Friday, October 21, 2011

Tarifa

If you want to see Morocco without actually risking life and limb there, 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 North 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 Spain a year later. Several centuries of Moorish rule followed before Sancho IV of Castile captured the town from the Moslems in 1292. Since the Christian Reconquest, Tarifa has been a border town, initially with the Kingdom of Granada 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 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 find archway - the Puerta de Jerez. There are a number of interesting religious buildings in the town - like the Gothic-Mudéjar Chapel of Santiago; the Convent of San Francisco, and the churches of Santa María and San Mateo but the most important building is Castillo de Guzman. This 10th-century medieval fortress is known as the Castle of Guzmán 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.





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.

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