Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Ancient, Whitewashed Village of Carmona, Spain

In late October I caught one of the last Ryanair flights of the season from Santiago de Compostela (where I’m living now) down to Sevilla, which is the capital of Andalucía—the southernmost region of Spain and my former home for a year. The last time I had been in the south was the early morning of June 1st, on my way north and west to begin the Camino de Santiago before heading back home to America. Thankfully I was able to make my dream of returning to Andalucía come true this fall by flying down to Sevilla where I got to hang out with one of my good American friends from Úbeda who is now living there.

Carmona, Spain
Carmona panorama
While I was in town, she and I took a fun daytrip to Carmona, a small pueblo (village) about half an hour outside the city. When I first visited Sevilla back in April, my bus there stopped at Carmona’s bus station, and I was immediately hooked: a lovely, whitewashed village crowned with a huge, ancient stone castle. There was no question—I was going back, someday!

And go back I did—to Carmona, and to Andalucía. This town was the perfect place to return to the south because, for me, it reflects all the elements that make Andalucía the land I fell in love with in the first place.

The Moorish element

Carmona, Spain
Church of Santa María
It’s been 800 years since Christian Spaniards took the city of Qarmuna from the Moors, and over the centuries Carmona became a typically-Spanish village like any other in the country. However, despite the mosques turning into churches and Arabic giving way to Castilian, Carmona still has that Moorish charm to it like many places in Andalucía do.

The Church of Santa María, for example, was built on top of the main mosque shortly after the Reconquista passed through town, but the original ablutions courtyard—the Patio de los Naranjos—still remains, complete with fragrant orange trees and horseshoe arches.

Carmona, Spain
Foggy, post-rain street
Wandering through blindingly-bright whitewashed streets reminded me much of Morocco and the narrow but pretty alleyways I strolled through (read: got lost in) in Chefchaouen. The names have changed and the houses now have balconies, but the medina-like maze of roads in the old town continues to enthrall after all these years.

The gastronomic element

Carmona, Spain
Honey & salmorejo fried eggplants
Like any town in the south, Carmona offers simple yet savory dishes to try at its various bars and restaurants. Part of the reason I came here was because I had won a gift certificate from La Vida Es Bella via a giveaway that Cat of Sunshine and Siesta held this summer. I ended up choosing a meal voucher worth 50€ at Alcázar de la Reina, a 4-star hotel with a classy but unpretentious dining room. My friend (whose name happens to be Reina!) and I really enjoyed starting our dinner with a plate of sweet-and-savory berenjenas fritas (fried eggplants), half drizzled with honey and half left plain to dip in the cold tomato-y goodness that is salmorejo. Thanks for the contest, Cat!

The element of beauty

Carmona, Spain
Church of Santa María
If we’re being honest, there are some regions in Spain that are just a little ugly. I’m not going to name any names, but Andalucía is definitely in the “pretty” camp. Carmona’s Church of Santa María is a Sevilla cathedral in miniature, a beautiful Gothic sanctuary with tall, vertical, light-filled naves and intricate decorations on the ceiling. I loved the interplay between the purple light entering from the stained-glass clerestory windows and the warm illumination from lightbulbs below.

The link to the past

Carmona, Spain
Córdoba Gate
Andalucía in general, and the Guadalquivir river valley in particular, have a very strong connection with history that other parts of the country don’t exhibit nearly as strongly. The important Roman province of Baetica, which roughly corresponded with modern Andalucía, left us many cities that still are significant to today’s Spain: Cádiz, Sevilla, Córdoba, Málaga, etc., and Carmona was no exception. On the outskirts of town you can admire a gate that has continuously guarded the city since Roman times, the Córdoba Gate. Although it’s been spruced up in the past few centuries, Romans, Visigoths, Moors, and Spaniards have all passed through this entrance from the olive groves outside to the city within.

Carmona, Spain
Alcázar of the Gate of Sevilla
The town’s central alcázar or fortress dates back to Carthaginian times (pre-Roman) and has been used as a castle by that same succession of conquerors—Romans, Visigoths, Muslims, and Christians—up to the present day. It’s a lot of fun to crawl around the complex, see the distinction between older and newer stones (that are all probably four or five times older than America!), and enjoy the panoramic views of Carmona from the keep tower.

Have you ever been to Carmona before? What city is the epitome of your favorite Spanish region? Talk about it in the discussion below!

For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.
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