By now we had settled into our week-long home in the mountains of Andalucia. We were even getting used to driving on the ‘wrong side’ of the road.
Today’s trip was to be our furthest afield, taking a couple of hours by motorway. It is a place I’ve wanted to visit for some time, principally because of the Mezquita (the former mosque) now the city’s Cathedral- Cordoba.
Having found some parking we made our way into the city, even going past one of the old gates in the city walls, which said ‘you’ve arrived’. We stumbled upon a horse show in the buildings originally used to train up horses for the Spanish Royal family. After winding our way through the narrow streets we came out onto the banks of the River Guadalquivir and the stately old bridge which arrives at the edge of the Mezquita and other notable buildings. Later in the day we had a delightful ‘mooch’ around the old jewish quarter of the city and even found a couple of stylish patios (courtyards) which whetted my appetite for the spring festival that celebrates these – that will have to wait for another visit…..
‘Cordoba was founded by the Romans and due to its strategic importance as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it became a port city of great importance, used for shipping Spanish olive oil, wine and wheat back to Ancient Rome. The Romans built the mighty bridge crossing the river, now called “El Puente Romano”. But Cordoba’s hour of greatest glory was when it became the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, and this was when work began on the Great Mosque, or “Mezquita”, which – after several centuries of additions and enlargements – became one of the largest in all of Islam.
When the city was reconquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers of the city were so awed by its beauty that they left it standing, building their cathedral in the midst of its rows of arches and columns, and creating the extraordinary church-mosque we see today.
As well as the unique mosque-cathedral, Cordoba’s treasures include the Alcazar, or Fortress, built by the Christians in 1328; the Calahorra Fort, originally built by the Arabs, which guards the Roman Bridge, on the far side of the river from the Mezquita, and the ancient Jewish Synagogue, now a museum. Cordoba’s medieval quarter, once the home of the Jewish community, is called “La Judería” (The Jewry), a labyrinth of winding, narrow streets, shady flower-filled courtyards and picturesque squares such as La Plaza del Potro. In early May, homeowners proudly festoon their patios with flowers to compete for the city’s “most beautiful courtyard” contest.’
The Mezquita was undoubtedly the highlight of the day, its sheer size (both outside and in) taking my breath away. The inside was a fascinating and beautiful mix of Islamic and Christian symbols and art. the contrast between the relatively simple Islamic decoration and the gold-leaf splendour of the cathedral created within it was startling; and also evidence of the rather brutal way in which the Catholic church muscled in and sought to out do the evidence of Islam. This even extends into the large paved space outside- the original mosque wash basins set into the surface have been filled in and orange trees now fill them with their roots. It was the simpler, but exquisite architecture of the mosque that somehow left the most powerful impression on me, and which also probably appealed more to my own artistic taste…
After this we took a tour around the royal palace (the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos), that sits nearby and is one of Cordoba’s major landmarks. Originally built in the 8th century as a caliphate residence, this complex of buildings and gardens reached major significance during the Middle Ages, when the Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella lived there.
The Alcázar is a composition of massive fortress and royal palace and has some impressive water gardens; complete with statuary, topiarised Box and Yew, a series of arched fountains reminiscent of the Generalife in Granada, and some curious red flowers. I think they were some sort of Celosia but were quite tall and showing distinct evidence of fasciation- when a fault in the growing tip of the plant causes the stems and the flowers to flatten and become fan-like. Apparently some varieties of Celosia are raised especially for their dependably fasciated flower heads, for which they are called “cockscomb” …
Rather numbed by the day’s series of wonderful sights, we made our way back along the motorway and mountain tracks and once more to another late night supper by the pool. Could we manage any more beauty on this scale?
Old School Gardener