Dwight Peck's personal Web site

We flee South in the winter

Two weeks in Andalucia, December 2011


You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

Alcalá la Real

"Destino de calidad" ('Doom of Quality')(or perhaps 'Destination of Quality')

After some days wandering in the tajos of Alhama, we're driving north towards Córdoba and taking a scenic route outlined for us over dinner last night.

"Scenic", as in rolling hillsides and olives

This is Montefrío, northwest of Granada city, which withstood a large number of Castilian invasions until, in the end, Ferdinand and Isabella sent in the A-Team in 1486.

The Iglesia de la Villa on the hilltop, built (like nearly everything else in the region) by Diego de Siloé and, like many other Christian constructions, on top of the remains of a Nasrid fortress that is no more.

Downtown Montefrío and the Iglesia de la Encarnación. But we're just passing through, bound for Alcalá la Real up the road a piece.

There it is, I think.

That's the Fortaleza de la Mota, site of the early city before history calmed down a bit and people could begin spreading out down in the valley below. The name Alcalá invokes its Moorish origins in al-qalat or 'fortified town', and the military history of the place is complicated and sobering.

This is the fortress and the downtown of Alcalá la Real in the province of Jaén, adjacent to Granada -- a town of some 23,000 worthy souls just trying to make a living like the rest of us, and doing a great job of supporting tourists' interest in their rich past with careful excavations and imaginative presentations.

Paleolithic folks and Bronze Agers have left their tracks here, and it may be one of the last places frequented by Neanderthals before they yielded God's favor to Us Modern Humans. There was a Roman establishment as well, but eventually the Moslems showed up here as everywhere, in about 713.

Later, as the Vikings kept giving everybody fits anywhere up the navigable tributaries of the Quadalquivir (the Guadajoz passes through here on its way to the sea), the Umayyad caliphs built 15 fortified towers to defend the town, 12 of which remain, we're told. Post-Viking, in about A.D. 1000, the tower up here on the Mota hill was elaborated into a proper fortress to dissuade adventurous Christian knights and bored ex-Crusaders.

Following the collapse of the Umayyad caliphate into the warring Taifa kingdoms in the mid-11th century, and under the Almoravids and Almohads in the 12th, this place flourished as a base for raiding the city of Jaén and other lucrative targets already Reconquistiated by the Castilian Christians. ('Predatory Capitalism')

King Alfonso XI of Castile captured the Mota in 1341, however, and decided that it would be under his own royal protection ("la Real"), and it flourished until the "Catholic Monarchs" took over the whole region in 1492 and reduced its strategic importance as a front-line base.

This is one of the two most imposing buildings in the upper city, the Iglesia de Santa María la Mayor -- it was severely whacked by the brave men and women of the Napoleonic Army during the Peninsular War, who camped up here in 1812 and burnt down as much of it as they could before leaving.

What Napoleon's liberators couldn't destroy, Franco's Nationalists pretty much completed in 1936-39, and the subsequent work of resurrecting the old city on the hill is inspiring. That's the church and the three towers of the Alcazaba fortifications at the far end of the precincts.

Excavations continue of workmen's and tradesmen's neighborhoods around the brow of the hill.

Below, Alcalá la Real spreads out, with its own old town dating from at least the late 15th century.

Kristin receiving her instructions on what to do next about the big jars

A maquette of the Fortaleza de la Mota in its heyday

The same maquette, showing the distribution of church, fortress towers, dwellings, and a watchtower and prison tower at the far left end of it. This is part of the presentation for us history-buff tourists in the church itself.

There are also very neat displays about the recent reconstructions of the church in repairing the handiwork of the Bad People from France, with glass/plastic flooring over ancient foundations and an interesting historical film in Spanish projected onto three walls of the nave and altar. The façade, of course designed by Diego de Siloé, is a very good example of the Plateresque "silversmith" style of the Renaissance in Spain.

Kristin calling ahead for further instructions

The other dominant feature of the Fortaleza is the castle keep or donjon of the alcazaba, to which we now repair.

Kristin looking all about for the way in

A view along the walls from the smaller tower

A second tower and the place d'armes in the middle of the fortress precinct

A stairway

From one of the towers, former neighborhoods of military housing and facilities, and the largely reconstructed city walls

The castle keep and the church beyond it

The church of St Mary the Very Big (Sta María la Mayor) from the top of the keep

Downtown Alcalá

The Alcazaba and the church

A last look at the church, with its new post-Napoleonic roof

Goodbye, Alcazaba.

We're back on the road towards Córdoba, Kristin is driving, I'm passing the time by photographing hilltop castles and walled cities out the car window.

There goes another one!

Finally, a stop for lunch on the terrasse (not bad at all, until two rednecks pulled up in a Chevy truck and left the engine running next to us whilst they went in for a long quick-one), then on to Córdoba.


Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 25 January 2012.


Southern
Spain, 2011