Thursday, August 8: I didn’t get to many natural places during my trip to Spain and Portugal this summer, but in the few places I did go, I found some wild flowers that I thought were pretty crazy-looking. I also found a wild bird here and there, and some wild street art in Lisbon. So for Ailsa’s travel theme this week, just under the wire, here are some pictures. (Where’s my backpack? Travel Theme: Wild)
Sunday, July 7: On our way to Ronda this morning, we stop at the historic Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors.
Estrella Castle, locally known as Castillo de La Estrella or Castillo de Teba, lies on a hill next to the village of Teba in the province of Málaga.
On the way to the castle and from the hilltop fortress, we can see wind farms all around. I don’t think I’ve ever been to any country that takes advantage of the wind like Spain does.
Estrella Castle was probably built somewhere in the 10th century by the Moors. During the 12th and 13th century, under Almohad rule, the castle was strengthened and enlarged.
In 1330 Estrella Castle was besieged by the Christian troops of Alfonso XI, King of Castile. When Muhammed IV, Sultan of Granada, reacted by sending an army led by a Berber general, Uthman bin Abi-l-Ulá, to relieve the defenders, the Battle of Teba ensued in the valley below the castle. (Estrella Castle)
Our guide Barry, who is Scottish, dramatically tells us the story of how the Scots played a part in this battle. Though the battle had no effect on Scottish affairs, it contributed in a small way to the demise of Muslim rule in Spain.
The events which led to that fateful day in August 1330 started on the death-bed of the King of Scotland, Robert the Bruce, in 1329.
Bruce had always dreamed of leading a crusade to the Holy Land. As he lay dying from leprosy, he instructed his beloved friend and second in command Sir James Douglas to remove his heart after death, place it in a casket, and take them on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and bury his heart in the Holy Sepulchre at Jerusalem.
Although Sir James Douglas was known in Scotland as Sir James the Good, in England he was referred to as The Black Douglas.
The Black Douglas took Bruce’s heart, embalmed it, then put it in a casket which he wore round his neck, and set off on the crusade to the Holy Land with a party of 25, made up of knights and noblemen. In the spring of 1330, they made for Flanders and during their 12 day stay, they attracted more followers from all over Europe. Their plan was to sail to northwest Spain to visit Santiago de C0mpostela, which had been ordained as a holy town by Pope Alexander III following the discovery of the remains of the Apostle James.
A pilgrimage to Santiago captured the imagination of Christian Europe as it was the 3rd holiest site in Christendom. At the height of its popularity in the 11th and 12th century, it attracted over half a million pilgrims each year.
However, before they could set off for Santiago, word reached them that the King of Castile, Alphonso Xl , in his efforts to drive the Moors out of Granada, had laid siege to the Castillo de las Estrella (Castle of the Stars) at Teba which was occupied by the Saracen Army of Mohammed lV, Sultan of Granada. The Black Douglas sent word that they were prepared to join forces with Alphonso and sailed immediately to help, making landfall at Seville and marching the short distance to Teba.
Alphonso, having heard tales of Douglas’s bravery and leadership skills, gave him the right flank of the Castilian Army.
On the morning of the August 25th the Saracen army had assembled below the Castillo de las Estrella. The Castilian trumpets sounded and Douglas, thinking it was a general advance, led his troops forward. The Scottish contingent charged the Saracens and, although not fully supported by the rest of the army, managed to hold them. Finally the Moors, unable to withstand the furious onslaught, fled. Douglas, as was his custom, followed them until, finding himself deserted, he turned his horse intending to join the main body. Just then he observed Sir William St Clair surrounded by a body of Moors who had suddenly rallied. With the few knights who attended him Douglas turned hastily to attempt a rescue.
He soon found himself surrounded and, making one last charge shouting the words “A Bruce, A Bruce,” took the casket containing the heart from around his neck and hurled it into the enemies’ path shouting “Now go in front, as you desired and I’ll follow you or die.” Douglas and a party of his followers were all slain, but they had diverted enough of the enemy forces away from the main thrust to enable the Castilian army to overrun the remainder and capture the Castle.
It has been speculated that the Moors’ lack of knowledge of European heraldry had a part to play in the death of Douglas. Noblemen on both sides were valued as hostages, but because Douglas did not display the red cross on his tabard that distinguished English knights, but instead had the 3 stars of the Douglas family on his harness and shield, the Moors did not recognize his status or they would probably have spared his life.
Douglas’s body was recovered from the battlefield along with the casket.
The only 2 remaining knights from the Scottish contingent decided that as Douglas’s body would not survive the long sea journey home in the heat of the summer, they would revert to the normal practice at that time which was to boil the body in a cauldron of vinegar until the flesh fell from the bones. The flesh was buried in Teba at an unknown and unmarked spot and his bones returned to Scotland, where they were buried in St Bride’s Kirk in Douglas South Lanarkshire, and the casket was returned to the new king of Scotland, David II, son of Robert the Bruce, who wished it buried in Melrose Abbey.
Thus, the Bruce’s last wish of having his heart buried in Jerusalem was never granted.
Although Teba was a victory for Alphonso, it would take another 60 years to finally drive the Moors from this area, but The Battle of Teba was the decisive action when the Saracen leader realized he could no longer defend his territory, and would have to rely on help from Morocco in future battles to retain Granada. Christian rule was not fully established in Spain until 1492.
Each year on the 25th of August the village organizes what they refer to as El Douglas Dia, when a pipe band from Scotland and Scots from all over the world, join together with the villagers and invited dignitaries to commemorate the Battle of Teba.
Sir James Douglas was only 44 years old when he was cut down, yet in the 26 years he lived in Scotland he had gained a reputation as a fighter for Scottish Independence only bettered by Wallace and Bruce. Somehow the history books overlooked the part he played in Scottish history, but thanks to the villagers of Teba this monument to his final courageous stand is lasting memorial to one of Scotland’s bravest Knights (Spain-info: BRAVEHEART The Battle of Teba).
After we leave Teba Castle, we head on to Ronda. We drive through rolling hills of neat patchwork farmland, planted with olive trees, grapevines and sunflowers.
Tuesday, June 11: I’ve planned my time in Spain, but, so far, I haven’t even begun to think of Portugal. I know I better start thinking about it soon because I have to fly out of Lisbon on July 25.
Here’s my itinerary so far.
June 28-July 3: Barcelona, Spain, including Montserrat. I’m staying at BCN Fashion House: (bcn fashion house)
I decided to skip Madrid altogether.
July 3-6: Toledo, Spain. I’ll be staying at La Posada de Manolo. Last summer when I was traveling in Greece, I met an inspiring South African lady, Marie-Claire. She had come to Greece after traveling all over Europe, but especially in Spain and Portugal. She highly recommended I stay more than one day in Toledo. Since I have a small group tour lined up in Andalucia from July 6-12, I booked 3 days/4 nights in Toledo.
July 6-12: I will head straight from Toledo to Malaga Airport, where I will meet Tour Andalucia: Tour Andalucia: Villa Tour
The small group tour includes the following:
- Meet at Malaga Airport and subject to arrival time, spend a few hours in Mijas, a lovely mountain village overlooking the Mediterranean, then travel and check in to the Villa.
- Breakfast and travel to Seville. Visit the Santa Maria Park to see the amazing Plaza Espana, the site of the American Exhibition of 1929. Walk from the park past some of Seville’s most historic buildings to the Barrio Santa Cruz. Wander through the narrow lanes of the Barrio and take a delicious tapas lunch ‘Seville style’ in one of the lovely small Plazas. In the afternoon visit the largest Cathedral in the world followed by the fabulous Alcazar, one of the oldest Royal Palaces in Europe. An elegant City, Seville was once one of the wealthiest in Europe.
- Breakfast and travel to Ronda. One the way, we stop at the historic site of Teba Castle, scene of a famous battle with the Moors. In Ronda we walk you into the town and leave you by the magnificent bridge over the gorge to explore and sightsee on your own. Maybe take a ride around the old town in horse-drawn carriages and wonder at the sheer magnificence of the town perched along the cliff top of the Tajo gorge. Wander through the elegant narrow streets of the old town and visit some of the magnificent houses and the museum of Ronda. Visit the famous Ronda bullring home of the Matador and the oldest in Spain, now a museum.
- Breakfast and travel to Malaga. On the way we visit the spectacular El Torcal National Park. Set high in the mountains there is a 45 minute walk through the amazing limestone formations. Arriving in Malaga at lunch hour we go to one of the great value seafood Chiringuitos by the sea. Sample fantastic sardines barbequed on an olive wood fire next to the Mediterranean. We take you into the centre of Malaga near the Cathedral and leave you to explore the town, maybe visiting the magnificent Cathedral, the large Moorish Alcazaba and Roman Theatre. And don’t forget the Picasso Museum since Picasso was born locally and his parents’ house is now the Picasso Foundation and open for visits.
- Breakfast and travel to Cordoba. We walk through the old City Walls and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio and see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. The Royal Stables shows us some of the famous Andalucian horses in a lovely set of buildings. Onto the Christian Alcazar, nowhere near as grand as Seville, but designed in the Mudajar style, a fusion of Moorish and Christian Gothic and the scene of famous historic events including the planning of the voyage of Columbus. The 1,000 year old Arab baths built for the Caliphs remind us of a society long gone and we wander through the Juderia visiting the old Jewish Market & the Synagogue. A great tapas lunch in the Bodega Mesquita followed by the highlight of the day, the spectacular Mesquita, the greatest Mosque in the Western World and the only one with a Cathedral right in the centre of it. The famous Puente Romano bridge awaits demonstrating why Cordoba was the capital of the Roman empire in the Iberian Peninsula.
- Breakfast and travel to Granada. Normally the highlight of our tour, we walk into the Bib Rambla, part of the old Silk Market and now the Flower Market of Granada. Here we suggest you sample some of the best Chocolate and Churros in Andalucia. Walking through the square we pass the Bishops Palace and walk into the Alcaiceria, the well-preserved old silk market. The Royal Chapel, commissioned as the burial site for the famous ‘Catholic Monarchs’ Ferdinand and Isabella, is now a museum and worth a visit. The beautiful Cathedral is one of the lightest inside that you will see. Have a light lunch and then we drive up to the Alhambra to spend a few hours wandering the gardens and buildings before entering the amazing Nasrid Palaces. After the visit we drive around the City and up to the top of the atmospheric Albaycin where we have dinner at Jardines de Zoraya who host an excellent Flamenco performance with local talented young musicians and dancers. A five-minute ‘after dinner’ walk takes us to the viewing point at San Nichols where we see the beauty of the Alhambra lit up at night set against the backdrop of the Sierra Nevada mountains.
- Breakfast and, subject to departure flight times, we visit the historic City of Antequera, home of the impressive 5,000 year old Dolmens and the first Alcazaba to fall in the reconquest of the kingdom of Granada. Return to Malaga Airport.
July 12-14: After my tour, I’ve been invited to spend two nights with Marianne, and her husband, of East of Málaga …. and more!. She lives in the countryside (el campo), in a beautiful area east of Málaga, known as La Axarquía. I’m really excited to meet a fellow blogger who now makes her home in the south of Spain.
July 14-25: Heading to Portugal. I think I will try to rent a car in Malaga and just take off toward Portugal, ending up my last four nights around Lisbon. While in Lisbon, I want to go to Obidos and Sintra, both highly recommended by my friend and fellow traveler, Marie-Claire. I also want to explore the Alfama in Lisbon. No specific plans for Portugal yet, but I’m sure I’ll come up with something before I leave Oman. 🙂