Sunray in front of the haunted castle of Almodóvar del Río (Cordova, Andalusia) — and Longfellow’s Castles in Spain poem.

Hi folks! I hope you this finds you well…

I just wanted to share this sunrise photo with you. In the background you can see the impressive, haunted, Christian-cum-Moorish castle of Almodóvar del Río, stage set for various films and ads. These include:

  • 1967, Camelot, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero
  • 1972, the famous Martini advert
  • 1986, Harem / Dardanelos with Ava Gadner, Nancy Traver, Omar Sharif and Silvia Marsó
  • 2002 the children’s Dutch series Pippo
  • 2015, the Russian singer’s Tiger Cave video clip
  • 2019 a Budweiser advert
  • And more recently, HBO’s Game of Thrones, and chapter 3 of Netflix’s Warrior Nun, as well as various documentaries that took place in between.

For the history of the castle, its enchanted legend and photos, click on this link.

The castle, its surrounding villages of Almodóvar del Río, Posadas and Hornachuelos that lie in the Guadalquivir Valley close to the historic town of Cordova, are really well-worth a visit! They are steeped in a rich history and culture, and are replete with traditions. The landscape is beautiful too, varying from flat valleys that rise to the imposing Sierra Morena in the north. (You can find a description of these places in my earlier blogs.)  

Well, before leaving I would also like to close with a classic poem about Spanish castles, by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (February 27, 1807 – March 24, 1882) American poet, educator and the first American to translate Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy. (Wiki)

Castles in Spain

How much of my young heart, O Spain,

Went out to thee in days of yore!
What dreams romantic filled my brain,
And summoned back to life again
The Paladins of Charlemagne,
The Cid Campeador

And shapes more shadowy than these,
  In the dim twilight half revealed;
Phoenician galleys on the seas,
The Roman camps like hives of bees,
The Goth uplifting from his knees
  Pelayo on his shield. 

It was these memories perchance,
  From annals of remotest eld,
That lent the colors of romance
To every trivial circumstance,
And changed the form and countenance
  Of all that I beheld. 


Old towns, whose history lies hid
  In monkish chronicle or rhyme,–
Burgos, the birthplace of the Cid,
Zamora and Valladolid,
Toledo, built and walled amid
  The wars of Wamba’s time; 


The long, straight line of the highway,
  The distant town that seems so near,
The peasants in the fields, that stay
Their toil to cross themselves and pray,
When from the belfry at midday
  The Angelus they hear; 


White crosses in the mountain pass,
  Mules gay with tassels, the loud din
Of muleteers, the tethered ass
That crops the dusty wayside grass,
And cavaliers with spurs of brass
  Alighting at the inn; 

White hamlets hidden in fields of wheat,
   White cities slumbering by the sea,
White sunshine flooding square and street,
Dark mountain ranges, at whose feet
The river beds are dry with heat,–
  All was a dream to me. 


Yet something sombre and severe
  O’er the enchanted landscape reigned;
A terror in the atmosphere
As if King Philip listened near,
Or Torquemada, the austere,
  His ghostly sway maintained. 


The softer Andalusian skies
  Dispelled the sadness and the gloom;
There Cadiz by the seaside lies,
And Seville’s orange-orchards rise,
Making the land a paradise
  Of beauty and of bloom. 

There Cordova is hidden among
  The palm, the olive, and the vine;
Gem of the South, by poets sung,
And in whose Mosque Ahmanzor hung
As lamps the bells that once had rung
  At Compostella’s shrine. 

But over all the rest supreme,
  The star of stars, the cynosure,
The artist’s and the poet’s theme,
The young man’s vision, the old man’s dream,–
Granada by its winding stream,
  The city of the Moor! 

And there the Alhambra still recalls
  Aladdin’s palace of delight;
Allah il Allah! through its halls
Whispers the fountain as it falls,
The Darro darts beneath its walls,
  The hills with snow are white. 

Ah yes, the hills are white with snow,
  And cold with blasts that bite and freeze;
But in the happy vale below
The orange and pomegranate grow,
And wafts of air toss to and fro
  The blossoming almond trees. 

The Vega cleft by the Xenil,
  The fascination and allure
Of the sweet landscape chains the will;
The traveller lingers on the hill,
His parted lips are breathing still
  The last sigh of the Moor


How like a ruin overgrown
  With flowers that hide the rents of time,
Stands now the Past that I have known;
Castles in Spain, not built of stone
But of white summer clouds, and blown
  Into this little mist of rhyme!

A very beautiful poem, encompassing many parts of Spain and touching on its history.

Well, that’s all for now. Thank you for visiting!

Your comments are always welcome.

Take care! xxx

Another beautiful sunrise!

Hello all! I hope you are keeping well in these difficult times…

As you can see, this morning I was met with a beautiful sunrise!

An impressive daybreak looking eastwards beyond the haunted castle of Almodóvar del Río towards Cordova

I would also like to take this opportunity of introducing to you one of my favourite blogs that I follow, written by a talented lady who lives in beautiful Yorkshire: https://lisafeatherstone.co.uk/ .

The posts are very articulate, well-written and enlightening, with topics ranging from hand-knit designs, birds, books, plants and thoughts (wellbeing, drawing and accessibility). There’s also a quiz on Fridays which not only serves as a mental gymnasium but is sure to test and increase your general knowledge too.  In short, there is something there for everyone!

Oh — and if you wish to view Lisa’s hand-crafted delights on Etsy, you can see them here: https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/LisaFeatherDesign.  You can also follow Lisa on instagram at https://www.instagram.com/lisa.featherstone

Happy interesting reading!

But to finish with, I’d like to include a poem that celebrates the early morning:

DAWN by Ella Wheeler Wilcox (1850-1919, Wisconsin, America)

Day’s sweetest moments are at dawn;
Refreshed by his long sleep, the Light
Kisses the languid lips of Night,
Ere she can rise and hasten on.
All glowing from his dreamless rest
He holds her closely to his breast,
Warm lip to lip and limb to limb,
Until she dies for love of him.

Thank you for visiting — stay well! xxx

A golden sunrise!

This morning’s sunrise over the medieval castle of Almodóvar del Río (province of Cordova, Spain)

Full many a glorious morning have I seen — William Shakespeare (1564-1616, Stratford-Upon-Avon)

Full many a glorious morning have I seen
Flatter the mountain tops with sovereign eye,
Kissing with golden face the meadows green,
Gilding pale streams with heavenly alchemy;
Anon permit the basest clouds to ride
With ugly rack on his celestial face,
And from the forlorn world his visage hide,
Stealing unseen to west with this disgrace:
Even so my sun one early morn did shine,
With all triumphant splendour on my brow;
But out, alack, he was but one hour mine,
The region cloud hath mask’d him from me now.
Yet him for this my love no whit disdaineth;
Suns of the world may stain when heaven’s sun staineth.

Thank you for visiting — take care! xxx

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!

A walk along my country path (Posadas, Córdoba, Andalusia)

The other day I braved the 37° C temperatures (= 98,6 F) to go for a short stroll along the country track that leads out of my home and wends its way past other fincas…

The stony track passes land populated by cork oak trees. They have been stripped of their bark — a process which occurs every seven years. (When the trucks do take the chunks of cork away, some inevitably fall onto the path, so I pick some of them up and use them for painting:-)

The fresh bark underneath is a lovely red oxide.

Flowers of the carrot family and other cousins of these umbelliferous plants stand proud above the baby blue and pale purple scabious.

The dark seed in the centre contrasts with the white flower, almost seeming as if there is an insect poised there.

The grasses that were bluish-green only a couple of weeks ago have already gone to seed as they are now dry and bristly. (Best to wear trousers and not shorts like I did!)

The fragrant myrtle is also in flower. Reminds me of William Blake’s poem In a Myrtle Shade:

Why should I be bound to thee,
O my lovely Myrtle-tree?
Love, free Love, cannot be bound
To any tree that grows on ground…

Some trees have died, but make beautiful, natural sculptures with their twisted, distorted branches and outstretched gnarled fingers.

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Cows gaze mutely at me as I pass by…

…simply turning their heads inquiringly.

There is a small, whitewashed cottage where the track bends to the right — it peeps out from behind the majestic cork tree.

Through a clearing between the cork and olive trees and the pistacia bushes, you can just spy the castle of Almodóvar del Río in the distance.

Here it is again, crowning La Floresta hill.

(If you would like to know more about this castle, its history and legend, then please read my earlier blog https://wordpress.com/block-editor/post/anenglishladyincordova.home.blog/785)

As I continued further, I was afforded some shade by the lofty pines — but then soon the hot sun started to dip and my shadow led the way along the burnished path.

I hope you have enjoyed coming on this walk with me.

Thank you for your visit!

Sunset over my home

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The huge Breña reservoir — but not even at 40% of its capacity. Desertification of Southern Spain?

It had been an unusually hot day for the last week of March — reaching about 36 degrees, and so my daughter and I waited for the onset of the evening before going for a spin and a short walk by the Breña Reservoir (which lies between Almodovar del Río and Posadas in the province of Córdoba). We were also taking advantage of the Covid restrictions being lifted a little, now being able to go for a walk after 8 p.m.

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By the time we had got there, the fluffy clouds were already taking on a daffodil hue and the celestial blue of the afternoon sky was becoming distinctly indigo. A light breeze picked up and caressed the surface of the mercurial lake.

Then mercury became lead as the buttery sun dipped lower on the western horizon, melting onto the National Park of Hornachuelos…

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Meantime, dusk started to descend from the east, from the direction of Córdoba, enveloping the castle of Almodóvar on its way.

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Then the honeyed sun made its glorious golden exit.

We had been walking for quite some time now and it was getting late, and we hungry, so we got back in my little Peugot and started heading home, driving some 15 minutes in a westerly direction, towards the village of Posadas.

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You can see the castle of Almodóvar del Río just beginning to be lit up, standing proud atop La Floresta hill (top left corner) — and towards the top right, the Moorish atalaya watchtower

We noticed that the sky here hadn’t as yet received its goodnight kiss from the setting sun. So we got out of our car on our country track and waited silently for the show to commence. (I say silently, but it wasn’t really, because the wheateaters, thrushes and sparrows decided to give their full repertoire in accompaniment to the maturing day.)

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And then the show started once more. Aqua-marine to grey-blue streaked with light indigo. The tall wheat in the fields blushed as the grasses on the wayside tickled and nodded in their direction…

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You can see the enchanted castle of Almodóvar del Río in the background again. (If you want to know about its history and legend, then please see my earlier blog: 11 – ‘The views from my southeasterly-facing porch and the enchanted castle of Almodóvar del Río’.)

…and now a dewy haze wafted up from the nearby Guadalquivir River, affording light refreshment after a stewy day, making all the afore well-defined lines blurry.

But the colours in the sky took on greater definition…

…what with their pastel of subdued blues, rosy orange and peach…

…violets, cobalt and Prussia softened by rouge…

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…toasted pinks licked by silvery tongues…

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…mauve, pewter, coral and powder blue…

…cornflower, salmon and ash…

… a rich kaleidoscope, a true marriage of colours…

where the beauty of nature never ceases to amaze…

Thank you for visiting — I hope this blog finds you in good health and spirits. See you soon!

(For more words and art for sale from this neck of the woods, please visit: https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect)

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…

Nature knows no confinement.

While the population observe confinement in the trying virus-filled days, nature continues expressing itself freely outside, unhindered by our cares.

I have just wanted to share a few photos with you, which I think, underline just how free nature is. To keep this post short and hopefully sweet, I am concentrating only on the sky. I think you’ll like the photos if you like pinks, purples, burnished orange and pomegranate — and even dusky indigos and pigeon greys. Because these are the unrestrained colours of my sky at sunrise and sunset — ‘my’ because I am referring to the sky that forms a mantle and a canopy above my rustic home — a sky in which the colours spread freely, unrestricted in its state of non-confinement.

(And, no, I haven’t photoshopped the photos or retouched them, the skies are often truly biblical skies, especially when Andalusia becomes veiled by the hazy ‘calima’ sand particles in suspension that waft over to the Iberian Peninsula from Africa. These particles diffract the light, accentuating and diffusing the matinal and twilight colours.)

So here goes:

Looking from my porch in an easterly direction, towards Cordova
Looking west in the direction of Seville (some 70 miles away from my country abode)
Sunrise spied through the young, tender shoots of an olive tree
The sun steadily rises between the olive trees
Sunrise behind the enchanted castle of Almodóvar del Río (lying approx 6 miles east from my home)
And the morning sun still continues in its path upwards…
just to set some hours later.

I hope you have enjoyed the photos — (more about the castle in a further post).

Thank you for visiting — back soon !

My vegetable patch and the mines of Peñarroya – Pueblonuevo, north of Cordova, Andalusia.

Hello all! I’m back, but this time with a slighter shorter article. It’s about my day out to the lovely mines of Peñarroya and Pueblonuevo in the province of Cordova (just what you really wanted to know!). As usual, the article is accompanied by photos. (I think I remembered to clean the grubby camera lens first, though I am still learning about all the advanced features that this digital camera has. Wish I hadn’t lost the PhD instruction booklet that came with it all those years ago!)

Anyway, before I start my ramblings, I firstly wanted to share a couple of photos with you of my vegetable patch (also an experiment and learning curve) which, the other day I dressed with well-seasoned horse manure. In a fit of over-enthusiasm I then sowed seeds of spinach, Swiss chard, runner beans and peas (which, for all you Spanish language learners, is: espinacas, acelgas, judías y guisantes). The only thing is I’m not sure if I should’ve sowed them straight into the manure or into ordinary earth first…. Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. But don’t worry, I shall keep you updated as to the progress of these seeds (that is, if there is any progress…).

As you can see, I was accompanied by my tireless, faithful helpers — Zeus, my dopey but loving mastiff puppy, and Dingo, my adopted, previously-abandoned mongrel. (They are inseparable and share a brightly burning love.)

My helping hands, Zeus and Dingo, hard at work!

The day was cold and windy, but Zeus and Dingo kept themselves warm on their bed of horse manure!

Close by, the almond tree is just coming out in flower. It has a delicate marzipan perfume.

Anyway, to get back to the thread of things — the mines of Peñarroya and Pueblonuevo…

Having studied a joint geology/geography degree in London it is no surprise that I love to hang out at mines, quarries, spoil heaps, slag heaps, chimneys, mills and other places of similar beauty. So this explains why last Monday I was picking my way through piles of mineral debris and traipsing over dangerously-camouflaged grassy hollows. I strolled past leaning, tottering chimneys and ambled by decaying buildings with terracotta bricks dropping out, and where now only jagged splinters of smoky glass marked the remains of the former Victorian windows.

I almost tripped over the rotting wooden sleepers that once guided the locomotives and carts that ferried mineral-rich rocks, wood pulp, jute and chemicals to and fro one building to the other in this old French-Spanish mining complex of Peñarroya.  And I just missed falling down one of the deep, vertical pits… (Nevermind about the distinct lack of warning signs!)

But yes, I was happy: I was in my element! And yes, it’s a long way from the quarries of the Malverns (a place where I hewed out hundreds of rock samples from the granite and diorite quarries to later study them under the microscope; and where I trod miles and miles, come rain come shine, in my tireless attempt to map this area..), but Peñarroya is not so far from Córdoba, which is where I have been living for the last thirty years, as mentioned in my previous blog. (You can find out more about that from my book An English Lady in Cordova – the Alternative Guide, see: https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect where apart from describing the local areas, I recount the hows and whys I came to be here, and also describe the embarrassing, painful, humorous and often humiliating experiences that I survived during the initial teething problems of being a freshly-imported, naïve immigrant…)

Anyway, getting back to those lovely mines and spoil heaps… I would just like to share with those of you who are that way inclined (or those contemplating a visit to this location north of Córdoba), a brief description of the Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo area and to show you some photos that I took and did surprisingly manage to download to my computer via the use of the SD card.

So, to keep this short (since I have read that the average blog consists of about 300 to 600 words — gulp!), here goes:-

Peñarroya dates back to the 13th century, and in medieval times it was known as Peña Roja (peña meaning crag, geologically-speaking, and ‘roja’, red). This mining town lies at about 79 km north of Córdoba (inland Andalusia, Southern Spain) on a plateau within the Sierra Morena range. The neighbouring mining village, Pueblonuevo, is more recent, dating back to the mining boom. Apparently, in 1860, a rather fierce mastiff named El Terrible discovered coal there when he was having a good dig around, and hence from that day the main mine was christened El Terrible, as was the newer adjacent village ­—  Pueblonuevo del Terrible. (The village was founded after 1778.)

However, dogs apart, the exploitation of anthracite and bituminous coal and other mineral ores such as iron, silver and lead dates back to 1770. Soap, paper, fabrics and chemical fertilisers were also manufactured there. The surrounding land was planted with eucalyptus and pines, and the wood was used for the extensive railway tracks and for making paper and card. (Hence the name of La Papelera for the chimney at the paper-making works. ‘Papel’ means paper.) The fields were also planted with jute and cotton which were used for fabrics and sacks. Some fabric was used in 1928 for the carpets in Madrid’s Prado Museum, and during the Civil War the paper was utilised for newspapers in this Republican area, once the rebels had taken possession of the factories.

Mining reached its peak in the middle of the 19th century and was largely owned by the French Mining and Metallurgical Company, SMMP (Société Minière et Métallurgique de Peñarroya). They were around for about a hundred years (having elbowed out the English), and several of the buildings display French architecture typical of that era, such as the former hospital, built in 1928, or the SMMP headquarters, which is now a geriatric home. (Nothing like that of the English Victorian architecture though, such as can be seen in the old disused mining complex of Los Cinco Amigos in my local area of Posadas, lying about 33 km due west of Córdoba. There are more illustrated descriptions of these mines, as well as the local towns and villages in my book, mentioned above).

Anyway, unfortunately this important large mining, chemical and industrial centre (known as El Cerco) became a focus for bombing during the Civil War of 1936, and because of this, as well as other factors — such as the after-effects of WWI, a reduced market, problems with transportation and the Spanish Royal Decree of 1921 requiring mine ownership to be totally Spanish — the French ceased their mining activities and finally retreated in the 1950s. Today there is little or no mining activity in the area.

Various plans of raising money for the economic reconversion of the area were devised, and included a variety of projects, such as taking tourists on tours of the neighbouring Guadiato Valley using the original 1884 French locomotives, or generally redeveloping the area, constructing industrial/commercial parks, museums, walks and footpaths, revamping the former railroads and even restoring some of the architecturally beautiful mining buildings and chimneys of the Cercado complex etc. However, these plans came to naught and were in fact a further loss of money for the government-backed Miner Plan coffers, despite them having showered millions of euros on Spain’s mining areas as a whole.

Anyway, though economically depressed, Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo is still a lovely, fascinating and historical area lying amongst the cork-oak (‘alcornoque’) hills of the Sierra Morena: it affords some majestic views of the hills and agricultural land of the Guadiato Valley, as well as the rocky outcrop of the Peñon and the castle of Belmez at the other extreme.

Below are some of the photos I took. (The aforementioned castle of Belmez, which sits atop the steep, limestone, rocky outcrop dates back to the 13th and 15th centuries and the Reconquest of Spain. It was also owned by the French from 1810 to 1812 during the Peninsular War.)

If you’d like to know more about the villages of Peñarroya and Pueblonuevo and visit their monuments and sites (such as the geological museum, mining area and former Victorian French and English houses etc.) then you can have a look at the council’s webpages: https://www.penarroyapueblonuevo.es/museos and https://www.penarroyapueblonuevo.es/turismo

The only problem is that you’ll have to have a fairly good command of Spanish (or Google translate!).

Hope you’ve enjoyed this blog — bye for now!

From Richmond Park to the historic town of Cordova

Hi folks — I’m back! As I briefly mentioned in my first blog, I moved over to sunny Cordova about thirty years ago. And so this is how it all started (and as described in my illustrated book, An English Lady in Cordova – the alternative guide)…

I first came to Spain in 1989. I thought it would just be a short-lived experience, lasting only about three years, but as the days turned into weeks and the weeks into months, before I knew it, twenty-nine years had passed. Working as an English teacher, translator and artisan were just a few of the factors that held me here, but these determinants soon grew as so too did both my children: they were born here and maintaining their schooling and home environment constant was a priority.

And then there was also another significant, influential consideration: the asthmatic lungs! Inland Andalusia offers a much drier climate for a pair of wheezy, respiratory organs that don’t take too well to the rainy and humid conditions of Good Ol’ England. So following the doctor’s enlightening recommendation of, ‘If you want to get better, you’ll have to head south to more arid, desert conditions…’ we packed a couple of suitcases with most of our belongings (which were few—we were young at the time) and squeezed them, together with an outsize army tent, in our crimson, semi-battered, open-top Alfa Romeo (the one I passed my driving license in even though, unbeknown to me, the tax disc was out of date—it was 1989 then and conditions were a little less sticky than today). Soon we were heading south to Andalusia.

After hardly any prior consideration—we were young then—we decided on Andalusia, preferring it to the other desert possibilities of Texas, Siberia, Mongolia etc., because above all things, it was closer to home and family.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, we ended up settling in Cordova, where the lungs improved due to the extremely dry conditions and the 120°F summer temperatures; but then the bones started to ache terribly from such intense heat…

The Mezquita (mosque)/ Catedral (cathedral) of Córdoba

We took up residence in a flat on the first floor of an ancient ramshackle house that was full of medieval echoes and harked back to the times of the Moors and Romans.

This dwelling had a typical Arabic-style, square-shaped, cobbled courtyard with an orange tree in the middle, encircled by fragrant box bushes.

Patio with orange tree and box shrubs in Calle Encarnación

There was a timeworn statue of a bronze horse’s head of Moorish design that emerged from one of the whitewashed walls and spouted water into the creamy, shelly sandstone fountain. At higher levels, indigo-coloured pots of vibrant hanging geraniums spilled forth trailing blooms over tangles of perfumed jasmine and unruly masses of intoxicating ‘Lady of the Night’. To top it all, a maze of grape vines with interwoven branches that resembled curving Olive Whipsnakes invaded the terracotta-tiled roof that had seriously sagged with time. This weatherworn roof provided a haven for all the swallows, rats, geckos, dormice and thieves that wandered the vicinity.

Part of a pillar from Medinat al-Zahara

The patio was peppered with Roman and Moorish artefacts such as reddish pillars and ornate capitals that had previously been pilfered from the remains of the Caliphal medieval palace-city, Medinat al-Zahra (‘The Shining City’)—the original site of Cordova, ruled by Caliph Abd al-Rahman III. Unfortunately the area was only recently declared a UNESCO heritage site, so before this, the familiar maxim, ‘Help yourself!’ then prevailed. In other words the site (already having been heavily ransacked during the 1013 AD Berber vs. Umayyad Caliphate Civil War) was regularly pillaged with the result that numerous priceless archaeological artefacts came to rest in the courtyards and on the whitewashed walls of many local houses. And ours was just such an example.

The bell tower of the Mezquita and San Rafael

Anyway, raised location was to our advantage mainly because we could easily spot all the burglars that would prowl the aged rooftops at night before then plopping down into our patio to stealthily rummage through the remainder our still-unopened boxes of belongings; the burglar would stop occasionally for a drag on that tell-tale cigarette with the incandescent butt smouldering away in the obscurity of the night, revealing his presence. It wasn’t long before we became well-known to the local Civil Guards who would often attend our calls at night; they would check the shadowy downstairs rooms one by one, pushing each heavy wooden door open wide before pouncing around it, revolvers at the ready. But by then, the burglars would have already shinned up the drainpipe or Olive Whipsnake vine and scuttled away over the midnight roofs.

A second advantage of having our flat on the first floor was that from the broad sitting-room windows we could see the bell tower of Cordova’s famous Great Mosque-cathedral (built in 784 under the orders of Abd al-Rahman I) topped by the town’s patron saint, the archangel San Rafael, who offers eternal protection to all the citizens.

But the real noise would take place on Friday and Saturday nights. It was on these nights that the university students would celebrate their end of week with drunken brawls and revelries, sometimes accompanied by ‘tunas’— (small but high-spirited musical groups composed of students dressed in Renaissance outfits, playing guitars, lutes and tambourines — and oh, of course, singing).

Doorway and steps (the ‘urinal’ of old) – now part of Balcon de Córdoba 4* hotel

I enjoyed the romantic, sentimental serenading, but not the rest of the general riot which was made worse by those stragglers who, as the wee hours of the night approached would desperately look for a place to have a much-needed wee; and because the main door of our building was a little away off the Roman cobbled ‘Encarnación’ street, up a few granite steps and flanked by a couple of pilfered Arabic Medinat al-Zahra pillars, the highly educated scholars would find this a most convenient place to relieve themselves. So in the morning, on my way out of the house (armed with the house pipe and a 5-litre bottle of bleach) I would be met by a vast, yellow-green, murky, ammonia-pungent puddle—one which represented the collection of numerous wees piddled out there over the weekend.

However, as I soon became accustomed to this regular procedure I grew all the wiser, trying to catch the culprits out: I would crouch low on my moonlit balcony, half-hidden by my Hibiscus bushes and Madonna lilies, preparing for the moment of attack. When I spied that the offender was ready to take aim, I would grab the watering can and chuck all the water down onto him: this would immediately stop him in midstream, making him shove his ‘churro’ back in his trousers whilst scurrying away like a rat down the moonlit alley. Or if the offenders were being really vile and rowdy, then it would be all the earthy contents of a terracotta pot that would shower down onto their heads. However this would be only a temporary solution, as the following weekend they would be back for more!

Main door in ornate facade of archeological museum
Plaza Jerónimo Paéz – location of the archeological museum

The plaza outside the nearby archaeological museum was also the stage set for such drunken revelries, and often fuelled by drugs. (This area has since been given a beautifying facelift!)

Calle Encarnación with the Convent of Santa Clara on the left

Apart from suffering teething problems due to the raised decibels in our street, we also suffered the consequences of an insufficient electricity supply. And at first, we had none at all. The house was rickety and old, and had been in a state of abandonment for many years, and since we had not as yet managed to acquire our residency permits (a long and arduous process then) we were denied connection to the mains supply by Sevillana—the major electricity company in Andalusia (analogous to ‘corrupt’?). So we were surviving on candlelight alone and only hand-operated fans (which was quite taxing given the summer temperatures oscillated around the 115° F mark). However, we soon managed to acquire a small trickle of electricity which our neighbours, some humble students who rented the neighbouring house, illegally directed our way (we were young then!). The dodgy wiring that stretched between our two flats was, needless to say and in accordance with the Spanish safety rules at that time, void of the green, safety earth wire.

Plaza de las Tendillas in central Córdoba

Neither could we have a telephone connection via Telefónica, the major telephone operator in Spain then (which was at the time, government-owned and, once again, ‘corrupt’?): so communication was limited to either writing letters or going to the Telefónica’s main building in the Tendillas square and making very expensive calls. (And despite being privatised in 1997, the company still charges in its favour!) But with time, the necessary connections were made, which were not just with cables and wire, but also with the people (a factor of great importance here in Latin-Moorish Andalusia). And gradually, once all our papers were in order and we were classed as legalised aliens, we started to eke out our living.

Calleja de las Flores

From my cosy sitting-room in our flat that overlooked the courtyard’s orange tree I gave English classes to many people. Some male students were of a very dubious nature where their main interest was more along the lines of deflowering English roses. I also did a lot of handicraft work which I sold in the tourist shop that we started on the ground floor. The shop opened on to the well-known Calleja de Las Flores square and was always graced by budding Flamenco guitar artists.

The house was well positioned, being in the heart of the old Jewish quarters of Cordova—a bustling town built upon the banks of the Guadalquivir River (christened thus by the Moors); a town steeped in history and culture, known for, amongst many other features, its famous Great Mosque-Cathedral and the Fortress / Palace of the Christian Monarchs (King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella—parents of our King Henry VIII’s first wife, Catherine of Aragon). These renowned buildings are encased by the Roman and Arab walls of the city. Cordova is also a town characterised by much celebration and jubilation thanks to all its fiestas and cultural festivities (of which we partook assiduously!).

And within these old Jewish quarters we also opened a hostel. The area was, in those days, located in the sleazier, disreputable and not surprisingly dubious part of the neighbourhood.

Calleja de las Cabezas

In fact, just round the corner was the notorious Calle Cabezas (Streetof the Heads)a narrow, cobbled lane famous for its legend dating back to the middle ages when the blood-soaked, decapitated heads of a nobleman’s seven sons were displayed as trophies along the street, one hanging from each of the seven arches. Well, this is where our hostel was situated. It seems as if the tone of the neighbourhood had already been determined many years ago when the medieval, reconquering Christians were in serious combat with the Arabic Moors in order to regain their lost territories. (This was the famous Reconquest of Spain which occurred between 718 and 1492.) And local skirmishes still persisted in our early hostel days: conflicts which were usually fuelled and ignited by the cheap, traditional ‘fino’ sherry that was sold in the antiquated Seven Heads bar that lay just opposite those notorious arches.

Calle Rey Heredia

The area was also regularly patrolled by ladies of the night, and so being located in such a setting, our hostel attracted clients of very questionable nature. There were the more-straightforward clients such as the lowlier, foreign backpackers who arrived poor as church mice but all eager to experience the delights of eras gone by; and there were the flamenco music students, fresh from afar who were seeking cheap rentals so they could spend their pesetas on guitar classes imparted by maestros in the local ‘peña’ bars. These lessons would invariably be accompanied by a glass of ‘tinto’ or ‘fino’ along with Spanish tapas, all being consumed and performed amidst a grey haze of cheap ‘ducado’ cigarette smoke and in tempo with the clapping of palms and stamping of flamenco heels. And then there were also male immigrants from poorer countries who were seeking out Spanish wives in order to obtain legal residency (they would quietly confide in us saying that this one was just for the papers, whereas the proper one was still back in the country of origin).

There was also the shady, crooked lot who were on the run from the police: these included a peculiar and intimidating ensemble of drunks, drug addicts and wife-intimidators— but as soon as we suspected anything dodgy we would report it to the ‘policia local’ (who already knew us ‘giris’ well by then): they would arrive in a handsome jiffy, handcuffs clinking against their sides, walkie-talkies in hand, revolvers in holsters and truncheon thrust in belt. A good few criminals were whisked away. And finally, last but not least, there were the straight-forward, peaceful tourists who, after having experienced both the irregular goings-on and the dark nature of some of the hostel inmates would check out the following morning, nervously looking over their shoulders.

It is not surprising that after a few months of this hostel lark we decided to sell the business!

Museo de las Cabezas on the right

However, in the meantime, we gradually negotiated our way amongst this strange assortment of people and amid the Cordobese, though it was not all smooth-going and sometimes involved a good deal of pain. And more often than not there were many embarrassing, god-awful moments caused generally by my inexperience of both the language and customs (recounted in full humiliating details in my amusing and fully-illustrated book An English Lady in Cordova—the alternative guide). There were also some serious cockups and blunders committed, such as those related with my work as a teacher (both privately and in schools), or resulting from my indiscreet dealings with the locals. Additionally there were some serious errors of judgement during my encounters with wild animals. And crowning it all were those little ‘slip-ups’ involving me, my misbehaved jalopies and the general misinterpretation of Spanish road signals.

These little faux pas were fortunately neutralised by my positive, hassle-free encounters with the many good-natured, warm-hearted people who adopted me into their very familiar social circles. There were also many amusing, humorous and curious events involving those from not only the historical-rich town of Cordova but from the nearby villages (in particular Posadas, our local village). Characters that ranged from the sophisticated to the more simple and naive; and the incidents—well, some were experienced first-hand, whereas others were recounted by locals and jotted down by me; some are contemporary, spanning the Civil War and the present democratic times, and others are stories from the past, including ancient legends rooted in the Arabic and Christian medieval eras shrouded in their particular veil of mystery.

We did eventually move out of Cordova’s Jewish Quarters after about ten years of trial and error, and we took up residence in an olive grove on top of a hill five miles from the village of Posadas del Rey.

Looking south towards Malaga – olive trees in foreground

I think there were various factors that contributed to our decision. Perhaps it was the puddle of urine on the doorstep that grew too pungent and deep, or maybe the din from the cathedral bells combined with the non-baffled mopeds clattering down the narrow street that encouraged our exit.

It might have been the result of the uneven, cobbled pavements over which my daughter’s pram and son’s pushchair bumped over in a detrimental sort of way; or perhaps the distinct lack of green areas for children to run around and play, and where instead they were confined to cobbled plazas and granite-slabbed avenues.

(I admit I did feel intimidated by the young, hoity-toity mothers of those provincial bygone days who would gather together in the central Plaza Tendillas Square showing off their infants who were immaculately dressed in accordance with the overdone Latin way—something I never managed to achieve with my more ‘informal’ toddlers: their children were prim and proper, the girls with wide, satin bows clamped in their hair or topped in frilled bonnets, ears pierced and clothed in dolls’ dresses or finely knitted suits despite the summer temperatures; and the boys dressed like little men in starched shirts, knee-length shorts and highly polished shoes, where the only item that was missing from the whole ensemble was the moustache; and all the while the mothers would warn them not to play on the floor or rub against the railings otherwise their clothes would get dirty. But how else were they supposed to play? And in the dreadful event of dirtying their clothes, they would receive a short, sharp slap and a torrent of heated Latin abuse. Like me, these ladies were new to the experiment of motherhood, but unlike me, they celebrated this newly acquired status by caking their faces in makeup and relinquishing their jeans, track suits and plimsolls—which was, yet again, unlike me, because this was my standard wear. Though things have since changed…)

Could one of the reasons for our exit have been due to the gypsy mafia that lived nearby? The dark-skinned, voluminous matriarchs of the clan—dark hair piled high, golden filigree adorning their ears, though clad simply in flip flops: they would corner me, in a bullying, intimidating sort of way against a Roman façade or Moorish cornerstone, insisting to read my palm whilst forcing a twig of rosemary into my hand—and me being young, naive and fresh from Richmond Park and Queen Elizabeth’s deer, just could not evade this uncomfortable encounter. It was a scene that repeated itself time and time again, until I grew very cautious and weary.

Though perhaps what also encouraged our departure was our hostel, frequented by those dodgy characters that performed their unsavoury business—a drawback heightened by the disreputable, ghostly ambience of those ancient, fino-smelling, macabre lanes inhabited by spirits of the past and dubious souls of the present.

Combined with all the emotionally-trying factors mentioned above, the weariness was as well due to the shattering summer heat that was amplified by the narrow cobbled streets and concrete buildings. I think that these factors finally heralded our exit, pointing us in the direction of fresher, greener pastures.

So we sold our hostel, closed our tourist shop (that had started to dwindle anyway due to tourists preferring more distant, exotic locations) and waved goodbye to our Englishy-cluttered flat with the balconies that were permanently overloaded with delicately swaying blooms reminiscent of the English countryside and the mix ‘n’ match of more southern, intoxicating varieties.

It was not long before we moved to our new rural environment set close to the Villa de Posadas, and over the following six months, with the help of the locals, we built our humble, white-washed rustic dwelling.

From the local plant nursery in La Carlota village we bought some plants which we nurtured with much love and care—the result is now an oasis-like garden bursting at the seams with evergreen creepers and bushes and tall, deciduous flowering trees that afford the much-needed shade: Indian Bean tree, Pride of Persia, Jacaranda, lime, apricot, olive, bougainvillea, jasmine, Lady of the Night, wisteria, yuccas, aloes, trumpet vine, roses… just to name a few.

‘Abubilla’ – or Hoopoe, native of Afro-Eurasia and Madagascar
Raised ‘alberca’ pond

There is also a small, raised pool which we use for both watering our plants and for splashing about in once the all-consuming heat of summer is full upon us. The birds also take advantage of this crystal mountain water: the owls, swifts, swallows and sparrows all swoop down to wet their beaks and to pluck out the diver beetles that flourish in the water. (As yet I have never spotted a cuckoo, or crested hoopoe, neither one of Marco Polo’s azure-winged magpies drink from the pool—nor from our stream either.)


But it is not only these feathered friends that are our regular visitors—we are also frequented by all sorts of creeping, crawling, slithering and hopping things: clades of camouflaging chameleons; colonies of rats; knots of snakes; clusters of spiders and scorpions; long, thick, bristling centipedes; lounges of lizards and geckos; clouds of flying crickets and grasshoppers; and hordes of stick insects and praying mantises. The snakes, centipedes and scorpions fill me with dread, especially when I see the latter come marching out from under the kitchen sink in an orderly file, or when I almost trip upon the poisonous centipede that is waiting for me in my bathtub or on my bedside table. These creatures are one of the reasons why I always have cats (the numbers of which last year totalled fifteen). The other reason is because I love a furry feline, and so too does my daughter. The cats also provide great entertainment and sport for our burly but laid-back mastiffs.

And so, to cut a very long story short, once we had finished building our country abode, and the smouldering September was upon us, we enrolled our two toddlers into the village nursery and primary school; they adapted to these institutions well as the atmosphere was so friendly and family-like. In the meantime, we started a craft workshop selling hand-painted furniture, paintings and other crafts, in what was a derelict farm-house on the edge of Posadas.

With time we made more acquaintances, and with the passing of the years and improvement of the language, together with the appreciation of the people and their customs, we became well-integrated into Spanish society of Posadas.

This village is set in a beautiful corner of the province of Cordova, bounded by the low-lying agricultural plains of the Guadalquivir River to the south and flanked to the north by the Sierra Morena Mountains. These rocky, steep hills offer a very contrasting scenery and have many villages, hamlets and fincasthat sprawl along the flatter plateaus and nestle in its folds—each one with its own set of peculiar characters and with intriguing tales to relate.      

The Sierrezuela Natural Parka great place to visit, to hike, go cycling and to enjoy the fauna and flora, the stone age dolmens and the Roman and Moorish quarries. Also has a place for camping, barbequeing and ziplining. There is a bar and restaurant too.
See http://turismoposadas.es/
Looking north towards the mineral-rich Sierra Morena

In fact, just as I write this from my porch I can spy the haunted Medieval castle of the neighbouring village, Almodóvar del Río, rising proud from its hill; and when I look in the other direction, I see our village, Posadas, which has its own particular mystic tale associated with the archway that was the former entrance to a castle; and looking out to the west I can just spot the first whitewashed house of another village, Hornachuelos—a lofty and sloping village famous forthe legend of the haunted monastery and the flying monk.

Almodóvar castle at dawn

It is surprising just how fast time spins away. These past years for me have been ones filled with a rich array of experiences. New lands, new people; a different language, a different culture; stories from the past, stories from the present; my experiences and adventures—many of which have been recorded and narrated in my book and blog. I have wanted to share some of these locations and experiences with others, while at the same time, do justice to what I think are lovely, warm-hearted, accepting and welcoming people; an intriguing and extremely rich culture, and a very diverse land which offers something for everyone. If you would like to read more about my experiences and stories and about the different sites and history, then you can find out more from my amusing and fully-illustrated book An English Lady in Cordova—the alternative guide. For now, I will talk about some of these locations within the province of Cordova (Córdoba in Spanish) in my blog.

Synopsis

For more about the book (and other work), see https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect

Step on board—I hope you enjoy the journey!