Una visita a La Bodega del Cabellero y Castillo San Marcos

Ancient wine, Christopher Columbus, Arabic designs and even a few ghost stories. This is what was on offer to students studying Spanish at Spark on last week’s Español en Acción event. Last Wednesday night, a group of eight students visited a local bodega (a winery producing El Puerto de Santa María’s famous sherry), followed by a tour of the Castillo San Marcos.

 We met our guide Veronica in the beautiful gardens of the bodega. Speaking in very clear Spanish, she led us through some enormous, cathedral-esque barns containing hundreds of vats of wine. We learned how the sherry is stored, with the oldest wine on the bottom of the towering stacks of vats and the youngest on the top. We were also led into the bottling room (crossing through a deserted corridor which was once a street), where a huge machine bottles and corks the wine. The lights kept flickering on and off, which just seemed to emphasise how old the buildings were!

Inside the bodega

Just some of the vats of wine in the bodega!

Then we walked back towards the Castillo San Marcos, one of El Puerto’s oldest buildings. This castle dates from the 10th century and used to be a mosque. It’s famous for being the home of Christopher Columbus between two of his voyages and for being the place where the first ever modern map of the world was drawn up by Juan de la Cosa in 1500. We spent a few minutes examining the replica map on the wall outside and posing for pictures with a very haughty-looking statue of Juan, before heading inside the thick outer walls of the castle. The Castillo is like something out of a film with towers and battlements and a huge bunch of keys to lock it. Inside the main hall, we were met by a mix of styles – amongst the European medieval style, there was an Arabic quibla – a wall covered in colourful lambskin that formed part of the original mosque. This wall, Veronica told us, was covered over in 1243 and not discovered again until the 1940s.

 Veronica then showed us a wall with gargoyles carved into it. She thinks that they were carved inside the building (rather than outside) to try to expel evil spirits, because apparently the castle is haunted! And not just haunted by one ghost, but by several niños y mujeres que cantan. Right after receiving this chilling piece of information, we had to climb up a very tall tower, with a very narrow and steep staircase… in the dark! It was worth it in the end though.

Castillo San Marcos

The castle by night

 After we came back down, we stayed in the castle for sherry-tasting. Veronica poured us  out small amounts two different sherries and three liquors. The weirdest one tasted like After-Eight sweets.   I found all of them very strong, but then again, I don’t usually drink! Funnily enough, no-one could handle a sixth one…

It was a really enjoyable evening that helped consolidate the Spanish we’ve been learning all week. I learned some new words – bota (vat), corcho (cork), duende (spirit, of the haunting variety),  and almenas (battlements). Learning Spanish in Spain isn’t all hard work!

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