I love Seville and the Andalusian region of Spain but on my last visit I was looking for something a little different. I found it in the tiny city of Carmona, which enjoyed wealth and prominence during Spain’s golden age of discovery and exploitation in the New World but also reflects nearly 5,000 years of human occupation.
In fact Carmona is one of Europe’s oldest urban sites, sitting as it does on a natural stronghold – a plateau above the Vega (plain) of the River Carbones. There is evidence of Paleolithic habitation and by the Iron Age a Tartessian settlement had been established here. Then came the Phoenicians, the Carthaginians and Roman conquest.
Carmona is truly one of Europe’s hidden gem destinations!
It was called ‘Carmo’ at the time and now it is only a 20 minute taxi ride from Seville airport. It has medieval and baroque architecture, palaces and churches a plenty, including San Pedro (15th century), which has a tower modelled on the Giralda bell tower of the Cathedral of Seville.
I came to rest at Casa de Carmona, where I found all the history, elegance and genuine charm I was seeking. This is a real 16th Century renaissance palace, a double storey of arches surrounding a potted courtyard garden, all the walls red with the typical el mago wash and filled with brilliant sun and dark shadow. A grand staircase leads up to the bedrooms and on the ground floor is a cosy sitting room, lined with book cases and portraits. Here Felipe Guardiola Medina and his family offer genuinely warm hospitality.
Late morning on a Sunday and the Placa San Fernando in Carmona bustles with families sitting and strolling, overlooked by the tall date palms, wrought iron balconies and tiled roves covered in yellow lichen. The smell of coffee, freshly cooked churros and thick chocolate wafts across. Blue and brown tiles decorating the façade of Bar Goya are glinting in the sun. Dunking my churros in the gloopy chocolate I considered all there is to see and do in Carmona.
The city museum is worth a visit to discover how Carmona, like most of southern Spain, has been subject over the centuries to Roman, Islamic and Christian rule, with a few Visigoths thrown in for good measure. And not forgetting the Tartasians and the Turdetaninians!
You can see how the Spanish love of warm, bright colour goes a long way back – houses were once painted inside and out in vibrant blues and reds centuries ago. Now the narrow streets are mostly lined with pure white houses, punctuated by tall orange trees loaded with fruit even in February.
More history is accessible just outside Carmona, among the ruined tombs of the Roman Necropolis, dating from the 1st and 2nd centuries, where high-ranking citizens would have been buried amid a conspicuous display of wealth. There are both ancient Tartessian funerary monuments and Roman tombs, some of which were built like villas with colonnaded arches (some of the statues are in the Carmona City Museum). The walls would have been bright with frescoed birds, dolphins and flowers, similarly to those found in Pompeii.
There are magnificent views over the campo from one of the magnificent city gates – the Puerto el Cordoba. This was originally a Roman construction – with classical Corinthian capitals – and an overlay of late 18th century architecture.
The Puerta de Sevilla gate is also impressive, its bastion were built originally by the Carthaginians around 230–220 BC, with later Roman modification.
After a day of sight seeing it was time for some tapas bar crawling. The welcome was warm and I recommend the Meningalia bar and the local wine – Ribeiro del Duero.
A day trip into Seville is easy from Carmona with an hourly bus service but there is enough charm and character in Carmona to fill a memorable weekend break in Spain.
By Natasha von Geldern
Have you visited Carmona? Do you recommend any other towns or villages in Andalusia?