The Pillars of Hercules in Spain and Morocco

The Great Journey: The Pillars of Hercules

In accomplishing his tenth feat, Hercules reached the ends of the earth and made his way through the mountains. On each side of the resulting passage from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean he erected a pillar, marking the boundary of the known world. “Around the World” went to this “boundary” and realized that it is still not symbolic.

The entrance to the Strait of Gibraltar on the African side is guarded by the bustling, colorful, almost indistinguishable from neighboring Moroccan cities of Spain, Ceuta. Exactly opposite, 20 kilometers across the sea, on the European coast, rooted on a rock quite unlike the Spanish – neat and practical – British Gibraltar. The two semi-enclaves on the site of the mythical Pillars of Hercules have lived in similar conditions for the past three centuries, but with different results. Today in African Spain, under the shadow of dozens of mosques, shuttle trade and illegal immigration flourish. The Spanish call it good neighborliness. In Spanish Britain, bitcoins are sold in ATMs and nuclear submarines are repaired. The British call it common sense. There is no direct connection between these concepts, nor is there a direct connection between the cities. Only through the Spanish city of Algeciras.

Shuttle diplomacy.

The first thing one sees when arriving by ferry from Algeciras to the port of Ceuta is a sign in Spanish and Arabic: “Border. This is not inconsistent with the impression most Spaniards have of Ceuta as a solid border zone between Africa and Europe.

The suit-wearing passenger who disembarked with me exchanges his boots for rubber flip-flops and walks briskly under the sign, bending under the weight of his bulky suitcase. I follow him.

Past the port hangars, along the ancient defensive walls with the cathedral towers visible above them, along the narrow isthmus, with the Atlantic to the left and the Mediterranean to the right, we find ourselves in the center. On the front of the central market hangs an ornate inscription in Spanish: “Happy Ramadan!” Nearby, at the bus stop, women in hijabs and djellabas are crowding with huge bales.

A passenger in flip-flops mingles with the crowd that brings me onto the Market to Border bus. Here I am alone with my head uncovered and no Arabic. The bus catches up with a river of bag-laden pedestrians who wanted to save 85 euro cents on the fare to the Spanish-Moroccan border. Before the customs inspection point on the Spanish side, the stream breaks up and rolls off into a trash-covered plaza. As I get off the bus, I am confused and stop.

– You can’t stand here! Either we go to Morocco or back to Ceuta,” shouts the border guard in charge of the flow. He tries to establish order among the babbling Moroccan women who have dedicated themselves to the shuttle trade, a semi-legal but most prosperous branch of the local economy. It survives the neighboring Moroccan settlements and the Spanish port-franco of Ceuta, which has no one else to sell its duty-free goods. – Girl! Yes, yes, you, in the blue trousers, with the linens! I just sent you away, we don’t allow textiles until 12am,” the border guard shouts first in Spanish, then in Arabic.

The Ancient Roman Salter.

After struggling to make my way through the crowd of currency dealers, obsessively offering dirhams for euros, I walk back. This is clearly not the border through which, judging by the news, crowds of illegal migrants arrive in Europe. As we move further away from the checkpoint, the tea and hookah houses give way to coffee shops and beer gardens. In the city center, unexpectedly well-kept and spacious, you can finally see the real Spain. On a shopping street with colonial buildings and the usual Zara and Mango, typical Spanish grandmothers stroll around. In the seaside park, built on six hectares of reclaimed land from the sea, the townspeople splash in the pools with ocean water and sipping cocktails on lounge chairs under the palm trees. At the Shrine of Our Lady of Africa, the patron saint of Ceuta, generals stand at Mass for Spanish Army Day.

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The military is in decline because of defense budget cuts, but the exalted patriotism remains. According to polls, the inhabitants of two Spanish enclaves in Morocco, Ceuta and Melilla (220 kilometers east of Ceuta), are more proud of their Spanish citizenship than anyone else in the country.

– “The caballas are the most Spanish Spaniards,” confirms Isa, 30, seconded by the local tour office to accompany me. “Caballas” ( caballa means “mackerel”) are called the inhabitants of Ceuta because this fish abounds in the city’s waters and the citizens’ diet. Fishing is the only non-service activity here. And as old as the myth of the Pillars of Hercules: archaeologists have recently unearthed a “fish factory” where the Romans salted mackerel to sell to seafarers entering the port. In Ceuta, fish is still preserved in the ancient Roman way – it is hung out to dry on the seashore. In addition to the recipe for curing, the city has inherited its name from the Romans: the name Ceuta is thought to come from the Latin septem, “seven”, the number of local hills.

BP: Herculean Pillars – Ceuta

Isa and I climb the fortress walls, a remnant of the Portuguese who took the city in 1415. Countless conquerors who came from the sea built city walls here, at the narrowest point of the isthmus that connects Ceuta to the African mainland. Powerful Portuguese bastions erected on Roman and Arab fortifications bristle with rusty medieval cannons facing inland.

– Ceuta became part of the Spanish Empire in 1580 along with Portugal. Less than a century later, the Portuguese seceded, but the Ceutians didn’t want to – Isa thinks they were right to do so. She herself was born in Granada, but her father bought a pharmacy across the strait and the family moved to the African continent. It has a great climate and an excellent tax regime. Residents of the enclave pay no VAT, and a ferry ticket to Spain costs them eight euros versus 28.50 for non-residents. For a helicopter, it’s 15. There is no other chance to get to the motherland. In a storm, the “mackerel” wait by the sea for days.

– I wish we had an airport. But we have no room for it, the border is over there,” Isa waves his hand to where the cannons are looking. Along the wooded slope the notorious “Seut Wall” loops in a thin strip – eight kilometers of border fortifications, with two passages on either side: the customs checkpoint at Tarakhal on the Mediterranean, where I could not get to it, and in the village of Bensu on the coast of the Straits.

– In Bensu, you can get up close to the wall if you feel like it. It’s a lovely neighborhood, mostly Muslim,” says Isa, who takes great pride in the peaceful coexistence of her city’s religions and ethnicities. – I highly recommend the tea shop across from the mosque.

Stumbling blocks

The mosque in Bensu is not much different from the 40 others in Ceuta, along with 15 Catholic churches, a synagogue, and a Hindu temple. Isa’s recommended teahouse is closed, and Muslim men in rubber flip-flops are tinkering in the courtyards of colorful clay shanties. Colorful Moroccan fabrics ripple and the smell of cumin and turmeric. A Muslim woman drops schoolchildren out of her Mercedes, scolding them loudly in Arabic. The children snap back in Spanish.

A similar mosque and colored shanty towns run down the mountainous shore on the other side of a small cove. It is divided in half by a wire fence, indicating that those huts are already the Moroccan village of Belunesh. Only its residents with a work permit from Ceuta can pass through the local checkpoint. Outsiders like me have no right to be in the border zone, but the bored Spanish officer is happy to chat when no one is around.

As we chat, I sneak a peek at the border fortifications, which look quite frail compared to the powerful Portuguese redoubts. Two rows of metal netting eight meters high with barbed wire on top. The distance between the rows is three meters. Television usually shows several hundred black intruders climbing the fence, hoping to jump onto Spanish soil where they are safe. Five years ago, under pressure from European Union human rights organizations, it was forbidden to return defectors “hot on their heels” to Morocco. Instead, they are sent to the newly-built high rise in Ceuta, the Refugee Reception Center.

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– It’s not ours, not Moroccans, who come over, but those who come from Black Africa south of the Sahara,” the defender of Europe’s southernmost frontiers explains to me. In spite of his responsibilities and the occasional night alarm, he does not dream of a transfer. – I volunteered here ten years ago. I got married, they gave me an apartment. And my parents are close – in Cadiz,” the officer points a finger in the direction of the Spanish coast, over the mountain.

This mountain above the Moroccan half of the bay is called Dead Woman by the Seutians for its similar silhouette, and by the Moroccans as Jebel Musa (842 m). It disputes the title of Hercules’ Pillar from Seut Mountain Acho (204 m). This terribly infuriates the Ceutians, who believe that their neighbors already have too many unreasonable claims.

– The territories in Africa belonged to Spain long before Morocco was even formed – boils my interlocutor – and about the pole there’s nothing to talk about: look at our coat of arms!

At the beginning of the 16th century, the Spanish Emperor Charles I put a symbolic image of the two Pillars of Hercules on his coat of arms, which were allegedly destroyed by the Arab general Tarik, who conquered the Kingdom of the Visigoths in the 8th century. It is his name that carries the rock of Gibraltar (from Jebel Tarik, Arabic for “mountain of Tarik”) on the European coast. As for the African continent, myths and legends give no indication of a specific elevation. Be that as it may, both entrances to the Strait of Gibraltar did belong to the Spanish crown. Until 1704 when Anglo-Dutch forces captured the one on the Spanish side. Since then the Rock of Gibraltar has been a British overseas territory of six square kilometers.

To get to the British enclave, you must return to Algeciras. The first ferry leaves at 6:00. The huge African sun rises from the Mediterranean Sea. Two men in neoprene suits jump into the golden harbor waters splashing by the boards. The sailing is delayed. “There is a suspicion of men in the engines,” the sailor throws in briefly. The delay bothers no one but me. Even the drivers of the four ambulances carrying patients to the Big Land don’t show impatience. They know that those 15 minutes can save them hours, because people trying to cross Gibraltar in screw-bays tend to become ambulance clients afterward. That’s if the illegals are lucky. The Strait of Gibraltar is very treacherous because of the multidirectional currents.

After about ten minutes, the divers emerge, dragging two dark-skinned boys, who look no older than fifteen years. Water trickles down from them, their faces invisible, but their backs expressively say, “Tomorrow we’ll try the trucks. That means they’ll lie down, covered by tarps, on top of the covered body, risking being flattened against the top bar of the ferry’s transport aperture. There’s a reason they climbed over the Seut Wall!

Controversial abroad.

Those arriving from Algeciras at the bus terminal of the town of La Linea de la Concepción, adjacent to Gibraltar, are greeted by a sign: “Border.” The sign directly contradicts the position of official Madrid. Since Gibraltar quietly snatched in the XIX century non-treaty isthmus connecting the rock to the mainland, Spain does not recognize the current Spanish-British border and calls it a barrage.

A long line of Linea residents stands in the passage through the “barrier.” Every day Spanish guest workers increase the 30,000-strong population of the British enclave by half. At the exit you have to wait again, because you can only get into town by a narrow isthmus (that very, controversial one), and it is crossed by an airstrip. Unlike the romantic Southerners practical Gibraltarians on the reclaimed meters from the sea did not build a park, but an airfield, back in 1939. You can fly from here to London, Manchester, Bristol and Casablanca.

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Behind the runway, Emily’s guide is waiting for me with a car. “Take as tu Europe Point, por favor,” she says to the driver. – Muchas sensu!” Gibraltarians consider English their native tongue, but in everyday life they often speak “spanglish,” and with a distinctive South Spanish accent.

On the Cape of Europe, which in the Middle Ages was considered the southernmost continental marker (in fact, it is the Spanish Tarifa), also did not do without the ancient cannon, which looks at the port of Ceuta. Its range, however, was only enough to mark the extent of Gibraltar’s territorial waters, which Spain does not recognize.

In English, gracefully evading uncomfortable questions about the disputed waters, about the United Nations list of decolonization zones that include Gibraltar, about near offshore tax incentives, Emily shows me the rainwater collection system on the eastern side of the cliff and the registry office where John Lennon and Yoko Ono got married. In Spanish, she reacts emotionally only when I ignorantly call Gibraltarians English.

– We are not Englishmen, we are British! – My guide proudly exclaims. – Or lianito.

The nickname “llanito” is sarcasm. In Spanish the word means “inhabitant of the plain. The largest part of the British enclave is the rock (426 meters). Formed of limestone, it looks like a huge anthill, dug by tunnels of different purposes, the total length of more than 50 kilometers. In the 150 caves – fuel depots, underground shelters, a museum of Neanderthal man, and in the largest – St. Michael – arranged concert hall with acoustics no worse than the Albert Hall, according to Emily. It is also where they hold receptions for distinguished guests.

True, the highest and most desirable guests have not visited their disputed overseas territory for a long time. The last time Queen Elizabeth II was in 1954, leaving an indelible mark in the hearts of her subjects. Especially by the fact that from her hand she fed the most precious thing that Gibraltarians have – Berberian macaques. The queen would now be fined £500 for that.

Lots of wild monkeys.

In Her Majesty’s footsteps, we head to the monkey sanctuary atop the mountain. A large tailless macaque, to the great glee of the passengers, habitually hops into the minivan window, right in the driver’s lap. He gently strokes the primate and secretly, at the risk of being fined, feeds him a harvested peanut. Gibraltarians are reverent about the macaws, the only members of the monkey family in Europe living in the wild. Most likely, the macaws were imported by the Moors from northern Africa. The British, however, took the Magots as a sign of their exclusivity, and a local belief says that Gibraltar must be British as long as there are a lot of wild monkeys there. In 1942, Sir Winston Churchill was very concerned that the population had dwindled to seven specimens and personally ordered to immediately replenish it with specimens from Morocco.

– Now there are almost three hundred of them, so we are calm,” says Emily. – Until the military garrison pulled out in 1991, the magots were in the care of the Armed Forces. If the monkeys were sick, they were put in a military hospital. Now a special society takes care of the animals.

The souvenir shop sells toy Magothas for 7.99 Gibraltar pounds, which are equal to pounds sterling, but are only used here. There is no exchange office nearby, and euros are not accepted. One has to admire the live monkeys, which, cheeky as they are, literally land on your head. And also the views from the platform, equipped with a marble plaque, informing that from this point Her Majesty Elizabeth II overlooked Gibraltar. From here you can see the beach with orange sand, which was brought from the Sahara when Spain, in another fit of rage, refused to sell its own to the “damned colonizers.” Literally at the water’s edge towers new residential areas on the bulk of the ground (here the newlyweds are given an interest-free loan to buy an apartment), and the enorma of glass and metal – the new World Trade Center. And just beyond it, at the docks, you can see the barely visible hull of the U.S. nuclear submarine, which has called at a friendly port for repairs.

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After ditching our car, which was stuck in traffic, Emily and I take the cable car down into town. On pedestrian Main Street, passengers of a day-old Scandinavian cruise liner are flitting around in light-colored clothes past red phone booths and red mailboxes. They happily order sangria and paella – in Spain, after all! Spanish tourists from adjoining resorts press their lips together and take fish-and-chips with ale – still in Great Britain! Both look out for jewelry storefronts, most of whose owners wear kippahs.

The small – less than a thousand people – but affluent Jewish diaspora has as many as four synagogues in Gibraltar. An elderly Jew behind the counter explains: “When space is scarce, as it is with us, it doesn’t mean you can’t find it, it just costs a lot.

Gibraltarians make up for the lack of physical space with virtual space. For every resident of the enclave, including newborns, there are two registered companies. Almost 17 of the 60,000 firms are betting shops. Online gambling is the fourth-largest industry in the local economy.

BP: Herculean Pillars – Gibraltar

In the run-up to Brexit, many gambling houses licensed in Gibraltar are looking across the Straits. Ceuta is willing to accept them on favorable terms. Gibraltarians, who voted almost unanimously against leaving the EU in a referendum, are wary of remaining in isolation, but they believe there will be a solution. I am beginning to suspect that there is, when at the exit, in front of the checkpoint, I see a strange ATM machine. On closer inspection, it turns out that I can buy bitcoins for cash. It is also possible to pay with them – in the nearby health food restaurant Supernatural. Gibraltar recently passed the world’s first cryptocurrency legislation, which protects all participants in this fast-growing sector.

I cross the “roadblock” in the opposite direction during my lunch break. Under the arrow marked SPAIN, Spanish migrant workers hurry to get a cheaper lunch in their homeland. Right at the exit they are greeted by a spirit-laden monument, “Spanish Workers in Gibraltar,” depicting a toiler with a bicycle, who looks on with mute reproach at the colonizers. The workers, not sharing the feelings of their bronze comrade, carry cartons of cigarettes and packets from the British supermarket Morrisons past him. They, too, are against Brexit, which would deprive them of the ability to cross the “fence” without hindrance, and thus of jobs and salaries several times higher than the average Spanish.

I hear them discussing their options at the bar over lunch. “If the Gibraltarians get out of Europe, they can’t live here. Let the queen set them free, and then they’ll join the EU,” the redheaded boy argues. Apparently, he does not know that, under the Treaty of Utrecht of 1713, if the metropolis gives up its last colony in Europe, it is likely to be part of Spain.

In the early twentieth century, the practical British and impulsive Spaniards thought of swapping pillars by exchanging Gibraltar for Ceuta. But it went no further than plans and commissions. So, like the last three centuries, the enclaves still stare blankly at each other. And only 30 million migratory birds twice a year freely pass a couple of tens of kilometers over the disputed waters and borders, connecting the coasts, once dashingly bred by Hercules.

To the Pillars of Hercules. Spanish Tarifa.

The day after my visit to Gibraltar, I took a morning bus from La Linea de la Concepción to the town of Tarifa. From here there are ferries to Morocco’s Tangier. In Tarifa itself, the attractions include a small old town with an ancient fortress, and, most importantly, the southernmost point of continental Europe, Cape Marroquois, aka Cape Tarifa, is located here.

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As the bus travels along the highway, just a huge number of windmills appear on the surrounding mountains. Not without reason Tarifa is fancied by surfers – the wind blows very strongly here

This is what Tarifa looks like from the air. Postcard

This is the island in the photo, which is the southernmost point of continental Europe, Cape Marroqui.

Wikipedia reports the following about Cape Marroqui:

Located on the outskirts of the city of Tarifa. Technically it is in the southwestern part of the former island of Las Palomas, connected to the mainland by a causeway. The southern tip of the cape is at almost 36 degrees north latitude.

The cape is at the narrowest point of the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. The distance to the African coast is 14 km.

The island of Las Palomas is entirely occupied by the military and public access to Cape Marroqui is closed. There is a lighthouse on the cape, built there in 1826.

Indeed, it was impossible to get to the island, at the end of the causeway I ran into a locked gate where only local police cars were allowed in unobstructed.

The Boundary of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic

It’s thought that to the left of this isthmus is still the Mediterranean Sea, and to the right the Atlantic Ocean

On the sea the wind was raging. It lifted clouds of sand from the beach, so that to take photos, so as not to spoil the camera, we could do it only from a shelter.

Here better to see how the water floods the isthmus

From aside it might seem that this is some old castle. But no. It is actually an observation tower, built in 1931 to signal passing ships with a flag semaphore. It was built in the same style as the nearby El Gusman fortress, hence its appearance. During the Civil War, in 1937, it was destroyed by the Republican artillery and remained in ruins for years. In 1972 it was rebuilt and there was a meteorological station. And only in 2001, the tower was given to the city.

The old city gate. Above the entrance is the dedication of Sancho IV the Bold.

In the center of Tarifa, at the entrance to the fortress, there is a monument to King Sancho IV the Bold, who recaptured Tarifa from the Arabs during the Reconquista.

The story about this king is this. In the beginning he was not a king at all, but a usurper. The fact is that King Alfonso X of Castile had an eldest son, Fernando de la Cerda, but he died unexpectedly. He was left with two young children and younger brothers Sancho and Juan. According to the law, the throne passed from father to son, which meant that Alfonso X’s grandson Alfonso de la Cerda was to be the next king. But Sancho did not want to give power to his minor nephew and declared himself king.

Does the situation remind you of anything?

When King Robert Baratheon died, he was left with two minor sons, Joffrey and Tommen, and two brothers, Stannis and Renly. Both brothers did not want to obey and declared themselves kings. A civil war for the Iron Throne began:)

There was a civil war here as well, though not as bloody. Sancho eventually defeated his opponents, and in 1292 he took back Tarifa from the Arabs. His brother Juan, allied with the Arabs, in 1294, tried to capture Tarifa, but without success. During that siege, the king’s commander, Alonso Pérez de Guzmán, distinguished himself. Juan demanded the surrender of the castle, threatening to kill Guzmán’s son, but he refused and preferred to sacrifice his son’s life rather than betray the king. For this he later won the title of Count of Medina Sidonia and went down in history as “El Bueno. The castle now bears his name and there is a monument to him in the park across the street.

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