Travel 2013. Day 10 (2) Cordoba Almagro.
See Travel Itinerary for a rationale of this trip, a who's who of those travelling, and our itinerary.
After leaving the synagogue in Córdoba, it was back to our van and on to Almagro where we had reserved rooms for the night. The NIV E5 now followed the Guadalquivir closely. To our left, the Sierra Morena loomed closer, but to the right cereal fields stretched into the distance. We left the NIV E5 at Montoro (about 45 kilometres/ 26 miles east of Córdoba), and turning north on the N 420, entered the foothills of the Sierra Morena.
The N 420 is a much more attractive alternative than the NIV E5 which continues east for some 60 kilometres (37 miles) before turning north at the eastern end of the Sierra Morena. Between Montoro and Puertollano (on the north side of the Sierra), the N 420 is quite wild with no towns or villages … so make sure you have enough gas/petrol in your tank to cover the 107 kilometres (66 miles) between Montoro and Puertollano.
After crossing over a few easy passes, we suddenly came to a dramatic view of the Valley of Alcudia, which signalled the end of the Sierra Morena.
Almagro is a quiet town of around 10,000 inhabitants which scarcely figures on tourist routes and yet is well worth a visit. It was once the stronghold of the powerful order of fighting monks, the Knights of Calatrava, to which its owes much of its noble atmosphere, with old mansions bearing ancient coats of arms edging narrow, cobbled streets. The town also has many churches, convents, and monasteries.
Margaret and I had stayed a couple of times in the luxurious, ivy-clad state-run Parador, a 16th-century Franciscan convent in a quiet corner of the town.
As soon as we were settled in, we headed for the Plaza Mayor, Almagro’s main attraction and one of the most unusual squares in Spain.
The square’s distinctive features are the green-coloured, two-storeyed wooden, enclosed balconies that frame the two longer sides of the square. The balconies are supported on stone pillars behind which a walkway provides much needed shade from the searing summer heat, and protection from the winter cold. Lining the walkway are all kinds of little shops and bars that spill out into the square.
At one end of the square, you’ll find the local town hall, and at the other end, through which we passed, there is a small park with a statue of Diego de Almagro (1478/9-1538), conqueror of Chile.
We spent a couple of hours in the square, enjoying in particular the sight of families taking the evening paseo (walk) and children playing in all corners. This was heartening in times when TV, social media and other activities constantly challenge the tradition paseo.
One tradition for which Almagro has always been famous is intricate hand-made lace embroidery, possibly a legacy of those 16th-century Flemish settlers. When Margaret and I first visited Almagro we saw groups of ladies seated at their doorsteps doing lace work while watching their children (or grandchildren) and catching up with local gossip. It was a social activity notably absent on this visit.
John: The main square in Almagro:
If you did not know that you were in a town in Castile, you would swear that this plaza was in a small town in northern Europe. The colours and the open wood structures with their overhangs reminded me of some place in the Netherlands…somewhat appropriate as it was built by bankers from there in the 1600s. Along with the buildings, I enjoyed seeing a lady doing the hand-made lace embroidery. I could not get over the speed that she was working or how she was able to keep organized with so many threads on the go. We ate at one of the many cafes around the plaza and watched the families out for the evening.
On the square, opposite the Corral de Comedias, there is an excellent shop, Artes El Villar, where you can buy all kinds of exquisite lace embroidery. On past visits, we have bought several beautifully embroidered table linen sets there. After buying some more table linen, we enjoyed a pleasant meal on the terrace of a nearby bar in the square, watching children at play. It was late by the time we got back to our hotel. It had been a long and busy day and we were ready for bed. Our street was quiet and the hotel pleasantly warm and inviting. We were soon asleep.