Whoopee it’s the hoopoe… et al!

Hello again!

As I mentioned in my last post — Bunnies and springtime flowers galore! — we have been suddenly inundated (here in the Cordovan hills) by seasonal birds that have made a comeback, as well as destructive caterpillars, lambkins and bunnies.

Two of the birds are regular visitors as you will see in the photos: there is the friendly Great Tit (Parus major) that alights on my window grilles, and though I like to flatter myself by presuming it has especially come to see me, I do know that the real excuse for it hovering by my window is to peck off any insects that have stuck on the glass. It calls out with its strident ‘chee-chee-chee-chee-chee!’

Then there is the hoopoe, that strikingly-coloured Old World bird with its zebra-coloured wings and crest. It is also called Upopa epops, and I used to mistake it for a woodpecker because of its long, curving beak.

This largish fella loves to perch itself on the neighbouring olive tree that grows just outside my bedroom window and carve its beak into the trunk in pursuit of bugs. It doesn’t build a nest, but simply adopts any hollows for its abode. It has a funny, distinctive call which sounds something like ‘Ku ku ku ku’… (pause) ‘ku ku ku’ (pause and repetitio unitatum…).

Interestingly enough, the book of Leviticus in the Old Testament banned this bird as a food source because it belongs to the same group as the vulture, eagle and pelican and therefore considered unclean and forbidden to Jews who deemed itabhorrent and not to be eaten’. However, in 2008 it was declared the national bird of Israel (though the national animal of Israel is the gazelle).

In this lovely link you can see and hear the hoopoe:

And here you can watch and listen to the boisterous Great Tit

The birdsong is very relaxing — I hope you can enjoy it!

Thank you for reading (and listening) — bye for now, take care! xxx

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…