Never a Jezebel: In the footsteps of Phoenicians


Never a Jezebel: In the Footsteps of Phoenicians Tillism طلسم

In this episode I ponder over the Phoenician presence on a beach in Spain where I am standing almost 2,800 years later.


An early settlement of Phoenicians in Iberia (Modern Spain)

My bare feet sink into the cool wet sand of the Guadalmar Beach. The sun is about to rise, and there isn’t a soul in sight. I watch a cruise ship sail gently into the Port nearby. The waves lap on the shore in a comforting sort of way —the way one breathes when meditating.

Guadalmar Beach
Cruise Ship heads to the Port of Malaga

A flock of flamingos flies overhead. I look up but don’t lift the phone in my hand. A short way back there was a sign with a picture of a camera crossed out in red. I want to take a photo but I can’t.

Sign on beach
No Photography Allowed

This beach is not like any of the ones I’ve seen before – in California, or Dubai, or even in Iran where women cover up from head to toe just to take a dip in the sea.

Rio Guadalhorce and the bird sanctuary

At the far end of this strip of coastline is the the mouth of the Rio Guadalhorce. The river splits into two forming a triangular delta before it empties itself into the Mediterranean. This delta is now a protected bird sanctuary.

I’ve come here to sit in the bird blinds and watch them feast on river fish, and perhaps make a few plein air drawings in my sketchbook.

Ancient Phoenicians, the original “traveling salesmen”

Somewhere beneath the sand and soil – beneath my still damp feet – are the remains of an ancient Phoenician city. One of the many settlements of their commercial empire. These original “travelling salesmen” from the ports of Tyre, sailed across the sea in search of silver, copper, tin and all kinds of other materials to trade with their neighbors in the Levant.

A Phoenician woman?

Except for the art materials I am carrying, there is nothing here that could place me in the 21st century. I could easily be a Phoenician woman —I could be Jezebel.

Phoenician Trade Route
From Tyre to Malaga

Like Jezebel, I too am settled in a foreign land with my foreign ideas. However, I am not married to the King of this region, and therefore I will probably not die by defenestration. Also, I don’t have servants who might be tempted to throw me out of a window. Small mercies.

Jezebel – death by defenestration

Flamingos on the move

I cross over a small wooden bridge and walk into the bird sanctuary. The salty sea air washes over me. I look up and see the flamingos again. It’s May, so they’re probably returning from somewhere in Africa, or maybe even Dubai. Some of them spend winters in the Al Qudra lakes just behind the skyscrapers on Sheikh Zayed Road. I used to see them on my drive to work. Strange that we’re together again.

Flamingos – from Dubai?

I wonder, did flamingos fly here when Phoenicians were around? Did they come to eat the shellfish that give them that bright pink color? The Phoenicians came to trade their precious purple dye made of shellfish. I’m here for the lifestyle. We’re all here for something —to enjoy what this peninsula has to offer: olives, silver, the color purple. These brothers of Jezebel are my brothers too.

Votive offerings in Gibraltar

About 65 miles south of where I stand is the Rock of Gibraltar. At its base is a small cave where archaeologists have uncovered a Phoenician shrine. Thousands of votive offerings have been found here – offerings to the gods before the sailors set off on expeditions beyond the straits in search of bronze, tin, and other metals. Are these offerings for their most powerful god, Baal? Or were they offered to Yam, their god of the sea? Whichever it was, these intrepid sailors found tin and silver on the British Isles, and gold along the coast of Africa. Was their success a reward for their offerings left in Gorham’s cave? Or was it because they allowed themselves to blend into their hosts’ culture. Following Egyptian ways in Egypt, Greek ways in Greece, and Iberian ways in Iberia?

Baal’s devotee, Jezebel

And what of Jezebel and her eagerness to promote Baal in Israel? Her dedication to Phoenician gods clearly did not yield the desired results. She was thrown out of a palace window to her death. An offering rejected? or perhaps the result of unrelenting pressure for the host nation to bow to her will?

I turn once again to the sea ready to head home. Two creatures emerge from the waves. Could it be Yam and his monstrous servant, Tannin? Could it Baal himself?

As the two stride across the sand, it becomes clear that they are not gods – mere mortals with aging human bodies, like my own. The only difference being, that I am wearing clothes.

where Phoenicians settled in Iberia
Gaudalmar Beach


Click here for more musings on travelers and traveling: Sailing past Africa

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