Beaches, legends, castles, walks under palm trees and the Mediterranean light. Doesn’t it sound great? Well, these are only a few of the things that are waiting for you in Alicante, the city where our traditional Christmas turrón (a hard almond nougat) comes from.
We can understand why a place like this, facing the sea and with some hills ideal for its defence, had all the attractions of the world for the people of ancient times. So it is not strange that in this area there are remains of Iberian settlements, nor that both Romans and Muslims found the place very appealing. So appealing that according to Dutch tradition, Santa Claus comes from this city whose patron saint, Saint Nicolas, is celebrated on December 6.
However, today's Alicante begins with the conquest of Alfonso X in the thirteenth century. Sometime later, in the times of the Catholic Monarchs, it was granted the status of a city, and a long period of growth and prosperity began which would bring it to our days, converted into a tourist destination of great importance. Pirates and enemy fleets no longer arrived by sea, and the only thing that is shot today from the fortifications are the tourists' cameras.
The beaches of Saladar, Postiguet, the vast sandy area of San Juan or the port zone are charms that are well in sight. But higher up, the steep and colourful narrow streets of Alicante's old part twist around the slopes that descend from Santa Barbara's Castle. It is essential to walk through these streets, as it is to climb up to the fortress to enjoy the view that opens up before us from such a mysterious place, which has even served to shoot a few films about Count Dracula.
But before taking the elevator to climb Mount Benacantil, the mass that this Castle of Santa Barbara crowns, you must also observe it from below to see the famous Cara del Moro. According to the legend, it is the face of an Arab governor who lived in the fortification and did not allow his beautiful daughter, Cántara, to marry Ali, the young man she was in love with. The story, naturally, ended in tragedy: The Caliph had decided that Cántara had to belong to another man to whom she was given. Ali could not bear the pain and threw himself down a ravine. Cántara could not bear it either and threw herself into the sea from a cliff, today known as "The Leap of the Moorish Queen"… but wait because the tragedy is not over yet … The Caliph could not bear the grief and the remorse either and decided to throw himself down the mountain. The next day, to the astonishment of all the inhabitants, his effigy appeared miraculously sculpted in the rock… and this is the legend of love about Ali and Cántara, the one that names the city of Alicante.
Although this petrified face is, indeed, one of the town's symbols, do not think that it is short of more monumental heritage. The Gothic church of Santa María, the church-cathedral of San Nicolás, and several convents and hermitages are added to the fortresses of San Fernando and Santa Bárbara, and to illustrious civil buildings such as the Palace of Gravina, now the Museum of Fine Arts, or the Casa de la Asegurada, the oldest building in the city and which today serves as the Museum of Contemporary Art.
Every one of its stones has a history behind them. Still, it is perhaps the Baroque palace, that serves as the town hall, the one that boasts the most of a unique peculiarity: it is the reference point for measuring the altitude above sea level of all locations in Spain. I bet you didn't know that, did you?