Posts Tagged With: History

Lecce, the Baroque Florence.

From all the travelers I personally know there are hardly any who have visited Lecce, the capital of Salento.  None the less those who did, all agree that it was a pleasant surprise and I cannot do anything else than join them in their astonishment.

    

Lecce, named the Baroque Florence, is a surprising city where the festoons and the solomonic columns of the buildings recently restored to be transformed into hotels or luxury B & B, coexist with the facades that illustrate the passage of time.  Attached angels, escutcheons and volutes corroded by the time give a unique character to this “Florence of the South”.  The historic center of Lecce is surrounded by its impressive walls and arched gates where me and just some few other tourists are walking aimlessly through the streets of the city of Salento enjoying their smells and sounds, and always with our eyes raised, being awed by the impressive Baroque façades. Just as in Rome and other Italian cities, is strolling through the streets of Lecce a delight, where I discover cul-de-sacs that house traditional workshops, or perhaps the study of a painter or a bakery with the typical sweets of the region. My visit to Lecce surprised me as few cities can do at this point.

Not as well-known as other Italian cities, this minor city bursts with a multitude of palaces (over 30), a duomo, 3 basilica, more than 30 churches and countless exquisite facades that beautifully decorate its neat streets. I`m lucky to have Giorgia as my local guide.  So I got stuffed with a bit of everything: history on the most ancient features such as the Roman amphitheater, Porta Napoli, Porta Rudiae, Porta San Biagio, Duomo di Maria Santissima Assunta, Piazza Sant’Oronzo,…, as well with art expositions, local customs and traditions, folktales, culinary highlights of the student nightlife, …

Giorgia took the time to show me her beloved city with such enthusiasm that I secretly fell in love with those cobblestones, those cast iron street lights, those stairs full of people having fun, those statues of saints looking down on us, watching us and blessing us.  Both, Giorgia and Lecce at daytime they’re magic but at night they bedazzle!

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Categories: Italy | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Casablanca; Morocco not the movie!

Not only was it the cheapest flight we could find from Sao Paolo but also the most convenient, as we had a 24 hours transit at Casablanca waiting another airplane. Diner, 4 stars hotel and breakfast offered by the flight company. So what for most people is a ‘no-go’ is for a low-cost backpacker a ‘can’t-refuse’.  Another stamp on the passport an here we go for our “Blitz-visit”.

With a population of almost 5 million, Casablanca is the largest, most liberal and progressive of Morocco’s cities. Its past interactions with different cultures, -founded by Berber fishermen around the tenth century, used by the Phoenicians, Romans, Merenids, to be destroyed and rebuilt again by the Portuguese who abandoned it after an earthquake. Then rebuild again at the hand of a Moroccan sultan but plagued by Spanish traders who established trading bases there and to finally get occupied by the French in 1907-, taught this city to cope with change and evolution.  Nothing in this city is truly endearing and that’s exactly the reason why you should visit it.  You’ll get the right idea that nobody expects travelers as other cities already serve very well that purpose.  Casablanca has a “medina” or walled old city of winding alleys, except here it’s smaller than most and quite run-down, with most shops devoted to day-to-day items that are of little interest to the tourist so do not expect immense labyrinthic medinas like Rabat, Fez or Marrakech have.  It does not offer a walk through the High Atlas and neither overnight camel ride through wavy, deep reddish-orange dunes. It’s not as characteristic as the blue city of Chefchaouen. It’s the unpretentiousness together with modernity, Moresque and Art Deco architecture that are the true delight.

Wandering through the city a traveler gets to see the real Morocco and not the well prepared tourist theaters as in other towns.  We haggle for some leather souvenirs without the typical scenes. At the Medina we try olives, dried fruits and spices without having to buy any.  The unforgiving nature of time forces us to go back to the hotel, the airport and eventually home.  Casablanca, it was nice to meet and greet and do not worry sooner or later we’ll be back!

Recommendations:

  • The Old Medina is nice cozy
  • The Hassan II mosque, one of the biggest mosques in the world and just at the waterside. Unlike most mosques in Morocco, non-Muslims are allowed inside, but only on guided tours for 10€ a person.
  • Mohammed V Boulevard, lined with buildings from the 1920s and 1940s, (2km from the Old Medina)
  • Square of Mohamed V
Categories: Morocco | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Potosí, the pearl of a Spanish empire

26-29/01/2014

On a deserted, windswept prairie amongst barren highlands at almost 4100MASL, Potosí is the highest city in the world, and once the most attractive and catastrophic place in Bolivia.  It owes its existence to mount Cerro Rico, which towers authoritatively above the city to the south. Cerro Rico was the richest source of silver the world had ever seen, its treasure turned Potosi into the sparkler of the Spanish emperors’ crown, and at the time into one of the world’s most prosperous and largest cities.  The mining city of San Luis Potosí in Mexico was named after Potosí in Bolivia and also in the United States, the name Potosí was optimistically given to mining towns in Wisconsin, Missouri and Nevada.  In Spanish language the expression ‘eso vale un Potosi’ still describes anything priceless.  The Potosí sign on the Spanish coins was so important and powerful that it became a worldwide symbol for money or value,… it’s what we know these days as the dollar sign.  On the other hand, this fortune was achieved at the cost of the lives of millions of indigenous forced labourers and African slaves.

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Today as we speak the body count goes on and while there is less silver to dig at, Cerro Rico goes along with modern times and vomits now, apart from other minerals as tin and boron, litio in the mine trolleys.  In Potosí, mining activity is an everyday thing, a way of living and a religion for those descending ‘the ravening beast that swallows men alive’ when offering coca leaves, cigarettes or pure alcohol to ‘El Tio, the Lord of the Underworld who rules the mineshafts.  The miner market can be found at the base of the mountain.  Apart from the usual mining tools, coca leaves and 96º alcohol are considered absolutely needed for the hard job.  Even more surprizing are the piles of dynamite sticks free for sale to anyone asking, waiting to be detonated in the mines… or not…, as nobody controls that the explosives indeed enter the mine!  Once inside, it is fascinating to see how a mine works, how deep inside the mountain men and youngsters are digging their way to their daily bread.  Than the guide shouts, everybody becomes one with the shaft wall as suddenly a heavy duty rusty mine cart appears out of the dark pushed by two of which we just can see their white eyes from under the helmet on a with dust covered face.

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Visiting the active mine is one of the highlights of Potosí but for those with fear of the dark, with claustrophobic issues, obsessed by security or health problems there is more to see in and around this city.  Potosí dresses the colonial look with well-maintained buildings, plazas, fountains and churches what makes it a beauty to walk through. It moves a balanced young nightlife on streets with lighted ancient facades and outstanding social graffiti.

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Potosí has highlands to discover all around with not a few possibilities to do some serious alpinism or better said andenism. Another of the possibilities that this city offers is ‘Ojo del Inca’, a 30 minute ride away with the microbus, where a natural pool with a stunning peak and valley view seduces the visitors with hot water and black mud containing mysterious healing power.

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Both, the city as an architectural wonder and its vibe that runs through the streets absorbed us for a few days.  A few amazing days…

 

Our recommendations:

-Hostal Koala is prepared for backpackers, offers a lot of information, organizes trips and excursions for the guests, an endless included breakfast at a long table makes it easy to get in contact with travellers to obtain info about trips and prices, a nice kitchen, TV-room, … for only 50Bs (5€)night/person.

Ojo Del Inca just costs 8Bs for 30 minutes of bus and it is a nice relax day out there.

-To visit the mines at Cerro Rico the traveller will find an infinite offer and a range of prices.  We did a good tour with an ex miner for about 3 hours underground.  Pay attention that the time of the tour is during the morning. Visitors offer gifts to the miners, some of them give dynamite which they use between visits of the morning and the afternoon.  The consequence of the explosions is dust and other particles in the air in the mine shafts.  We paid 40Bs a person.

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Categories: Bolivia | Tags: , , , | 2 Comments

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