Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada Are Waiting to Embrace You
If Madrid is Spain’s heart, Andalusia including the cities of Cordoba, Sevilla and Granada own a large piece of its soul. It is a region of majestic mountains, sun-drenched beaches, turbulent history, mind boggling architecture, over-the-top scrumptious food and happy, friendly people. So, what’s there not to like?
You can indulge yourself in a week – preferably two – in all of the above and more in three cities that are close in proximity to each other. Similar in many ways and yet totally different. But before I introduce you to the individual charms of Cordoba, Sevilla, and Granada in this and two additional posts, here are some general tips about Spain to whet your appetite.
When You Visit Spain
- Avail yourself of the excellent public transportation system that makes Spain so accessible. From inter-city high-speed trains to local busses, you don’t need a car. Parking is at a premium, and the mazes of narrow cobble streets can be confusing. If you do travel by car, find a parking space and leave it there for the duration. Traveling by bus and on foot will not only save you a great deal of stress, it will enrich your experience.
- For the most part, Spain is walkable, and exploration will increase your enjoyment ten-fold.
- Take a walking tour. Many are free, but you will be asked for a voluntary donation based on how you value your experience. Most of these guide have a genuine love for their city, and present a lively, informative and entertaining tour.
- Try AirBnB for accommodations. Your stay will most probably be less expensive and impersonal than a hotel, and the interaction with your hosts will be priceless.
- Go easy on breakfast and have a Menu de Dia at lunch. You will enjoy a reasonably-priced three-course meal, most including a beverage. If you sit outside, you can engage in some serious people watching while you dine.
- Spaniards take their evening meal as late as 11:00 PM, and tapas and light fair are the common choice. You don’t have to wait until 11:00, but bars and restaurants are virtually empty before 8:00. Fortunately, you had a Menu de Dia at around 2:00 PM, right? So you can weather the hunger pangs just fine. Besides, all three cities have wide selections of refreshing ice cream to tide you over. If you are willing to venture off the main squares, side-street restaurants often offer excellent food at lower prices.
This multi-faceted city was founded by the Romans in 152 BC, and – in typical Roman fashion – they built a wall around Cordoba. Well-preserved remnants remain, and are part of the city’s historic center.
The main square, which had been a hub of Roman life, was repurposed over the centuries as a Muslim market, bull fighting ring and a place of horrific executions during the Spanish Inquisition. What once was the pre-heretic-burning prison is now a fruit market with a library on the second floor.
Other Points of Interest
- The Roman bridge and tower. The latter, like the square, experienced repurposing: as a prison, a school and today, a tri-cultural museum.
- The nearby arch, built in honor of Philip II
- Flower Street, where profusions of spectacular blooms make it the most photographed street in Europe.
- The Jewish/Muslim Quarter, where for a brief moment in time – between the visigoths and Castilians – both cultures co-habited in peace because of their mutual economic interests and abilities. Nearly identical houses had simple exteriors to hide the occupants’ wealth from outsiders and thieves. The maze of narrow streets were deliberately designed to be defensible and confuse enemy invaders.
The Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba
If you could see only one site in Cordoba, what would it be? Without hesitation, I would send you directly to the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba, an amazing structure that survived centuries of wars, destruction and rebuilding to stand today as one of the most unusual edifices in Spain, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply put, it is a cathedral inside Europe’s oldest mosque, where two powerful ideologies miraculously came to share one space.
The “Mosquedral”, as I like to call it, originated as a Catholic church built by the Visigoths, using materials from the ruins of a roman temple that had once stood on the site. In 784, several decades after the Muslim conquest, the Caliph, al-Rahman I, demolished the building and erected a grand mosque in Cordoba, which at that time was one of Europe’s largest and richest cities.
Then, in 1236, along came King Ferdinand III of Castile, and reconquered Cordoba. The mosque was reconsecrated as a Catholic church, and in the 16th century, the original cathedral was erected in its centre. Additions continued to be made to the “cathedral section” of the mosque up to the late 18th century.
You can enter the structure from a patio-like area, where Muslims once performed their ablutions before entering the mosque. The orange trees and fountains had been preserved, creating a fragrant and peaceful welcome mat.
The main hall, of the mosque is supported by 856 columns of jasper, onyx, ivory, marble, and granite. This was where the five daily Muslim prayers and the weekly Friday prayers were held, children were taught and Sharia Law cases heard and decided.
Making the Most of Your Visit to the Mesquite
There are many wondrous components to this unique structure, so make sure you allow two hours at the very least to do it justice. Marvel at the spectacular. shell-shaped ceiling of the mosque’s mihrab, exquisitely carved from a single block of marble, and let your eyes drink in the exquisite decorations of golden mosaics on either side. Then visit the numerous chapels of the cathedral, each one unique in its beauty. Touch the intricately carved 18th century baroque mahogany choir stalls. Climb to the top of the bell tower, formerly known as minaret, and take in a spectacular view of Cordoba and its surrounding areas.
In 2017 entrance to the Mezquita is 10 Euros for adults, 5 Euros for children 10-14 while children under 10 are free. There is no charge for the Patio de Los Naranjos, an expansive open courtyard, where you can rest your tired feet, and if you have a data plan, check your email.
When You Visit Cordoba.
- The local speciality is a stew whose main ingredient is bull’s tail. And, no, it doesn’t taste like chicken.
- Cordoba was the first city in Europe to light up the night with street lamps fueled by oil.
- The city can boast of a number of historical celebrities who were born in, lived in or passed through Cordoba. Seneca, the Roman philosopher and statesman, Cervantes, who was alleged to have written part of Don Quixote in what then passed for a hotel, and Columbus, who came in search of financial assistance, which he did not receive. Also, at the height of the Crusades and other violent goings-on, 12th century Córdoba managed to produce two of the most celebrated scholars of all times. They were Muslim Averroës (Ibn Rushd) and the Jewish Maimonides, polymaths, whose philosophical efforts attempted to co-mingle religion and reason. We could definitely use guys like that today.
- If you happen to be in Cordoba during the month of May, your senses might benefit from the two-week courtyard flower competition. Private courtyard doors are open to the public, and the glorious colors, artistic compositions and intoxicating fragrances contained therein are presented there for all to enjoy.
- The Mezqueta-Catedral de Cordoba is wheelchair accessible, as are many other attractions in Córdoba.