Two Seas at Tarifa; Roman Ruins in Bolonia

Posted on April 5, 2007 by Holly Hayes
Part of: Southern Spain and Morocco

After our adventures in Gibraltar, we took advantage of our rental car and spent the rest of the afternoon driving along the coast towards the west. The scenery was beautiful after we passed Algeciras - lots of rolling hills and trees. Most of the hills were covered in windmills, which was so impressive. Apparently it is one of the biggest wind farms in Europe.

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Our first stop was Tarifa, a port town where we had planned to stay instead of Algeciras, but the hotels were all booked. It is a fairly small town but has boomed in popularity in recent years for its excellent windsurfing conditions (which also means poor sunbathing conditions) and as an alternative port for Morocco. Tarifa has been a fairly major port for centuries and it is said the word "tariff" is named for it.

We parked at the ferry port and hoped not to get towed, then wandered around the harbor and town a bit.

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The main attraction of the town is the port and the beach, but there is also a historic castle:

Tarifa Castle (left) and ferry boat to Tangier. In the far distance you can see windmills on the hill.

Tarifa Castle dates from the early 13th century, I believe. Its main claim to fame is as the site of a famous episode that took place in 1296, shortly after Tarifa was conquered from the Moors (Muslims). Don Alonso Pérez de Guzmán was put in charge of the city, but his rebellious brother Don Juan (no, not that Don Juan) sided with the Moors and they tried to retake Tarifa.

Don Juan had Guzmán's infant son and threatened to kill him if Guzmán did not surrender Tarifa. From the castle, Guzmán is said to have shouted back, "I did not beget a son to be made use of against my country, but that he should serve her against her foes. Should Don Juan put him to death, he will but confer honour on me, true life on my son, and on himself eternal shame in this world and everlasting wrath after death." Guzman then threw his own knife down for the besiegers to use in killing his son, and went back inside.

Sadly, the reverse psychology wasn't persuasive: Don Juan killed the infant. But the Moors were horrified at Don Juan's atrocity and gave up the siege. Guzmán's decision has been regarded in Spain as a great act of heroism and sacrifice, and he is known as Guzmán El Bueno, "the Good."

There is another castle-like monument near the beach, but I haven't been able to identify it yet:

tarifa castle

We looked for something to eat in town but as usual it was an odd hour (3:30 or something) so no restaurants were open. We settled for an ice cream cone instead, which we ate at outdoor tables protected by hefty plastic walls that whipped in the wind. The ice cream was delicious.

Then we headed back to our car, but before leaving we drove down a pier that looked interesting, and we were glad we did! It gave us the opportunity to stand between the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean, which was great cheesy fun.

What was really interesting, though, was just how different the two sides were. The Med looked like it always does - blue and peaceful - and so did the Atlantic - rough and cold.

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The pier, with the Atlantic on the left and Mediterranean Sea on the right.

mediterranean sea at tarifa
The Mediterranean outside our window.

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The Mediterranean Sea.

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The Atlantic side.

The beach at Tarifa is all on the Atlantic side and is large and wonderfully sandy, but the fences and windsurfers indicate how windy it is! So not a great place for sunbathing, but on a clear day you can see Morocco from here!

windsurfers at tarifa

From Tarifa we continued our scenic drive west, with improving weather.

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Our next stop was Bolonia, a tiny seaside (Atlantic Ocean) village out in the middle of the countryside with ancient Roman ruins. To our great sadness, the ruins were closed for the day. But we still got to peer over the fences and get a general idea of the site. What a beautiful location!

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This Roman city was called Baelo Claudia and it flourished from about 200 BCE to 200 CE, based on the fishing industry. It especially did well with its fish sauce, which was a popular delicacy all over the Roman world.

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The beach was nice, too, and a little less windy than Tarifa.

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The restaurants here were also closed until Spanish dinner time - 7 or 8pm. But we did get to use the nice bathrooms of one of them.

Then we headed back to our hotel in Algeciras, where we had another nice dinner in the hotel restaurant and got ready to go to Morocco!