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Report 856: The Romance of Moorish Spain

By janie and geoff from Canada, Fall 2004

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Page 9 of 13: Seville, Bullrings, Carmona, Discalced Nuns and Birds

photo by Geoff Chambers

Moorish windows and tiles above a cafe in Carmona


In the morning, we had breakfast at our usual spot, and then walked down to the Maestranza, the great bullring of Seville. Geoff was particularly intrigued by this aspect of Spanish culture, the fact that in Spain you will see bullfights reviewed under the Arts section of the newspaper and not the sports. We got a tour of the bull ring, and the facilities underneath, including a full surgery and a chapel, and a museum.

Then we strolled along the river to the Torre del Oro, formerly one of a pair of watchtowers on opposite sides of the Guadalquivir river. The defenders of the city would pull a heavy iron chain between the two towers to keep out enemy ships. It is now a maritime museum and clearly they honor their maritime achievements.

Then back to get the luggage and the car. There was a section of the underground parking wall that was glassed in, to show that during excavation, they had found part of a Jewish cemetery.

We took a route that would get us to Malaga via Carmona and Osuna. First we stopped at the site of the Roman necropolis outside Carmona. It dates from the first century and has more than 300 tombs, all underground, with cremation kilns. There are wooden steps that allow you to climb down to view some of the larger tomb complexes and there was one truly huge mausoleum, the Tomb of Servillia, or the family of Servillia. This was pretty much an underground villa complete with columns and murals, and you can still see traces of colour on the walls. There is a small museum of artifacts from the necropolis. Then on to Carmona itself.

We parked underground in the new town and on the way up the stairs noticed that a section of the wall was glassed in (again) to show that during excavation they had found Roman remains. Anyway, we walked up to the old part of the town to the Puerta de Seville, the double-arched Moorish gate to the city walls, which are massively thick, and which include vestiges of Carthaginian walls. By now we were starving and popped into a small restaurant. Those of us facing the window got to watch a wedding party go by in full regalia of hats and matching footwear. Then we watched the Spanish equivalent of American Idol or some such music program on the TV above the bar.

We went exploring, but a lot of stuff was closed. We went looking for churches and had to content ourselves with wandering around looking at exteriors. We spotted a storks nest on top of a church tower. We pulled out binoculars and watched the stork feeding the little birds.

Then we walked towards the old Roman fortress. This was rebuilt by the Almovarid Moors, extended by Pedro I into a palace in the 13th C. Apparently Ferdinand and Isabel used to stay here too. Now it is a parador, a high end hotel. We entered past a wall covered in blooming honeysuckle, and under an arched gate. Only sections of the wall and some towers remain. The parade ground is now the parking lot for the parador. It was just beautiful, with a swimming pool on the lower terraces and stunning views. Carmona also has a Relais and Chateau hotel, which hints that it’s a popular spot for the well-heeled. We picked up brochures at the parador, living in hope.

Then on to Osuna, mainly because Michelin describes the Monasterio de la Encarnacion as being a “convent of discalced nuns” and we didn’t know what that meant. Disgruntled perhaps? Calcium deficient? Turns out it means “unshod”. And also, they were supposed to make and sell delicious biscuits and pastries.

(** A note here on “de la Encarnacion”. This refers to the conquest of the Christians over the Moors, and so many of the churches and Santa Marias are of la Encarnacion.) The convent is just below the Colegiata and chapel of the Dukes of Osuna, and we walked down to stand at the door of the convent with some Spanish tourists. They had rung the bell, but no one answered, and so we gave up and tried the Colegiata. Here we got ready to buy tickets from a woman sitting by the door, but when she found out we just wanted to see the church and not the convent, she waved us in. The church contains some paintings by Jose Ribera, of religious nature but more naturalistic than the overly-emotional or vacantly saintly paintings we had seen so much of, and it was a refreshing change. The Dukes of Osuna are buried in a crypt below the pantheon ducal. Apparently one of the more recent dukes squandered the family fortune and when he died, the family buried him elsewhere.

It was now approaching evening, and we made one more stop to the bird sanctuary and lake of Fuente de Piedra. This is where the African flamingos make their stop in Europe, and although we had missed the main flocks there were still enough flamingos to make the trip worthwhile. We also saw egrets, sandpipers, and some very strange beetles. At the learning centre, we learned that “zorro” is the Spanish word for fox, which answered a lot of questions of a different sort.

We were feeling like we had seen too much and could no longer appreciate the sights anymore, so we made for home, and ordered take-out pizza. This we had on the patio, and then tried to decode another European cultural event on TV, the Eurovision contest.

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