Several people had told us ‘You must go and see Cordoba’. We had only a few days left of our six week winter break but we had visited every place we wanted to visit in the immediate area so decided to go. The city was only 1.5 hrs away and we could have made a day trip but, as in Granada, we wanted time for both exploration and relaxation.
I found a modern looking apartment in an old part of Cordoba and within an easy walk to the main tourist sites. And it benefitted from free garage parking which in any Spanish city/town/village is at a premium. Having booked it we received detailed instructions on how to find the apartment and how to park the car. Two videos were attached. Hold on, I don’t need a video on how to park a car do I? Well, yes, in this case it seems I did.
The first video told me that when I reached Plaza Cardinal Toledo I should look for a narrow street on my left. That would be Calle Obispo Fitero. I was to drive down there and find the door to the garage, which thankfully appeared on the video. So, here was the Calle, great, and here was a pavement and there was a no entry sign. OK, well there were no pedestrians about and no Policia to be seen so lets go for it. (‘I’m sorry M’lud, I was just following instructions on the video.’ ‘I see. That’ll be 100 euros for crossing the pavement, 200 euros for going through a no entry and 500 euros for using a phone whilst driving.’)
Luckily, no one had spotted us and I only hoped that the managers of the flat had given my licence plate number to the authorities so that we could enter and leave the residents’ only zone we were now in. Otherwise, who knows what the fine for that would be. We found the brown garage door at building number 7 but now we had to go into the building and find the keysafe with the house and garage keys in it.
There wasn’t any parking space in the street (I say street, it was more like an alleyway) so I abandoned the car where I was, keyed in the door entry code, went, as instructed, up the corridor, up the stairs to the first floor and found apartment A with a keysafe outside. Dial in the number and, hey presto, it wouldn’t unlock. Have we got the right code? Yes, look here it says the code is xxxx (hidden for security but not very hard to guess!) and on the keysafe it was xxxx. Still it wouldn’t open.
OK, message Alejandro – Help, we can’t get in! Back came the reply Staircase 2, floor 1 door A. Make sure you are not on staircase 1. Ah, right, who knew there were two staircases, the one we needed being round a dark corner and not the one right there in front of us. Silly tourists.
So we grabbed the keys, placed the magnetic token against the garage lock and the door slowly wound itself up to reveal a ramp diving down into the bowels of the earth with strip lights flickering. You know, like the ones you see in all those horror films where you shout out to the actors ‘Don’t go down there!’ But down into the subterranean depths we would have to go. Well, I did, Jane sensibly stayed out of the car giving instructions and covering her eyes every time I almost but not quite banged into a pillar.
The video showed an easy seven point manoeuvre with the warning that only a small/medium car could be parked strictly within the confines of a faded yellow box on the floor of parking bay number 9. Is a Renault Captur (with some fetching scratches on the front wing courtesy of a lovely stone house in Montejaque) a medium car. Well there was only way to find out. But, readers, I did it! Yay, now let’s unpack and get on with things.
One building in particular dominates the historic centre of Cordoba: The Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba, also known as the Great Mosque of Cordoba. Just walking around the outer walls of this building makes you stop in wonder at the wall decoration. A humble entrance gate is turned into a thing of great beauty.
There are claims that the Mezquita is built on the site of a Roman temple and/or that its earliest incarnation was as a Visigoth church which was divided and shared by Christians and Muslims alike. However, no conclusive archaeological evidence has been found to support either supposition. What is known is that construction of the Great Mosque began in 785-786 and was completed a year later. This rapid construction was aided by reuse of Roman and Visigoth stones and columns found in the surrounding area. So, I suppose you could regard it as being put together like a giant Lego model – or perhaps not!
The courtyard of the mosque was planted with palm trees and other plants from at least 808 and this makes it the oldest continuously planted Islamic garden in the World. It is in this unique garden that you queue for tickets and where the tour groups meet.
Tickets in hand we walked through the courtyard and into the Mezquita. I don’t often use the phrase ‘jaw dropping’ but in the case of this building you cannot help but stand there in jaw dropping wonder as you enter the space. It is truly magnificent.
It can be difficult to know where to look as you start wandering around the cavernous space. Every sightline encompasses a myriad of pillars and arches supporting the great roof. Every polished flagstone reflects their glory back up into the heavens. We are not at all religious but you can’t help but feel the spirituality which almost shimmers around you as you slowly walk, breathing it all in.
Even though there are plenty of people wandering these halls they are easily absorbed in the vastness and seem to disappear like ghosts if you take your time, slow down and let the building speak to you.
Although it is quite dark in the outer corridors of the mosque it is never oppressive but instead illuminated with rays of sunlight flooding in through carefully crafted window embrasures.
The mosque which you see today is an amalgam of works carried out by successive rulers in the 9th and 10th centuries when the building was expanded to become the largest mosque in the Muslim world outside of Abbasaid, Iraq. This work included the construction of a magnificent mihrab, a niche which indicates the direction of prayer.
Above the maqsura in front of the mihrab is a fabulously decorated ribbed dome.
The mosque was reconsecrated as a cathedral in 1296 but it wasn’t until the 16th – 18th centuries that any major reconstruction work was carried out. A Renaissance nave and transept were constructed in the middle of the expansive mosque structure. There is certainly a clash of styles when you walk into this area, and it is said that even Charles V was displeased when he viewed the alterations for the first time.
It is amazing, not to say unique, to find a cathedral built within a mosque and it is a testament to the Spanish that they didn’t simply tear down the mosque but recognised its craftsmanship and beauty and incorporated their own glorious building within the original. The serene peacefulness of this Muslim/Christian space tells us that we can live in harmony no matter what our faith and beliefs. It’s a sight worth coming to Cordoba for and one that will stay long in the memory
A short distance from the Mezquita you can find the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos. The fortress served as one of the primary residences of Ferdinand and Isabella but its origins lie further back in time with the Visigoths.
Climbing up the towers of the fort gives a great overview of the city, including looking down into the Caballerizas Reales, the Royal Stables of Cordoba. Apparently, you can see a show here featuring horses performing dressage alongside Flamenco dancers. Not our cup of tea!
One of the four towers in the fort is called La Torre de la Inquisicion which gives a clue to one of the darker uses of the alcazar. The aforementioned Ferdinand and Isabella established one of the first permanent tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition here, a rather chilling reminder of more savage days.
It was a bit of a surprise to find inside the main building the Hall of Mosaics whose walls are adorned with several large and impressive Roman mosaics. These were apparently discovered in the 1950s in a nearby square and were originally part of the Roman Circus sited there.
Outside the Alcazar is a rather beautiful set of gardens and water courses dating from at least the 10th Century. These provide for a quiet, peaceful walk and, for us, a chance to sit and eat our picnic by the waterside.
The historic centre of Cordoba is set along the Rio Guadalquivir which has a Roman bridge spanning it and which, of course, acts as another draw for tourists like us. Thankfully it is pedestrianised so you don’t have to worry about avoiding the traffic. It’s obviously been remodelled several times since its construction in the 1st Century BC. In fact, for 2,000 years it was the city’s only bridge across the river.
After all that sightseeing we needed a rest, a cup of tea and a wash and brush up at our apartment. But all too soon is was time to head out into the evening rush hour for sustenance. We thought that our best chance of finding a restaurant open at that time would be down in the tourist area around the Mezquita which, after all, was only 10 minutes walk away. I’d studied the map and confidently turned right out of the apartment. Jane pointed to the left: ‘Rob, isn’t that the way we came in.’ ‘Yes’, I replied, ‘but I’ve looked at the map and this is a better way.
The thing is, over the years Jane has learned to trust my sense of direction. Up to a point. And the point came 25 minutes later when we had crossed busy roads, walked down narrow, dark and uninviting lanes and there was not a Mezquita, Alcazar, restaurant or bar in sight. I studied Google maps. Google maps studied me and just giggled. Jane studied Google maps whilst glaring at me.
We suddenly came across the remains of a Roman temple we didn’t know was there. Neither did the Romans I suspect as it was a rather sad ruin but we could now locate ourselves on the map and we finally made it into the Jewish Quarter in the heart of the tourist area. Unfortunately, rather than a buzzing atmosphere with a lot of people wandering about it was all quite subdued.
We did find a reasonable restaurant open in one of the side streets and afterwards called into the liveliest bar which was conveniently sited on a corner opposite the Mezquita. Looking at the map I saw a foolproof route to get us back to our apartment – out of the bar, turn left, left again, then right and into Plaza de las Tendillas and we were almost home. The closer we got, the livelier the place became with bars and restaurants open, locals milling about and a great atmosphere. All this within a very short walk of where we were staying.
The Taberna San Miguel caught our eye. Through the window we could see that it was a traditional tapas bar and so we just had to go in for a nightcap. It was lively with all the tables in the back room full of people eating but we managed to squeeze ourselves into the bar which displayed the range of sherries on offer. Spain is, of course, famous for sherry and though not normally our tipple we just had to try a glass of Oloroso. It was delicious, warming and heady.
We soon fell to talking with a group of Spanish friends who had met up in Cordoba for a reunion and were out for the night. They told us this bar was one of the oldest in Cordoba and served the best tapas. They insisted we share their tapas and said we simply must try the aubergine tempura. We ordered a plate and shared it around. And whilst we were at it a glass of Pedro Jimenez this time.
What a great end to what had been a wonderful holiday. It’s three years since we last had a long winter break but perhaps the wait had been worth it.
2 thoughts on “Andalucian Adventures – Part Twelve”
What a wonderful trip you had and it was a pleasure to read along and see how it goes. Funny how one finds those jewels like the bar San Miguel by serendipity!
Wishing you two all the best.
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Thanks Tom. It was a great trip and so nice to avoid the worst of the winter weather here (hopefully). It was lovely to wake up to bright skies almost every morning. We loved seeing the Ibex and at such close quarters.