Granada to Córdoba

On The Road Travel Essays

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Granada to Córdoba

Atarfe  Largish village: sugar refining, flour milling. Nearby: old Roman town of Elvira, with underground tunnel for water. In the fields by the road, a battle took place (1319): two sons of King Alfonso XI were defeated and killed by Moorish army. Among slain Christians was an English general. One of the Spanish princes was stuffed by Moors and put up over city gate of Elvira. In 1431, the Christians had revenge: King Juan II defeated Moorish army in the same place.

Pinos Puente  The old bridge in this town was built by the Visigoths; right on the bridge is a quaint little chapel. (Cf. name of the town.) On this very bridge, Christopher Columbus received some heartwarming news. He had tried to get the support of Ferdinand and Isabella for his voyage to the New World, but at first was received coolly. In desperation, he left Granada, taking this road, to travel to England to get the support of King Henry VII. Suddenly a messenger on horseback clattered up to him on the bridge with word that Queen Isabella would underwrite his voyage after all. He is said to have exclaimed, as he turned on the bridge to head back to Granada: "This little bridge will carry me to the ends of the earth!" In a sense, one may say that Columbus' voyage of discovery started at this humble bridge in Pinos Puente.

In the vicinity of the bridge is an estate of 4500 acres given to the Duke of Wellington by the Spanish Parliament, after Wellington had defeated Napoleon's army at Salamanca.

The mountain peak looming ahead and to the left is Mt. Parapanda, elev. 5000 feet.

Alcala la Real  Population: 25,000. A small but very old town. The Romans called it Fonda Aurora. It is dominated by the Moorish castle, La Mora. It was captured by Christian forces, after fierce fighting, in 1341; the Christians were trying to force a passage over the mountains to Granada. But this is as far as they got. Only 150 years later did Granada itself fall. (If the road goes past the Ayuntamiento, look for the curious clock on the wall.)

Alcaudete  Population: 20,000. Moorish Alcazar, built when this was on the outskirts of the Moorish Kingdom of Granada. Up against constant pressure from Christian forces, Granada had to pepper the countryside with such defenses.

Baena  Population: 23,000. Again, an old Moorish castle! It once belonged to Gonsalvo de Cordoba, a Spanish nobleman from Cordoba. The upper part of the town, still surrounded by its ancient wall, was the original city, known as Almedina. Well-to-do merchants built splendid villas during the Renaissance, to enjoy the view and fresh summer breezes.

Castro del Rio  Pop: 14,000. An old Roman town, with ruins of the ancient walls and a later Moorish castle. Here, in 46 B.C., preparations were made for a great battle. Julius Caesar had defeated his arch-rival Pompey at the Battle of Pharsalia (in Greece); Pompey had fled to Egypt and been put to death by King Ptolemy (brother of Cleopatra). But Pompey's sympathizers didn't quit. His sons raised an army in Spain. Here, at Castro, this army made preparations to attack Caesar's army, encamped about 15 miles to the southwest. The following day, Pompey's sons were defeated. The battle took place at the town of Munda Baetica, now called Montilla (check map), southwest of Castro. The Battle of Munda put an end to the lingering pro-Pompey resistance to Caesar, so one might say that the great Roman dictator's rise to power was sealed 15 miles from here!

In the Ayuntamiento is a prison cell where Cervantes was once held prisoner. In fact, his son was born here. Why was Cervantes in prison? To begin with, Cervantes always had financial problems, and was accused several times of various types of fraud (charges were always dismissed when his accounts were actually examined — but the suspicion stuck). Anyway, he had financial skill, and obtained a position as collector of back-taxes for the Kingdom of Granada. He would go around from town to town collecting taxes from deadbeats, then deposit the money in a bank in Seville. Unfortunately, the bank in Seville went bankrupt, and Cervantes was thought to have stashed the money away himself. He was arrested, imprisoned first here in Castro, then in the Royal Prison in Seville. While in the latter prison, he conceived the idea for Don Quixote, which was originally to be a short story. One can perhaps understand Cervantes' dreams of chivalry in view of the sordid circumstances of the times, from which he would have been only too happy to escape.

Espejo  Population: 9,000. The castle is in the Mudejar style. The term "Mudejar" refers to the style of art practiced by Moors who lived in Spain after the Reconquest. Their skills were sought after by Christian kings and nobles. Several of them designed and built this castle for the Duke of Osuna, who was from Cordoba but wanted a country estate for the summer. The church is 14th century.

(COURIER: Now begin your general introduction to Cordoba. As you enter the city and approach the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano), use the notes under "Leaving Cordoba" at the beginning of the section, "On the Road: Cordoba-Seville," but in reverse sequence. If you don't have time for all of it, use the remainder when pulling out of Cordoba.)

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