Day trip to Córdoba
After enjoying a tasty and wholly Spanish lunch, we wander back over the Puente Romano (Roman bridge). We are at once amazingly impressed with the still Roman-looking bridge. I know I have mentioned this quite a few times, but we really are pinching ourselves at these historical sites. Everything we’re seeing here is centuries old and absolutely stunning. And although at times the travelling three teens don’t show their excitement like they would at a Debutante Ball back home or what Kim Kardashian is wearing (or not) via her social media empire, they’re nevertheless putting up with eager parents planning on exploring everything that’s on offer! Mostly though I think they’re quite surprised at what they see once they’re inside historical sites and places and as long as they keep asking questions I’m happy.
We are exploring Córdoba with half our tribe this weekend as eldest Charlie and third girl Billie are over in London catching up with friends so we have an opportunity to journey all weekend with just two for a change – second Ash and youngest Dacey. We’re making the most of it and hire a small 5-seater car to zip around all over the southern Andalusian countryside this weekend.
We start exploring by walking through new Cordoba and take a turn down one of the narrow laneways that is Old Cordoba to get to the main attractions.
The Puente Romano was first constructed by Romans in the early 1st century across the Guadalquivir river (most likely to replace a wooden variety) and it’s been reconstructed various times since. Most of the present structure dates from the Moorish reconstruction in the 8th century. The bridge is 9m wide and 247m long with 16 arches gracing its length but only the 15th and 16th arches are original with major renovation works occurring on the bridge in 2006. It is beautiful and just being here walking across it inspires pictures to be taken from all angles. It’s not possible to get a pic with the girls as they’re done with my overzealous photography bug, but I happily snap away anyway.
We walk past the 16th century statue of San Rafael by Bernabé Gómez del Río that sits on the railing at the mid-way point of the bridge with tall red candle holders standing tall together at its feet. I could just imagine how beautiful this bridge would be at dusk and night time with the statue gloriously lit up by the yellow flickering of prayers and candle lights.
We walk over Puente Romano in the search of some Spanish lunch to fill our legs for a big day walking around the city. We’re always on the lookout for cafes that are neither overly priced or crowded. However, there seems to be people everywhere we go as it’s peak lunch time: 2pm. Along the road on the other side of the bridge are two fancy looking carriages drawn by four elegant horses each. The drivers are dolled up in their finest suits and as we walk around looking for a café, we watch them take off down the street – one with the bride and the other with the groom. The congratulatory sounds from the crowds sitting outside the roadside cafes makes us stop to also give a wave to the lucky couple.
We find a small café and sit inside as all the seats outside are taken. We order pasta and pizza for the girls to share and a mixed seafood paella for Steve and me. The food is delightfully tasty and filling. I also enjoy an overly sweet cappuccino – mistaking it for a hot chocolate – and once finished we are ready to explore the Spanish city of Córdoba.
First Stop: Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos
We head to Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos or Castle of the Christian Monarchs before it closes at 4:30pm. Time is more or less meaningless for us travelling wanderers especially with lunch being so late and of course dinner delayed to often until 10pm at night! But when in Spain….Anyway the fortress we are visiting today in Córdoba was constructed in 1328 by King Alfonso XI and served as one of the primary residences of Isabella I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon and has the most remarkable gardens and elongated ponds/baths full of large hungry fish. The Alcázar was the place for such planned undertakings such as the discovery of America, the Reconquest of Granada, served as a garrison for Napoleon Bonaparte’s troops in 1810 and by 1821 and has also been used as a Spanish prison. Finally, the Spanish government transformed the historical Alcázar into a tourist attraction and national monument in the 1950s.
The Spanish patios are extensively planned with beautifully laid out gardens that are truly breathtaking. There are stairs everywhere here that allow visitors to move to different areas and levels of the fortress as well as the garden areas. Some stairs are so steep and narrow that wind up and around the inside of the stone walls that there is a queue getting up and down them. It’s one way at a time. I could imagine the waiting to see these sites in the peak summer season!
From the top of the fortress we all look down to the view of the gardens – rows of pencil pines and elongated pools with lilies and fish; patios of orange trees and underneath them sprinkles of flowers. The perfectly round cut orange trees stand tall and proud and full of fruit. I just love seeing orange trees everywhere we go in southern Spain.
I’m not an avid green thumb, and can’t name all the different species of plants and flowers that we come across other than the one’s I can easily recognise such as roses and geraniums, but there are so many more. Being here stirs memories within me, and I become nostalgic at the beauty of the Alcázar as it reminds of my late grandmother Nanny, who was a green thumb and just adored her garden. I think that if she had have travelled overseas (which she never did) she would have loved being here in this Spanish garden.
Second Stop: Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba
After absorbing the beauty and history of this fortress, we walk over to what is hailed as the most significant attraction in Córdoba – the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba better known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba which is considered to be one of the most remarkable structures of Moorish architecture. And it most certainly is.
We line up for tickets (admission 10 Euros per adult; 5 Euros for child) as Ash and Dacey sit and rest under the shade in the Orange Patio (yes more orange trees!). Hundreds of tall roundly shaped orange trees line the large patio area with palm trees hovering above to the main entrance into the mosque-cathedral. The girls are becoming hot and bothered and are not keen to see another part of Spain’s history. They have seen so many fortresses and old stone structures and walls that it’s beginning to look all the same to them. It’s heating up, as it does here in southern Spain in the very late part of the afternoons, and although they are dismayed as we persist and purchase tickets to see this mosque-cathedral, they’re about to be super-duper impressed. We all are actually.
We walk in and our jaws drop, our mouths open and blink our eyes quickly as if we’re seeing things! Obviously this is a clear sign of us all being super-duper impressed and surprised at what we’re seeing before us. And even though I’ve sighted photos in the various travel books I’m reading and researching back at our apartment in the evenings, nothing beats being at here in person. N.O.T.H.I.N.G. We are jolted and shocked at entering and seeing with our own eyes its pure historical magnificence, beauty, grandness, domination, and complete uniqueness. The only thing that has come close to being impressed like this is our visit to the Jain Temple in Ranikpur, in northern India. But here and now, this holy place takes it to a whole other level.
I think we’re are instantly taken with the columns. There are 856 columns made from jasper, onyx, marble and granite with double arches that allowed for higher ceilings – the lower arch the shape of a horse shoe arch and the upper a semi-circular arch painted in alternating red and white. It is a mesmerizing sight when looking down the many archways of striped red and white colour. The mosque contains walls with Quranic inscriptions, an open court (sahn), screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics and windows of coloured glass. One circular coloured glass window way up high in an area of the open mosque showers a rainbow of colours down onto the tiled floor as the sun streams through its coloured panes of glass. And because adherents to Islam do not believe in sculptures or pictorial representations of people or God in religious contexts, the decorations here are mainly tile work, calligraphy and architecture.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba can be viewed as the most important monument in the Western Islamic world. And one of the most amazing in the entire world. The cathedral part comes into the equation of this site’s title as a church nave was constructed right in the middle of this amazing mosque and as we walk in and around the structure, the two architectural varieties show a striking contrast to their religious influences. The cathedral is impressive and breathtaking as well with intricately carved Mahogany choir stalls, the imposing carved marble altar piece and a 3,000 pipe organ. It is also an amazing presence to take in but overall it is very much like any traditional Christian cathedral.
This monument itself is beautiful, but I feel it was such a shame that the permission was given to the Catholic Bishop to insert their religious presence – a Renaissance Catholic Church cathedral literally right in the centre of this grand and unique mosque. It really was something of an architectural rarity (and still is even though the cathedral is within it).
Below is a timeline outlining the building of the original Mosque and its many extensions including the Cathedral nave over the centuries:
- The Mosque of Abderraman I
- The First extension 821-852
- The Second extension 10th Century
- The Third extension 987
- The Cathedral construction commenced in 1523: The 16th Century Bishop Manrique convinced the King of Spain, Carlos V to give him permission to build a cathedral in the very heart of the mosque.
- The Tower: Inside the present day bell-tower the original minaret is preserved. The statue at the top of the Tower is San Rafael.
- The Orange tree courtyard: underneath lies a large water cistern which ensured a constant water supply for trees as well as for the ritual of ablutions. There are oranges trees, palm trees, and more recently cypresses and olive trees.
I have read while researching this site after seeing it for myself that when Charles V visited the completed cathedral he was displeased with the end result and made the comment that they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city. I’m not certain if he actually said this, but it can be viewed as both disappointing to take away from the Islamic religion and culture by having a Christian cathedral inserted in the very heart of it, but at the same time it’s quite extraordinary to have two religions and cultures represented by two unique and magnificent buildings within the one complex. HIGHLY recommended to see with or without children! The kids in the end loved the place, and were very interested in the complex nature of why a Christian cathedral was built within an Islamic mosque in the first place.
Our visit here sparked their curiosity which is what it’s all about.
A Really Quick History
The site of the Mosque-Cathedral was originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins. When Muslims conquered the Iberian peninsula in 711, the church was first divided into Muslim and Christian halves. This sharing arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir ‘Abd al-Rahman I, who then proceeded to demolish the original structure and build the grand mosque of Córdoba on its ground.
Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 during the Reconquista when King Ferndinand III of Castille conquered Córdoba and the mosque was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating over time to the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. Apparently since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the mosque-cathedral. This Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, both by the church authorities in Spain and by the Vatican. (source: Wikipedia)
We must depart this cool and dimly lit mosque-cathedral space. I’m feeling like I really shouldn’t be though. I experience a feeling sometimes when I’m leaving something as grand and magnificent as this monument that it should take up much more of my time and attention. But we have been inside for over an hour, and I have taken hundreds of photos and walked around and sat down in the central cathedral pondering life and the times of the past. We thoroughly enjoyed the mosque-cathedral, being able to sit down and contemplating its unique history and transparent grandness. It’s another reminder of the privilege I feel being able to travel freely and frequently and actually see these impressive sites in person with my family. Something we will be able to share forever.
As I walk out of the mosque-cathedral, I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude for being able to open my own and our children’s eyes to the different influences throughout history that then somehow magically provide us with a changed and altered perspective of the world we live in. That’s just the beauty and magic of travel I suppose.
We did not make it to see the Third Stop: Sinagoga de Córdoba or Synagogue of Cordoba built in 1315. It is one of the only three pre-expulsion synagogues that remain in Spain today. The other two are located in Toledo in central Spain (about 70km from Madrid).
We walk slowly back towards the car park, stopping at a yogurt shop along the way and sitting down at an outdoor table in one of Córdoba’s wide open plaza-style streets. We observe the young Spanish people beside us who order and eat the same yogurt snack as we do while they try and work out where our accent is from. They sit down and gaze back at us, and light up cigarettes. We still can’t get used to the numbers of Spanish people who smoke. It seems smoking cigarettes, drinking liquor at any time of the day, and owning two small dogs seems to be the main themes that consistently emerge as a way of living an authentic Spanish life. But that discussion is for another post at another time.
Welcome to the Sleepy town of Monturque
On the way home we turn off the A-45 and head to a pueblos blanco community sitting high up on a hill. I just have to get closer to this community of white washed walled homes and reddish-brown rooftops we see from the motorway. I really want to get to higher ground and take a photo of the landscape and these amazing clusters of white homes especially at sunset. It’s just too hard trying to capture it from the window of a fast moving car and trying to avoid the steel railings that edge along the entire motorway.
This sleepy little town winds all the way up the hill and with an elevation of 395m and only 100km from Malaga, this was the best vantage point to stop and get out of the car to capture some of the most spectacular views across the olive grove landscape at sunset. Better still was the surprise public pathway and square in the village that allowed for ease of parking the car, walking to the best point to view and photograph not only the fields over yonder but the cascading arrangement of the Spanish pueblos blanco.
I think I’m officially in heaven. Enjoy the photos!