The Pillars Of Hercules, 1979

by Milo Ketchum

In the fall of 1978, my wife and I and our youngest son, Mark, attended an engineering conference in Madrid, our first visit to Spain. The city reminded me in many ways of Denver, a medium sized city in the center of a semi-desert area where the dry land resumed at the edges of the city. To be sure there was much of interest, like the Prado with its collection of paintings that I had seen so many times in books.

After the conference we took rest and recreation time in Torremelenos, three hundred miles south, on the Costa del Sol, a typical seaside resort with large hotels and many shops trying to lure money from tourists. Our only purchase was an exquisite figurine made by the famous maker, Llados, of Bo-Peep to be given to our daughter. It is now worth many times what we paid for it then. In all of this sightseeing I was troubled because I received no sense of the flow history. It was all very interesting, but did not really stimulate my imagination.

Near the end of the week we took a bus trip to over the right of possession. The bus fare included a boat trip across the strait to Ceuta, a small enclave of Spain. This, incidentally made it possible for us to say that we had been in Africa, and at least I could see Gibraltar from a distance.

The bus to Algeceras was uneventful and we could see The Rock from a distance but it was unimpressive. When we got on the ferry, there was the picture card view that is so well known. The boat was typical of innumerable large ferries with the usual assortment of tourists. One British character when we were discussing the possession of the Rock by the British, said., "It was ours. We won it fair and square from Spain in 1745". As we got out on the water, nearer Gibraltar, I saw another scene familiar to me, an illustration from my favorite sea story, "Sailing Alone Around the World" by Joshua Slocum, a picture of his boat being towed in to the harbor by a paddle wheel British Navy Steam Tug. The sense of history then began to flow and my imagination to respond.

Then another curious thing happened to reinforce this feeling. As we sailed further from Gibraltar, the Rock which before had appeared monolithic, now became two narrow slabs, the Pillars of Hercules. This I never realized. There was no complementary mountain on the other side. This must be the explanation for the term. Now in my must have passed through these portals, Phoenicians, Greeks, Romans, and the Moors who conquered all of Spain and nearly conquered all of Europe. All the medieval commerce to the Meditteranean must have passed just where we were sailing. Next came the British Navy with all the activity of the Napoleonic Wars. Finally the American Frigates putting down the Beys of Algeria who raided American commerce in the Mediterranean in 1805. This feeling held until we arrived at Ceuta but it was marvelous experience, one that I hold as one of my fondest memories.

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