We had arrived at our final stop on our amble through Andalucia in an Audi, and we were relieved to get there. After the stress of driving through Granada’s pedestrian-only streets, and the gloom of our unpleasant, smoke-filled hotel room, Cordoba was quite literally a breath of fresh air. We took no chances of getting lost in Cordoba, selecting our hotel from our Espana Michelin Red Guide well in advance, ensuring that it was a) easy to get to, both by maps and our less reliable GPS, and b) had parking. After checking in to a bright, modern, smoke-free hotel room, we were filled with enthusiasm to discover this town.
We walked across a hot, tiled open square, cooled by fountains where children played, and entered a modern, leafy park, where we could shelter from the early summer heat under large trees and enjoy the modern sculptures and fountains.
As we emerged through the other side of the park, we found ourselves in the old town. Cordoba, like so many cities in Spain, dates from Roman times, and rose to prominence in the Middle Ages. As you wander around the city, its history unfolds, the architectural evidence right there in front of you.
Our first stop was the 15th century fortress or Alcázar, which actually comes from the Arabic word meaning “palace” not fortress. We could as easily have been in North Africa, with the bright blue sky, the sandy stone of the fortress, and the palm trees.
The Alcázar, despite its Islamic style of architecture, was built largely under Christian rule, and served as one of their primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon. It is now known as Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (or Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs).
The Alcázar is the place where Ferdinand and Isabella welcomed Christopher Columbus who explained his plans to find a westbound sea route to India. Later, the fortress had a more sinister role during the Inquisition. (I didn’t expect that!) In Islamic architecture you find many water gardens and fountains, and the Alcázar has some beautiful Moorish influenced gardens. From the walls, you can look across the city.
Close by is the Guadalquivir River, where a series of ancient water mills once raised water to the Alcázar. Wikipedia tells me that the mills ran until Queen Isabella complained that they made too much noise and kept her awake.
Crossing the river is the Roman Bridge, once part of the Roman Via Augusta military road, though to be honest the bridge probably has little of the original construction any more.
A little further on, we come to the famous Mezquita. Originally the site held a pagan temple, then a Visigoth church, then a mosque was constructed in the 8th century. As Cordoba grew in power, becoming the centre of the Islamic Caliphate that ruled what is now Spain, Portugal and much of north Africa, its rulers expanded and added to the mosque, making it one of the largest mosques in the world at the time.
In 1236, when Cordoba fell to the Christian Reconquista (Reconquest), the mosque was turned back into a church, and it is now the Cathedral of the diocese of Córdoba. The architecture within is a curious mix of the two cultures, reflecting the battles between the Moors and Catholics for control of Spain, and evidence that – wherever you might be – the religion of the land is always a reflection of the victorious rulers.
In the quiet and cool Mezquita, it was easy to imagine the faithful praying, a thousand or more years ago, in either religion.
(Click the thumbnails and smaller photos to get a better view of the inside of the Mezquita)
I loved the courtyards in Andalucia; oranges there for the picking, lush citrus leaves softening the harshness of the stone, and the trees providing a cool, pleasant place to sit. Tourists with tired feet took full advantage of the Mezquita’s courtyard, above, enjoying the quiet and the peace it offered.
The town was well laid out, with fountains and open spaces and modern sculpture alongside ancient walls. We strolled through the streets and alleyways on a hot evening, treated with tantalising glimpses into courtyards and peoples’ homes.
Afterwards, we sat in the shade at a cafe, ordered a glass of wine and some tapas, including the ubiquitous, delicious and slightly spicy patatas bravas, and watched people go by. Relaxed and happy, we declared Cordoba our favourite city of Andalucia.