We had the pleasure to be interviewed by Artiom Ganin, the project owner of Castles and families. Eva Morejón has been the participant in this interview which deals with the whole story and curiosities that the Castle of Almodóvar keeps.
Here is the complete interview.
Castles and Palaces (CnP): Eva, tell me, how does it feel to be the Dona of a huge castle, the castle of Highgarden, home to the House of Tyrell?
Eva Morejon (EM): Haha! Jokes aside I feel a great sense of pride as well as a feeling of responsibility to not only run the castle properly but also to ensure we keep it in our family and pass it on to our children.
CnP: Several generations of your family owned the castle. It was a ruin when the 12th Count of Torralva – your husband’s great great uncle – got down to restoration works. Why did it take 35 years back then to have the castle restored?
EM: First of all, Don Rafael Desmaissieres and Farina wanted to make it look as similar to the authentic one as possible. It was not an easy task. It required studying the medieval and Moorish traditions, structures of the castle per se and of course using the old techniques to carry out the works. You know he could not do it on his own and this is why he asked for help – together with the architect Adolfo Fernandez Casanova they did the impossible – restored the castle. But unfortunately, neither the architect nor the Count of Torralva himself would live to see their project completed. But just think of it – the man who was behind the revival of such gems like cathedrals of Seville, Leon and Santiago, took part in saving Castillo de Almodovar!
CnP: But I thought you don’t offer beds to tourists, do you? Can, say, the Spanish king spend a night at the castle?
EM: Once our bedrooms are completed, we want to offer accommodation to super VIP visitors, overnight stays, and we would be delighted to have the King and his family. Curiously, King Juan Carlos I visited our castle accompanied by Fernando’s grandfather in 1964.
CnP: A great castle for a VIP guest indeed! By the way, do you and your husband live in the castle?
EM: No, we don’t, but we are designing a few bedrooms in order to be able to stay here from time to time. That was what the Count of Torralva wanted for the castle but was not able to complete in his lifetime.
CnP: The restoration lasted from 1901 and 1936 and I think lots of precious artifacts should have been found by your husband’s great great uncle? What are they? From the Moorish times? The Reconquista times?
EM: Yes. We have a little museum in the Maestre Tower with different artifacts which were found here. They date back to the Moorish times, to the Christian times and also to the Visigoth times, my favorite finding is a little bull.
CnP: Were there any surprises uncovered during the restoration works almost 100 years ago?
EM: Yes, when the Count of Torralva started the restoration they found hidden hallways that led to the town and they also found the original door which dated back to the Moorish times. And now, this is scary, we found the remains of a woman inside the wall!
CnP: Not a big surprise if you look at the history of the castle – the place was mentioned by the Roman historians – then there were times of various Emirates-Caliphates-Taifas, and finally the castle got into the Christian king’s hands. Do you feel this pile up of centuries inside the castle?
EM: Yes, I absolutely do.Within the castle, you can see both Moorish and Christian influence. In some cases, one can distinguish between the epochs while in other cases it’s less obvious and less visible. You can notice it not only inside the castle but also around it. You can find certain traces of other cultures like Visigoths and Romans.
CnP: What’s your or your husband’s favorite route through the castle?
EM: We really like a route that starts at the Homage Tower and continues on to the Paso de Liza that runs along the walls and ends at the Maestre tower.
CnP: The view from a balcony in one of the towers is simply fantastic! Is it your favorite part of the castle?
EM: My favorite place is a terrace very close to the Homage tower that you can see in the first photo above. But to be honest we love all of the views from the castle, on one side there’s the town of Almodovar and on the other side you can see the Vega del Guadalquivir river, which centuries ago was navigable for small vessels.
CnP: This is interesting, we somehow missed the history part. Could you tell me about the castle’s past?
EM: With pleasure. It may sound strange but back in the 19th century, the town of Almodovar del Rio was known as Almudawar Al-Adna while the castle was called the Castillo de Almudawar.
CnP: The way it is spelled evokes its Arab history.
EM: This is true. As you rightly said, in the 10th century it belonged to the Caliphate of Cordoba, then to the Taifa of Carmona, subsequently to the Taifa of Sevilla and finally to the Almohad Empire. The Moorish King Abed Mohammed de Baeza died at the gates of the Castle in 1226 when the fortress fell into Christian hands, namely, the hands Fernando III ‘The Saint’. It witnessed so many events throughout its history. People of noble origin were kept prisoners here, some were tortured to death in the dungeons and once the castle even housed the treasures of Castile.
CnP: Such rich history should be a fertile ground for all kinds of legends!
EM: Yes, for example we celebrate the legend of “la encanta” that recreates the appearance of the Princess Zaida every 28th of March. A popular legend says that on that day the spirit of the Princess walks the battlements of the castle, waiting in vain for the return of her husband Prince Fath al‐Mamun, who died during the siege on the same day back in 1091.
CnP: Speaking about the spirits – have you spotted any ghosts?
EM: Not me. But some workers of the castle say that they hear noises sometimes and others say that they have seen a little boy. I haven’t heard or seen anything in my life. But we have the Dark Moon performance – it is a very interesting experience because you can make a visit to the castle at night. Imagine walking with a candle and learning about the history of the castle in a very different and special way. I can say that this night time castle history lesson can make you feel scared 100%.
CnP: Do you have any mechanisms from the Middle Ages which still work?
EM: Unfortunately, we don’t. Keep in mind that when the Count of Torralva decided to restore the castle, it was totally run down and abandoned. A lot was stolen and disappeared.
CnP: What about the catapult on display?
EM: Ah, it’s not authentic. I wish it was real, but it isn’t. The catapult we have is from the advertisement of Budweiser beer. When they finished filming, they gave it to us.
CnP: One of the castle owners I talked to – also from Spain – told me that any ancient building needs to adapt to modern times in order to survive and live on. The last large-scale reconstruction was made in the early 20th century. Have you done any recent interventions?
EM: We have installed the exterior and interior LED illumination, a very big industrial kitchen, we have a very big tent, central alarm and a central heating system. In the near future we want to put solar panels and 4 bedrooms with all the amenities of the 21th century.
CnP: Did you receive any help from the European authorities when you refurbished the castle for the 2001 opening?
EM: As a general rule, we don’t receive any state or European aid but there was an exception – when we decided to put the exterior LED illumination. We did the rest by ourselves.
CnP: You serve medieval lunches; the refectory looks cool and authentic – is the food cooked according to medieval recipes?
EM: What is truly medieval in our lunch is the way we eat, it’s because no forks. Knives and spoons are allowed! It is only possible to eat you’re your hands. The food is simple but I don’t know if it’s similar to what people ate back in the medieval times. I think it is.
CnP: Eating with hands – lots of children would love it! How do you interact with local residents? Do you buy food from local farmers or employ them in the castle?
EM: We are in contact with the business people of the town and most of our workers come from there. We do our best to buy from locals and give work to the people around the castle.
CnP: The castle has featured at least in several movies. But Game of Thrones was something totally different. Did you wake up super famous after the world learned that certain GOT scenes were filmed in the castle?
EM: Yes, along the years, we have done a lot of filming. As I said we’ve just had an ad by Budweiser beer, a Netflix series – The Warrior Nun and of course the 7th season of GOT. We were big fans before the filming. Imagine all of a sudden we are welcoming the crew here – it was a dream fulfilled!
CnP: Magic! What and where did the GOT crew filmed? Did you have a sneak peek at the filming process, watched the actors, etc.?
EM: They filmed around El Paso de Ronda, Patio de Albero, the dungeon and the exteriors. Remember when lady Olenna and Jaime Lannister are talking inside the Homage tower and then she looks out on the balcony to see Jaime’s troops? In reality it was her double who appeared – and the conversation was filmed in the Belfast studios. This is just one of the secrets of the filming process.
CnP: Interesting! Didn’t you want to take part in the shooting? As a background actress for instance?
EM: Fernando was selected to be a soldier of the Tyrell House but finally he turned down the offer. I was pregnant and he preferred to be with me watching the filming process rather than taking part in the filming. In the end he was glad – we all know that the Tyrell soldiers were all killed, hahaha!
CnP: This brings us to the next topic – reenactment. The castle looks like a great venue for such festivals – do you host them?
EM: Agree. I think such kind of events are great. There are a lot of people who really like to travel back in time. For now, we only have reenactment festivals twice a year, but I want to hold them more often.
CnP: And not only this – what about international medieval combat events?
EM: Not for now, but in the future – why not! We want to host large-scale medieval combat events and medieval jousts at the end of the hill.
CnP: Tell me – is it difficult to own and run Castillo de Almodovar?
EM: I would not say difficult, but the responsibility is huge! And of course, it is an honor! On the one hand, you need to maintain this castle that has been in your family since the 17thcentury, and on the other hand you need to keep it sustainable. You can put more and more money until you become a financial ruin as people here in Spain say. It is not an easy job – you have to strictly control your expenses/revenues and make all the visitors happy so that they dream about coming to us again! We also like to listen to our tourists to improve their experience at the castle.
CnP: What are your plans for the near future?
EM: We always have a lot of plans. Firstly, we want to finish the construction of the bedrooms, secondly, we want to open a little cistern and thirdly, we want to make our parking lot bigger!
CnP: My traditional question to all castle owners: what would tell those who also would like to become a lord of their own medieval castle?
EM: Do not lose the illusion and bring out what makes your castle unique!
We very much hope that you loved the story told by Eva, who runs Castillo de Almodovar del Rio in Spain!
Fuente: Website: ‘Castles and families’.