This journey takes about 1 hour 30 mins, still all the way on the N4. It is approximately 85 miles (140 km). The scenery is entirely flat, following the depression of the Guadalquivir. It is largely featureless, but peppered with plantations of olive trees and poplars. From May to July, when the sunflowers are out, it can look lovely. Distances, always approximate, are given from Córdoba.
La Carlota 20 miles (10,000 inhabitants), just off the road to the left. This is one of the Andalucian new towns founded in the C18 by King Charles III and named after him. Just before Bailén was another such town, also named for Charles, called La Carolina. Just after Ecija comes another C18 new town, La Luisiana. The reason for these foundations is as follows:
Under Roman and Moorish rule, this whole area was a flourishing agricultural region. With great labour, the Romans and Moors established irrigation, plantations, and orchards. But after the Christian Reconquest, Ferdinand and Isabella parcelled out Moorish lands among their generals. The generals didn't live on the lands, but they collected rent from the peasants who farmed them. The lands had been devastated by war, and needed recultivation. These absentee landlords, off in the big cities, ignored the problem, and the lands began to deteriorate. This whole area quickly became an arid wasteland.
Under King Carlos III an attempt was made in the C18 to develop the lands once more. Landless peasants were given incentives to settle out here to irrigate the land again. He gave land free to almost anyone with farming talent. (Interestingly, many of the settlers were Swiss and German.) This scheme failed because of the severe climate. Many of the settlers left, leaving behind dozens of despoblados, dead villages or "ghost towns." Bare of trees, the land baked in the sun and became a desert again.
Only about 30 years ago, it still was. Recently, the Spanish government began to develop the lands once more — this time with greater success. Modern technology is turning the desert green. Hundreds of olive trees have been planted in neat rows, visible from the road.
Écija 33 miles (50,000 inhabitants). You are now passing to your right a small city that's famous as the hottest spot in Europe during the summer. Temperatures in July and August here have been known to reach 50 degrees centigrade (122 degrees Fahrenheit). Its thoroughly appropriate nickname is la Sartén de Andalucía, the frying pan of Andalucía. It sits in a shallow valley in the middle of the Guadalquivir depression, where the air is stagnant. The streets are narrow, so that the white houses can shade each other; windows are few and small to keep out the scorching heat and keep in the cool nighttime air.
Écija has a glorious past, witnessed by its beautiful skyline of eleven Baroque church steeples, some covered in brightly shining azulejos. It was first a Greek settlement, then a Roman town called Astiga. When the Visigoths came, they established a bishopric here, giving it religious importance. The Moors were responsible for the building of its walls and towers. Ecija fell to the Christian kings in 1240. During the Renaissance and Baroque periods (C16-17), the town flourished again, and fortunes were made from farming and other local industries. Splendid palaces from this era still stand in the town.
(In the last century, a famous band of robbers had their headquarters here; they were known as los Siete Niños de Écija.)
La Luisiana This is another of those settlements established by Carlos III. The town is surrounded by acres of olive groves — a vindication of Carlos' hopes for the area.
Carmona 73 miles (30,000 inhabitants). Situated on a rise just to the left of the main road. This is a very ancient town,said to be one of the oldest settlements in Spain and already well established by the time the Romans came. Its most interesting feature (not visible from the road) is its ancient Roman necropolis, only discovered in1881. More than 900 Roman families buried their dead here, in tombs chiselled out of the bare rock. Each group of tombs has its own crematorium, and some even have special rooms for funeral banquets! The walls of these underground tombs are covered with paintings of birds, leaves, fruits, garlands, in a style closely resembling that of Pompeii in Italy. Each family tomb has a special place for favourite servants and slaves to be buried. There's also a whole temple-tomb where sacrifices were once offered to the god of the Dead. From the time of the Moorish occupation, you can still see the ruins of the old Alcázar. After the Reconquest (by King Ferdinand III in 1247) this was converted into a glittering Mudéjar palace under King Pedro the Cruel. More recently it has undergone another conversion, this time as a supremely luxurious Parador. It is clearly visible from the road as you approach the town.
This is the last urban development before you reach the outskirts of Seville.
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