30km to the north of Seville on a high promontory with an unimpeded view across the fertile plains of the Guadalquivir river, lies the town of Carmona, an important town for the strategic defense of what is now Andalusia, since pre-roman times. The walls of the citadel have witnessed many bloody battles that cost the lives of generations of soldiers of all cultural background.
Because of the fertility of the plain and the ease with which it could be defended, Carmona became the focus for military occupation. As each century of recorded history brought wave upon wave of conqueror hurtling down from the Sierra Morena to the north, Carmona changed hands frequently.
It’s been thirteen centuries since Muza, a Muslim warrior, ravaged the lands of Andalusia and conquered the Qarmuna of Arab chroniclers, nine since another Muslim king, Almotamid, better poet than soldier, sowed the Guadalquivir and forced young girls to look into the waters of the fountains of the gardens of the Alcazar before putting on the veil, and seven centuries since Ferdinand, legendary holy king and conqueror of Arabic Andalusia, began to demolish the old qarmunian citadel until it became what it is today, a beautiful Baroque city sleeping in the midday sun, raising thin towers high into the sky of the Sierra de los Alcores amidst crops of wheat, oats, barley, and plantations of olive and fruit trees.
It’s said that one day, when the masters who worked and embellished the Cathedral of Seville had finished their work, some were called to Carmona. Among them were Martín Gainza, the Basque, and Diego de Riaño, the Cantabrian, who wandered around the city to choose the ideal place to build a church. Finally, Diego, becoming weary, stopped on a lot that opened between the Town Hall square and the exit of the town through the Roman gate of Cordoba and, pointing to the site exclaimed: here, and enough discussion!
Today, in this place, travellers will find one of the most important Andalusian temples, the Gothic church of Santa María, which with its three naves, the 16th century Renaissance tile altarpiece and the triptych attributed to the flamenco Alejo Fernandez, is known as the Cathedral of Carmona.
Of course, the traveller has excellent views from the Parador, but he should not be tempted to stay put, except, if at all, to eat. Because, behind its walls, Carmona preserves the treasure of an extraordinary civil architecture of noble houses with balconies and courtyards of Moorish and baroque inspiration, of narrow, elegant and narrow streets that, in the shadow of the great temple, draw streets in, like strings of spaghetti, by the impressive gates of Seville and Cordoba.
A coffee in any bar of the Town Hall square allows careful admiration of the brick facade of the Consistory. A walk through the Palace of the Marquis de las Torres, the church of San Pedro, with its Arabic tower, similar to the Giralda, and those of San Felipe, El Salvador and Santiago, makes you wonder about the sieve of history that leaves sparse crumbs of the real story.
At the end of the day, sleep comes and it’s easy to dream of the lost paradises, of places of fantasy like the city of Carmona, where life long-ago would have been gentle.
Don’t be fooled. Like other wonders, the town in which you dream is comprised of beautiful scenery with foundations of blood and fire.