Friday, June 12, 2015

En route to Algarve, we discover beautiful town of Carmona

It was late May in the village and the third week of almost non stop very high winds, which made it difficult to walk and you certainly couldn't swim. We are very tired of the brain shattering winds and are looking for other less windy places to stay. Of course these winds usually go along the coast all the way to Marseilles but our village is known for its winds. A quick decision and we were in the car heading for the Algarve in southern Portugal.

After driving for many hours it was time to find somewhere to stay. There are no chains hotels just off the highways in Spain so you have to come off and take pot luck. The hotels you do find are often right next to a strip joint. Prostitution is legal in Spain, and as many trucks from all over Europe go up and down the autostrada you have to pick your spot carefully. We stopped, checked in and went to a room right out of the 1950s. The bed was very creaky. In fact the whole thing was horrible. Back in the car we drove further until we saw a sign, "paradors." Since it was about midnight we followed the sign up to a hill town called Carmona. A local pointed us to a lovely hotel right on top of the town. We checked in and went for a walk and sat outside for a drink just to chill from our trip. A quick walk around the town was quite impressive.

The next morning we set out to explore Carmona. From the terrace outside our hotel we looked out over a fertile plain. We knew from last night that Carmona is a picturesque, small town with a magnificent 15th century tower. This is the first thing you see and sets an appropriate tone for the place.

Not surprisingly, given its proximity, Carmona shares a similar history to Seville, and was an important Roman city which, under the Moors was often governed by a brother of the Sevillan ruler. Later Pedro the Cruel built a palace within its castle which he used as his royal residence in the country.

As we walked through the narrow cobbled streets we were aware of a great deal of activity around all the churches. There were religious tapestry banners hung over many of the streets. Later in the day there was to be a procession and we saw them setting up a stage for a mass in the main square. There were sensible canopies over streets to keep the burning sun off the local shoppers.

We found the entrance to the town, the Puerto de Sevilla, a grand if ruinous fortified gateway which separates the new from the historic old part of the city. Within the wall, narrow streets meander past the churches and Renaissance mansions. It was fun to peek inside doorways of these mansions to see the huge courtyards within, usually containing giant orange or palm trees.

Up still further is the Plaza San Fernando which was comparatively small but dominated by splendid Moorish style buildings; behind here is a bustling fruit and vegetable market.

Close by to the east was Santa Maria, a stately Gothic church built over the former main mosque, whose elegant patio is retained. Like many of Carmona's churches, it is topped by an evocative Mudejar tower and part of the original minaret may still be spotted. Certainly the storks nesting there had a good view of the town. Dominating the ridge of the town were the massive ruins of Pedro's palace, destroyed by an earthquake in 1504 and now taken over by our parador. To the left the town came to an abrupt halt at the Roman Puerta de Córdoba from where the original Cordoba road drops down to a vast plain.

Carmona was a lovely little find and we would definitely stop there again but now it was back on the road for the final few hours to our destination in the Algarve.

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