Spain in 1094, but it fell back into Moorish hands after his death. Incorporated into Spain in the 15th century, Valencia remains the nation’s breadbasket.
Founded by Carthaginians in the third century BC, this ancient Mediterranean port city exemplifies the region’s tumultuous history. Romans, Visigoths, Castilians and Moors have all left their marks. Under King Philip II, Cartagena’s naturally deep, sheltered harbor was developed into the nation’s premier naval base, a position it still enjoys today. Ancient ramparts remain, as does a lighthouse erected in Moorish times.
Situated just across the narrow Strait of Gibraltar from Europe, Tangier has long comprised a hybrid culture that is nearly as European as it is African. Standing atop Cap Spartel, one can gaze down on the place where the Atlantic meets the Mediterranean. The “Hollywood” district where the foreign embassies have traditionally been located reflects the European influence. But ascending the hill above the waterfront, one enters the narrow, winding alleys of the Kasbah, the city’s oldest, most Moroccan section. Down the coast, nearby Tetouan retains a nearly untouched walled medina, with sections originally occupied by Andalusian, Berber and Jewish populations. It is small enough that visitors can explore it without risking becoming lost, making it a perfect choice as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Casablanca, located on the Atlantic coast, is with 4 million inhabitants Morocco’s largest city, and at the same time the largest port in Africa. Built on the site of ancient Phoenician Anfa, it remained a small fishing village for many centuries until the French arrived in 1912. Since then Casablanca has become a vast modern city, ever on the increase since Morocco’s independence from France in 1956. A successful blend of oriental-style, white cubic dwellings with modern Moroccan quarters gives the city an interesting flair. Lovely beaches and attractive hotels make for a popular year-round holiday resort. To help understand Moroccan culture a visit to the Medina, the quaint old Moorish quarter, is a must for all visitors.
The great period of “the Discoveries” accounted for phenomenal wealth brought back from India, Africa and Brazil by the great Portuguese navigators. Gold, jewels, ivory, porcelain and spices helped finance grand new buildings and impressive monuments in Lisbon, the country’s capital city. As you sail up the Tagus River, be on deck to admire Lisbon’s panorama and see some of the great monuments lining the river. Lisbon is one of Europe’s smallest capital cities but considered by many visitors to be one of the most likeable. Spread over a string of seven hills, the city offers a variety of faces, including a refreshing no-frills simplicity reflected in the people as they go unhurriedly through their day enjoying a hearty and delicious cuisine accompanied by the country’s excellent wines.
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