Tag Archives: Texas Author Pat Krapf

Fort Moultrie: Sullivan’s Island, South Carolina

Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge

In my last post, I blogged about my alma mater, Lincoln Memorial University (LMU) in Harrogate, Tennessee, in the Cumberland Gap, near the junction where Tennessee, Kentucky, and Virginia meet. Proud of the university’s continued success, high college rankings, and flourishing private school, I satisfied my renewed curiosity in the campus and the history of the region by doing some in-depth research on the school and eastern Tennessee in general. This delving led me to Dr. Earl J. Hess’s book, Lincoln Memorial University and the Shaping of Appalachia. I immediately placed my Amazon order, only to discover that the book is temporarily out of stock. Dr. Hess is a student of Civil War history and grew up in rural Missouri. Since 1989, he has been at LMU and is an associate professor of history. He is also well published. I am eagerly awaiting my copy of his book.

The morning after we visited LMU, a heavy smoky-blue fog hung over the mountains, and mist specked our jackets as we prepared to leave the Inn on Biltmore Estate for the drive from Asheville to Charleston, South Carolina. Although the hotel staff in Charleston had assured us the city hadn’t experienced severe flooding, we decided to leave Asheville early, giving ourselves plenty of time to make the four-hour drive south, especially since Columbia was one of the areas hardest hit by Hurricane Joaquin. As it turned out, we experienced no high-water delays along Highway 26 but did lose an hour stuck in two accidents. One involved several cars—no one badly injured, thank goodness—and the other, unfortunately, was a deer hit by an SUV.

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Fountain at Waterfront Park

Charleston is a charming, colorful town, steeped in history. Although I love all things modern and thrive on being a minimalist, I have a fascination for historic buildings—their architecture and their stories. The moment I threw back the curtains in our hotel room at the Belmond Charleston Place, I immediately noticed all the church spires. Other loves of mine are houses of worship and cemeteries, so a church tour was definitely on my agenda. But first Dave wanted to see the waterfront, so we put our church tour on hold until the next day.

Waterfront Park Promenade

Waterfront Park Promenade

We stepped out of our hotel to a humid, subtropical afternoon, but as we neared Waterfront Park a soft breeze coming off the coast squelched any real heat. The park has great views of the Charleston Harbor and the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge, a white, cable-stayed suspension bridge with two diamond-shaped towers that spans the Cooper River. It connects Charleston to Mount Pleasant and is an impressive 573 feet high and 2.7 miles long, and it has eight lanes in addition to a shared twelve-foot-wide pedestrian/bicycle path.

After we strolled Waterfront Park and snapped shots of the water fountains and a sailboat cruising the harbor waters, we took a leisurely walk through the cobblestoned side streets, just soaking in the sunshine and our surroundings, and working up our dinner appetites. That night, we had reservations at McCrady’s Tavern, built in 1778. The restaurant’s entrance is located down a narrow cobblestone alley off East Bay Street. The service was excellent and the food good.


On our first full day in Charleston, we drew straws, figuratively, and agreed to take our island tour in the morning and our house of worship tour in the afternoon. We both wanted to visit Fort Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island. We grabbed coffees to go, hopped into our rental, and sped away toward the Arthur Ravenel Jr. Bridge.

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Plaque at Fort Moultrie

Fort Moultrie, a coastal fortification, was built to guard the harbors and shores of the United States from as early as the first European settlements until the end of World War II. Fort Moultrie has defended Charleston Harbor twice: during the American Revolutionary War when it was attacked by the British fleet, and again nearly a century later during the Civil War when federal forces bombarded Charleston from land and sea. In 1776, after a nine-hour battle when Charleston was saved from British occupation, the fort was named for its commander, William Moultrie.

In early March of 1776, Colonel Moultrie, a former militiaman who was later promoted to general, was ordered to Sullivan’s Island to build a seacoast defense on the shielded harbor. The purpose was to make an invasion as costly as possible, or better still, to prevent invaders from landing. It was unrealistic to think that such a fort, even one well armed with troops and cannons, could annihilate the enemy, but it could certainly slow them down. Any large vessel entering Charleston had to first cross Charleston Bar, a series of submerged sandbanks lying about eight miles from the city. Most ships ran aground and became stuck, and were then more vulnerable to attack.

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Fort Moultrie (foreground) with Stella Maris Catholic Church (background)

Work on the square-shaped fort began by cutting thousands of spongy palmetto logs, which became the foundation for an immense pen, five hundred feet long and sixteen feet wide, filled with sand to stop the shot. The workers constructed cannon platforms and nailed them together with spikes. During the construction, George Washington dispatched General Charles Lee and two thousand soldiers to assist in Charleston’s defense. Lee’s appearance alone boosted morale among the South Carolina troops. But after Lee viewed Charleston’s defenses, his worries mounted. Moultrie commanded only thirty-one cannons and a garrison of less than four hundred men. And the fort was hastily erected, with only thick planks guarding the powder magazine, and the curtain walls on the north side of the fort weren’t even finished.

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

US Flag over Fort Moultrie

In mid-May, Charlestonians received word that the formidable British fleet was massing at Cape Fear. On June 1, the fleet finally appeared, about fifty sail in all, and anchored outside of the bar. Moultrie termed the battle “one continual blaze and roar,” and it raged on for hours, until the garrison was running out of powder. Word was sent to Lee, and seven hundred pounds of powder reached the fort defenders later in the day, allowing them to fend off the enemy. The British had used thirty-two thousand pounds of powder and the Americans less than five thousand. Within days of the battle came the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Next week: “Houses of Worship: Charleston, South Carolina.”

Europe 2013: Toledo, Spain – Part 2

Puente de Alcántara, Spain

Last week we visited Alcázar. Picking up from there, we left the castle and made our way to Toledo’s cathedral. The formal name of the French Gothic church is Santa Iglesia Catedral Primada de Toledo. Construction on the white limestone structure began in 1227 on the site of a former mosque. The opulent, shimmering, gold interior is jaw-dropping: it’s laden with elaborate wrought iron work, lavish wood carvings, 750 five-hundred-year-old stained glass windows, and a spectacular gold high altar, not to mention eighteen El Greco masterpieces.

El Transparente, a Baroque altarpiece

El Transparente, a Baroque altarpiece

All around me tourists uttered the same word: “Wow.” The initial design had five naves and eighty-eight columns and measured 390 feet long by 196 feet wide. Over the centuries additions have been made to the original building. In the fourteenth century San Blas Chapel and a cloister were added, and construction on the towering altar in the main chapel began. It took six years to complete, and many famous sculptors worked on the five-story gold filigree structure. During the fifteenth century vaults were added and another chapel, for a total of seven today. But the most moving and stunning feature in the cathedral was El Transparente, a Baroque altarpiece illuminated by a large skylight cut high in the ambulatory behind the high altar. A second hole cut into the back of the altarpiece itself allows sunlight to strike the tabernacle. The illumination is dazzling when the sun shines from the east, giving the impression that the whole altar is rising to heaven.

Catedral de Toledo, Spain - Large skylight cut high in the ambulatory behind the high altar

Catedral de Toledo, Spain – Large skylight cut high in the ambulatory behind the high altar

We stepped outside to blinding sunlight and made our way through the picturesque narrow streets to Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, the synagogue of “St. Mary the White,” The 1203 house of worship was designed and decorated by Mudéjar architects. The architectural style was a synthesis of techniques resulting from Muslim and Christian cultures living side by side and emerged during the twelfth century. The dominant characteristics are elaborate tile work, brickwork, wood and plaster carvings, and ornamental metals. To dress up walls and floors, Mudéjar architects used complicated tile patterns. Long after the Muslims were no longer employed as builders in Spain, their distinctive elements continued to be incorporated into Spanish architecture. Inside the synagogue the Moorish influence is obvious in lovely white horseshoe arches, capitals carved with vegetal motifs, and the contrasting dark red floors with decorative tiles. (In architecture, a capital is a “head,” the topmost section of a column or pilaster.) The synagogue has been used as a carpenter’s workshop, a store, a barracks, and a refuge for former prostitutes. Beautifully restored, today it is a museum.

Our next stop was El Tránsito Synagogue, a private family synagogue known for its rich polychrome stucco work, multi-foil arches, and a massive Mudéjar paneled ceiling with Arabic inscriptions intertwined in the floral patterns of the stucco panels. After the expulsion of the Jews from Toledo in 1492, the building was converted into a church.

Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, Toledo, Spain

Sinagoga de Santa Maria la Blanca, Toledo, Spain

We lunched on tapas at Mesón La Orza before we set out for the El Greco Museum, only to find it closed. We had no information about whether or not it would open that day, so we walked on to the Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes. The structure was built by Catholic monarchs King Ferdinand II and Queen Isabella I to commemorate their victory over the army of Alfonso V of Portugal in 1476, and they also planned to house their mausoleum there. However, after the reconquest of Granada in 1492, the Catholic monarchs chose to be buried in Capilla Real in Granada. The two-story Gothic monastery with its Plateresque stonework, a larch wood ceiling painted with the motifs and the coats of arms of the monarchs, and the peaceful cloister and garden were definitely worth the visit. I would have liked to linger a bit longer, but we had two more stops to make and had to hurry along to catch a train back to Madrid. But before we left, Dave had to show me something on the exterior of the monastery. Chains hung from on high, the remnants of leg irons worn by the Christians imprisoned by the Muslims. During the reconquest, the prisoners were freed, and the chains were hung on the monastery in 1494 to symbolize the triumph of Christianity.

Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes, Toledo, Spain

Monasterio de San Juan de Los Reyes, Toledo, Spain

With only two hours left for sightseeing and still much to see, we both agreed we should have considered at least a two-day stay in Toledo and noted this for a future visit. Not rushing but not dawdling either, we headed toward the Puente de San Martín. Constructed in the late fourteenth century to provide access to the old town from the west, the bridge has five arches, heavy fortification with towers, and an impressive span of just over 130 feet. At that time, very few bridges in the world had reached that length. It complements the older Puente de Alcántara, which links the city to the east.

Our next stop was Puerta de Bisagra, the main gate to the old city of Toledo, a majestic stone gate built in the tenth century in the time of the taifa of Toledo. The taifa was a Muslim medieval kingdom located in central Spain in 1035 that endured until the Christian conquest in 1085. The gateway is actually two gates, the old one built by the Moors between the sixth and seventh centuries, and a new gate built in the sixteenth century. After photo snapping and a time check, we pressed on to our next destination.

Mezquita del Cristo de la Luz dates back to 999 and was built as a mosque known as Bab al-Mardum. It is the only surviving mosque of ten that once stood in Toledo. It has a square footprint that measures roughly twenty-six by twenty-nine feet. The facade is brick and decorated with a series of arches. The interior has open brick latticework and an arcade of blind horseshoe arches that support nine ribbed vaults, all of which have a unique geometric design. In 1186 when the mosque was converted into a chapel, a transept and a Mudéjar-style apse were added. The chapel derives its name from legend. When King Alfonso VI rode into Toledo in victory in 1085, he discovered that a candle, which had burned continuously behind the brick masonry for three and a half centuries of Muslim rule, was illuminating a statue of Christ concealed within the brick wall to prevent profanation.

Puente de Alcántara, Toledo, Spain

Puente de Alcántara, Toledo, Spain

Mindful of the time, Dave and I threaded our way through the quaint Toledo streets toward the Puente de Alcántara, an arched stone bridge built between 104 and 106 to span the Tagus River. So far we had avoided getting lost in Toledo, but that soon changed. The street we were on came to an abrupt end, and we had to loop back up the steep incline. Along our way a British couple stopped us to ask for directions. We really couldn’t help them, except to say that this street was not the way to the bridge. They too were in a hurry to reach the train station. “So let’s team up and rally on,” they said, and that’s precisely what we did until we bumped into a local. She gave us excellent directions, but not ones we wanted to hear. We had to hike another steep hill. We crested the rise only to discover that the bridge was nowhere in sight. We still had a ways to go. Eventually, the bridge came into view, and the four of us let out loud sighs. We finally entered the station and queued up. Neither we nor the British couple had purchased return tickets, and we were darn lucky to get the last four seats on the 5:00 p.m. train. The next available departure with any empty seats was at 9:00 p.m.

We arrived back at the Westin in time to shower and change for dinner at Lieu Restaurante for what would be a fabulous meal prepared by chef Daniele Scelza. The restaurant offered two prix fixe menus. I ordered one and Dave the other, along with the wine pairings. The meal began with test-tube cocktails and chorizo madeleines for two—gratis—followed by a transparent tomato ravioli with parmesan cream and basil for me, and for Dave a zucchini carpaccio: paper-thin slices of zucchini with a tangy citrus and herb drizzle. Next, I had an aerated gazpacho and Dave a potato-bacon pie with escargot in a beef sauce. So far everything had been superb, and we couldn’t wait for our mains—Dave had the lamb saddle with creamed sweet potatoes, and I chose black cod with olive oil, basil, tomato confit, and pumpkin puree. By the time dessert arrived, I had run out of superlatives. We shared an order of creamy chocolate with olive oil, brownies, and tiles of red wine granita; and an order of berries, cassis sorbet, and ginger chips, topped with a champagne foam. Both were palate-pleasing delights. A meal to remember, but unfortunately, from what I’ve read on the Internet, the restaurant has permanently closed.

Next week: “Europe 2013: The Prado Museum – Madrid, Spain.”

Europe 2013: Toledo, Spain

Alcázar, Toledo, SpainOur last morning in Suances broke sunny and clear. After breakfast, we drove into town and walked along the beach until ten o’clock, when we returned to the Albatros to check out. We dumped our bags in the hatch of our Volvo SUV and motored to Santander Airport to catch a flight to Madrid. The AVIS agent who had rented the car to us three days prior, a somewhat surly gentleman, asked, “Well, did you find Suances?” He deliberately mispronounced the town’s name exactly the way we had when we picked up the car and asked for directions. Before we left the agency, he once again mispronounced it. We thanked him again for the correction and walked away, leaving him to mumble something under his breath. Continue reading