The former Moors and Arabs of the area where I live (once Al-Andalus) — and the sigh of Boabdil

Hi folks — I’m back again, but this time with a little bit of history about the area where I live (the countryside near Posadas village, province of Cordova in Andalusia).

(For more interesting information on this area, you can take a look at https://www.andalucia.com/province/cordoba/posadas/home.htm)

As I mentioned in a previous blog of mine, the area where I live is steeped in history and abounds in castles. I already related the legend associated with my neighbouring castle of Almodóvar del Río, but there’s more to this castle and surrounding areas than just the legend of Princess Zaida La Encantá (The Enchanted), or the beheading of the Muslem King of Baeza.

This medieval castle (once visited and documented by Pliny the Great) was presided over by Caliph Abd al-Malik ben Qatan in 740 A.D who served under the Caliph of Damascus (of the Umayyad Dynasty which held its capital in Damascus, with a major seating in Cordova).

The Umayyad era was associated with a time of richness and splendour, and so became known in Spain as the ‘Golden Age’ of the Moors (extending from approx. 756–1031 AD).

Three of the nine towers of the castle of Almodóvar del Río, Cordova

The Umayyad Caliphate was later succeeded by the Berber Muslim Dynasty. During the on-going civil war, the great city of Medinat Azahara, located on the outskirts of present-day Cordova, was completely ransacked by the Berbers. (https://www.artencordoba.com/en/medina-azahara/madinat-al-zahra-cordoba.html)

This Dynasty in Andalusia (or Al-Andalus as it was known then) was comprised of the Almoravids (their capital was Marrakesh) and later, the defeating Almohads. The battle between these two North African tribes resulted in the dynasty fragmenting into a number of minor states and taifas (independent Muslim-ruled municipalities), which numbered about thirty-three after the fall of the Caliphate of Córdoba in 1031.

(This is all fairly approximate by the way — I’m not a historian!)

Meanwhile, further southeast of Cordova, the Nasrid dynasty ruled the Emirate of Granada between 1238 to 1492 AD, until finally Emir Muhammad XII, the last Nasrid ruler, surrendered his emirate to the powerful Catholic Monarch, Queen Isabel I of Castile, wife of King Ferdinand II of Aragon (whose daughter was the very pious Catherine of Aragon, first wife of King Henry VIII).

Emir Muhammad XII, known to the Castilians as Boabdil, was born in the Alhambra Palace (built during the Nasrid rule). He died in Fez, where he had previously appealed to the Marinid rulers of Morocco for permission to live there during his exile. In his letter to them, he also asked pardon for his defeat in Al-Andalus and for any wrongdoings he might have subjected the people to. (https://www.alhambra.org/en/alhambra-history.html)

The Alhambra Palace-Fortress in Granada

Boabdil, our last emir of Al-Andalus, is very renowned and there are many references to him where he plays a central character: these include books, dramas, poems, comics, songs and films. There is also a mountain pass that is named in his honour. This rocky outcrop forms a ridge within Granada’s Sierra Nevada, and is called Suspiro del Moro (The Moor’s Sigh). A rock marks the spot where Boabdil, on his departure and journey to exile, accompanied by his mother the Sultana Aixa al-Horra, gazed upon his beloved Alhambra once last time. It is said that he lamented and cried, and that his mother, on seeing his tears uttered: ‘Thou dost weep like a woman for what thou couldst not defend as a man.’

The Moors and Arabs left behind a legacy which can be appreciated by the numerous complex structures that they erected, such as the Great Mosque of Córdoba (https://www.turismodecordoba.org/the-mosque-cathedral-of-cordoba-spain — this includes a virtual tour), or the former royal town of Medinat Al- Zahara; they also left an advanced canal and irrigation system, like that seen in the gardens of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (The Royal Palace of the Catholic Monarchs — https://www.turismodecordoba.org/castle-of-the-christian-monarchs)

The Great Mosque of Córdoba, originally built upon the Visigoth church — the Basilica of Saint Vincent — under the orders of Abd al-Rahman I in 784

A great variety of flora was also imported from Syria and North Africa: examples are the mandrake, butcher’s broom, pomegranate etc. which still thrive today. Additionally, many of the habits and the way that the Andalusians live are rooted in this Moorish past, as are certain words and names, like Azahara’ or Almudena. Spanish words with these Arabic origins begin with al-’, such as almohadilla’ which means pillow, or alberca’, meaning tank or reservoir. Their name for Córdoba, the town renowned as the world’s leading economic, educational and cultural centre, was Qurtuba’.

Part of the exquisite gold mosaic mihrab inside the mosque (https://www.lonelyplanet.com/spain/andalucia/cordoba/attractions/mezquita/a/poi-sig/1189075/36073)

However, the Copper and Bronze Age tribes, as well as the Phoenicians and Romans also had their claim to fame here — but more about that in further blogs!

Thank you for reading. As usual, I welcome any comments or questions.

Hope this finds you in good health and spirits…

Bye for now!

The legend of the enchanted castle of Almodóvar del Río (province of Cordova, Andalusia)

Sunrise over the castle of Almódovar del Río, looking east towards Cordova

Not only is this enchanted, medieval castle one of the best restored in Andalusia, but it is also known for having staged the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, and now more recently, chapter 3 of Netflix’s Warrior Nun(https://cordopolis.es/2020/07/08/el-castillo-de-almodovar-vuelve-a-las-pantallas-netflix-ya-ha-estrenado-warrior-nun/).

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In 1967, Camelot, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero was filmed there, as well as the famous Martini advert (1972). Fourteen years later, in 1986, the castle was again the stage set for another film, Harem / Dardanelos with Ava Gadner, Nancy Traver, Omar Sharif and Silvia Marsó, as well as the children’s Dutch series Pippo in 2002, the Russian singer’s Tiger Cave video clip in 2015, and later, in 2019, for a Budweiser advert, among various documentaries that took place in between.

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However, the castle is wrapped in history and legend.

An indigo sunset over the castle
Looking east towards Córdoba as the sun rises

The legend of the castle dates back to the 11th century when Andalusia was part of the Moorish caliphate, under the rule of Berber Almohad tribe (from The Atlas Mountains). The caliph of Cordova (‘Qurṭuba’, in Arabic) at that time was Prince Abu Nasir al-Fatah al-Mamum; his beloved wife was Princess Zaida, now referred to as ‘La Encantá’ (‘The Enchanted’).

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However in 1091 (or round about then), the Almoravids launched a brutal attack on Cordova, wanting to claim this prosperous city for themselves. Princess Zaida was whisked off to Almodóvar castle where it was thought that she would be secure, and where she would await the safe return of her prince. Soon after, however, the fortress at Cordova fell, and with it, the prince. His assassination marked the end of the Almohad rule.

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The enchanted castle at night, illuminated by a golden aura and seranaded by ghostly medieval music

It is said that the princess woke up at the exact time of his death and wandered out to the Homage Tower dressed only in a white tunic. She searched long and hard into the horizon looking for her husband. Her eyes though, were met only with the sight of his white stallion galloping riderless towards the castle. She was filled by despair and fell into a state of depression. 

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Princess Zaida continued living within the confines of the castle as if a prisoner, accepting the attention only of her handmaids. Every night she would wander to the Homage Tower where she would look out across the Guadalquivir Valley in the direction of Cordova, anxiously awaiting the return of her beloved.

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The legend holds that on the 28th of March, one can spot the princess attired in her white gown, forlornly roaming the tower in search of her loved one.

The story is remembered every year when, during the 28th and 31st of March a play is acted out on a stage that forms part of the Medieval market named in Princess Zaida’s honour. The market is called ‘Zoco de la Encantá’ (The Enchanted’s Souk) and takes place upon the slopes of the castle’s Cerro de la Floresta hill.

If you would like to read other similar stories or know more about me and this neck of the woods where I live (the province of Córdoba, the Sierra Morena and the Guadalquivir Valley), you can find out more from my fully-illustrated, humorous book, An English Lady in Cordova — the ‘Alternative’ Guide available at https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect

I hope you’ve enjoyed this blog – thank you for reading!

The view from my southeasterly-facing porch — the enchanted castle of Almodóvar del Río (Córdoba, Spain)

View of the castle of Almodóvar del Río at dawn — looking eastwards

Being forced to stay at home because of this disgusting virus certainly does make one reflect. I am lucky enough to be living in the country so I can still enjoy nature that is blooming all around — every morning I am greeted the bluetit that alights on my bedroom grille — and I listen out to the variety of springtime birdsong, from the insistent ‘ka ka ka ka ka’ of the hoopoe (which I originally mistook for a woodpecker because of its long beak) to the strident ‘caws’ of the buff-coloured magpies as they bustle, push and shove their way to the most profitable spot on the mulberry tree in order to pluck off the fattening fruit from the laden branches that dip so low they almost touch the ground.

 And in the background, while I am writing this blog I can hear the melodious warble of the thrush and the distant song of a nightingale; and on the nearby eucalyptus and Pride of Persia trees I can hear a pair of stone chats talking to each other with that distinctive chinking sound of theirs.

The pride of Persia tree with fragrant purple flowers

But enough of birds for now (if you would like to know more about the wildlife around this neck of the woods, or of the very rich biodiversity that can be found in the protected ecological niche of Hornachuelos Natural Park, then you could take a look at my illustrated book An English Lady in Cordova — the Alternative Guide, available from https://www.etsy.com/es/listing/770288445/illustrated-book-self-published-with?ref=shop_home_active_6. Also there are some great photos of Iberian birds on this Facebook page: Aves de España).

Now back to the matter in hand: the enchanted castle. This ancient monument lies about 9 km from my house and about 40 km from Córdoba and crowns the whitewashed village of Almodóvar del Río.

But before relating the legend, I would just like to briefly mention a little bit about its background, one which reflects the very rich cultural and historical past of not only Cordova, but Andalusia as a whole.

The name ‘Almodóvar’ harks back to the time when the Moors inhabited Andalusia, or Al-Andalus as it was known during their eight-hundred year occupation (from 711 to 1492). The village’s original name during these times was Al-Mudawwar-al-Adna, which roughly means ‘round’ or ‘safe’; it refers to the rounded and steep profile of the shrubby hill, La Floresta upon which it is set. During the Moorish (or Arabic) occupancy, each region had its own castle and was ruled by its own caliph; often there was rivalry between the caliphates and also from outside tribes.

The castle of Almodóvar was presided over by Caliph Abd al-Malik ben Qatan in 740 A.D; he served under Caliph of Damascus, part of the Umayyad Dynasty. Due to the rivalry between the various tribes of the Arab world, several revolts took place (such as the Berber Revolt of 740–743 A.D.) which resulted in a shift in power within the ruling Umayyad clan.

The best preserved castle in Andalusia – stage of Game of Thrones

This dynasty held its capital in Damascus but had a major seating in Cordova. It was associated with time of richness and splendour, and so became known as the ‘Golden Age’ of the Moors in Spain (extending from 756–1031 AD more or less).

The Umayyad Caliphate was then succeeded by the Berber Muslim dynasty which included firstly the Almoravids (ruling from 1085–1145 A.D.) and later, the defeating Almohads who ruled from 1147 to 1238 A.D. (This is all fairly approximate by the way—I’m not a historian.)

The legend of the castle dates back to the 11th century when Andalusia was part of the Moorish caliphate, as mentioned before, and under the rule of Berber Almohad tribe (from The Atlas Mountains). The caliph of Cordova (‘Qurṭuba’, in Arabic) at that time was Prince Abu Nasir al-Fatah al-Mamum; his beloved wife was Princess Zaida, now referred to as ‘La Encantá’ (‘The Enchanted’).

However in 1091 (or round about then) the Almoravids launched a brutal attack on Cordova, wanting to claim this prosperous city for themselves. Princess Zaida was whisked off to Almodóvar castle where it was thought that she would be secure, and where she would await the safe return of her prince. Soon after, however, the fortress at Cordova fell, and with it, the prince. His assassination marked the end of the Almohad rule.

It is said that the princess woke up at the exact time of his death and wandered out to the Homage Tower dressed only in a white tunic. She searched long and hard into the horizon looking for her husband. Her eyes though, were met only with the sight of his white stallion galloping riderless towards the castle. She was filled by despair and fell into a state of depression. 

Princess Zaida continued living within the confines of the castle as if a prisoner, accepting the attention only of her handmaids. Every night she would wander to the Homage Tower where she would look out across the Guadalquivir Valley in the direction of Cordova, anxiously awaiting the return of her beloved.

The legend holds that on the 28th of March, one can spot the princess attired in her white gown, forlornly roaming the tower in search of her loved one.

The story is remembered every year when, during the 28th and 31st of March a play is acted out on a stage that forms part of the Medieval market named in Princess Zaida’s honour. The market is called ‘Zoco de la Encantá’ (The Enchanted’s Souk) and takes place upon the slopes of the castle’s Cerro de la Floresta hill.

Well – that’s all for now folks. Hope you’re all keeping well and enthusiastic in your projects and the things that you pursue.

Thanks for visiting me and hope to be back soon…