“ City: Cordoba / Country: Spain / Country Region: Andalusia / World Region: Europe „
At the start of this year 2010 we spent a week in Fuengirola and we had two main places we wanted to see, one was Seville and the other Cordoba. It has taken me a while but I finally got around to writing this.
We arrived in Cordoba and parked across the river from the main old town. We walked across the bridge into the old town area and to the huge Mezquita. The river was in full flood and the bridge with the arches had water gushing through at a huge rate. It was really quite dramatic.
Córdoba is a city on the Guadalquivir river in Andalusia, southern Spain and is the capital city of the province of Córdoba. It dates back to ancient Roman times when it was founded by Claudius Marcellus.
We spent a day in this city but more specifically in the The Mezquita (Spanish for "Mosque") of Cordoba which is really what I shall be writing about in this review .This beautiful and fascinating building symbolizes the religious changes Cordoba has undergone over the centuries. Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba known as the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption, but the art and architecture of the building and within is the work of Islamic architects who built it as a mosque in the 8th century.
The Moors came to Spain in the 8th century and in AD 711 Cordoba was the headquarters of the Emirate founded by the leader Abd al-Rahman I. Cordoba was during this time the richest and most glorious city in the known world. Under the Moors the Mezquita was known as the Aljama Mosque and at its time the second largest mosque in the world. Following this period of success and wealth came a period of civil war between the various Moorish powers until finally in 1236 the Christian army led by the King of Castile, Fernando III took the city and the mosque became a consecrated Christian Church.
The Mezquita is open all day from 10.00-19.00 with no siesta which is very unusual for Spain. As you approach the Mezquita, one's first thoughts are that you are approaching a massive fortress as all around the exterior there are massive doors, highly decorative but closed and uninviting. The entire building is enormous and takes up the whole of a city block. You need to be reasonable able to walk around although everywhere is flat and wheel chair accessible you do have to walk a lot to see everywhere and it is enormous. If I remember correctly it was about 6 Euros to get in but I would check before going if you are concerned.
The courtyard is the first area you come to and it has a lovely traditionally Spanish feel to it with all the orange trees, drainage channels and water fountains which was a lovely area to sit in and wait for the main area to open as we were a little early. The sky was a perfect blue and the sun warmed us as we leant against the wall watching the other visitors. As it was very early January there were not too many people around and to bask in the sun in such surroundings was especially pleasant as we had left snow in England.
At last we managed to get out tickets and walked around into the Mezquita proper. Wow! What an amazing place! Inside this enormous building you see row after row of arches and pillars. Apparently many of the pillars in the Mezquita were stolen from earlier Roman buildings in the area and if the pillar was too long, it was sunk into the ground and reshaped to fit in with the other columns. The pillars are decorated and perfectly lined up in rows.
The pillars are especially beautiful as there are alternate brick and stone in the arches, creating the red and white striped pattern According to the guide book there are more than 850 coloured granite jasper and marble pillars in total.
In the centre of this huge building is now a cathedral. When this part of the mosque was converted into a cathedral, a third of the pillars were removed for a courtyard. In the centre of what is left of the mosque, the arches were reworked and the ceiling raised, this space is now the heart of the cathedral.
As you wander round parts of the building are Moorish in architecture and have Islamic designs while next to it you might see a Christian image or a cross. It was really very unusual and positively awe inspiring in its scale. Around the outside of the building we several small chapels each dedicated to a different saint just as you would get in a Cathedral yet these were separated by these wonderful arches and architecture that was definitely more like that of a mosque. It was a real mix of the different religious architectures and artefacts and it made me think that it is a shame that people of the two religions can't blend their ideas as easily.
After you have been overwhelmed by the Catholic statues and rather ostentatious gilded decorations in the chapels and Cathedral area you can make you way to the most important area of the mosque, the Mihrab which is much more subtly decorated. The Mihrab is important in a mosque as it shows the direction of Mecca and it also amplified the words of the Imam. In the Mezquita it is particularly magnificent as the shell-shaped ceiling is carved from a single block of marble which I found quite stunning. On either side the chambers are decorated with mosaics of gold. Strangely in The Cordoba Mosque the Mihrab looks south not south east in the direction of Mecca but I don't know the reason for this it is just one of those little gems of information that the guides impart as you go around.
As we drove from Fuengirola to Cordoba we didn't get much of a chance to look any further in this beautiful city as we had to drive back. I would certainly recommend anyone visiting the Andalusia area to take a day out and visit this beautiful city as it has much to offer and it is worth a visit just for the Mezquita alone.
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If you're planning a trip to Andalusia, Cordoba may not be high on your list of priorities, but with its semi-bohemian, lively atmosphere, combined with its laid-back attitude, you may even find it more enjoyable than a visit to Seville or Granada.
~ History ~
Cordoba is known as the meeting place of three religions; in close proximity to one another are the mezquita- the impressive mosque in the heart of the old town- the Juderia (Jewish quarter) and several Catholic churches dotted around.
The Roman Empire spread as far as Cordoba and the lovely Roman Bridge, which stretches across the Guadalquivir river, stands testament to their rule there. After a brief period of rule by the Visigoths, whose impact on modern-day Cordoba is minimal, Cordoba was taken over by the Moors, who arrived in Spain via Gibraltar. From 756 until 1031 Cordoba was their centre of political power. They certainly stamped their identity on the city, and in fact on the whole of Andalucia, opening numerous public bathhouses (there were over 60 in just the one city, although only one remains), palaces, gardens and mosques. According to my trusty 'Lonely Planet Guide to Andalucia', even several staple products of the Spanish diet came across with Islamic rule, and the names themselves are Arabic e.g. sugar (azucar), rice (arroz) and oranges (naranjas).
Jumping ahead several hundred years, the Christians managed to seize Granada, then the new centre of Islamic rule, in 1492, and Boabdil, the last Emir, was sent quite literally running for the hills. He was given the Alpujarra valleys, the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, as part of the terms of surrender, but he stayed for only a year before returning to Africa.
I've included this very brief history in order to give you a flavour of the various influences and cultures at work in Cordoba, and there will be more on this later.
~ Places to visit ~
** The Mezquita **
As mentioned above, when the Moors were using Cordoba as their political and cultural centre, they built a huge mosque right in the heart of the city. Even today, this is a most impressive architectural feat. Entrance is via a large courtyard filled with orange trees, and although there is an entrance fee, it isn't as pricey as you might imagine for such a place. An adult ticket will set you back Euro8 and a child Euro4.
Entering the mosque there are arches supported by pillars stretching away in perfectly symmetrical form for as far as the eye can see. The bizarre thing about the place, however, is that when the Christians took over from the moors, they kept the Mezquita but built a cathedral right in the centre of it. It is a strange thing to see an ordinary cathedral dropped into the middle of a mosque, and it does feel quite incongruous, despite the cool, peaceful atmosphere of the place in general.
Apparently the whole building used to be a lot lighter, in days gone by. There were 19 doors leading in, whereas now there's only one, so you can only really imagination exactly how open and spacious it must once have felt.
This Mezquita is the biggest attraction in Cordoba, but if you go out of peak season, it's sure not to be too packed with tourists to really soak up the atmosphere. In fact, the red and gold decoration of the arches are mirrored in various places across the city, and you will notice this when you visit.
** The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos **
This castle was built on Roman and Arab remains, and for the first part of its life it was used as a palace. It later became a home for the Inquisition and then was used as a prison until 1951.
If you visit nowadays you will see lots of partially or fully excavated Roman mosaics hanging on the walls, and if you go up one of the two towers there's a fine view over the city and surrounding countryside. However, the best bit of the visit for me was the gardens- they spread over quite a large area, and are filled with fountains, fish ponds, lemon and orange trees and topiary.
Entry is more reasonable than the cost of the Mezquita, at Euro4 for adults and Euro2 for children, although Friday is free, which is even better value! I'd highly recommend a visit, even if for nothing but the gardens.
** Hammam Banos Arabes **
Despite the slightly overly-regimented staff here, this is a very pleasant way to while away a morning or an afternoon. If you're in a hurry then you won't get the full experience from this, but if you've got the time to spare then this is a definite must for soaking up the Cordoban atmosphere, though the prices are fairly hefty.
For Euro26 you get a full hour and a half session, during which you can make use of the three different temperature baths- hot (and by this I mean very hot!), warm and cold. The rooms are lit with dim lighting and candles, and tastefully decorated with those famous mezquita arches.
Staff also provide sweetened mint tea in silver Arabic teapots for sipping at your leisure, and you can indulge in a 15 minute massage, along with essential oils for an extra Euro7- something my boyfriend loved, despite having been reluctant to try it in the first place!
Upstairs is a teteria, serving a wide variety of teas and coffees, as well as a small selection of Arabic sweets. If you want to you can pay for teas when you book the baths, so you can just hand in your ticket to the waitress and it's as if you're getting your tea for free.
It's best to book the baths at least a day in advance, which you can do via their website: http://www.hammamspain.com/cordoba/
** Museo Julio Romero de Torres **
There are a couple of interesting-sounding museums in Cordoba, including the Museo de Bellas Artes and the Museo Arqueologico, but since I visited this one, it's the one I'm going to briefly introduce you to.
Admission is Euro3, though again free on Fridays, and contains a collection of Romero de Torres' artwork. He spent most of his life in Cordoba, living in this very house, and painted a number of pictures depicting local life. It's the kind of art you either love or hate, though I'm still sitting on the fence. I found it interesting, but I didn't have any particularly strong feelings about it. Still, if you want to learn more about Andalucian culture then this is a good way to do it.
~ Places to eat and drink ~
Cordoba is surprisingly affordable for eating out, as well as having the reputation for serving the best food in Andalucia. I wouldn't be surprised if this were true, as the things I tried were delicious. Salmarejo, which is a bit like Gazpacho but with hard-boiled egg and pieces of ham crumbled on top, originated here and is deliciously refreshing. You could also try any of the numerous stews or tortilla.
If you want to really experience Spanish gastronomy then it's best to go for several plates of tapas to share between you, rather than a full 'racion' each, as this way you can try more and keep the costs down. A plate of tapa, even at bars surrounding the mezquita, will only set you back Euro2 at the most, though they will more likely cost you 1 or 1,50.
Many bars also do a 'menu del dia', which can be very reasonable. We ate lunch for Euro9 each including bread and a drink, again right by the Mezquita.
If you're going to stay overnight then make sure you try Churros (like doughnuts) with Chocolate (hot chocolate) or a tostada (toasted baguette with delicious local olive oil and pureed fresh tomato) for breakfast. They have to be tried to be believed.
~ Accomodation ~
There are numerous affordable options in Cordoba, though you can also splash out on something a bit more upmarket if you wish. The Inturjoven (Cordoba Youth Hostel) is a good budget option- it has room with 2,3,4 or 5 beds, each with a private bathroom, and it only costs Euro20 a night each including breakfast.
~The best time to visit~
The best time to visit the city is said to be April or May, as the temperature is supposed to be pleasantly warm rather than unbearably hot. By May the temperature has generally reached about 25 degrees, but July and August, which are the hottest months, can reach anything up to 36 degrees or more.
Also, May is the time for numerous local festivals, including 'Cruces de Mayo' (Crosses of May) and 'Concurso de Patios Cordobeses' (Competition of Cordoban Patios). During the former the town is decorated with floral crosses and wine and tapas stalls are set up in the street. The latter is as it sounds- numerous patios in Cordoba are opened to the public for viewing, and with the beautiful andalusian tiles used to decorate them, this is sure to be a sight worth seeing.
Both of these festivals are preceded by 'Santa Semana', the Easter week celebration in which processions move through the streets carrying decorated religious statues.
This is also the time when the many orange trees of the city begin to bloom, and the scent of orange blossom permeates the air.
The city of Cordoba, located towards the north of Andalucía, has seen many changes during its considerable history, and today wears them all proudly on its sleeve. Occupied in turn by the Romans and Moors before being reclaimed by Spain, it was once one of the largest, most advanced cities in the world - and although its contemporary ambitions are somewhat more modest, it is still a beguiling, intensely appealing part of Spain's most classically "Spanish" region.
Although Andalucía has many charms, its most celebrated sights, northwards of its often crowded, overdeveloped coastline at least, are its three principal cities - Sevilla, Cordoba and Granada. Linked up by a modern, wonderfully quiet motorway network, the trio are easily enjoyed in succession. Cordoba lies between its bigger, brasher brethren and is a pleasantly less hectic, laid-back destination with no fewer attractions and no less appeal.
~ The Where, Why and When ~
Addressing the "Wh"s in reverse order, the best time to visit Cordoba, like the rest of Andalucía, is spring-time. Indeed, August is a relatively quiet month, while the masses descend - wisely with regards to the weather, if not the crowds - in May, when one can enjoy the sunny, temperate climate without being forced off the streets by the dizzying summer sun. Tourists are also drawn by the rush of celebrations the city enjoys at this time of year; the month kicks off with the Festival of the May Crosses (in which Brotherhoods compete for the best-dressed Cross) and concludes with the city's Fiesta. Sandwiched in the middle, the Patio Festival, where residents deck out their whitewashed, tiled courtyards with all manner of dreamcoat flora, is a chance Cordoba barely needs to flaunt the picturesque appeal of the Old Town's narrow streets and proudly-kept residences.
Although this offers a chance to see the city at its most alive and active, there's much to be said for an earlier visit. Semana Santa (Holy Week), early in April, is as much of an enormous occasion as in every Spanish town and city, and is another great time for a visit - come any other time in late March or April and you should see some decent weather without the crowds.
As for "Why?" ... Cordoba has an impressive array of attractions that somewhere between the architecture, history and modern-day experience make for a captivating visit. Arguably, this is too the foodie capital of Andalucía, drawing upon all the best bits of surrounding cuisine and topping off with no small amount of its own gastronomical delights. Amongst the many highlights of a meal in Cordoba, Salmorejo is supposed to originate from the city; a soupy/dippy hybrid that to my luddite's palate is best described as Gazpacho with a bit of extra punch.
Great food can be enjoyed on a modest (or not-so modest) budget throughout the city, but perhaps the best place to look is around the old centre, where a number of venues belie their wonderful locations with some surprisingly good-value, unsurprisingly delicious meals. Tapas make for perhaps the best value, and offer a chance to enjoy a wide range of the fantastic food and drink Cordoba can boast.
Throw in some extremely reasonable and high-calibre accommodation within rolling distance of the city's famed Mezquita, an easy-going location between river and (smallish) mountains, and excellent, modern transport links, and you've got an ideal destination for a long weekend break, or a base for a longer stay.
Turning to "Where?", Cordoba is rightly celebrated for its Mezquita (or Mosque), but this is only the most emblematic of the city's attractions - and iconic it is, as many of Cordoba's locations work the distinctive two-tone arches into their stylings. Much of the Old Town that surrounds the Mezquita is an attraction in itself - narrow, winding passageways opening out into attractive courtyards and squares, lined with a plethora of tapas bars, shops and restaurants. Cordoba's diverse religious make-up is evident here, as you stroll from La Juderia (the Jewish district) to streets containing Arabic tearooms and similarly-derived architecture, passing Christian churches and Roman ruins en route.
This meeting-point of cultures is most notably on display inside the Mezquita itself, although here the union is not necessarily harmonious. The site started out as a Roman Church before a great Mosque was constructed in its stead - one of the largest in the Muslim world at the time, with over 800 pillars supporting the vast roof. In time, the city was retaken by the Spanish and the sumptuous innards of a Cathedral were built, not over the top of the stunning structure, but inside it. This somewhat off-kilter balance between the two religions remains today, and although the site merits much greater exposition, suffice to say that it's a remarkable, quite unique structure that needs to be experienced, with a curious atmosphere amongst the forest of arches in its darkened halls. Entrance is Euro8, and is well worth the price, although the impressive patio, filled with orange trees, is free in which to wander.
To the west of the Mezquita, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is another imposing structure; this a fortress with extensive gardens and good views over the city from its tower. The fortress itself is not that sizeable, although it overlooks ruins that hint at the greater extent of the site's past, and the gardens are a welcome refuge from the city, with oranges, lemons and chilli aplenty growing within - entrance is an agreeable Euro4.
Located just to the south of the Mezquita, the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano) is a recently-restored construction that spans the River Guadalquivir. Work is currently ongoing to link up the last part as it passes through an impressive stone gate, but a temporary walkway allows access to the sensitively-reworked bridge, from which there are some great views back over the city.
Back on the Moorish theme, heads eastwards from the Mosque and bridge (along Calle de Corregidor Luis de la Cerda) for a couple of hundred metres to find the Banos Arabes - intimate, wonderfully relaxing baths of varying temperatures with massages, tea and cakes also available - and recommended. Expect to pay from Euro26 for a one and a half-hour session in the baths up to Euro40 for the works. Staff can be a bit too regimented for the otherwise chilled-out atmosphere, but it's well worth the cost for a chance to lay back in surroundings heavily influenced by the Mezquita's idiosyncratic style. Where once there were scores of these, this is now the only one - and makes for a wonderful addition to a stay in Cordoba.
To complete the compass-points, bear northwards from our focal point to reach Plaza Tendillas, more or less the centre of Cordoba, from where all the usual shops and everyday amenities of a fair-sized city are within easy reach. Less than a mile north-west of here, the modern, efficient train and bus stations sit next to each other just off Avenida de America. Connections from here will take you most places in Spain, with Madrid and Sevilla linked up to the high-speed AVE line. The former is an hour and three-quarters away by high-speed train, the latter perhaps half that.
Cordoba, then, is a city with much to give. Exotic and enticing, there's no end of places to see and things to spend money on in the city, but it needn't be an expensive stay. There are no end of low-budget Hostales, and an excellent Youth Hostel on Plaza de Juda Levi. Eating, thanks to the delicious wonders of Tapas, can be pretty cheap too - choose a fair place, and you can eat well for Euro10-Euro20 if you're sharing between two. A showcase of Spain's multi-faceted history that bears comparison with most anywhere else in the country, Cordoba is a candidate city for European Capital of Culture in 2016. A visit in the intervening years, whether the bid is successful or not, will demonstrate just how much contrasting and complementing culture the city already has.
Cordoba is a city I felt I knew even before I'd been; that's probably because it is home to some well-known historical sites and is a city that has made a big contribution to Spanish culture, most notably through the art of flamenco dancing and music. It is a city with a reputation of hot days and hot nights and there is nowhere that better encapsulates the many cultures that have contributes to the melting pot that is Andalusia.
When thinking about cross cultural relations today, particularly in Europe, one should perhaps point out that Jews, Muslims and Christians lived in (relative) harmony for several centuries in Cordoba; the city in general and some of its major sights in particular illustrate the impressions successive and co-existing cultures have had on Cordoba.
Cordoba was the "capital" of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus and the legacy of the Moors is everywhere; you see it in the coloured tiles around the doorway of white-washed homes through to the brilliantly named dishes on menus like "Moros y Christianos" - this is a classic dish of rice with black beans and translates as "Moors and Christians (as if you hadn't guessed).
The "Mezquita" started life as a mosque; at the time it was used it was the third biggest in the world and was a sumptuous place of worship. Not only is the visual effect with thousands of columns of onyx and marble impressive, but it is also notable that various components were "stolen" from the remains of other buildings and used in the construction of the Mezquita so you will see that the capitals at the top of the pillars are in fact Roman ones which have been recycled. Another oddity is that the mihrab (the alcove towards which prayer is made) does not point towards Mecca; the suggested reasons for this are diverse, I shall save the subject for a review focusing only on the Mezquita).
The Christians reconquered Cordoba in 1236 and the mosque was consecrated to become the cathedral of Cordoba. Over the years chapels have been built around the nave and the result is a mini museum showcasing the changing style of ecclesiastic design and symbolism.
THE ALCAZAR DE LOS REYES CRISTIANOS (Palace of the Christian Kings)
The Alcazar was built in 1328 and its keys features of interest are the remains of the Arabian baths and a series of Roman mosaics. The Alcazar was used as the Royal Place until Granada came into use and was also the site for the first permanent tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition under Ferdinand and Isabella. Unfortunately, the Alcazar is one of those sites that is so popular that it is difficult to pick a quieter time to visit. There is a charge for entry to the Alcazar and the gardens (these are beautiful, filled with wonderful scents and graceful fountains) but Fridays are free so bear that in mind if your trip includes a Friday.
As you might suppose from the name, this is the old Jewish quarter, close to the Mezquita. Here tiny white houses line the narrow lanes, the best known is Calle de las Flores which is the scene every of a fierce competition in which the home owners compete for the honour of being declared the best house with the best "patio" (in Spanish houses this is an enclosed courtyard at the centre of the house).
The Juderia is also the place to find some of Cordoba's best eating places; sea food is the order of the day but you should also be sure to try one of the cold soups such as gazpacho or salmorejo. A cold sherry should help wash it all down.
Cordoba has always been an important port, initially making its wealth from olives; the river Guadalquivir has been at the heart of Cordoban commerce since Roman times and the impressive Puente Romano illustrates this. A walk along the river is highly recommended and there are some interesting buildings and monuments to be seen there as well as giving an alternative perspective on the city.
Elsewhere Cordoba has a wealth of museums and galleries devoted mainly to the colourful history of the region and to the arts that have become typical of the region. There is a bull-fighting museum and another dedicated to the art of flamenco; Cordoba is closely associated with flamenco with two well-known names - Joaquin Cortes and Paco Pena - hailing from the city. Many bars and restaurants host flamenco evenings but it pays to do some research and find out which are the best places to visit.
EATING AND DRINKING
I have already mentioned La Juderia as being a good area to seek out restaurants, though it can be quite expensive. Head out of town slightly if you want to keep an eye on the budget. Don't go made ordering tapas, take it easy. When you arrive just order drinks and wait a short while to see whether some genuine tapas (that is - complimentary) is forthcoming; it often is.
If you are staying in a "hostal" you may have to find somewhere to eat breakfast; luckily some cafes have realized there is a market for breakfast and open up early to provide it. It usually consists of toast and drinking chocolate but a few offer a better variety.
Drinking outside bars in the side streets is quite common in summer right up until midnight; you don't get a seat however, you just squeeze inside, buy your drinks and drink them standing up outside. It's very popular, there is no trouble and people even bring their children along in their prams!
As you would expect, Cordoba has accommodation options running the full range from hostels, through pensions or "hostals" as they are known in Spanish, to top end international hotels. As someone who prefers to spend as little as possible on accommodation I can't really comment on the top end. In Cordoba, though, we found an exciting little hostal tucked away in the Juderia. It was a beautifully restored traditional house with a gorgeous patio that had a little fountain in the middle. The stairs were lined with ceramics from the region and our room had a teeny balcony overlooking the narrow lane. The cost - 40 Euro for two in an en suite room, with air-conditioning. If the room doesn't have air-con in summer in Cordoba, don't take it. You will have a miserable stay. Even at 11.00pm, the temperature was in the high 20s.
If you visit in summer you should be prepared for very high temperatures; when we were there the early afternoon temperature topped 40 degrees for three consecutive days. Be sensible and wear sun protection, cover up when the sun is at its hottest, get indoors and have a long leisurely lunch and make sure you drink plenty of water. Sounds obvious but many people mistakenly think they'll be OK.
Cordoba is not the place for you if you do not enjoy walking. The main sites of interest are situated within walking distance of each other but cannot really be linked by bus since the buses do not run in the older parts of town. Furthermore, the old pavements, and sometimes cobblestones, are not ideal for everyone and wheelchair users might struggle in the narrow lanes that sometimes partially blocked by souvenir stalls.
Cordoba is not particularly cheap although there are ways you can save money, such as those I have already described. If I had to recommend one free thing to do in Cordoba it would be to go along to the main square in the early evening, dunk your tired and hot feet in one of the fountains and sit and watch the world go by ..
Arriving in Cordoba, it's difficult not to be impressed as the Mezquita looms large on the horizon. This magnificent, former Mosque is now the city's Cathedral and undoubtedly, its most famous attraction and landmark. This was probably the main reason we were visiting the city, and we had booked accommodation at the Hotel Maimonides, literally feet from the Mezquita.
CORDOBA has a long and illustrious history. It was founded by the Romans (not sure who losted it) in 169BC and because of its strategic position - the furthest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, it developed into an important port. It was the Romans who constructed the massive bridge over the Guadalaquiver River, El Puente Romano. It consists of 16 arches (although none of the arches are Roman -the bases are) and once formed part of the Via Augusta. It's still open today, although only for pedestrian traffic. Guarding the bridge at the south side is the Arab, Calahorra Fort and inside, the Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus. This is a good place to begin your visit to the city. It has a decent explanation of the history of the region and some excellent models of the original Mezquita. It's also possible to access the tower, for some really good views over the river and the old city.
Cordoba's greatest days of glory came after the Moorish invasion of 711 AD. It was around 780 that work began on the Mezquita, which - after many years of continual enlargements, became one of the largest Mosques in all Islam. The city eventually became the capital of the independent Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus in 929.
In the 11th century it was one of the most important cities in Europe (in fact it was more than twice as large then as now),
with people of many different cultures - Jews, Muslims and Christians - all living together harmoniously and giving birth to many important philosophers, artists and men of learning - one of these was Ben Maimonides (112-1185), the Jewish theologian and namesake of our hotel.
When the city was reconquered by the Christians in 1236, the new rulers were so taken with the absolute beauty of the Mezquita, that instead of tearing it down, they built their Cathedral slap bang in the middle of the rows of arches and columns. Thus they created the amazing, and unique church-mosque that stands there today.
To say that the MEZQUITA is impressive is like saying Spain produces the odd bottle of wine. It's quite stupendous. It's the third-biggest in the world with and has been called the most beautiful and original building of all Spain. It's built in the Califal style, which combines Roman, Gothic, Byzantine, Syrian and Persian elements and all the Arabian-Hispanic architecture that followed was influenced by this building.
You enter through the courtyard adorned with orange trees and resplendent with fountains and water channels - a peaceful oasis you might think, but not when it's invaded by thousands of chattering school kids. This courtyard is a bit of a sun-trap, but on approaching the entrance, we were met with a blast of ice-cool air from the building's interior - those Moors knew a thing or two about air conditioning.
We were a little apprehensive of visiting the Mezquita as from our hotel we could see the convoys of day-trippers descending on the city, and we thought it might just be a little crowded. True, it was busy, and there were large numbers visiting, but the place is so incredibly huge that it really didn't matter. Also, because of the large number o
f pillars and arches - it's almost like a petrified forest - everyone seems to have their own space.
It's hard to describe the magnificence of the architecture, it's simply breathtaking. I've included the following link which has a large number of images - let them paint a thousand words.
I thought the Mezquita might be interesting, but nothing can prepare you for the splendour and the sheer, awe-inspiring grandeur of it all.
To give you some idea, right in the middle of this forest of columns and arches lies a Cathedral which would be mightily impressive in its own right were it situated in its own space, but it somehow seems insignificant within the massiveness of the Mosque. It's not insignificant, far from it.
After the reconquest, the Christians consecrated the Mosque to be a Cathedral and the Royal Chapel was added. In 1523 the Church and the Crown decided to build the Cathedral inside the original Mosque. This took 234 years, so the style transforms from Gothic to Baroque and Renaissance. One of the criticisms of the construction is the fact that most of the doorways of the Mosque were blocked up making it a far gloomier place now than when in its original state. However, the Cathedral IS an imposing building - it's just dwarfed (though not in height) by the Mezquita.
Unusually for Spain, the Mezquita remains open all day (10.00-19.00), foregoing the traditional siesta. The entrance fee is ? 6.50.
Of course, there is far more to Cordoba than just the Mezquita.
There's the fortress on the river, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos which was built in 1328 and from where Ferdinand and Isabella governed Castille during their preparat
ion to reconquer Granada. This is where Columbus told Isabella of his plans of exploration - there's a statue depicting this momentous occasion. It's worth a visit if only for the beautiful gardens, but there are the remains of a Roman temple and some excellent examples of mosaics on show.
The opening hours are far too convoluted to list here, suffice to say, it's closed from 14.000-18.00 for the siesta and admission is ? 2.
Speaking of the river, there are some lovely walks alongside where you can see the remains of several old, Moorish mills, one of which used to pump water up to the gardens of the Alcazar.
There are plenty of museums and galleries in the city to whet the appetite of the most eager-beaver culture-vulture, but Cordoba's very streets are a living museum, and nowhere more so than the area surrounding the Mezquita, La Judería.
Cordoba's medieval district was once home to the large Jewish community. It's a veritable labyrinth of winding, twisting, narrow streets, shaded geranium-filled patios and pretty little plazas. It's said that the best way to explore La Judería is simply to get lost amongst the maze of narrow alleyways - it's not difficult. Within 5 minutes and 100m of leaving our hotel, I'd say we were well and truly lost. The good thing about this is that you discover hidden little treasures around each corner - the downside is that you tend to walk the same streets over and over and possibly miss out on other little gems.
When exploring this labyrinth, you'll notice that many people seem rather nosy by staring through the gates into the resident's patio. The Cordobans don't mind though - in fact many actively encourage it by leaving the doors open so passers-by can gaze at the beautiful ceramics, trickling fountains and flower bedecked gardens within.
There's actually a fiesta in early May with competitions for the best patios.
Also in the Jewish Quarter, you can find one of the few synagogues which still exist in Spain. This one dates from 1315 although I have to say, it's not very impressive. Close by, is the Zoco -a collection of buildings and courtyards where you can find traditional crafts and, if you are lucky, catch a Flamenco performance.
The whole area is a bustling, lively place, and this is where you'll find a great number of tourist-orientated businesses - souvenir shops, local crafts, bars and restaurants etc. Many of the shops stock Moorish type artifacts and, although quite a lot of businesses descend towards the tacky, there's still plenty of quality to be found.
There are any number of opportunities for eating and drinking in this area, from sandwich bars to elegant restaurants and international cuisine to junk food - there's even a BK and Pizza Hut (in tasteful buildings) directly opposite the Mezquita...classy.With such a variety of choice, it's hard to decide, so we settled for grazing. We just wandered around, stopping at various bars for a drink and tapas.
In conclusion, Cordoba is a fascinating city. It has retained its medieval heart and has character by the sack load. There's culture, history and architecture; excellent eating and drinking, great shopping, and a myriad little hidden treasures to discover.
As for the Mezquita? - Wow!
Capital letters courtesy of: http://www.chuckleweb.co.uk/fixit.php