The Story of the Old Tower

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

The shoreline of Torrevieja features beautiful sandy beaches and a mile long pedestrian walkway.

Until about 1500 the Mediterranean Sea was ruled by pirates from maritime countries like France, Italy, and from as far away as Britain.  Subsequently, during Ottoman rule in Spain, pirates from Algeria and Turkey known as Berbers were the predominant predators who attacked settlements along the coast.  Even inland villages were vulnerable to the threat of pirates seeking food, treasure and slaves to row their galleys or to be sold for profit.

Perfect for St. Patrick's Day - an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

Perfect for St. Patrick’s Day – an Irish Pub in downtown Torrevieja!

King Phillip VII, who ruled Spain in the early 1600’s, took a radical step to reduce the threat of pirates.  Believing that Moorish descendants of the Ottoman days in Spain were sympathetic and perhaps even helpful to the Berber pirates, the king ordered their expulsion from Spain.  Over 500,000 ‘moriscos’ were shipped to North Africa.  Many of them became slaves.  Some, either out of desperation or revenge, joined with the pirates.  As a result, King Phillip was forced to take defensive measures. 

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja.  The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Shopping opportunities are plentiful in Torrevieja. The walkway adjoins the beach walkway in the city center.

Army engineers were tasked with building a coastal defense against marauding pirates.  This defense was a series of coastal and inland watchtowers from the French border in the north to the south coast city of Cádiz.  The towers were built on coast rocks, cliff tops or elevated platforms.  Most were circular in shape evoking the image of a classic rook piece on a chessboard.  A removable staircase was often used to access an elevated entry door so that it could be removed in the event of an attack.  Guards who spotted threats would ignite a fire atop the tower which could be seen from a neighboring tower.  It is believed that a warning from Cádiz west of Gibraltar could be relayed to the French border within three hours over a distance of 1,000 miles.  Some towers were armed with artillery cannons.  Many had shelter spaces for farmers or fisherman from nearby to seek refuge. 

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja Photo credit - Google images

The Torre del Moro watchtower in Torrevieja
Photo credit – Google images

Many of the towers in the Alicante Region have survived over 400 years and remain as historic landmarks open to the public.  One such tower was built in the center of what is now Torrevieja, which translated means Old Tower.  The original tower was destroyed by an earthquake.  The only remaining tower in Torrevieja is the Torre del Moro located on the coast just north of the city center.  This area was once a minor fishing village which grew with the development of a huge salt industry.  Vast evaporation lagoons are still used to produce tons of salt annually for shipment around the world.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days.  Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

Models are constructed, then submerged in the salt lagoon for three days. Salt crystalizes on the model creating a prized art piece.

One of the signature souvenir pieces representing Torrevieja are salt ships.  These models are prized gifts given to visiting dignitaries or as wedding presents.  Other popular landmarks such as the Coralista Monument or one of the town’s signature cathedrals are also popular salt models.  Many models are displayed in Torrevieja’s Museum of Salt located in the city center. 

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

This salt model of the famous Coralistas Monument is among several on display at the Museum of Salt.

The salt museum near the colorful sea walk is one of the many attractions that make Torrevieja a popular vacation spot on Spain’s Costa Blanca.  Even though spring has not officially arrived, spring-like weather during the winter months explains the town’s great appeal, especially among the many northern Europeans we have seen. 

Many apartments still look sealed up for the winter, so I expect the beaches will soon be more crowded.  In the meantime, we are enjoying the peace and quiet or our urban apartment.  Given the number of friends and family dealing with this winter’s bitter cold, we feel duty bound to make the most of the many sunny days here.  It seems that is the least we can do. 

All photos copyrighted by Florence Lince unless otherwise indicated.

The Šibenik Regatta

Three dozen sailboats moored along the seawall waiting for the start of the 14th Annual Šibenik Regatta.

Three dozen sailboats moored along the seawall waiting for the start of the 14th Annual Šibenik Regatta.

Saturday morning arrived and we met Nina and her husband, Marjan, along the seawall about a block from our apartment.  Marjan’s friends met up with us and designated me as the fourth crewmember on their sailboat.  I had done little to prepare for the day because the whole episode was put together as I was going to bed the night before.  And that was okay with me because sometimes the most interesting experiences are those that are least planned and most unexpected.

St. Nicholas walked among the crowd handing out candy to children.

St. Nicholas walked among the crowd handing out candy to children.

Florence , who is not a big boating fan and has no prior sailing experience, opted to join Nina on the tourist boat that the City of Šibenik provided for family members of regatta teams as well as dignitaries and special guests.  She waved at us from the observation deck as we lined up on the course for the starting gun. 

Thirty-five boats hit the starting line as the clock counts down to zero.

Thirty-five boats hit the starting line as the clock counts down to zero.

Let me share an observation I have made about sailing.  There is not a lot to do on a sailboat during a race.  The skipper picks your course and you stick with it.  That does not mean you do not need to pay attention because wind direction changes and tacking require quick reflexes and teamwork to change course efficiently in a race without losing boat speed.  I would guess about ninety percent of the time is spent sitting and just watching things which makes for long periods of stillness punctuated by brief moments of pandemonium.

The waterfront of the beautiful medieval town of Šibenik, our Croatian hometown.

The waterfront of the beautiful medieval town of Šibenik, our Croatian hometown.

Some people would say the still times make sailing boring.  Although I would not take issue with that statement, I would add that boredom is a condition that is undervalued and underappreciated.  After working for forty plus years, I used to long for the days when I could regale myself in sustained periods of boredom.  You may, if you wish, think of me as an ‘aficionado of boredom’.  Thus, I had no difficulty adapting to my day aboard the Champagne, our regatta entry.

Mike and Captain Vlado and our sailboat regatta entry, Champagne.

Mike and Captain Vlado and our sailboat regatta entry, Champagne.

During the longer legs of the course there was time for a beer or two and there were prosciutto and cheese sandwiches for when we got hungry.  We also found a couple of things worthy of a toast which called for shots of scotch all around.  Let’s see – we toasted the sunshine because it was a beautiful day.  We toasted each other, and we toasted the end of the race.  I think we came in third in our class, but I cannot say for sure because I was pretty much toasted by then.  What a great day.  Here’s to you, Šibenik!

Croatia’s Enchanted Islands

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

The Romans may have had this view from the Island of Kornat.

To fully appreciate Croatia’s natural beauty, one needs to visit some of the 1,000+ islands that make up the Dalmatian Archipelago.  Seagoing vacationers have long enjoyed the quiet coves, sandy beaches, hiking and biking paths and boutique hotels tucked comfortably in their secluded venues.  However, a charter boat or water taxi can open this private world to any interested traveler.

Fortunately, Croatia has seen fit to preserve some of their island treasures as national parks.  I explored two of these island national parks, and each could not be more different from the other.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Rock cliffs tower over our boat like giant sea monsters.

Kornati National Park

Kornati National Park is about 30 miles up the coast from Šibenik (SHE beh nik).  The park includes the island of Kornat, largest of the 89 islands in the park.  Our charter boat took us around several islets with high cliffs that plunge 200 feet vertically down into the depths of the clear, turquoise sea. 

Other than scattered shrubs and trees, the islands seem largely barren.  On the main island, Kornat, we climbed to a promontory ruin believed to have Roman origins.  It is hard to tell, as we were informed by our captain, Emil, that a film company had rebuilt some of the ruins for a film set some years ago.  Even so, it was not difficult to imagine that the Romans had used this site as a lookout vantage point.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

Some ancient ruins were probably part of a movie set.

The magic of Kornati National Park becomes apparent below the water’s surface where you will find a diver’s paradise.  These protected waters feature 352 confirmed species of algae, 22 corals, 177 mollusks, 160 fishes, 55 crab species, plus indigenous sea grasses and countless organisms that have yet to be identified.  In addition, large numbers of bottlenose dolphins and loggerhead turtles make this habitat their home.  If you are a diver or snorkeler, you must discover Kornati National Park for yourself.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

The saltwater lakes are connected by manmade canals.

Mljet National Park

The western part of Mljet (mul YET) Island was declared a national park in 1960.  In brilliant contrast to the stark islands of Kornati National Park, Mljet features inland lakes.  They are not really lakes, but rather natural depressions that were flooded by the rising sea after the last ice age.  These are actually saltwater lakes connected by a small channel to the sea.  Because they are shallow and landlocked, the lakes are several degrees warmer than the sea and make for excellent swimming for nine months out of the year.  Visitors often rent bicycles to casually peddle around the forested shores of these lakes in shaded comfort. 

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

The monastery is accessible only by boat.

If you get too warm, there are lakefront café bars called konobas where you can stop to refresh yourself.  If you are seeking refreshment, you should remember these two words – Ožujsko and Karlovačko, the Croatian equivalent of Budweiser and Miller.  Every konoba will have one or the other.  I occasionally enjoyed a variety called lemon Radler, made by both Ožujsko and Karlovačko, which is only 2% alcohol and tastes a lot like San Pellegrino limonata – very refreshing!  It is also sold in grapefruit and orange flavors at the supermarkets.  If you are stopping for lunch, let me caution you to allow at least 1½ hours for eating.  Dining in Croatia is not a hit-and-run activity. 

Ruins of St. Paul's Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century.

Ruins of St. Paul’s Church built on Mljet Island in the 4th century. I think they had a very small congregation.

Mljet Island has something for everyone – sandy beaches, Roman ruins, a 4th century church and the Santa Maria Benedictine monastery that is being refurbished and is open for visitors.  Even the Greek poet, Homer, wrote about the island in The Odyssey.  Some believe this is the island upon which Odysseus was shipwrecked.  There is a sea cave that could match the description in Homer’s story.  Mljet is also a great island getaway with lovely resorts and hotels suitable for families or for a romantic holiday for couples.

One thing is certain.  If you are interested in a special vacation of a lifetime, then you owe it to yourself to consider the islands of Croatia.  Once you go, you will be like me – looking forward to the day when you can return.