We hated to leave the wonderful city of Seville behind but were excited to visit Cordoba, so we boarded an early morning train with anticipation. Another adventure in this most fascinating part of Spain. After a pleasant hour on the train through the Andalusian countryside we arrived in Cordoba.
Cordoba is an ancient city with a turbulent history. Conquered by the Romans in 206 BC it was an important part of their empire for hundreds of years. After a brief rule by the Visigoths it was captured by Muslim armies in 711. During its time under Moorish rule it became one of the most important cities in the world and was a cultural, political, financial and economic centre. Both Christians and Jews were heavily involved in the life of the city.
Cordoba’s importance faded through the 11th Century and it was eventually recaptured during the Reconquista in 1236 by King Ferdinand II of Castile. The population of Cordoba fell from well over 500,000 to just over 20,000 at one point in the 18th Century. It is amidst the changing fortunes of its rulers that the fabulous Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba was constructed.
Cordoba today is a provincial capital with a population of just over 300,000. It has evolved into a modern city, but the centre retains much of the history of its storied past. The area surrounding the Mosque-Cathedral was named a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
We stayed at the pleasant family-run Pension El Portillo which was clean, friendly and in a wonderful location in the old Jewish Quarter. Like so many of the buildings it had an interior courtyard that was decorated for Christmas.
As you know by now we enjoy rambling these twisting streets and alleys and taking in the medieval charm and unexpected surprises.
For us the highlight of our visit was the Mosque-Cathedral. Construction began in 784 AD as a mosque and was a monumental task, employing thousands of artisans and labourers using ivory, jasper, gold, copper and brass as decorative materials. It reached its current size in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyards.
We have visited many churches, cathedrals and palaces over the past few months but the magnitude, splendour and feeling of this one is beyond any others we have experienced. The exterior is grand in scale but when you first enter the hypostyle hall you will be in awe. There are 856 columns made of jasper, onyx, marble and granite. Pictures or words cannot recreate the feelings it invokes.
The hall is surrounded by resplendent chapels which were reworked after the Reconquista. We were overawed by the art, the colours and the obscene amount of silver and gold adorning them.
In the mid 12th Century the central nave was converted to a Catholic Cathedral and the effect evokes mixed emotions. The beauty and craftsmanship is beyond question, but like so many other parts of the mosque you are vividly reminded of the juxtaposition of Christian and Muslim architecture and the differing beliefs.
We would challenge anyone not to be moved by the experience. It reminded us that in too many ways humankind is no more tolerant today than centuries ago.
Just around the corner from the Cathedral stands the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. Imposing on the exterior, walking the walls gives fantastic views across the city and the Roman Bridge which crosses the Guadalquivir River.
There are some interesting Roman mosaics in the rooms of the Alcazar, but it was the gardens which captivated our imaginations.
Being the holiday season it was quite busy but we still had many corners to ourselves and were delighted by the symmetry and elegance of the gardens. They must be particularly lovely in the spring!
The Roman Bridge is big drawing point for the city and a walk across is a must, although we did find the modern walkway somewhat out of keeping with the ancient structure. For Game of Thrones fans you will be rewarded with some familiar views. Street performers and souvenir peddlers jostled for our attention and we had to have patience to get pictures without groups of people in the views. The walk across at night gave us some rewarding photo opportunities.
The streets surrounding the Cathedral are fun but crowded with tourists, souvenir shops and some overpriced cafes and restaurants. However, with careful searching you can find reasonably priced restaurants that serve excellent food in superb settings like this courtyard restaurant we discovered.
Another interesting visit is the Centro Flamenco Fosforito which according to Lonely Planet is one of the best flamenco museums in Andalucia. It is located in the legendary inn Posada del Potro of Don Quixote fame. There are some engaging exhibits which trace the history of flamenco and showcase some its greats. Entrance was free on the day we visited.
To cap off our visit we took in the show “Passion and Spirit of the Andalusian Horse” at Cordoba Ecuestre which is housed at the Royal Stables of Cordoba. It combined superbly trained Andalusian horses with traditional music and dance.
The show lasted 1.5 hours and the small grandstands were packed. The skill of the horsemen and the rapport with the powerful animals was mesmerizing, especially when paired with the music and setting.
The cost of €15 seemed very reasonable. In addition to the show the price of the ticket entitles you to watch the training sessions throughout the day. Located next to the Alcazar a visit to the stables allows you a more intimate encounter with the horses and a chance to enjoy the facility.
All too soon it was time to leave Cordoba and head back to Seville and then back home to Lagos. We were so fortunate to have uncovered some of her past and present treasures.