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

An update on my vegetable patch (in the countryside of Cordova, Andalusia)

Hi folks! I’m back again, writing from my sunny, sweltering and steadily-desertifing home in the countryside of Posadas (a village of about 7.350 inhabitants, lying about 35 km / 22 mi west of the renowned Cordova, Andalusia). Temperature today is 41° C = 105.8° F, but going up to 44° = 112.2 F on Sunday. Yipee!!!

View from my house, looking north towards the Sierra Morena Hills

(For more information on tourism in Posadas and the many interesting cultural, historical and nature-based places to visit in the surrounding areas of this Guadalquivir Valley and Sierra Morena range, you can see the council’s link at: https://www.posadas.es/turismo)

Anyway, I realised that I hadn’t kept my promise that I made in my earlier blog, My vegetable patch and the mines of Peñarroya – Pueblonuevo, north of Cordova, Andalusia (28-01-2020) of keeping you updated as to the progress of my vegetable patch. I posted the first photos in January when the plants were just wee little things. Now six months on they have matured a lot and are all producing fruit, even if they look a bit higgledy-piggledy and worse for wear.

Looks cuddly — but beware!
One of the locals — also prone to gate-crashing my veg patch!

This isn’t actually my fault, but that of the wild boar, who, a few moonlit nights ago decided to make a bee-line for my green ‘oasis’ — (last year it was a stray cow that gate-crashed, eating all the vegetables, save for the chilli peppers — smart lass was she!).

The wild boar forced his way under the chicken wire, levering it up with his plough-shaped head and powerful neck, then trotted his barrel-shaped body down the lines of maturing courgettes, peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, spinach, Swiss chard and potatoes. He sniffed with delight the freshly-applied manure before then steadily hoofing around each plant while nuzzling away in search for roots and mushrooms.

Very powerful neck and head — good leverage, contrasting with the delicate feet!

He uplifted and neatly pushed aside each and every plant with his delicate paws, as well as the supporting canes. I must admit though, he did work methodically and meticulously in an organised sort of way.

 However, when I went down in the morning to water, I was met with catastrophe! It took a while to assimilate what had happened — but then I quickly set to. I feverishly started to restraighten and replug everything back in, recovering the exposed roots with the upturned earth — (while just clad in my pyjama shorts, skimpy top and flip-flops) — until I eventually brought some sort of normality back to my vegetable patch.

It took quite a bit of effort, but things haven’t quite returned to what they were beforehand, hence the unprofessional look. Also, the downside to me gardening in my summer pjs was that I got five nasty bites on my legs which swelled into big blisters and lasted about a week! I still have the marks now. (Must’ve been a horsefly or tiger mosquito.)

Mind you, it could’ve been worse, what with those amber-coloured scorpions and millipedes who are my regularly-visiting neighbours.

Yuck!
Double yuck!

My dogs, Zeus and Dingo, did try to ward off the boar by barking from afar. Here is a photo of the heroes. You can see that although they have their own cool, covered area, somehow they always decide to dig a hole in my border, pushing my watering pipe aside to then fall asleep on the freshly-watered earth.

My brave heroes — Dingo and Zeus

Oh for the joys of living in the Andalusian countryside!

So here are some recent photos (including the view looking south over the guadalquivir Valley, in the direction of the Sierra of Malaga, which lies at about 160 km / 95 mi away) :-

Thank you for reading — see you soon — hope you’re all well! xxx

(PS. If you’d like to know more about where I live — Posadas and previously, Cordova town — and what I’m up to, then you can take a peek at my blog: From Richmond Park to the historic town of Cordovahttps://anenglishladyincordova.home.blog/2019/12/19/from-richmond-park-to-the-historic-town-of-cordova/. )

WARNING: it is a long one, but does have many pictures, so just looking at these will give you a good idea of both these places!

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…

The Sierrezuela, Posadas, Córdoba (Spain)

As I mentioned earlier in my first blog and also in my book An English Lady in Cordova – the Alternative Guide (https://www.etsy.com/es/shop/GillysWork?ref=search_shop_redirect), after having lived quite a few years in Cordova, I soon hungered after the open green spaces. I was used to the greenness of Richmond Park — going on long walks and collecting chestnuts and Boletus mushrooms in autumn, and pressing the curling fronds of fern leaves of different hues as each colour marked a different point in the year: fresh springtime green, summer yellow, autumnal burnished orange, golden and bronze… I was sure that the deer and squirrels were my friends, and I even had names for those regular stalkers. And if it weren’t the verdant sylvan palette of Charles I’s 17th century deer park that I loved, what with its characterful lodges, nature reserves and ponds, then it was the leafy greenness, grassiness and flourishing multicolours of our family garden that was the pride and joy of my parents, and one I used to revel in. So perhaps you can understand why the confines of those dim, narrow, winding cobbled streets of the old Judería Jewish Quarters and the typical patios of Moorish design, suffocated me.

So off we went, with babes in tow, to the patchwork arable pastures, olive plantations and orange groves 25 miles further west along the Guadalquivir Valley plains, at the footslopes of the undulating Sierra Morena. We set up home atop one of these hills, not far from the historic village of Posadas (del Rey) and the castled village of Almodóvar del Río, both situated on the old Camino Califal (the Route of the Caliphs), subsequently called Camino Real (the Royal Road, travelled by King Alfonso XIII) that linked Cordova with Seville.

But enough of my nostalgic ramblings for now (you can read more of this in my book mentioned above) and back to the matter in hand — the Sierrezuela.

This peri-urban park — which has been classed as a Protected Natural Area of Andalusia and also a Site of Community Interest — lies in the hills just above my village of Posadas. The park forms part of the extensive Natural Park and Nature Reserve of Hornachuelos.  It is worthy of mention not only because of the richness of fauna and flora, but also because of its historical and ethnological background. Examples of this include the Roman mines, quarries, watering holes, canals, stretches of paved roads, as well as the ancient dolmens pertaining to the Metal Age. There are also great routes for hiking, running and mountain biking and there is a high zip line and adventure zone that stretches from one lofty pine to another. There is an information centre where one can attend talks, go on mushroom, plant and bird-spotting guided walks, and on sultry summer nights, learn all about the constellations. There is also a basket weaving classroom and museum with handmade artisan objects on display (and for sale!). The two bars and restaurant serve great food and there is also an extensive barbeque area with stone benches if you want to go it alone (although you won’t be alone because the locals are a friendly, open, fun-loving gregarious lot!). You can also camp there. But below is a fuller description (for those non-Spanish speakers), borrowed and translated from the council’s pamphlet. (For more information (in Spanish) on the Sierrezuela and Posadas, please go to this link: https://www.posadas.es/ilmo_ayuntamiento/informacion_municipal/medio_ambiente/areas_interes/enp/parque_periurbano_la_sierrezuela_2

POSADAS

A millennial history…

… A tradition of hospitality

The Sierrezuela looking north towards the Sierra Morena

The Sierrezuela Periurban Park lies within the municipal finca of La Sierrezuela, situated to the north of Posadas village. It is easily accessed via the A-431 main road and Posadas train station and coach stops. The park is of great ecological importance and is included in the Network of Nature Protection Areas of Andalusia as well as the Natura 2000 Network (European Network of Special Areas of Conservation). The Sierrezuela is located in the Sierra Morena hills, also spilling over into the Guadalquivir Valley and agricultural lowlands – La Vega del Guadalquivir. This beautiful nature reserve is prized for its environmental, historical, cultural and ethnological richness.

Pine ‘piñonera’ trees form part of the ‘monte mediterraneo’ flora. Watch out for the processionary caterpillars though!

The park has a total of 378 hectares of which a small part has been developed for touristic, educational and recreational activity. The main area has been equipped with parking lots and a restaurant/bar with a terrace offering panoramic views. There are also showers, toilets, an equestrian area, fountains and picnic areas with stone barbeques, tables and benches. Close by is an Interpretation and Environmental Education Centre (Centro de Interpretación y Educación Ambiental)which includes an exhibition of traditional wickerwork pieces made from olive branches. Close to this centre is an excellent adventure park which spreads over more than 15,000 m2. There are 70 high-level challenges, tall totem poles and platforms in lofty trees, circuits of varying difficulty, a giant, double zip-line of over 240 metres and a Chill Out zone.

WALKING ROUTES IN THE Sierrezuela

The SierrezuelaPark and surrounding areas offer the perfect location for leisure, sport activities and outdoor fun. The visitor can appreciate and learn about the environment and discover the history of this privileged, natural area. The variety of walking routes allows us to travel back to prehistory, to visit one of the best Roman quarries of Andalusia, to walk through one of the largest, natural palm groves within Cordova province and to trek along the international Route GR-48De Sierra Morena’ that stretches from the Portuguese border to Jaen.

RUTA DE LOS DÓLMENESDOLMEN ROUTE

There are numerous poters explaining the history of this area

This route starts from the parking lot in the Sierrezuela Park and leads towards the north. The outcrop of dolmens consists of two megalithic graves of prehistoric age made up of large, flat stones. Human remains accompanied by funerary artefacts of at least 4500 years old have been found there, dating the site to the Neolithic and Chalcolithic Age. This is the oldest site closest to Cordova and the only dolmen outcrop within the province of Cordova at such close proximity to the Guadalquivir River.

Nothing like a few skulls
lying here and there!

Distance: 2.2 km – 1.4 miles (return)

RUTA DE LA SIERREZUELA – SIERREZUELA ROUTE

Along this track one can observe the great biodiversity that exists in the monte mediterráneo (Mediterranean hills), not only in the way of faunal species — represented by the variety of birds, or the footprints, tracks and traces left by mammals — but also by the richness in flora and fungi. This route is also a sports circuit: there are six workout apparatus (pull-up, push-up bars, inclined ramps) and twenty stops, all signalled and marked on a board indicating the type of exercise that can be carried out, with three levels of difficulty.

Distance: 4 km – 2.5 miles (circular walk)

RUTA DE PATERNAPATERNA ROUTE

A Roman pillar, one of many,
just lies there

The Ruta de Paterna (Monumental Route)is a historical route and passes by important, ancient monuments. This track, which is close to Posadas, stretches from the Sierra Morena to the Guadalquivir Valley and lies on the west flank of the Sierrezuela. The route starts at the crossroads of Camino Bajo and Camino de Paterna in Hornachuelos. Along the route there is the water source, Pilar dePaterna, which serves as a fountain and water hole, and also a stone quarry, Cantera Honda. The Pilar de Paternais one of the most valuable fountains in the province,forming an important part of the area’s rich, historical heritage. It was catalogued in the Inventario de Fuentes de la Provincia de Córdoba (Inventory of Fountains of Cordova Province). The construction of the fountain dates back to probably the Late Middle Ages. The quarry, Cantera Honda, appeared in an article published in 1928 by Antonio Carbonell Trillo-Figueroa and was possibly associated with the oil industry that was predominant in the Guadalquivir Valley from 1AD to 3 AD, during which time the oil was exported to different locations within the Roman Empire.

Distance: 4.86 km – 3 miles (linear walk)

SENDERO GR-48 FOOTPATH GR-48 The GR-48 Sendero de Sierra Morena(Sierra Morena Footpath) spans the provinces of Huelva, Seville, Cordova and Jaen, starting in the locality of Barrancos in Portugal. This track consists of thirty sections, covers a total of 590 km (367 miles) with more than 180 km (112 miles) in Cordova province and also enters the locality of Hornachuelos. The footpath crosses Posadas at two stages (the 14th and 15th), passing the first via the southern skirt of the municipal fincas, Rozas del Pozuelo and Sierrezuela.

USEFUL INFORMATION / TELEPHONE NUMBERS: Town hall: 957 63 00 13 ; Tourist office: 957 63 0378

And here are some photos…

And last but not least — my vegetable patch. So far there doesn’t seem to be too much action from the peas, runner beans spinach and Swiss chard seeds, but it does seem like the weeds are fast gaining ground…. Will keep you updated!