The Medieval Town of La Alberca, Espana

I recently blogged about my adventure when I participated in “Pueblo Ingles.” I reserved my comments in that blog to my observations about the English immersion program and the students. However, there is more to my story about the nearby medieval Spanish town of La Alberca. This blog entry is about my exploration of that tiny Spanish town and my adventure there.

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Buildings at Plaza Mayor, La Alberca

Located at an elevation of 1084 meters, the town with a population of around 1100 is rather isolated in La Sierra de Francia mountains close to the northern border with Portugal. The principle product in this region is delicious Iberian Jamon (ham) which is produced in the area from black Iberian pigs that grow fat eating acorns. This diet gives the ham a very special, enjoyable flavor that is savored by Spaniards as well as those from around the world who are fortunate to experience it. Hams are seen in several shops in La Alberca hanging from the ceilings.

During my explorations of Spain I have visited several Spanish communities and blogged about Cordoba, Granada, Ronda, Canary Islands, and Mijas Pueblo. As I walked the narrow cobblestone streets of La Alberca I was taken aback by the distinctive architecture of this community in comparison to the others I mentioned. While Cordoba and Granada are colorful and reflective of an integration of Moorish design and Mijas is a spectacular white, traditional Spanish pueblo, La Alberca, founded in the 1300’s, is dark and has a somewhat French feel. It is one of the best preserved Spanish towns of the period.

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Hams hanging from ceiling

The half timbered buildings surrounding the Plaza Mayor and nearby narrow streets and alleyways are different as their materials come from  the quarries and forests of the mountains. The town goes to great lengths to retain its medieval charm.

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Knight Templar Symbol

The Knights Templar had a presence in La Alberca. Today there are myths and legends about the “monk soldiers” who participated in the crusades and provided safe passage for pilgrims to the holy land. On the Iberian peninsula they also created a strong trading infrastructure, a banking system, and fought for the Spanish kings in the reconquest of Spain from the Muslims.

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A tavern in La Alberca

The town of La Alberca has a tourist interest as it is preserved in its architecture, food, and customs. For those exploring Spain it is a welcome transition into the Middle Ages from the modern communities of Spain and Portugal.

The next stop in my exploration adventure is Romania where I will be searching for Dracula. Stay tuned!

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My Cordoba

In the 1970’s actor Ricardo Montalban was not only famous for staring in the TV series “Fantasy Island” but also as Chrysler’s celebrity spokesperson for marketing the Cordoba automobile. Who can ever forget his rich voice saying “soft Corinthian leather” when describing the car’s interior? Cordoba was “my car” although I never owned one. I did have high expectations for my explorations of Cordoba, Spain, linked by name although it is uncertain if Chrysler intended it to be so. Huge by today’s standards, in the ’70’s the Cordoba automobile was actually a “junior size” Chrysler! My excursion, however, was not a junior size at all; it was huge as I experienced another aspect of the culturally rich country of Spain.

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Interior of the Grand Mosque

Through the ages Cordoba has been everything from a small Roman outpost to the seat of power during the periods of Muslim occupation. Evidence has been found of humans in the area between 42,000 and 35,000 BC! An interesting fact is that Cordoba is believed to have been the most populous city in the world in the 10th century! Today, Cordoba is a small modern metropolis of about 300,000 and is protective of its Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage. That heritage loudly screams throughout the city, particularly in the area surrounding its famous UNESCO World Heritage Site mezquita (mosque) landmark as well as the Roman Bridge dating from the first century!

The city has witnessed numerous changes through the centuries which were driven by religious-based conflicts involving Christians and Muslims. In 1236 King Ferdinand III secured the city during the Spanish Reconquista. Since then numerous mosques were converted to churches including the huge one where the sanctuary was created in the middle of the existing mosque. The Christian era also brought about a dark period of the Spanish Inquisition with Cordoba at the epicenter. During this period non-Christians were treated as second class citizens with Jews and Muslims often forced to renounce their faith, leave, or die.

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Peaceful Park in Cordoba

Walking through the narrow ancient streets one can celebrate the heritage where today Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace among the past Roman remnants of a beautiful city.

There are numerous parks throughout Cordoba like the one pictured that are quiet where you can pause, reflect and enjoy the simple sounds of water bubbling in the fountain. As in the pictured park, ancient pillars stand reminiscent of Roman times. Other parks are significantly larger and city planners appear to have gone to great lengths to incorporate them among the very wide avenues surrounding the ancient city walls.

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Roman Bridge

Most of my time during my exploration of Cordoba was inside the old city walls and remnants of them. Outdoor cafes are plentiful on the cobblestone streets among ancient buildings created mostly in the last 500 years. I was in awe walking across the preserved Roman Bridge and the cathedral where the bell tower stands among the orange trees and was constructed surrounding the original minaret.

I found the food and drink to be different from other places I have visited in Spain. There was often a blend of creations that reflected the cultures that I mentioned previously. I didn’t care for the local wine and found the famous cold, thick, tomato-based salmocejo soup to not be to my taste either. Regardless, there are plenty of different foods and drinks that more than provided very enjoyable sustenance!

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Cathedral Bell Tower

Just like the Cordoba automobile of my youth, the city of Cordoba in Spain holds a special charm… one which is much longer lasting.

Cordoba is a beautiful modern city surrounding an old city with an outstanding Roman, Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage. It is easy to see why this ancient place is preserved as a World Heritage Site for us and future generations to enjoy.