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12 nights
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The Making of Spain

A voyage from Barcelona to Madrid aboard the MS Island Sky

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  • History and Culture
  • San Martin Bridge, Toledo

Spain, with its geographical location at the crossroads of the Atlantic and Mediterranean, Europe and Africa has a fascinating history with a culture made up of diverse influences. Once the centre of a global empire, this exploration will uncover the country’s intriguing history visiting some of the numerous World Heritage Cities including Tarragona, Cordoba, Merida and Toledo where, accompanied by our excellent local guides and guest speakers you can experience the cultural wealth of this captivating nation. In addition to the included guided excursions, there will of course be ample time to experience the unique atmosphere of the towns and cities and explore at your own pace.

  • Spain - from prehistory to 1600

    Interior of the Mezquita, Cordoba

    By Professor Robert Hillenbrand

    Thanks to its strategic location guarding the Straits of Gibraltar, and its mineral and agricultural wealth, Spain has been known to the Mediterranean peoples for millennia. To the north, the Basques may well be descended from the prehistoric settlers who painted the caves of Altamira, and major megalithic monuments survive in the Balearic Islands. Next came the Iberians, who mixed with early Celtic invaders to form the largest group in the peninsula.  But Phoenician traders from the eastern Mediterranean passed through the Straits in the 9th century B.C. and founded colonies in Andalusia, with ports at Cadiz and Tartessus (possibly the Biblical Tarshish). 

    In the following centuries first the Carthaginians and then the Greeks colonised the eastern coast and the Balearic Islands, and in the 3rd century B.C. the Carthaginian or Punic army under Hamilcar Barca conquered most of Spain, founding the appropriately named Cartagena as the capital. But after the Romans had defeated the Carthaginians under Hannibal they expelled them from Spain, conquering the east and south and eventually, with the fall of Numantia in 133 B.C., the north too, and Romanising the entire population apart from the Basques. Rome brought political unity, the rule of law and economic prosperity, in which Spain’s silver mines played a major role. The Roman footprint appears all over Spain, from theatres and amphitheatres to colonnaded streets and public baths, bridges and circuses, fortified city walls and private villas with floor mosaics. Spain produced several Roman emperors and such literary stars as Seneca, Martial and Lucan.

    Christianity reached Spain in the first century A.D., possibly through St Paul; St James the Greater is the country’s apostolic patron and Quintilian and Isidore of Seville ranks among the famous intellectuals of Christian Spain. From 409 onwards the peninsula experienced successive Germanic invasions by the Suevi, Vandals and Visigoths, and despite brief successes by the Franks and Byzantines in subsequent centuries, the Visigoths, with their capital at Toledo, prevailed. But they clung to the Arian heresy which divided them from their Catholic, Romanised subjects. After 600 numerous Jews settled in Spain; hence Visigothic society combined Byzantine, Germanic, Romanised Hispanic and Jewish elements and thus prefigured the convivencia between Christianity and Islam in later centuries.

    In 711 the Arabs crossed the Straits of Gibraltar with a Berber army and within decades most of Spain, except the far north, was under Muslim control, with Andalusia as the major power base for the Spanish Umayyad dynasty. Their capital was Cordoba, dubbed by the Saxon nun Hroswitha “the ornament of the world”; with its population of c.300, 000 and civic amenities like street lighting, sewage disposal and hot and cold running water, it put all other European cities to shame. The Umayyads eventually set up a counter-caliphate in opposition to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad; culturally, Spain dominated the western Muslim world, and in the 10th century the Cordoban prince ‘Abd al-Rahman III was the richest of all Muslim rulers. But that same century saw the beginnings of the Christian re-conquest, hastened by the end of the Cordoban caliphate in 1010 and the disintegration of Muslim Spain into a score of mutually hostile independent emirates, while the Christian kingdoms of León, Navarre, Aragón and Castile gradually emerged as major powers, though the Christians too were disunited and in constant conflict with each other. Even the invasion of Andalusia by two North African Berber federations, the Almoravids in the late 11th century and the Almohads from 1174, both preaching a puritan reformed Islam, could not turn the tide and the Muslim defeat at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 sounded the death knell of the Spanish Muslims (Moors).

    The end came in 1492 with the fall of Granada to the newly united kingdoms of Aragón and Castile, and was followed by the expulsion of the Jews in 1494. Henceforward the Moors were second-class citizens, but for centuries their cultural impact made itself felt in Spain, from architecture and its decoration to pottery, embossed leather, metalwork and wood-carving. And for almost 800 years they had presided over a remarkably tolerant multi-racial and multi-confessional culture of high intellectual attainment in which Christians, Jews and Muslims had all flourished. It was in Spain that the heritage of classical learning was preserved and translated, reinvigorating Western Europe. Huge cathedrals in Girona and Seville and richly endowed monasteries vied with such achievements of Islamic architects as the astonishing mosque of Cordoba, the colossal Giralda tower and the Alhambra palace city.

    1492 also saw Columbus discovering America and laying the foundations for the ruthless colonisation of the New World by the Spanish conquistadors. The great wealth of the Aztecs and Incas found its way back to Spain, changing the face of state and society alike and making Spain a power to be feared throughout Europe in the Golden Age of the 16th century. But this prosperity was short-lived, as England, Holland and France sent privateers like Drake to attack the treasure fleets, and as the lack of Spanish mercantile expertise and the inept foreign policies of successive kings, which caused disastrous European wars, took their toll. The 17th and 18th centuries were a period of stagnation and decline despite Spain’s huge empire in the Americas.

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  • Featured Experts

    Professor Robert Hillenbrand

    For our fascinating and in-depth look at this region of Spain, we are delighted to be joined by our two eminent guest speakers, Professor Robert Hillenbrand and Professor Carole Hillenbrand. 

    Professor Carole Hillenbrand is Professor Emerita of Islamic History at Edinburgh University and is now Professor of Islamic History at St Andrews University. In 2005 she was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Islamic Studies - the first non- Muslim ever to receive this award. She has published seven books and many articles on the Crusades and Muslim history. She was awarded an OBE in 2009.   

    Professor Carole Hillenbrand

     

    Professor Robert Hillenbrand has long-standing research interests in the Islamic art of North Africa and Spain. An Emeritus Professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University, his 160 publications include prize-winning books on Islamic architecture and painting. He has held visiting professorships at seven universities and was Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge in 2008. He is now Professor of Islamic Art at St Andrews University.

    More information

Island Sky

Island Sky

The MS Island Sky is one of our three flag ships and sister vessel to the MS Caledonian Sky and MS Hebridean Sky. All three vessels were built in the same ship yard in Italy at similar times and share the same excellent attributes that make them three of the finest small ships in the world.

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Itinerary

Day 1 - London to Barcelona, Spain.

Fly by scheduled flight. On arrival transfer to the MS Island Sky and sail this evening.

Day 2 - Empuries & Girona.

From our berth in Palamos we will drive the short distance to the archaeological site of Empuries. Founded by Greek merchants in the 6th century B.C. as Emporion, meaning marketplace, it was a commercial hub and, being located on several trading routes across the Mediterranean, it became a major port. In 218 B.C. the town was taken by the Romans who built an even greater city above the Greek town. Today we can explore the network of columns, streets, villas with mosaic floors and the Roman amphitheatre. We return to the ship for lunch and the afternoon is free to explore the pleasant old quarter of Palamos and the local beaches. Alternatively, join an excursion to Medieval Girona, known as the immortal city. The city was settled in turn by the Romans and the Moors and had a vibrant Jewish community located in the El Call district. We will see the elegant 11th century cathedral, which has the widest nave of any Medieval cathedral, the Romanesque Benedictine Monastery of St Pere de Galligants and the Arab Baths inspired by Roman public baths.

Day 3 - Tarragona.

During the second Punic War in 218 A.D. the city of Tarraco was established as a garrison which developed into the main military base for the Roman army in Spain. Today we can still see remnants of the Roman period as we explore the city by foot. See the impressive walls that once surrounded the city, the 2nd century amphitheatre and the Roman Circus where chariot races were held. Meanwhile on the outskirts of the city we will see the Pont de les Ferreres, a Roman bridge that formed part of the aqueduct that brought water to the city from the Francoli River. After lunch on board we have time to explore Tarragona at leisure or, alternatively, drive to the Moestir de Poblet, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the road to Lleida. We will enjoy a guided tour of this fortified Medieval monastery and also have time in the museum featuring artefacts from the region’s past.

Day 4 - Palma de Mallorca.

Mallorca, the largest of the Balearic Islands, has a rich history dating back to the Phoenicians when it was under control of Carthage, the principal North African city at that time, before flourishing under Roman rule. From our berth in Palma we have a choice of excursions this morning. One option is to take the beautifully maintained vintage train that connects Palma with the pretty town of Soller on the island’s west coast and enjoy splendid mountain views of the Serra de Tramuntana, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the course of just seven kilometres the railway rises 199 metres and runs through thirteen tunnels and crosses several bridges. We will enjoy some time to explore Soller before returning to our ship in Palma. Alternatively, enjoy a scenic drive to the Roman city of Pollentia in Alcudia. Located on Mallorca’s north coast the city of Pollentia is a key site for understanding the Romanisation of the Balearics. The city was the former capital of the Balearic Islands in the days of the Roman Empire and excavations continue to this day. We will explore the streets, houses, forum and the theatre originally built with a capacity for 2000 people. We return to the ship via the estate of Son Real, one of the most important sites for archaeological heritage in the Balearic Islands, including the well-known prehistoric cemeteries or necropolis located at S’Illot des Porros and the Punta des Fenicis. Son Real is also closely linked to rural Majorca and we find a “possessió” made up of different buildings from different eras. Enjoy lunch on board and spend the afternoon at sea.

Day 5 - Cartagena.

Return to mainland Spain this morning and the Murcian port of Cartagena. We will enter the deep natural harbour through two fortified rocky headlands for a day of exploration in this historic city that dates back to the Phoenicians. Hannibal used it as his capital city on the Iberian peninsula and named it after Carthage in North Africa whilst the Romans used it as a strategic port and administrative centre. The city walls remained intact until the 20th century, creating a dense historic centre which we will explore before taking the lift or walking up to Concepcion Castle where we will learn of the city’s past and enjoy amazing views of the city and harbour below. We will also see the Roman amphitheatre which was able to hold up to 7000 people. Return to the ship for lunch and enjoy an afternoon at leisure to explore further. Perhaps visit the archaeological site of Molinete, where work continues to uncover the Roman city, or the naval museum or simply enjoy a stroll along the tree lined harbour promenade before we sail this evening.

Day 6 - Motril for Alhambra.

From Motril, we will drive inland to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Alhambra and Generalife gardens. The Alhambra’s construction began in the 11th century on the red hill known as Alsabika which overlooks Granada. The palace fortress was mainly built by the Nasrid sultans, rulers of the last Spanish Moorish kingdom who made Granada their capital. We will visit the most important halls and courtyards of the Alhambra and the nearby sumptuous Generalife Palace with beautiful gardens.

Day 7 - Gibraltar for Ronda.

Departing from Gibraltar, we will cross the border into Spain for the short transfer to the Estacion de San Roque, where we board the scenic railway to the spectacular city of Ronda. Perched on the top of a rocky outcrop and divided by El Tajo gorge, Ronda is home to the Puente Nuevo, an 18th century viaduct-like bridge which connects the old and new parts of the city. We will start our visit at the city museum located at the Palace of the Marquis of Villasierra where you can learn about the history of the city, the region’s natural parks and the local industries of cork and cheese production and saddlemaking. Next visit the church of Santa Maria la Mayor. Built on the foundations of an earlier mosque, this landmark church was started in 1485 and not finished until the end of the 17th century. Admire the Gothic and Baroque decoration and magnificent altar before visiting Ronda’s bullring. Stop for lunch at a local restaurant before returning to Gibraltar arriving in the late afternoon.

Day 8 - Cadiz & Puerto de Santa Maria.

Arrive this morning in Cadiz. Situated on a peninsula jutting out into a bay and almost entirely surrounded by water, it is amongst the oldest surviving cities in Spain which was founded by the Phoenicians in 1100 B.C. and was later occupied by the Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths and Moors. During our guided tour we will discover the most beautiful monuments and landmarks of the city including the Mudejar-style tobacco factory, Santo Domingo Church, the Santa Catalina Fortress and finally the cathedral of Cadiz and Diocesan Museum in the old city. After lunch on board we will visit the nearby seaside town of Puerto de Santa Maria. Founded by the Phoenicians as the base for the salt industry, which is still active today, it was in the 19th century that the wine industry flourished here as the town became part of the sherry triangle with Jerez and Sanlucar de Barrameda. This afternoon we will learn about the history and production of the local wines at one of the town’s bodegas before enjoying a tasting. We will end with a private flamenco show accompanied by some of the local food specialties.

Day 9 - Seville.

Overnight we will have sailed up the Guadalquivir River to Seville. We will leave the vessel this morning for our full day tour of Cordoba, a beautiful city that demonstrates a past in which Jews, Christians and Muslims peacefully coexisted and left a beautiful legacy of architecture to be appreciated for centuries to come. It was the Romans who founded Cordoba, thanks to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point on the river, but Cordoba’s heyday was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of Al Andalus. They began the construction of the Great Mosque, or Mezquita which is still one of the largest in the world. When the city was reconquered by the Christians they were so impressed by the beauty of the mosque that, rather than demolish it they simply built a cathedral inside it. We will also visit the Jewish Quarter and will spend time at the Mudejar Synagogue before having lunch at a local restaurant. Before returning to the MS Island Sky we will visit the Royal Stables, created in 1570 by King Philip II and where they breed Andalusian horses.

Day 10 - Seville & Merida.

Disembark this morning and enjoy a morning excursion to one of Seville’s greatest monuments, the Alcazar with its exotic terraced garden. Built by Pedro the Cruel in the 14th century with the help of Moorish craftsmen, it is still used as a residence by the King of Spain. Also see the Christian cathedral, reputed to be the largest Gothic style church in the world. We will visit a local restaurant for lunch before driving to Merida this afternoon. On arrival we will check into our hotel and have some free time to explore before meeting for dinner this evening.

Day 11 - Merida & Toledo.

Located at the end of the Via de la Plata, the Roman road that began in Astorga, Merida was the capital of the Roman province of Lusitania. Its theatre, amphitheatre and temple, dedicated to the goddess Diana, make this one of the best conserved archaeological sites in Spain, and has earned it the title of a World Heritage site. After our visit we will enjoy lunch before driving to Toledo, the former capital of Spain. Check into our central hotel this afternoon and relax before meeting for dinner tonight.

Day 12 - Toledo.

Toledo, declared National Monument by the Spanish State, seems to be one large museum and is one of the most important centres of European Medieval history. Hardly another town is so well conserved in its historical style. During a morning walking tour we will see the cathedral, with its exquisite choir stalls and museums with paintings by El Greco, Caravaggio and Bellini among others and the Church of Santo Tome, with El Greco’s famous and beautiful “Burial of the Count of Orgaz” and the “Sinagoga de Santa María la Blanca”. Return to the hotel this afternoon for some free time before we enjoy a farewell dinner.

Day 13 - Madrid to London.

After breakfast we will transfer to Madrid for our scheduled flight to London.

Dates and Prices

SPECIAL OFFER – SAVE £400 PER PERSON FOR A LIMITED TIME ONLY
Prices per person based on double occupancy
27 September 2017 to 9 October 2017
Category Brochure Price Special Offer Price
Magellan Deck Standard Forward Suites £5295 £4895
Magellan Deck Standard Suites £5395 £4995
Columbus Deck Superior Suites £5695 £5295
Marco Polo Deck Premium Suites £5795 £5395
Marco Polo Deck Corner Suites £5895 £5495
Erikson Deck Deluxe Balcony Suites £6395 £5995
Explorer Deck Owner's Balcony Suite £6895 £6495
Magellan Deck Standard for sole occupancy £7495 £7095
Columbus Deck Superior for sole occupancy £7695 £7295

Tour Reference Code: SCISK270917

Price Includes: Economy class scheduled air travel, nine nights aboard the MS Island Sky on a full board basis, wine, beer and soft drinks with lunch and dinner, shore excursions, Cruise Director, Tour Manager, Guest Speakers, overnight hotel accommodation in Merida and two nights accommodation in Toledo on a bed and breakfast basis, lunch and dinner on days 10, 11 and 12, transfers, port taxes.

Not Included: Travel insurance. 

  • All Decks

  • Explorer Deck

  • Erikson Deck

  • Marco Polo Deck

  • Columbus Deck

  • Magellan Deck

Island Sky

The MS Island Sky is one of our three flag ships and sister vessel to the MS Caledonian Sky and MS Hebridean Sky. All three vessels were built in the same ship yard in Italy at similar times and share the same excellent attributes that make them three of the finest small ships in the world.

 
  • MS Island Sky
  • Standard Suite (Magellan Deck)
    Standard Suite (Magellan Deck)
  • Superior Suite (Columbus Deck)
  • Premium Suite (Marco Polo Deck)
  • Corner Suite (Marco Polo Deck)
  • Premium Balcony Suite (Erikson Deck)
  • Owner's Balcony Suites (Explorer Deck)
  • Lido Deck
  • Lido Deck
  • Restaurant
  • The Lounge
  • Library
  • Restaurant
  • Your Suite

    On board there are 57 exceptionally spacious and well designed suites. All feature a sitting room area and some have private balconies. The feeling of luxury is enhanced by the wood panelling and brass, which predominates throughout the vessel conveying the atmosphere of a private yacht.

    The passenger accommodation is arranged over five decks and all suites have outside views. Each affords considerable comfort with en-suite bathroom featuring marble-topped vanity unit with sink and walk-in shower, a large wardrobe, dressing table with large mirror and stool and excellent storage. There is a mini-fridge, flat screen television with inbuilt DVD/CD player and a telephone in each suite. Bottled water, dressing gowns and slippers are also provided for your comfort. Other facilities include a programmable electronic safe, hairdryer, assorted Molton Brown toiletries, air-conditioning and heating. The suites on each deck have their own colour theme. Soft hues and blended tones enhance the traditional maritime style making the passenger accommodation an inviting and relaxing place to be.

  • Your Space

    The spacious and finely decorated public rooms include a large lounge on the Columbus Deck featuring a selection of seating options from individual armchairs and sofas to side cushioned benches. Daily briefings given by the Cruise Director and talks from Guest Speakers and expedition staff take place in The Lounge which is fitted with the highest standard of presentation equipment including multiple screens. For your convenience, it is also possible to follow the onboard lectures from the comfort of your suite.

    In addition to the main Lounge on the Columbus Deck, there is also The Club, located on the Marco Polo Deck which features the main bar where the onboard pianist plays periodically throughout the day. The Club also features a 24-hour tea and coffee station. Towards the aft of the ship on the Marco Polo Deck is The Library. Well stocked with reference books pertaining to the destinations the vessel is visiting and a selection of essential reads, you will not find yourself short of excellent literature on board. A selection of games and two computers complete with internet access can also be found in The Library. Daily newspapers and magazines are also placed in the library depending on local availability.

    The main dining room which can seat all guests at one sitting is located on the Magellan Deck and outside there is a rear Lido Deck located on the Erikson Deck, complete with deck tables and chairs where meals are served in warm weather under shade. Further to this on the top Explorer Deck the observation area complete with sun loungers is ideal for sun bathing, relaxing with a book or catching up with fellow travellers. There is also a small hairdressers on board with appointments made on request. For your comfort, there is also a clinic with Doctor and a lift which serves all decks.

    As is the joy of small ship cruising, we hope to offer the opportunity to visit the Captain and Officers on the Bridge to check the progress of the vessel (subject to weather or security conditions).

  • Dining

    It is quite a task to create a dining experience as that found on board our vessels when you are cruising in far-flung corners of the globe, indeed it takes a team of highly talented chefs to deliver fresh, varied dishes no matter where you are at sea. Fortunately, our catering teams are well adapted to the world of small ship cruising where no two days are the same and the menus are often scheduled and tailored around the days’ excursions.

    With only one sitting and a maximum of just over 100 passengers, the cuisine on board all three vessels is of a consistent superior quality that befits such vessels. Where possible and when it meets their high standards, our accomplished chefs will obtain local produce in markets. Such purchases enhance the well stocked larders and enable the chefs on board to exhibit their culinary skills and bring a local touch to the varied menus, emphasising the international expertise of the chefs on board. Afternoon tea and pre-dinner canapes take place every day in either the comfort of the Lounge or out on the Lido deck when the weather is favourable. Tea and coffee are also available 24 hours a day. Special diets can be catered for with sufficient notice.

    In keeping with the informal atmosphere on board, when dining you are able to choose your seating arrangements at your leisure. Whether that be joining a table of four to six other passengers outside on the Lido Deck in the evening’s sunshine or whether you prefer to enjoy meals in the à la carte restaurant. For those travelling alone, our onboard friendly restaurant staff will take care to ensure you are seated with other like minded travellers. In the main elegant dining room, breakfast is served buffet-style, with certain items cooked to order on request. Lunch and dinner are à la carte with an excellent choice of dishes, with the menu reflecting the daily catch or local delicacies. To enhance your dining experience even further a selection of wines are included with both meals and there is also a comprehensive wine list with a wide selection of new and old world wines from which to choose.

    The onboard catering and restaurant staff are experienced at sea and enthuse a passion for superb service. Whether it be ensuring you have an outdoor blanket as you enjoy the crisp sea breeze on the Lido Deck or sharing their knowledge of the characteristics of the days’ wine selections, you will experience a service on board like no other. You may also enjoy sumptuous barbeques on deck whilst at times, the chef will make your dish to order at special pasta or stir fry stations.

  • Life Onboard

    If large resort-style vessels accommodating many thousands of passengers are your ideal, then our ships are not for you as you will not find endless entertainment, round the clock buffets and the people management which is so much a part of today’s big ship on board style. However, if like us you prefer a more peaceful life at sea you will find our flagships the perfect vessels.

    When choosing your next voyage the choice of vessels is astounding. You can select a ship carrying in excess of 4000 passengers with impersonal service or join us aboard the MS Caledonian Sky, MS Island Sky or MS Hebridean Sky where peace, high quality service and attention to detail are the order of the day. We promise there will be no organised entertainment, fancy dress, deck games or any of the usual big ship experiences. Instead, the atmosphere is warm and convivial and more akin to a private yacht or country hotel in which you can learn more about the wonders of nature, culture and ancient civilisations in the company of like-minded people. A little music in the lounge or bar after dinner, Guest Speakers and informative port briefings from our Expedition Leader or Cruise Director and of course good food with wine included at lunch and dinner, all contribute to make any voyage aboard these wonderful vessels a memorable and joyful experience. After a day ashore you will return to the comfort and peace of an exceedingly comfortable ship.

    The daily programme on board is in the capable hands of our Cruise Director or Expedition Leader and staff who coordinate with the Captain and Officers to make the most of each day. Briefings and talks will be provided throughout the voyage together with a ‘Daily Programme’ that is distributed every evening to your suite outlining the next day’s activities. Dress on board is casual and relaxed and there will be no ‘black tie’ evenings.

  • For your comfort

    The MS Island Sky is equipped with the latest safety, navigation and communications equipment along with roll stabilizers to minimize the ship’s motion. During your voyage we hope to offer the opportunity to visit the Captain and Officers on the Bridge to check the vessels progress by charts and learn more about your journey. There is also a dedicated channel on your television in your suite showing the routing of the vessel along with technical information and estimated times of arrival and departure from port. On board you will also find a clinic and Doctor and a lift that serves all decks. Smoking on board is restricted to a specific area on deck.

  • Inclusions

    Unlike many other cruise vessels, onboard the MS Island Sky you do not need to worry about tipping staff as we have included this in your holiday price. In addition we tip all our guides and drivers along the way, thereby taking away the hassle of always having to remember to have some small change with you. We also include excursions and drinks with meals onboard.

  • 360's

    Island Sky Balcony 

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    Island Sky Bathroom

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    Island Sky Bridge

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    Island Sky Cafe

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    Island Sky Club

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    Island Sky Magellan Deck Cabin 

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    Island Sky Restaurant

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    Island Sky Lounge

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    Island Sky Library

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  • Cabin Plans

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  • Ship Directory
    The booklet below contains some further details pertaining to the vessel.
    Please click on the booklet to view. 

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  • Deck plans
    • All Decks

    • Explorer Deck

    • Erikson Deck

    • Marco Polo Deck

    • Columbus Deck

    • Magellan Deck

Spain - from prehistory to 1600

By Professor Robert Hillenbrand

Thanks to its strategic location guarding the Straits of Gibraltar, and its mineral and agricultural wealth, Spain has been known to the Mediterranean peoples for millennia. To the north, the Basques may well be descended from the prehistoric settlers who painted the caves of Altamira, and major megalithic monuments survive in the Balearic Islands. Next came the Iberians, who mixed with early Celtic invaders to form the largest group in the peninsula.  But Phoenician traders from the eastern Mediterranean passed through the Straits in the 9th century B.C. and founded colonies in Andalusia, with ports at Cadiz and Tartessus (possibly the Biblical Tarshish). 

In the following centuries first the Carthaginians and then the Greeks colonised the eastern coast and the Balearic Islands, and in the 3rd century B.C. the Carthaginian or Punic army under Hamilcar Barca conquered most of Spain, founding the appropriately named Cartagena as the capital. But after the Romans had defeated the Carthaginians under Hannibal they expelled them from Spain, conquering the east and south and eventually, with the fall of Numantia in 133 B.C., the north too, and Romanising the entire population apart from the Basques. Rome brought political unity, the rule of law and economic prosperity, in which Spain’s silver mines played a major role. The Roman footprint appears all over Spain, from theatres and amphitheatres to colonnaded streets and public baths, bridges and circuses, fortified city walls and private villas with floor mosaics. Spain produced several Roman emperors and such literary stars as Seneca, Martial and Lucan.

Christianity reached Spain in the first century A.D., possibly through St Paul; St James the Greater is the country’s apostolic patron and Quintilian and Isidore of Seville ranks among the famous intellectuals of Christian Spain. From 409 onwards the peninsula experienced successive Germanic invasions by the Suevi, Vandals and Visigoths, and despite brief successes by the Franks and Byzantines in subsequent centuries, the Visigoths, with their capital at Toledo, prevailed. But they clung to the Arian heresy which divided them from their Catholic, Romanised subjects. After 600 numerous Jews settled in Spain; hence Visigothic society combined Byzantine, Germanic, Romanised Hispanic and Jewish elements and thus prefigured the convivencia between Christianity and Islam in later centuries.

In 711 the Arabs crossed the Straits of Gibraltar with a Berber army and within decades most of Spain, except the far north, was under Muslim control, with Andalusia as the major power base for the Spanish Umayyad dynasty. Their capital was Cordoba, dubbed by the Saxon nun Hroswitha “the ornament of the world”; with its population of c.300, 000 and civic amenities like street lighting, sewage disposal and hot and cold running water, it put all other European cities to shame. The Umayyads eventually set up a counter-caliphate in opposition to the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad; culturally, Spain dominated the western Muslim world, and in the 10th century the Cordoban prince ‘Abd al-Rahman III was the richest of all Muslim rulers. But that same century saw the beginnings of the Christian re-conquest, hastened by the end of the Cordoban caliphate in 1010 and the disintegration of Muslim Spain into a score of mutually hostile independent emirates, while the Christian kingdoms of León, Navarre, Aragón and Castile gradually emerged as major powers, though the Christians too were disunited and in constant conflict with each other. Even the invasion of Andalusia by two North African Berber federations, the Almoravids in the late 11th century and the Almohads from 1174, both preaching a puritan reformed Islam, could not turn the tide and the Muslim defeat at Las Navas de Tolosa in 1212 sounded the death knell of the Spanish Muslims (Moors).

The end came in 1492 with the fall of Granada to the newly united kingdoms of Aragón and Castile, and was followed by the expulsion of the Jews in 1494. Henceforward the Moors were second-class citizens, but for centuries their cultural impact made itself felt in Spain, from architecture and its decoration to pottery, embossed leather, metalwork and wood-carving. And for almost 800 years they had presided over a remarkably tolerant multi-racial and multi-confessional culture of high intellectual attainment in which Christians, Jews and Muslims had all flourished. It was in Spain that the heritage of classical learning was preserved and translated, reinvigorating Western Europe. Huge cathedrals in Girona and Seville and richly endowed monasteries vied with such achievements of Islamic architects as the astonishing mosque of Cordoba, the colossal Giralda tower and the Alhambra palace city.

1492 also saw Columbus discovering America and laying the foundations for the ruthless colonisation of the New World by the Spanish conquistadors. The great wealth of the Aztecs and Incas found its way back to Spain, changing the face of state and society alike and making Spain a power to be feared throughout Europe in the Golden Age of the 16th century. But this prosperity was short-lived, as England, Holland and France sent privateers like Drake to attack the treasure fleets, and as the lack of Spanish mercantile expertise and the inept foreign policies of successive kings, which caused disastrous European wars, took their toll. The 17th and 18th centuries were a period of stagnation and decline despite Spain’s huge empire in the Americas.

Onboard Team

  • Emmarentia Hansen

    Emma (Emmarentia) Hansen was born and raised in the stunning Lowveld area of Mpumalanga, South Africa, very close to Kruger National Park. Growing up on a farm, wildlife, animals and nature have always taken a special place in her heart. After a cruise on the MV Symphony in 1998, an MSC ship, the sea cast a spell on her. She decided to move to Durban to pursue a life at sea.She completed her commercial skipper’s ticket and joined the cruise ships out of Durban as a zodiac driver. These ships carry between 1500 and 3200 passengers, and destinations include several islands in Mozambique, Zanzibar, Madagascar and the Seychelles. Emma made the transition to the Cruise ships in the Mediterranean and North Europe as Tour manager and Guest Relation Manager. She has worked within the industry for the past 12 years. Emma joined the Island Sky in 2007, 2008 and 2009, sailing the Indian Ocean and the British Isles. In 2011 she joined the Island Sky once again in order to explore more exciting destinations around the world. 

    Emmarentia Hansen will be on the following tour dates: 27 September 2017 to 9 October 2017
  • Robert Hillenbrand

    Professor Robert Hillenbrand FBA

    Professor Robert Hillenbrand FBA has long-standing research interests in the Islamic art of North Africa and Spain. An Emeritus Professor of Fine Art at Edinburgh University, his 160 publications include prize-winning books on Islamic architecture and painting.

    He has held visiting professorships at seven universities and was Slade Professor of Art at Cambridge in 2008. He is now Professor of Islamic Art at St Andrews University.

    Professor Robert Hillenbrand FBA will be on the following tour dates: 27 September 2017 to 9 October 2017
  • Carol Hillenbrand

    Professor Carole Hillenbrand OBE FBA FRS

    Professor Carole Hillenbrand is Professor Emerita of Islamic History at Edinburgh University and is now Professor of Islamic History at St Andrews University.  

    In 2005 she was awarded the King Faisal International Prize in Islamic Studies - the first non-Muslim ever to receive this award. She has published seven books and many articles on the Crusades and Muslim history. She was awarded an OBE in 2009.  

    Professor Carole Hillenbrand OBE FBA FRS will be on the following tour dates: 27 September 2017 to 9 October 2017

Tour Extensions

    • 9th to 12th October 2017

      If you would like to spend some time exploring Madrid and the surrounding area before returning to London we are offering a three night extension.

      Day 1 Toledo to Madrid. This morning we will transfer to Madrid and the centrally located Emparador Hotel. After checking in we will make the short journey to the San Miguel Market for the opportunity to stroll around the stalls and enjoy tastings of local foods and wines. Return to the hotel this afternoon and enjoy the remainder of the day at leisure.

      Day 2 Escorial. After breakfast in the hotel we will visit the Royal Monastery of San Lorenzo de El Escorial which is an imposing building dating from the 16th century. King Philip II ordered its construction and it was mostly designed and built by the Spanish architect Juan de Hererra. The major artist from that time worked on the Monastery, which is also a memorial for the Kings and Queens of Spain and is considered the Eighth Wonder of the World. Return to Madrid and enjoy the afternoon at leisure to explore before we meet this evening for dinner in a local restaurant.

      Day 3 Segovia & Avila. The city of Segovia is famous for the tall, two tiered aqueduct that cuts across the city centre, a mortarless feat of Roman engineering. This impressive construction, with its two tiers of arches, forms part of the setting of the magnificent historic city of Segovia. The walled upper town is a maze of streets and features a Gothic cathedral and several Romanesque churches. After our tour of the town we will enjoy lunch before continuing to Avila, a city of contrasts, the hustle and bustle of the Mercado (market) contrasts with the quiet repose of the temples and its cloisters. Return to the hotel this evening and enjoy a final night in Madrid.

      Day 4 Madrid to London. After breakfast in the hotel transfer to the airport for our scheduled flight to London.

    • Prices per person based on double occupancy
      CategoryPrice
      Twin £875
      Single £1095

      Price includes: Three nights hotel accommodation on a breakfast only basis, guided excursions, dinner on day 2, transfers, gratuities.

      Not Included: Travel insurance, meals other than those stated.

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Speak to one of our advisors on 020 7752 0000