Category Archives: History

History in Europe; from prehistoric times to modern history.

Photo Tour of the Alcazaba in Malaga, Spain

The Alcazaba in Malaga is the best preserved Moorish fortress in Spain. It was the palace of the city governors. Building started in the 8th century but most of the construction took place during the 11th century. It’s a really interesting Malaga attraction with wonderful views over the city. I visited on a Sunday afternoon after 2pm when it was free to enter. However, the standard admission fee is around 3 Euro, which is excellent value for money.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Floodlit Alcazaba

There is a lift up to the Alcazaba but it was out of order on the day I visited. I wasn’t planning on using it anyway. The ascent isn’t that steep but it’s on an uneven cobbled path. I took the turning to the right which offered scenic views over the city.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

View to City Hall and Malaga port from Alcazaba

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

View towards Malaga Bullring

I then doubled back and took the path up to the left which led me to a rose garden.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Rose Garden at the Alcazaba Malaga

Then it was upwards again.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Archway on path at Alcazaba

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Bath water feature at Alcazaba

At the next level there was another garden and public toilets.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Fountain at Alcazaba

A large wedding party appeared and they stared taking photos in this garden. It was fun to watch but a bit annoying, as I’d found a shady corner to check my own photos and had to move so as not to be in the wedding shots.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

The bride and groom pose at the Alcazaba

From the wall at the back of this garden you can see over to the mountains and Malaga Cathedral.

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

View towards mountains from the Alcazaba

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

View towards Malaga Cathedral from Alcazaba

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Intricate archways at Alcazaba

Malaga Attractions - Alcazaba Malaga

Pool at Alcazaba

If you’re staying in or close to Malaga, do visit the Alcazaba, it’s a beautiful historic building with great views. Also don’t miss a walk in Malaga Park and some time on Malagueta Beach.

Malaga is an underrated short break destination, with plenty to keep you occupied for 2 – 3 nights. If you’re looking for a cheap city break, there’s a wide choice of low cost airlines flying to Malaga and you can find good Malaga budget hotels from under £50 a night for a double room.

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Landmarks of Galicia – Tower of Hercules, La Coruna, Spain

While Barcelona, Madrid, Granada, and the Costa del Sol are the more popular tourist attractions of Spain, the region of Galicia in northwestern Spain offers a different look at Spanish life. While the region is most famous for its pilgrimage and cathedral in Santiago de Compestela, there is much to learn about Spanish life beyond the devout and spiritual traveling in Galicia.

La Coruña is the second largest city in Galicia and was once the capital of this northwestern province.  Situated on the northwest coast of Spain, it is a busy port town with an estuary located on a gulf in the Atlantic Ocean.  With its size and temperate marine climate, it’s a great stop for tourists to enjoy beaches, marine life, Galician culture, and surfing.  The city also has a number of historical sites with one of the main attractions being the Roman Tower of Hercules.

The Tower of Hercules is one of the city landmarks in La Coruña.  Nearly 2,000 years old, it is a UNESCO World Heritage site and is a symbol of the the La Coruña spirit.  57 meters high, it is the second tallest lighthouse in Spain and also one of the oldest existing ones in the world.

The lighthouse stands on the northwest part of the city and is not a signal for safe harbor from the North or West.  The lighthouse is thought to be a guide for traffic coming in from the Atlantic.  Since this area is known as the “coast o death” for ships, the lighthouse protects and guides ships coming into this port city in a dangerous part of the ocean.

On land, people get a different viewpoint of the lighthouse.  Around the tower are sculptures, green space, a visitor’s center, numerous walking paths up to the lighthouse, and a large compass.  While many people pay to visit the tower and climb to the top for the view, others come just to walk around and experience the view of La Coruña and look out on the Atlantic Ocean.

Exploring this landmark of La Coruña reminds you that Spain’s history goes beyond that of the Moors and its sun-soaked beaches.  Galicia is a region of Spain rich in history and with a culture all its own.  The Tower of Hercules and La Coruña allow you to enjoy a maritime climate in a port city of Spain, far away from the more traditional, touristy parts of Spain.

You can find the best deals at hotel in La Coruna on the HotelsCombined price comparison site.

You can read more about the attractions and landmarks of Galicia these posts:

Dublinia - Things to do in Dublin

Catching up with the Vikings in Dublin

Dublin is a Viking town.  Or was a Viking town at least.  It’s an impressive history that dates back over a thousand years and involves Viking settlers (or marauders depending on whom you ask) and Irish heroes (or villains, depending on whom you ask).

Dublinia - Things to do in Dublin


Dublinia, the Viking and Medieval museum in Dublin explains this very history.  Despite my love of nearly all things Scandinavian, I did not set out to visit Dublinia.  In fact, I set out to visit Christ Church Cathedral and a mummified cat and rat.  Lucky for me, the two are connected by a foot bridge and a combined ticket price.  Just 11 EUR for adults and 8.50 EUR for students.

I’m a sucker for Vikings and thought it just as well to check out both.  And I did.  And quickly realized that, while an impressive museum in its own right, much of the museum was geared towards a younger audience.  And I’m getting old.  Had I been about 12 or a little younger, this would have been right up my alley.

The museum has quite a few different exhibitions focusing on everything from the history of the Viking Age to the archeology of it.  There are even a few people wandering around in period clothing.  And, to top it all off, there is a medieval game room.  I’ll be honest; this was the part that, despite my earlier complaint about getting old, kept my attention the longest.

Mummified cat & rat at Christ Church Cathedral

As I mentioned, it sometimes seems like it is catering to children rather than adults, but all in all, Dublinia offers a really good overview of the history of the Vikings in Dublin.  If you have kids and are planning a trip to the Irish capital, Dublinia would be a great thing to do in Dublin.  You can admire the architecture of Christ Church Cathedral as the kids marvel at the mummified cat and rat, then head over to Dublinia and enjoy the medieval game room and the Viking past of Ireland.

Best of Dublin Tips

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The Fortress de Mimoyecques, near Calais: How history could have been so different

A few days ago Jeremy posed the question why is Europe a top destination? The first reason he offered in response was that Europe has been at the centre of some of the greatest battles in history. No matter how one defines greatest, this is surely true – battles have literally raged across the whole continent, and France has experienced more than its fair share. In fact, for anyone interested in the history of warfare, France is one of the best places to visit in Europe.

Jeremy also made the point that there is so much history and culture you could “spend the rest of your life travelling the continent and never learn all there is know … ” Having lived in Normandy for nearly six years now I find this is so true of that part of northern France I explore regularly, let alone the rest of France, or Europe. I frequently travel to and from Calais, and have only recently stumbled upon a World War II monument that I have driven by countless times, a monument that really could have changed the course of history.

One of the tunnels that make up the Fortress de Mimoyecques, and the ‘rail-trucks’ used to remove the chalk from the tunnels (photograph: Sparks68).

The ‘Fortress de Mimoyecques’ is located in a limestone hill not that far from the French entrance to the Channel Tunnel near Calais. This fort comprised a number of subterranean tunnels that were intended to house the Nazi’s ‘Cannon of London’ – the V-3 (Vergeltungswaffe 3). Construction of the fort began in September 1943 in a desperate attempt to stem the tide of Nazi defeat; the V-3 would have been capable of raining bombs down on London – some 165 kms away.

Part of the barrel of the V-3 super-gun, there were to be 25 of these, each 420 feet long (photograph: Late Red).

Slave labour was used to dig the tunnels, and even as the Limestone debris was removed from the tunnels it was painted green so as to prevent the Allied Forces from realising what was going on. Fortunately for the city of London Intelligence Units almost immediately noticed suspicious activity, by comparing reconnaissance photographs taken over a period of time from before construction began. The Allied Forces repeatedly attempted to bomb the fort from November 1943 until August 1944. None of these missions were entirely successful, and the fort was never abandoned, but it was over-run by the Canadians in September 1944.

This year a museum at Mimoyecques was opened on 1 July, which allows visitors to view tunnels in various stages of construction and damage, the remains of guns, a small, scaled replica of the V-3, as well as remains of machinery, rail systems and tools employed by the slaves. There is also a memorial at the site to these slaves and to the airmen lost in action during the various missions to destroy the fort.

For anyone (particularly interested in military history) travelling to or from Calais and needing something to do, the Fortress de Mimoyecques is definitely worth a visit.

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The Berlin Wall: Famous for its destruction

Amanda has been doing a wonderful job writing about all there is to see in Berlin (Check out here Best of Berlin Travel Tips as well as Berlin’s Haus am Checkpoint Charlie Museum). And to be perfectly honest, she inspired me to revisit the trip I made there a while back.

I knew very little about the history behind the Berlin wall.  I’m at the age where I don’t really remember the events leading up to the fall of it, and it wasn’t distant enough to necessarily be covered in depth in my history classes, but not close enough that it was covered in my current events classes.  Basically, my education failed me.

I knew the wall fell. I knew it fell in 1989. I knew it was symbolic and historic and plenty of other -ics.  But I didn’t know what to expect when. visiting this Berlin sightseeing attraction.  It’s a strange idea in the first place.  How does one visit something that is historic for its very destruction?  I wanted to see it because it no longer existed.

That’s what made exploring Berlin so much fun though.  Because walking around the city, I suddenly stumbled upon a lone cement panel.  Remnants of the Berlin wall.  I headed to the east side and found a large stretch of wall which out into perspective just how high it was, just how dominating it was.  And of course, I wandered through the East Side Gallery and realized that here was an incredible stretch of the wall still standing.

Some trips stand out.  Berlin stood out.  For what was there, and for what wasn’t.  It’s a strange tip, I know, but go to the city of Berlin and look for what isn’t there as well as what still remains. 

Best of Berlin Tips

Read our Best of Berlin tips to help plan your trip.

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Tips for What to Do in Germany

We’ve lots of travel tips for what to do in Germany.

Coming Face-to-Face with the Stone Age in Paris

There really is so much to see and do in Paris, something to suit everyone’s tastes and interests. So well featured is this European city on the Europe a la Carte blog that Karen recently produced a post summarizing the Best of Paris Travel Tips as recommended in a number of posts on this blog over the last four years. But it really does not end there. There are still so many more attraction in Paris that make this city one of the best places to visit in Europe.

Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye, now the Musée des Antiquités Nationales

The suburb of Saint-Germain-en-Laye is about 12 miles (20 km) to the west of the centre of Paris. The Saint-Germain station can be reached on Line A of the RER, and also on the Paris – Saint-Lazare suburban rail line. For anyone who is particularly interested in prehistory and history of France, this Paris museum is well worth a visit.

One of the main attractions in Saint-Germain-en-Laye is the Château de Saint-Germain-en-Laye (above), now the Musée des Antiquités Nationales (National Museum of Archaeology). The castle was built in the mid fourteenth century, but there had been a castle fort there for at least a hundred years previously. For a few centuries the castle was the Royal residence and a number of French kings were born there, including Louis XIV. It was Napoleon III who in 1862 had the castle designated a national museum for prehistory. The museum has some amazing exhibits that ranges from the Old Stone Age to the Iron Age (Celtic times).

Napoleon III set up the Musée des Antiquités Nationales in the estwhile royal château. This museum has exhibits ranging from Paleolithic to Celtic times.  One of the most famous pieces in the museum’s collection is the small carving of a woman’s head, sculptured from a mammoth’s tusk about 25 000 years ago. At this age this little carving, the size of a man’s thumb, is currently the oldest dated representation of a human face. This piece is one of a number of Stone Age carvings in the museum’s collection, and on display.

la Dame de Brassempouy – thought to be the oldest representation of a human face

The museum is open every day, except on Tuesdays and public holidays, from ten in the morning to five in the afternoon; with an entrance fee of 6 Euros.

Besides the National Archaeology Museum there is the Saint-Germain forest and a few concrete bunkers built by the Germans during the Second World War.

More on European Museums

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The Port City of Le Havre: A Contemporary World Heritage Site

When in comes to the various port-cities in northern France most people think they are just ferry ports: places where they disembark and embark. But, there is always a lot more to these ports than the ferry terminals. Karen has already written about things to do in Calais and I about Boulogne-sur-mer’s attractions. Following the theme of these other posts, here are some things to do in Le Havre should you have a few hours before your ferry sets sail.

The masts of the many yachts that use the port of Le Havre as a base, with the strikingly modern city behind.

Unlike some of France’s other ports, Le Havre – or ‘the harbour’ – is a relatively new one – replacing some other adjacent ports in the sixteenth century. And today Le Havre is the second busiest port in France, attracting ferries from the United Kingdom and Ireland, cruise liners and commercial cargo ships. The coastal location makes Le Havre great for water-sports enthusiasts. In fact, Le Havre hosted the sailing events for the Olympic Games of 1900 and 1924.

The city is now recognised World-wide for its architectural heritage. But it is not the medieval architecture that one finds in other Normandy cities like Rouen. During the Second World War Le Havre was occupied by the Germans and consequently suffered severe bombing by the allied forces. Over 5000 people were killed and some 12000 homes totally destroyed – almost all of the city. After the war the city was rebuilt from scratch in a modernist style by the architect Auguste Perret. And in 2005 the city was added to the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites, one of only a handful of contemporary World Heritage sites in Europe. The city, and its architect, was honoured for its innovative use of concrete and as an exceptional example of post war town-planning and architecture. Given that the city we see today is relatively new, there is a wonderful museum dedicated to old Le Havre.

The very modern City Hall.

It was, however, in pre-War Le Havre that Claude Monet grew up. And it was one of his paintings, of the harbour at sunrise that he titled ‘Impression, soleil levant’, that gave the name to the the Impressionist movement. The Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux has the biggest collection of Impressionist art in France outside of Paris – with a good collection of some of the more well-known impressionist artists, as well as a number of lesser-known Normandy based artists who influenced Monet when he was young and starting out. Le Havre today is thought of as the birthplace of Impressionism. Another interesting thing to do in Le Havre is a visit to the wonderful Natural History museum that children love.

Musée des Beaux-Arts André Malraux

Le Havre’s attractions make it a perfect European destination for a short break. There is a great night-life in the city, with some very good restaurants – and there is even a very trendy Latino quarter.

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Napoleon Apartments at the Louvre, Paris

If you are in the French capital for a short time and can’t make it to the Palace of Versailles, one of the best things to do in Paris to get your opulence fix is a visit to the Napoleon apartments at the Louvre.

Located in the museum’s Richelieu wing, these rooms continue to hold the luxury enjoyed (and probably expected) by the Emperor and his council.

It’s impossible to imagine a life lived in the gold and velvet splendor of these quarters. It holds an aura of formality. Even when a comfortable arm chair pops up, it’s accented by ornate lamps and vases.

The furnishings are works of art, carefully carved, polished and upholstered. And then there are the works of art – murals, paintings, vases, sculptures, mirrors, chandeliers and clocks, each more exquisite than the other.

Along with the very lavish public rooms, private rooms are also open to the public. They are smaller, and a little cozier, but look closer and you’ll notice the intricate and impressive antiquities and accents.

Even if you don’t enjoy museum visits, the apartments can be pretty interesting, besides it’s an opportunity for taking some great photos!

More Paris Tips

You can find lots of tips for best things to do in Paris on Europe a la Carte. Find out about must-see Paris museums.

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Journey 5000 years back in time in Malta’s Hypogeum

I’ve already written about the historical town of Mdina and the tempting swimming at the Blue Lagoon , but Malta’s history stretches far back, as evidenced by the Neolithic temples scattered around the island.

One of the best examples requires some advance planning, but it is well worth the effort. In the town of Paola, just outside the capital of Valletta, is the Hypogeum. The Hypogeum is an extensive underground shrine spread over three levels and built between 3600 and 2500 BC.

Photo courtesy

The temple was discovered in 1899, when routine work in the homes above the site revealed one of the temple’s underground chambers. Excavations have revealed that over 7000 bodies were buried here. Artifacts and jewelry were also discovered.

Photo courtesy

The famous “sleeping lady” statue was unearthed in the tombs and the tiny sculpture is now on display for visitors.

Photo courtesy

To protect the delicate environment, including original ceiling paintings, only 70 visitors are admitted each day. I highly recommend booking online well in advance in the summer months – tickets go fast.

Note that children under 6 are not allowed to visit. I was disappointed by this, since we had to take the tour in shifts in order to stay with our younger child. However, after visiting,  I understand that the slippery steps and small, dark enclosures would be difficult to manage with young children in tow.  The rest of the family will be certain to enjoy this fascinating Malta attraction.

The Hypogeum is open daily, 9am – 5pm. Be sure to book tickets in advance.

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