Sunday 23 April
Another fabulous sleep all round, not waking till 9am on day three in beautiful Córdoba. That doesn’t matter here as nothing starts before 10. Not sure about schools, but certainly shops. It means we are not at venues when they open at 10, but we remind ourselves we are on holidays!
Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos
The Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs is regarded as one of the top places to visit in Córdoba so off we went. It is in a strategic spot and consisted of a fortress and towers with extensive surrounding gardens. It is the palace in which royalty lived for a relatively short period from 1236 when Fernando III of Castille arrived in Córdoba. This was inside the city walls near where in the first century AD the first and only city gate was built when Córdoba became an important Roman city under the Roman Empire. In the 6th century the Visigoths had built on top of the various Roman structures in this area. Remainders from both those times can be found in parts of the present day structure, particularly the courtyards.
The original fortress was built in the 9th century but was destroyed in the civil war in the 11th century. Very little of that structure is left – baths, some outbuildings and part of the defensive area. When the Spanish nobility arrived in 1236 the city was converted to Christianity. It became the seat of the Augustine order from 1313 until Alphonse XI arrived and built a new palace. That is largely what you see today.
The rooms where royalty lived are not open to the public – we think because they are not yet restored. The areas we could visit were the towers – and they were really not very inspiring. There were some very interesting rooms in the same area with floor mosaics from Roman times now mounted on the walls. They had not been found in the palace, but close by in the Roman area, and had been dug up and reconstituted on the walls here. They were very beautiful, rather like the ones you see in parts of Sicily. And they were a good reminder of the early Romans were here. In fact there are many pieces still standing in the city from Roman times, including lots of pillars.
We walked in some beautiful areas with pools and gardens. The flowers are of course at their peak, including lots of roses, although it is imposible to know whether this is how the flowers looked when the Alcazar was flourishing.
The Alcazar was nowhere near as well documented as other main sites we have been to in Spain. They had no audio guide, and the written guide was pretty inadequate. You were seldom sure of just where you were. We were there till around 2pm. Then bought jamon (smoked and dried ham) and chorizo rolls for lunch and sat and ate them in a nice shady park. Today was meant to reach 28 so it was quite warm.
Casa de Sefarad
Being Sunday most places had shut for the afternoon, but one we found open was the Museum of the Synagogue. And it was a real find. We learned a huge amount about the Jews in the Iberian peninsular. We had no idea that they are referred to as Sephardic Jews. We had heard that term but had no idea who it referred to. Anyway, this museum is to educate those like us and we came out much wiser. It is extremely well presented, with most of the documentation translated into English. A lot of it described what happened to the Jews during the Spanish Inquisition – first introduced in the 12th Century against heretics in the Catholic Church, and then reinforced by the Catholic Kings, Ferdinand and Isabella at the end of the 15th Century against Jews and Muslims. Individual stories were told to illustrate just why they were being targeted. Some horrific stories. Also a marvellous room about women around 1000 AD and a bit after, and the amazing poets, writers, and composers they were. This visit really provided a large piece of info about Córdoba and Spain generally that had been missing for us. We would recommend it highly to anyone visiting. It was very close to our accommodation.
Home for a bit of a rest, then off to find something to eat. Not easy on Sunday as everything closes – even the supermarkets. Córdoba has been very busy all weekend with hoards of people at popular places, but tonight it is noticeably quieter – we suspect a lot of the tourists have moved on. A quiet day tomorrow without less people would be a lovely way to say goodbye to this gorgeous place. After lots of walking we finally found a big food market and it seemed that all of Córdoba was there. Many were watching a soccer match between Madrid and Barcelona. It was very funny listening to the crowd reacting. At the end of the match they just about all disappeared within minutes – probably close to 11 by then. We had a good meal – a bit like the cheap part of Southbank in Melbourne, or upmarkets in Fremantle. It was a balmy night so lovely to sit outside.
We had been warned and we had noticed that many museums are closed on Mondays as they are open most of the weekend. So we were a bit nervous that we would have trouble filling in our last day. It was not a problem. We got going just after 11 and were not back till around 6.
St Bartholomew’s Church and Mudejar Art
After picking up our washing from what seems to be the only laundry in Central Córdoba, we wandered back to our room, finding St Bartholomew’s church on the way. It is very small chapel without any clear indications that it was ever a worship space. It seems more likely it was a funerary chapel. However it is a classic example of Mudejar Art which is a combination of Islamic and Western architectural and decorative styles developed by Muslim craftsmen in the Christian time. It would be a reflection not only of the Muslim artistic tradition but also of the tastes of kings and of the principal local families for whom it provides reminders to some extent of the life style of Nazarite sultans.
We next came across a lovely large courtyard covered in flowers and vines, with little work areas around it where Cordoban artists work. An extremely lovely place to visit, and only one you find when you wander aimlessly in a place like Córdoba.
Following up on Andy’s earlier reconnoitre, we set out to visit the Roman temple. This is a large archaeological project at present being undertaken to rebuild the temple of Roman times, along the lines of the one on the Palatine in Rome. It is very ambitious indeed but will be wonderful and just what Córdoba needs as a reminder of its early Roman days when the temple was associated with a ‘circus’ which has now been converted into a Plaza Mayor, Madrid style. At present it only has in place a number of very beautiful Roman columns but the plans look great, and there were a lot of people working in the large space which has been uncovered.
From there we walked through the Puerta Romana (Roman gate) and across the Puente Romana (the Roman Bridge), the bridge over the Guadalquivir River. We discovered today that this is the river which also runs through Seville and presumably into the sea there. From the bridge we could see a number of irrigation control towers which were part of Islamic irrigation systems. Also near the edge of the river is a giant water wheel which has not worked since the 15th century as Queen Isabella did not like the noise it made! It is an amazing structure, almost beyond repair.
Torre de la Calahorra
At the end of the bridge is a 14th Century tower, in which is an amazing museum – Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus. The museum highlights the achievements of Islamic Córdoba, and important Islamic philosophies and philosophers. We were particularly interested in their strong presentation of people of all faiths working together – Islamic, Jewish and Christian – in the Córdoba of the Nazrid Muslim dynasty between the 11th and the 15th Centuries. The ways in which it does this are amazing with state of the art museum artistry. The visit began in a room with 4 life size very realistic plaster models of thinkers around the 11th century, speaking about their philosophies. Their names are Averroes, Maimonides, Alphonso X The Wise, and Ibn Arabi. We are looking forward to googling them and learning more about them, and have bought a short pamphlet about them. There was also a wonderful model of the Mesquita which we visited earlier in the week, and today increased our understanding of it. Also a model of the Alhambra in Granada which gets us ready for our visit there.
Both the message of the presentation and its sophistication were a great follow up to our visit to the Sephardic museum yesterday. Both have clear ecumenical intent – we did not see anything like this coming out of any Christian institutions. We would strongly recommend anyone coming to Cordoba to visit both these museums. The website of the Islamic one is http://www.torrecalahorra.com.
We got so carried away that we didn’t sit down for lunch till 4pm. A great day with lots of new knowledge. Now home with our feet up, writing this and about to go to a Flamenco concert.
We booked for this concert on the basis of very enthusiastic feedback on Trip Advisor. And it certainly exceeded our expectations. We paid more than we had before, 24 euro including a drink. But well worth it for what we experienced, and we would not call that expensive in Oz. Things get confusing here when some performances are free.
We were entertained by a large group of artists. Good backing from a male guitarist and a very soulful singer – she had a gorgeous deep voice. There were then a trio of women who danced together, superbly and looking terrific. They were followed by a woman who I guess was the main dancer of the night – and she was terrific. She danced a long number beautifully, quite a joyful dance. Then a man – tremendously fit, and wonderful to watch. His concentration was something to be seen. When he stopped dancing and smiled, he looked a different person. After that, he and the principle woman danced again, then the trio came back and each danced alone – fairly short pieces. The finale involved them all together. It was a wonderful night – probably marginally better than we had seen before.
So that was the end of Córdoba, and we loved it. It is such a beautiful looking city, with people clearly proud of it. We have taken loads of photos of alleys and flowers in boxes – hope they look as good as the real thing.