CARMONA (not a back-seat driver)
Member Name: proxam
Date: 28/07/11, updated on 04/11/13 (137 review reads)
Advantages: More history than you can shake a centurion's spear at
Disadvantages: May be too quiet for some
I'm not going down the road of historical time-lines, but let's just say that there is evidence of human settlement from the neolithic period.
It was during the Roman occupation that the town flourished, and apparently, the old town still follows the original Roman urban plan. The defensive gates, Seville and Córdoba, are Roman, but the most important Roman site in the town has to be the Necropolis (more on that later).
The town's prosperity continued under almost 500 years of Moorish occupation, and indeed, was a major player during the reconquest of Granada.
But enough of the past, let's explore the town in the present.
The reason we had decided to stay here was two-fold, but simple. We wanted to be close to the Seville area, but still be in a semi-rural situation; we also managed to find a great deal on an absolute cracker of a hotel in the town, the Alcazar de la Reina.
I think I mentioned in my review of the hotel that the streets in the old town are extremely narrow, but it's worth repeating. The streets are extremely narrow.
Finding the hotel, or most other places for that matter, is relatively easy though because there's a good system of signposts which direct you to anything worth seeing. It's still an experience driving through the incredibly narrow lanes though.
Checked-in, baggage deposited and freshened-up inside and out, we explored the town. First stop, the tourist office.
The tourist office is sited in a very privileged position, right at the entrance to the old town, just inside the Puerto de Sevilla - the quite impressive, if a little ruinous gateway leading into the historic old quarter.
Adjoining the gateway, is the Alcázar de la Puerta de Sevilla which has been a fortress since long before even the Roman times, although most of what exists today is from the Roman period. The tourist office is actually located inside the building, and the entrance to the Alcázar is through here.
Outside the gate, traffic whizzes by on a busy road, while the buildings and streets have a far more modern appearance (they're only a couple of hundred years old for the most part!). But it's inside the gate that the town reveals its charm. Ridiculously narrow streets twist and turn past various churches and mansions, all the while climbing imperceptibly up to the highest point of the town, the Alcazar del Rey Don Pedro, which is now a Parador hotel. The town comes to a rather abrupt stop near here at the Puerta de Córdoba where the old Cordoba road dives steeply down towards a seemingly never-ending plain.
Before you get that far though, you pass what is the hub of the old town, the Plaza San Fernando. This is the main square of the old town and is relatively small by Spanish standards, but as it's enclosed by good examples of Moorish-style architecture and typical Spanish facades (including the Town Hall), it's very atmospheric and has the 'feel' of a true, old-world Plaza.
This is where you'll find most nightlife in the town - I use the term nightlife advisedly, as entertainment in these parts pretty much consists of either sitting at a cafe/bar or restaurant, or just generally milling around. That's not to say it isn't lively...and noisy. The Spanish are not noted for their sedate approach to life!
There are various restaurants and bars dotted around the town, but this is probably the best place to spend an evening. Whiling away an hour or two as the sun goes down whilst nibbling on various tempting tapas and sampling the local, if unimpressive beer, and watching the various to-and-fros of the street theatre is not the worst way to pass the time.
Close by the Plaza is Santa Maria, a Gothic church which has been constructed on top of the remains of what used to be the main mosque - parts of which are still visible, including some of the original minaret. It's hardly York Minster, but it's interesting enough and there are quite a few architectural oddities to wonder at.
Just a little further on is the Museo de la Ciudad.
Housed in an old palace, the museum opened in 1996 and presents a history of Carmona from 3,000Bc until the present. Exhibits range from archaeological finds uncovered in the immediate area, to the development of the walled city from Roman times through the medieval period and beyond.
It has quite a large collection of artifacts and displays and gives an excellent explanation of the life and growth of the town. For a very reasonable entrance fee, it's an enjoyable and educational way to spend a couple of hours during the siesta when most everything else is closed.
There's not really a lot more to the old town - at least not in the form of attractions or entertainment, but everywhere you look, a little drop of history seeps from the sandy-coloured stones of the churches or mansion-houses. The courtyards, the narrow passageways, the haphazard maze of white-washed houses, the metalwork of grilled windows and the abundant geraniums hanging from every wall. It's a joy to stroll around in and, unlike most medieval towns, it's not precipitously steep (although it's not exactly flat, either).
The modern part of town doesn't really have a lot to tempt the tourist - this is the more work-a-day part of Carmona - although there is a theatre that occasionally stages opera and a couple of lovely little parks.
Outside the old town, in fact lying on the very edge of the modern town, is the Necropolis Romana - undoubtedly Carmona's top attraction.
It sits in a quiet area, on a low hill liberally adorned with cypress trees. Inside, there are over 900 family tombs which date from the 2nd century BC to the 4th century AD. These tombs are enclosed in underground chambers which have been excavated from the rock of the hill-side.
For safety reasons, visitors must be accompanied by a guide. Our guide didn't speak English but as we had an English language pamphlet, this wasn't much of an issue.
I had been looking forward to visiting the Necropolis, but I have to say, I was a little disappointed. It lay undiscovered until the 19th century and consequently has not been as well preserved as might have been possible. That, combined with the fact that most of it is underground (duh) and is therefore unseen, made it a rather dry and dull affair.
There are a couple of large tombs - the Tomb of the Slave is quite impressive and was in fact the largest and most spectacular of all the tombs, and the Elephant Tomb (no, they didn't bury elephants) which was dedicated to some deity or other.
There's also a small museum on site
On the opposite side of the road is a partly excavated amphitheatre. Actually, to call it excavated in any way is a bit of an exaggeration - it's really only recognisable as an amphitheatre by the elliptic shape. You can see all there is to see of it from the upper floor of the museum at the Necropolis, so we didn't investigate any further.
Also just outside town is a zoo. We didn't visit so I can offer no insights as to its merits... or otherwise.
Carmona is a beautiful, peaceful, historic and interesting town and well worth a visit in its own right. Combine this with its proxamity (sic) to Seville - a twenty minute drive away - and the high quality of its accommodation, and you've a perfect place to spend a few days.
Summary: Carmona feel the noize