For quite a few years now, on my regular pilgrimages to the Tarifa coast, I’ve often got stuck in the traffic bottle neck at the lights on the edge of the port town of Algeciras. It’s a sad little stretch of road; the high speed toll AP7 motorway and the coast A7 highway meet and become a congested jam for a few kilometres before one can escape and head out towards the light, space and, yes the wind of the Costa de la Luz.
Yet, this week, we decided to break with tradition and take a left before the lights and head through the tunnel to Algeciras! I have to admit I have taken the ferry once to Morocco from here, but have never checked out the town – maybe it’s unfair but I had written it off.
Algeciras, as the name indicates(from the Arabic Al Jazeera),was always an important part of the Islamic empire in Europe, and its strategic position at the mouth of the Mediterranean, and at Europe’s closest point to Africa means Algeciras is still a major port. In fact it’s within the top 20 in the world. When Franco closed the frontier between Spain and Gibraltar for over a decade, his regime attempted to counter the huge negative economic impact on the area by aggressively industrialising the area. So now sadly there is a petro chemical and refinery on this once stunning piece of coast, belching filth out into the atmosphere. Despite this, the huge natural bay is still a great place to spot dolphins.
Plaza Alta, at the centre of town has a certain charm, with its ceramic benches and ornamentation, and the few renovated properties. It is dominated by the striking Iglesia de Palma, but take a moment to enter the tiny chapel, Capilla de Nuestra Señora de Europa, at the bottom of the square, it so beautiful inside.
But sadly many of the period buildings have been destroyed and replaced with ugly housing blocks and many of those that are left have fallen into disrepair.
Yet having said all this, Algeciras isn’t that bad and we had interesting morning break on our way to the beach!