Sitting in the corridor between Granada and Seville, Córdoba is, according to the the guidebooks, famous for one thing, its glorious Mezquita. We wholly disagree and this rambling blog will no doubt reflect our amazing time in the understated charm of Córdoba. It has possibly become our favourite Spanish city, it’s devoid of the large cafe’d squares, majestic fountains and grand public buildings which is why it is such a wonderful place to visit. It is prosperous, in a modest way, starting with trade of its prized olive oil, before 300 years of status as the capital of the Moorish empire. Its status declined during various conquests and it suffered severe repression in the more modern day wars. Interestingly, Córdoba was the only city to vote in a communist council in 1979 (first post Franco elections) as belated revenge for the Nationalist atrocities inflicted.
Anyhow, on a brighter note, wandering around Córdoba taking in the place while becoming intoxicated on orange blossom aroma, we explored until weary! Wandering the whitewashed network of alleyways, admiring the numerous churches and palaces and stopping for the odd coffee we took it all in.
Starting with the biggie, The Mezquita (Mosque – Cathedral de Córdoba) is probably the main tourist draw, evidenced by tour groups following an umbrella around. The area around had plenty of tourist tat and overpriced cafes for those daft enough not to detour a few streets into authenticity. The Mezquita is however a stunning building, like no other. Dating back to the Muslim period in Moorish times, it is one of the most beautiful mosques built (on a par with Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia for sure) From the outside, the 19 nave doors are all individual and artistic. These would traditionally have been open for prayers, shedding rays of light into what is now a tad dark interior. Such beauty from the outside.
It’s a very early example of recycling, the columns creating a forest of pillars inside were all reclaimed from other roman buildings and hence are all different sizes and shapes, a challenge for the architect. It’s brought together by the numerous small arches, all of brick and stone, creating the red and white stripes effect. It was converted to a Cathedral in 1236 when Christian forces conquered the city, and conversions took place with a Renaissance style Nave and Transept being built into the centre. This major building work brought a very different dimension and it now feels like a hotch potch of design styles. It is all truly stunning and its vastness is incredible, a mystical space, highly decorative and colourful in parts and symbolic in many ways. Hopefully the pictures tell the story!
The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is the second draw, popular with people who like to pose for numerous photographs in the same spot while others queue to do the same. Gorgeous gardens, colourful flower beds, unusual for such a dry environment, and some low key pools and water features lend themselves to a pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. Within the Alcazar are a series of incredible Roman Mosaics discovered in the 1950’s when doing some work at Plaza de la Corredera. This plaza has a gruesome history, burnings by the Inquisition and bull fighting, nowadays its only fighting over a table at a café.
The Roman Bridge is another photo spot for Joe & Josephine Tourist and the views from the far side looking back at the World Heritage Site Old Town and the Mezquita are worth the short walk. Getting away from these areas into the barrio’s is however, where the intrigue and pleasure lies, the narrow North African and Arabic cobbled streets, peeks into the colourful flower potted and tiled courtyards, Riad style oases of coolness interspersed with day to day life. Delicate windows open, to the blossom.
The old world charm of “the second Córdoba” is in the barrios, north of the tourist trap. Aside from a couple of modern streets, the old grid remains and we found Gothic Churches, Convents and Renaissance Palaces. In the San Lorenzo area, its Iglesias quirky geometric tower, is a gem of a place Palacio del Marques de Viana, a family seat until it was sold to a bank in 1981 and opened to the public. From the C14th its a bewildering number of rooms but the outstanding patios (12 of them!) are the highlight. It’s understandable that a bank is probably the only organisation able to pay for the maintenance of it!
Other notable sights were at Plaza San Miguel with the Iglesia and Convent de Santa Marina de Aguas Santas, otherwise known as the house of Aqua Marina…. Iglesia San Rafael and Iglesia San Francisco with its archway to a sweet courtyard. Being off tourist trail, there’s not particularly lots of information but it doesn’t distract from the architectural merits and the wander worthy aspects of these areas. It feels different being among the daily lives, the ‘schools out’ crowds and seeing they that recruit children these days for traffic control, was a new one for us. At the end of the day, we avoided purchasing the ‘Tourist Donkey’ for Liz and Julia, favouring one of the famous Andalucian White Dancing Horses from Córdoba Ecuestre’s stables…. now where did we put that horse box?