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A thought provoking Tour

February 09, 2007

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By a pure stroke of luck, we met an interesting American lawyer who has lived here for sixteen years  as we waited for the Three Kings celebration to begin. While we chatted, he invited us to join a tour he was doing on Sunday with a small group of about 10 from the UK... for free. How could we resist?

What an interesting tour it was! He calls it something like performance theatre and it was one of the most interesting tours I have ever taken. At the end of the tour, several of the people on the tour were tour guides by profession and they were also extremely impressed and thought it was one of the best they had been on and said so. He has even given the tour to Rick Steves once who gave him the highest rating. He does a few tours around Andalusia and use to do small ones to the Alhambra in Granada and is full of information about the history here.

It was history with humor and reminded me sometimes of those horrible history books that Mozart likes. His style was to pull you in with an intriguing story from history, then end it with a thought provoking one liner and then he would dash off to the next spot quickly. Plus, you never knew when he would also pull treats out of his pocket (or once out of a store) that he would give to all. You could almost hear that “batta batta boom” drum beat as an exclamation point as he took off leaving you lost in thought or chuckling and always wanting more. A fun way to learn and he was as bright as he was entertaining. Some of the history here is brutal, so one needs that humor and entertainment to even be able to take some of it in.

One thing I loved was the symbol of this village, which I had not been aware of up until this point. It showed a cross for Christians, Star of David for Jews and crescent moons as a symbol for Muslims and how all three had lived together peacefully here for 800 years. He pointed to the symbol for it on his cap and later when we were in one of the oldest parts of the village near the original wall, he showed us the same symbol that was on a 500 year old pot. Before we ended the tour he had given us a a good luck gift with the village symbol on it which I am very pleased to have as a reminder that very diverse people can live together in peace and harmony with respect for all beliefs and ways of doing things.

The history here is amazing as it seems everyone has been here and left their mark. He showed us prehistoric sites, stones left by the vikings, a fountain still used that is from Roman times (I once watched a lady clean fish there), many muslim sites, the old jewish section, a home here that dates back to 800 AD,
things left from the inquisition and crusades and many other fascinating things.

The history was particularly bleak on the most narrow street in the village which was made that way purposely during the Spanish Inquisition. It is near the lovely spot at the top of this page which is a part of a popular restaurant tucked away in an area we had missed before, behind the church. Now there is a lovely fountain memorial on the wall of this tiny road with those three symbols of Cross, David’s Star, and Crescent Moon and  the constant sound of fresh water continuing to heal those memories from the past.
I was so saddened to hear the heartbreaking stories of such horrible times and its hard to fathom such happenings in this peaceful place.

I  have been collecting pictures of “knockers” that are on many of the doors here because some are quite interesting & thought I would eventually might do a blog entry on them. He told us an interesting story about one type that looks like a deformed hand. It is a Muslim good luck charm that is based on a story about Fatima and holds a pearl inside as the symbol of life. Supposedly she was stirring some hot batter with her hand when her husband came home with a new wife and she was so stunned that she did not remove her hand so it was badly burned and deformed for life. Somehow that became a symbol for good luck if someone gives it to you and a reminder not to be jealous. (I was thinking it would be a better reminder to remember to marry a kinder husband, but that is not what would “sell” I guess in those times). For what ever the reason, this symbol has remained long past the Muslims removal and one sees them around town.Strange how symbols endure.

After he told us that story and bit of history along with the continuing tradition that you can not buy your own Fatima hand, he proceeded to hand out little (non deformed) brass Fatima good luck hands to us with the symbols of this town on it. Now I will never be able to look at one of those knockers or the other symbols without thinking about that strange anecdote.

It was stimulating to know more details about other places in this village, some that we already knew well. Not too long ago I had a picture of Mozart holding a black cat and sitting on a fountain. Now I know more about that ancient Moorish fountain and the original art there and animal markings. It was fascinating to learn more about the church (which was mosque for many centuries) and the frescoes they have recently discovered under the white wash (which had been ordered at a time of a plague as a way to help reduce disease). It was good to understand why so many of the villagers wear black and their custom of
marrying only once even if a spouse dies.

It was fun to find out more about the long history of the Muscatel wine here and how it was all wiped out about a hundred and fifty years ago which changed wine making and tastes forever. (They were eventually replanted with vines from the Franciscan monks in California which were resistant to the disease.) We were shocked to hear that this rich olive oil area exports most of its olive oil to Italy where it is relabeled and sold at higher prices! We were glad to hear more details about the wonderfully carved doors on the church and various other landmarks. It was enlightening to know that there is always a symbol of an oyster in churches that have been made out of mosques as a sign of respect and in this church there is a large shell around a statue of Jesus.

So many enriching notes that will stay with us and help us understand our time here in deeper ways.
Yes indeed, we were very grateful we got this exciting tour!

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Caitlin (Roaming Tales)

Thanks so much for commenting on my blog and pointing me to this - it never occurred to me that the door knockers would be deeply traditional with their own story. What fun!

I must have missed the part in your story where you explained what the husband did after Fatima's hand was burned, because I don't get the reference about choosing a kinder husband. Perhaps you can enlighten me?

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