The train steamed into Cordoba about noon. Michelle and I immediately found out that we were not staying at a hotel in Cordoba where other people in our tour group were staying. We would be sleeping at a hotel way up a hill and away from downtown Cordoba where all of the historical sites were located. The taxi ride to this hotel seemed incredibly long as we travelled up a hill, passing residential neighborhoods. Those neighborhoods eventually gave way to the rich people’s part of town: spacious homes with high walls and fancy gates.
Hotel Ayre’s grounds were expansive and quiet. A neatly mowed lawn and a fairly good size building welcomed us. Michelle’s immediate thought was that this building was a former monastery that had been converted into a hotel. There was a structure reaching up to the sky from the building which could have been a steeple but was unclear. We never did get confirmation on the history of the building.
For $2.40 Euros, we caught the bus down into Cordoba. We had half a day and there ware really only 2-3 attractions in Cordoba.
First up, was the Alcazar. The official name of this fortress is: Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs). This structure seemed typical of Spain with a marriage of different styles that give glimpses into a very rich history. Michelle and I had been wandering through some fairly modern looking Spanish buildings and a small city park when we stumbled upon a very old looking fortress wall, complete with spires.
The Alcazar, we learned went back to the Visigoths (branches of the nomadic tribes of Germanic people). They had a relatively early conversion to Christianity (generally speaking) in the 4th century. In this area of Spain, the Visigoths eventually fell to the Islamic Umayyad conquest and their caliphate in Damascus rebuilt the structure. A surviving member of the Umayyad Dynasty fled to Cordoba when the Umayyad’s fell to the Abbasid Dynasty. This was Abd ar-Rahman I. Under Rahman’s rule was when the Alcazar underwent expansion with baths, gardens and allegedly the largest library in the west.
Of course, the change of hands did not end here. The Christians did a Reconquista in 1236 and took the fortress. Alfonso XI of Castille in 1328 starting building what is the current structure. In 1482, rulers Ferdinand and Isabella set the fortress up (unfortunately) as one of the headquarters of the brewing inquisition. There were torture and interrogation chambers. The other claim to fame of the Alcazar is that Christopher Columbus met the a pair of monarchs in the Alcazar in 1492 to discuss his voyage to, what he thought, was India.
That’s a good bit of fast-paced history but again, the feeling is very humbling (in a way) while standing in a fortress like this and contemplating everything that happened within the walls. Standing on top of the Alcazar, we could see a view of Cordoba (which wasn’t spectacular necessarily) but this sight did include viewings of the very brown Guadalquivir River complete with a Roman bridge that stretched across.
After visiting the Alcazar, we had lunch at one of my favorite restaurants during our entire time in Spain: Bodegas Mezquita. Our waiter’s name was Mateo and he was energetic and funny. This was surprising because in Spain’s culture, waiters and waitresses often are pretty serious when serving people. They strive to be professional. Mateo was very laid back by comparison. Eating Iberian Pork smothered in cinnamon sauce at this restaurant was the food highlight of the trip. The taste was amazing. Michelle had a similarly good experience.
The last major highlight to see in Cordoba was the Mezquita Mosque (Here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mezquita_de_C%C3%B3rdoba_desde_el_aire_(C%C3%B3rdoba,_Espa%C3%B1a).jpg) or what might be called the mosque-cathedral of Cordoba. We entered the mosque-cathedral through an outer courtyard where Muslims would do their ceremony washing before entering their holy place. Upon going inside the building, the architecture truly stuns. All around us and seemingly going back for a very long time were columns and each column at the top was connected to the others by means of a double arch. The arches were painted red and white and obviously had a very mediterranean-type feel (although I’m the last person who would be an expert on historical architecture). Here is a picture: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Mosque_Cordoba.jpg
Walking ahead a few paces, one can see the floor become glass. As we looked down, we could see an ancient hallway through the floor that shot off into a couple of rooms. These remains were from the earliest building of this mosque-cathedral. It was a Christian church around the year 600AD. The Christian Visigoth Church of St. Vincent as a matter of fact.
As already noted above, Cordoba fell to the invading Islamic Umayyad conquest. Abd al-Rahman I let the Christians rebuild their ruined churches and eventually, purchased the Christian half of the church of St. Vincent to begin work on the mosque in 784AD. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions by 987AD. Yes, that is really, really old and the place is still amazingly beautiful.
Historically, the Christians took (or took back) the structure in 1236 during the Reconquista. They built an elaborate, high ceiling cathedral in the center of the mosque but left a lot of the other architecture untouched. Obviously, the reconquistas had a respect for the impressive and stylistic architecture of the Mezquita.
Here especially one can see the different streams that formed Spain and the literal history of the country. The clashing styles that has history writ large for those who look carefully.
To close out our experience of Cordoba, we took a stroll across a Roman Bridge that is near the Mezquita. The foundation of the bridge was said to be from the 1st Century. The top of the bridge (the people walk on) is, for sure, newer. And newer is probably defined as the last 10 years.
As night began to settle, we walked through the Jewish Quarter which is famous for very narrow roads (some of which don’t even fit a car), shops and restaurants. We hunted around for the old Jewish Synagogue which we finally found, a humble building that we could not go inside of. The Synagogue was constructed in 1315AD and we read that Christian and Muslim contractors worked on the synagogue. There were small amounts of time in the history of Cordoba that adherents of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism all lived in relative peace to one another. We learned of Averroes (which is his latin name/ Ibn Rushd his Islamic name) and Moses Maimonides (a Jewish philosopher). Both were contemporaries during a relative time of peace in the 1100s.