Monday, December 9, 2013

#742 Panama Viejo, Panama City, Panama

After pirate Henry Morgan (of Captain Morgan Rum fame!) sacked Panama in 1671, the Spanish moved the 1519 city 8km to its present position because it was more easily defended, and the old city fell into ruin and disrepair. Visible from the airport causeway in Panama City, it is a pretty spectacular location with marshes and sandbars stretching far out into the Pacific at low tide. The high-rises of the modern city are visible in the distance, with the 'new' old city (Casco Viejo) hidden behind. Much of the old city has been buried since 1950 (despite protection from the government since 1976) due to rapid expansion and poor residential settlements. Little remains of the magnificent most-important city of Spanish central America, but its peaceful tranquility is equally romantic.

The ruins are loosely fenced in and cover a large area. The cathedral's stone tower (offering magnificent views) remains standing overlooking the plaza (photo at right). The convent of Santo Domingo, the Iglesia de San Jose, the hospital of San Juan de Dios, and the city hall are all within walking distance, but only the larger walls remain.

Source: Lonely Planet Central America, 7th Edition 2010

Friday, December 6, 2013

#743 Ceuta & Melilla, Spain
When I lived in Morocco, the two African enclaves belonging to Spain fascinated me. That Spain would continue to claim such a territory in a vestige of colonialism was crazy, especially with repeated calls from Morocco to return them. It is also ironic considering that Spain demands the return of Gibraltar (#877). Despite being strategic port cities, they have little appeal for most Spaniards to the point that the Spanish government had to offer them tax-free status in order for them to get people to live there.

Mellila according to
They were a convenient place for us to be able to renew our Moroccan visas, but an unfortunate flat tire set us back so when we arrived at Mellila in the middle of the night, I felt bad leaving our Moroccan friend alone on the Moroccan side (with the rental car that could not cross), that I never even got there. I went to Ceuta, but my boyfriend didn't want me to leave Morocco, so it prevented me from really luxuriating and enjoying it. I think he was jealous he could not visit without his passport, and I suppose it was selfish of me to want to linger there with them waiting.

I remember Ceuta being a particularly unexciting little Spanish town, with the banks and shops closed because it was Sunday. There was a beautiful mosaic in the bank, however... funny how you remember these things!

Looking at photos of Mellila and Ceuta (known as Sebta in Arabic) I would like to return and see them again with adult eyes.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

#744 Lima, Peru

Lima is a sprawling desert city on the Pacific coast, with a mountain backdrop and awesome mists and fog. It has a huge square at the historic center, and many other famous districts with their own character, but getting between them can be a bit of an ordeal in traffic. An urban settlement for the Lima, Wari, Ichisma, and Inca cultures, it was settled long before Spanish conquistador Pizarro arrived and planned his city in 1535.

The city has experienced a varied past, rising from boom town to quiet administrative center only to return again. Wiped out by an earthquake in 1746 and again in 1940, after independence it shrunk in importance, in 1880 it was under siege from the Chileans during the War of the Pacific while in the 1920s it had a sort of 'boulevard' revival inspired by Paris. Heavy migration in the 80s and 90s filled shanty towns and helped bring the population to 8.5 million (2007). 1992 saw deadly terrorist bombings by Sendero Luminoso but recently it has had large public works in transportation, parks, and culture that have led to a revival.
The central Plaza de Armas is ringed by the Palacio Arzobispal (1924), the cathedral (built and rebuilt in 1551, 1622, 1687, 1746, 1940) and the Palacio de Gobierno (1937), which hosts a daily changing of the guard ceremony behind severe bars and gates. This area was grid-planned by the Spanish and the square as the Plaza Mayor, was the heart of the settlement. Not one of the buildings is original, and one of the oldest items is the bronze fountain (1650). Pizarro's much mutilated remains are inside the cathedral.

Cathedral of Lima

The old Post Office

Barranco, originally a 'resort town' as such at the turn last century, is a bohemian area with great restaurants and bars inside the grand casonas of the past. Located just around the bay, it looks back as Miraflores hangs on the edge of the cliffs.

The Museo Larco and the Museo de la Nacion are impressive facilities with uncountable relics of bygone eras. Each has well-organized displays, but more impressive are the enormous store-rooms of items.
The sunset from LarcoMar shopping center

Couples dance in a Miraflores square
Source: Lonely Planet Peru 7th Edition, 2010

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

#745 Baalbek, Lebanon

Tourist entrance into Baalbek - The portico bears the inscription
'For the safety and victories of our lord, Caraculla.'
I think the most impressive Roman ruins I have ever seen were in Lebanon. In the Bekaa Valley, far from coastal Beirut and old Byblos (#840), lies fertile farmland, wineries and other riches that helped to make Baalbek superior. Definitely the most impressive site in Lebanon, it is also one of the most impressive in the Middle East. Called the 'Sun City' (Heliopolis) by Alexander the Great, it was a place famed for the mystic powers of its courtyard complex which was built of a size to rival those in Rome.

Originally a Phoenician settlement dating back to the 3rd millennium BC, the first temple was built to the god Baal, from which we get its name and derive fascinating yet horrific sacrifice and ritualistic prostitution stories. It's a prime location for a settlement with two nearby springs and its between two local rivers. as well as being on the east-west and north-south trade routes between the coast and desert Palmyra (#952). It was visited by Pompey the Great, Julius Caesar (who renamed it for his daughter Julia) and construction on the Roman temples began in around 60BC, which continued for centuries under Nero, Antonius Pius, and Caracalla. Some historians speculate that the grand-ness of the temples was a contrast to the emerging religion of Christianity and to show off the political and civilizing power of Rome. It was representative of the struggle as work halted with the back-and-forth tug of war between religions, and after 379, Theodosius converted the temples into a basilica, but as pagan rituals continued, Justinian had parts of the temples destroyed and the pillars moved to become part of the Aya Sofia in Istanbul (#969). It was an important enough site to be sacked by the Arabs (in 748) and Tamerlane (in 1400) and visited by Kaiser Wilhem II (in 1898), but it was also ravaged by nature with significant earthquakes (in 1158, 1203, 1664 and 1759) which also caused damage and exodus of the population.

The First (Hexagonal) Courtyard:
Fifty meters  deep, with the famous bas-relief of Jupiter Heliopolitan found 7km from Baalbek, this area would have been surrounded by columned portico.

The Second Great/Sacrificial Courtyard:
With an arcade of 84 columns each harboring areas for statues and decorative niches and two pools (with decorations showing Trions, Nereids, Medusas and Cupids), this is area held many important discoveries. The basilica in the center was completely dismantled by the French archaeologists to reveal a huge altar.
The High Temple (of Jupiter):
Over 300m long, 10 columns by 19 columns (for a total of 54), with an enormous staircase that allowed it to rise high above all the surrounding buildings, this is the most impressive building in Baalbek. It's columns are the largest in the world (22.9m high with girth of 2.2m) and were thought to have been built by giants in ancient times. Only six remain standing in original form, and the building blocks used to construct the temple are some of the biggest anywhere (one alone is 19.5m by 4.3m). The views over the Temple of Bacchus are superb.
The Temple of Bacchus (actually a temple to Venus):
Bacchus, said to be connected to Baal of old and his consort Astarte (Venus/Aphrodite), the rituals of the era performed in their honor shocked visitors with public sexual displays and prostitution within the temple, not to mention wine! Completed around 150 AD and very well-preserved, this temple has some of the most beautiful decoration that exists in the Roman world. Though called the 'small temple' in antiquity it is larger than the Parthenon in Athens. 30 flights of stairs with 3 landings lead up to the main area of portico with 8 columns by 15 columns along the sides. Decorated with lions, bulls, Mars, winged Victory, arrow -appointed Diana, Vulcan with hammer, Bacchus and Ceres with a sheaf of corn, it is very beautiful and diverse.
Source: Lonely Planet Syria & Lebanon 2nd Edition 2004