The ancient rites of Tartessos

Sanlúcar de Barrameda, at the mouth of Guadalquivir river, is one of the places where historians believe Tartessos might have been, a legendary civilization that appeared around 800 BC and, through its trading links with all the Mediterranean, fed the imagination of many people, among which the Greeks. Though the exact spot of Tartessos has never been proved, Sanlúcar is full o references. The very name - a play on the words Santo Lugar or So- Lucar- seems to be due to the existence of an ancient temple to a sun god of which nothing remains to day, though what does still exist- logically modified- are the ancestral rituals exalting the senses to which such temples were consecrated. A good proof of this is the elevated state of conscience produced by the measured tasting of manzanilla- a delicate wine- and of sea food. The main local produce. A stroll along the streets is an unforgettable and magical experience.

From Sanlúcar it is impossible to cross the Guadalquivir to the other bank were Coto de Doñana begins, a nature reserve with marked telluric undertones. Birds migrating for Central Europe nest there, such as the geese that have been sacred since remote antiquity, creating the myth of Mother Goose, Melusine of initiatory stories which have survived and made popular in the game of the snakes and ladders. Through the Reserve by forest tracks, we come upon the Rocío hamlet, a mythical place where every year in spring, about one million pilgrims gather from all over Spain, in order to celebrate the pilgrimage in honour of the Virgin of El Rocio (morning due), also called Blanca Paloma (white dove) or Reina de Las Marismas (Queen of the Marshes). This pilgrimage, either on horseback or on foot through the pine woods and expanses of sand of the Coto, reflects at the present time all the elements of Roman Catholic ritual, but is linked with ancient pagan ceremonies in honour of Astarte and Demeter, godnesses of fertility and of the cycles of the moon of the Tartessian, Greek and Roman civilizations. Many of those old magic rites of fertility still exist, and not only here at El Rocío. Other pilgrimates, such as that of Setefilla at Lora del Río, of La Asunción at Cantillana or Escardiel at Castiblanco de los Arroyos show, though to lesser degree, similar features.

From Sanlúcar towards Seville, we may evoque places where the Greeks are said to have situated some or their mythological exploits. Heracles, founder of Seville according to legend, was in these parts and, with the strength of this arms only, separated Europe from Africa , opening the strait of Gibraltar, leaving one of its pillars on each side. Geryon's cattle grazed in these marshes before being carried of by him, thus complying with one of the labours of Heracles. Greek tradition also situated the garden of the Hesperides here - where the three daughters of Atlas were said to live- and the place of origin of the Gorgons, the Parcae,- daughters of the Night, The Cyclopes, the Moiras and the Hecatoncheries. Like the valley of the Nile in Egypt, Mesopotamia between the Tigris and the Euphrates, or the valley of the Ganges in India, the valley of the Guadalquivir has harboured powerful civilizations, some whose features still remain up to our time. Games with bulls. Feasts with slings and ancient Mediterranean resonance could be some of them.

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