Day 102 of 111. Casablanca, Morocco
Of course, the first place that comes to mind when you say Casablanca is Rick’s Cafe from the movie, Casablanca. Rick’s Cafe is fictional, but there IS a cafe built especially for tourists. I can see now the strategic importance of Casablanca. The city is on the continent of Africa, but just on the sea coast below Spain and Portugal in the Atlantic Ocean. My eye was also caught by the stop sign written in Arabic.
The Hassan II Mosque, Casablanca
Our tour included a short photo stop at this huge Mosque. It is the third largest in the world and can hold thousands of people inside and even more in the courtyard outside. Unfortunately, we did not stay to see the inside of the mosque which was reportedly incredible, and judging from the outside, I can believe it. As we approached the huge minaret, it did not seem to get any closer. I wish my picture could convey the feeling of awe that this building inspires.
We had the opportunity to visit the royal palace of King Mohammed VI. The palace is where official business is accomplished. The King has a royal palace and a royal residence in several cities in Morocco. King Mohammed VI is a young king and a very popular successor to his father (King Mohammed V) who molded this country and instilled a culture of religious tolerance. The King’s wife is also popular and has been given the title of Princess since, unlike traditional wives, she is active in good works for her country. The architecture of the palace doors as well as the materials used were impressive and interesting to see. The doors on the Guest Entrance (upper left picture) are made of yellow copper and brass. The pillars on either side are Carrara marble topped with plaster work of fine detail. The roof is cedar and mosaic tiles create interesting patterns. On the streets near the palace the street lights have a distinctive pattern. They looked to me like olive leaves.
Day 101 of 111. Cadiz, Spain
After our overland trip to Madrid, we met the ship in Cadiz on the west coast of Spain in the early afternoon. We had a few hours to explore the town which was within walking distance of the port. We visited Cadiz on Holy Saturday. In this predominantly Catholic country, the days before Easter feature processions, so there were many balconies decorated with deep red cloth banners and several of the city streets contained boxes for seats or at least chairs lining the sidewalks. Looking down the fountain in one of the city squares, we could see the cathedral where the processions began and ended.
As today is the Saturday after Good Friday, the procession here in Cadiz was very short. It began at 3:00 pm and processed on various city streets where it arrived at the cathedral at about 4:00 pm where we saw it. It was lead by a local Naval Cadet band, followed by the “pilgrims” in their multicolored robes as penitents. Next came the huge silver cross. Notice the cross-bearer is barefoot! Then we saw the main float which was a silver and glass casket containing the crucified body of Christ. A couple of the local school girls carried cushions with replicas of the crown of thorns and nails. They were followed by various officials walking in the parade, and finally the float of the Virgin Mary. Notice the feet showing under the float. There were probably 40 people or more carrying the float on their shoulders for the whole time. And did I mention, it was in the mid 80s outside. Who knows how hot it got under the float. Once the procession passed us, it proceeded to enter the Cathedral through the large front doors.
Ron took a tour of the cathedral that is visible from outside the city. In the Sacristy or robing room of the church you can see an El Greco painting, “El Expolio” or “The Disrobing of Christ”. The gold structure is called the “Monstrance” and is the vessel in which the Eucharist is carried during special processions. It is about 10 feet tall (with the base) and is made of 40 pounds of gold and 400 pounds of silver! This cathedral is known for a relic, a stone where the Virgin Mary stood while presenting a vestment to Saint Ildefonso for his special devotion to her. The stone is in a box with a little window below a relief that illustrates the presentation.
The high altar is behind a huge fence. The five-story wall behind the altar is covered with carvings of events in the life of Christ. One more impressive sight is the painting of Joseph with his son, Jesus. This painting is 35 feet tall.
Day 100 of 111. Toledo, Spain
From Madrid it is about a 45 minute drive to Toledo. This is an Medieval town originally surrounded by a large wall for defense. Even from a distance, we can see two iconic buildings, the Alcazar and the Cathedral. We had to leave our bus outside the city walls and walk in due to the narrow and winding streets. High up on a hill (tough climb) we briefly visited a church. This is Good Friday and preparations are being made for processions through the city. Behind the church is a monastery (San Juan de Los Reyes) with a strange but striking skeleton over the entrance. Inside are two layers of beautiful cloisters surrounding a peaceful garden. This church was built by Isabella (Ferdinand and Isabella). Toledo has a history that dates way back. At one point, the Christians, the Muslims, and the Jews coexisted in Toledo very nicely. The Jewish Quarter in town is marked with small tiles of Hebrew words and menorahs. In Roman times, the Hebrew scholars were extremely useful in translating the Ancient Greek texts into other languages.
Before and during Isabella’s coming to power the expulsion of the Jews from Toledo occurred. We visited two former synagogues buildings that still exist. Both were built with the help of the Muslims and show the style of their culture. One of the synagogues survived because it was transformed into a Catholic Church. All of the decoration inside was covered with plaster. The building is now a museum and much of the original finishes have been restored. There are no synagogues in Toledo. The former synagogues are now museums useful for the Spanish to learn about this faith.
Next to the water, there is a monument to El Greco… the site of his former home. We got to visit a small church with a huge, famous painting by El Greco that shows the miracle of the burial of the man who built the church. Two saints appeared at his burial to help lay him in his tomb. El Greco was commissioned to paint the picture 200 years after the scene it depicts.
We had some free time for lunch and wandering. We found an interesting restaurant (Casa de Cisneros) that was entered by climbing down a narrow, winding staircase. In the dining rooms, the floors were made of glass so you could see the original rock walls below. The sign at the front of the restaurant said, “Welcome to the XI century”. Ron had pork with Roquefort and I had rabbit!
Day 99 of 111. Madrid, Spain
One of the biggest attractions of this overland trip was the chance to spend some time in the Prada Museum. Unfortunatly, absolutely no photographs were allowed inside the museum. Ron had a list in his head of the masterpieces he was hoping to see and I think we saw at least 10 of them. Our guide was knowledgeable and we learned a lot about the Spanish painters, Velasquez (who did the painting above), Goya and Murillo. We also saw paintings by Rembrandt and Ron’s favorite El Greco (he was born on Crete in a house just a few miles from where we docked in Iraklion).
Paintings caught our eyes. “Fable” (Paul’s choice) by El Greco shows a boy blowing on an ember. The boy is surrounded by a monkey and a man with a foolish expression. I was attracted by the interesting use of light. A picture that impressed Ron was “The 3rd of May in Madrid” or “The Executions” by Goya which commemorates the Spanish Resistance to Napoleon during the Peninsular War in 1808. Goya painted the picture in 1814.