Back in primary school, we were first introduced to the myriad of people and empires that ruled over these lands that are now the country of Portugal.
From Celts to Romans, Suebi to Visigoths and finally, the Moors, all left a little of their inheritance behind and became part of the intricate tapestry that is the Portuguese past. Our beautiful region of Algarve, land of golden sand and crystalline waters, still shows clear signs of Moor presence, starting with its name, Algarve, which was Al-Gharb in the 8th century A.D. And among words, architecture, food and music, the Moors also left us the gorgeous almond trees.
With their characteristic beauty, a legend about almond trees seems inevitable, doesn’t it? Right you are! This lore is one of the most beloved stories passed down through the centuries, weaved with some veracity as many of the names and places existed and though it hints a rather romantic vision of invasion and conquest that we end up appreciating because we will always believe that love can conquer all.
Sit back with your favourite treat and let’s travel together through old lands under the regency of the Crescent Moon…
The Legend of the Blooming Almond Trees – A Folktale from Algarve
Many centuries ago, in the conquered land that the Moors named Al-Gharb, lived a famed and valiant warrior King, Ibne-Almundim, who in his young life had never known defeat. It happened one day, that among the prisoners of a fierce battle, was a beautiful Princess with bright blonde hair, piercing blue eyes and a proud stance. It was a type of beauty the King had never seen before. The Princess’s name was Gilda but Ibne-Almundim was so smitten that he dubbed her “The Northern Beauty”. Right away, he freed her from her slave condition and ordered that no harm should come to her and had he not been so in love, he would even have allowed her to return to her home country.
Ibne-Almundim’s heart was lost to Gilda and it was a reciprocated love, bringing them much joy and soon, they wedded. Their marriage ceremony was a thing of wonder and many arrived to attend from all the corners of the known world with the party going on for many days and nights uninterrupted. However, exactly at the peak of the festivities, the Moorish King noticed that his now Queen Gilda was missing.
Furious, he demanded his servants to find her or, they would suffer heavy consequences. The search for Gilda was frantic and brief (thank goodness!) as she was found in her private chambers, half-dead in her bed, with tears streaming down her pale face. Desperately, Ibne-Almundim knelt by her side and asked gently what ailed his beloved wife. Gilda, however, couldn’t tell what was wrong, only that her heart was heavy, and she felt death close.
The King, holding back his own tears, calmed himself the best he could and called for all the sages in the Kingdom to be brought to his palace. They all heeded the King’s call and became very baffled by the Queen’s illness and to make matters worse, Gilda, “The Northern Beauty”, hadn’t opened her beautiful blue eyes again. She was slowly withering away.
Ibne-Almundim was crestfallen. The warrior King that never knew defeat couldn’t win this time.
But when all hope was gone, an old prisoner from the same northern lands asked to be taken to the Queen, promising he could be of help. The King wasn’t convinced. Who was this old man and what could he do for his beloved? Was he perhaps, a sage? Not a sage, the old man said, but a poet.
A poet! Was this a mockery? Ibne-Almundim became irate but the old prisoner wasn’t afraid of him. Even if the King was blind to what ailed Gilda, he, a poet, would show the truth. The King was shaken by the old man’s immense confidence, that he promised him the freedom and all the gold he could carry in exchange for his Queen’s salvation. And so, the old poet was led by the King himself to Gilda’s chamber, where she agonized in a slow death.
She slept, her agony veiled in serenity and her beauty bestowing her the features of an angel. Not wanting to break such illusion, the old poet approached the bed in silence and leaned close to Gilda. Suddenly, her blue eyes were open and shining and for the first time in weeks, she spoke and smiled. The poet left shortly after and gestured politely for Ibne-Almundim to go with him.
Outside Gilda’s chamber, the poet revealed the name of the sickness that ailed her, Nostalgia.
It happened that “The Northern Beauty” yearned to see the snow from her distant country which was so dear to her. Al-Gharb, being a warm, southern Kingdom, couldn’t appease her longing and thus, sadness was consuming her, body and soul.
Ibne-Almundim’s eyes widened in shock. For days the young King locked himself in his quarters and meditated over the words of the poet, trying to make sense out of this conundrum and finally, an idea came to him.
He ordered immediately for all the land of Al-Gharb, from the palace’s gardens to the lands and hills, as far as the eye could see, be planted with almond trees!
Spring came and snow-white blossoms sprouted from the trees, beautiful flowers swaying in the breeze, floating up in the air and falling to the ground, covering it entirely in white.
Unsuspecting, Gilda saw her husband enter her chambers triumphantly and though very feeble, she acquiesced to his request to come to the balcony with him. Aided by his strong arms, she looked outside in disbelief. The flowers rendered the fields into snowy slopes and twirled in the air like the snow she had missed so much, it was a veritable Winter Wonderland! Right there and then, Gilda felt her heavy heart heal and cried out that she no longer felt death’s grasp and how happy she was, to see snow again and stay in that land with her beloved husband. Ibne-Almundim also cried, at last, grateful to the old poet and more he could not say as the two lovers kissed each other sweetly.
From then on, as the tradition says, the King and Queen of Al-Gharb would eagerly await every Spring to gaze upon the wondrous sight of the blooming almond trees that had successfully replaced the northern snow and lived with love till the end of their mortal days. As for the old poet, he remained in the palace as a prominent advisor to the King and a well-respected figure in his court.
Such a love story for the ages, it warms our hearts and indeed, the almond, native from Syria, was a species introduced by the Moors and has since then become one of the staple ingredients in Portuguese confectionery. The almonds by themselves can be consumed raw, roasted or salted. And not to mention Easter, following the tradition of eating them covered in a sugary or chocolaty coating!
As a last note, some versions of this tale say the old man was the one coming up with the idea of planting the almond trees but in school, we were taught the version where the King thinks of this himself. It makes a lot more sense to us since the almond tree is from his own homeland (or close by, at least. The exact origin of Ibne-Almundim is debatable).
We hope you have enjoyed this story as much as we loved bringing it to you! Please feel free to share it and spread the love of Ibne-Almundim and Gilda, his northern beauty! Thank you and have a wonderful weekend!
★And as always, stay inspired!★