Cordoba: Layers of History
Cordoba: Lessons in the Passage of History
Tribal foundations with Roman walls. Moorish expansion with castellations and finally, stuck on top over 500 years of Spanish decoration and primping. This is my image of Cordoba. Like grandma, nothing was ever thrown out or wasted. If ties could be stitched into skirts, why not mosque to cathedral. Wonderful lessons in the passage of history and the resilience of great ideas.
Cordoba and Western European Development
Cordoba holds the key to many layers of Western cultural, intellectual and spiritual development. This is best illustrated in a painting in the Calahorra Tower of a group of Christians from the East (Byzantine) visiting the Muslims of the West (Cordoba). Cordoba broke its ties with the Eastern Caliphate in Damascus and established itself as the first Western Caliphate. Nothing could compare with Cordoba as the centre of culture at that time. Some say it was Europe's largest city.
It was here in Cordoba that Columbus negotiated his voyage with the Catholic Majesties, Ferdinand and Isabella. This encounter is immortalized in the garden of the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos where there is a life-size statue of Columbus and the two rulers.
The Mezquita in Cordoba
Best Places to Visit in Cordoba
Which of these is for you the top place to visit in Cordoba?
1. The Mezquita-Great Cathedral-Mosque
A space vast enough to hold Islam and Christianity comfortably in its stadium level greatness. It is said that for many years, one area was identified as a synagogue.
This was indeed a place where Moors, Christians and Jews could worship when it was first built by Abderraman I in 785 A.D. Later, however, when the Caliphate needed a bigger mosque, it made the place exclusive for the Moors.
The endless horseshoe arches, said to have originated from Visigoth art, in their red and white stripes, make it different from any Cathedral you've ever seen.
Roman foundations occasionally intrude as Córdoba was a Roman colony and the capital of the Roman Province, Betica. Then, the Visigoths came and took the city from the Romans in the 3rd century. The Mosque was built on the remains of the Visigoth's St. Vincent Basilica. Look for the glassed in diggings of the St Vincent Basilica when you're in the Cathedral as the remains of the Mosaic representing this Greco-Roman heritage are well preserved and displayed.
The Inside of the Mezquita in Cordoba
Mezquita: Mix of Moorish, Roman, Visigoth and Christian Influences
The mix of Moorish, Roman, Visigoth influences and, of course, the wealth and majesty of the Christian church makes for a stunning display. The different altars of various Saints are in themselves major works of art. The Cathedral is still being used and there was a service going on when we were there.
The Choir is the grandest I have ever seen and the arches and columns inside are spectacular. In all our travels we have never seen anything like this. You can stay there for the day and not finish admiring all the carefully displayed history.
The stained glass windows are magnificent, representation of the best of Spain or the Church. The Cathedral is huge horizontally whereas St. Peter's in Rome is massive vertically and horizontally but this surpasses St. Peter's for its historical significance in terms of the various religions on display here.
2. The Castle of the Christian Monarchs
A Fortress and a Palace made more magnificent by its gardens with water fountains, flowers, mature trees and sculptures. It's four corner towers, the tower of the Lions, the Main tower, the tower of the Doves and the tower of the Inquisition, stand magnificent when viewed from the gardens.
The centre piece of the Castle of the Christian Monarchs is the statue of Ferdinand and Isabela with Christopher Columbus negotiating his share of the take if he hit China. The gardens are stunning, built around the glorification of running water that only a desert nation could understand. The legacy of the Arab world is everywhere and is integrated into what we see, at least, as the soul of Spain.
A must see of the displays is the 3rd century Roman sarcophagus with its front sculptured with the journey to the underworld. Some Roman mosaics with designs of Medusa, the Angels and geometric designs are also on display in the small baroque chapel and are very good representations of the early Greco-Roman heritage of the city.
3. The Juderia Cordoba
Built in 1315 in the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba, the place underwent several reincarnations after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. You can see here a good example of the Mudejar style of architecture. The center piece is the statue of the famous Jewish philosopher Maimonides. As well, on display are well curated Sephardic remnants.
4. Casa Andalusi
Visiting this 12th century house, a typical Hispano-Islamic abode, one is introduced into how families lived in the 14th century: rooms for men, rooms for women, kitchen with all the tools used and the Arabic coins used then.
5. The Roman Temple
Dated from the 1st century, this temple dedicated to the cult of the Emperor has 6 columns rising from a high podium. We just happened to see it in one of our walks and immediately recognized it.
6. The Roman Bridge
When you enter Córdoba, you'll immediately see the throng on the bridge. People are drawn to the structure as a living remnant of the age before Christ and although much has been conserved and reinforced, one can almost see Caesar and his Legions. The old water wheel and the aqueduct underneath still represent the Roman supremacy in technology at that time.
7. Torre de la Calahorra
There are still so many attractions in the city that writing about more would take more pages. Córdoba, being the most important city in the Western Muslim world at its height, has so many other monuments to brag about. However, the one that summarized for me my experience of Córdoba and my impression of its role in history is the Torre de la Calahorra.
As one enters the first room in the tower, the four stalwarts of Córdoba welcome you to what Andalus was at that time. Starting in the 10th century when the city became the most important in the Western world and the most advanced in thinking as exemplified by its 4 enlightened leaders, Maimonides, Averroes, Ibn Arabi and Alphonse X, the Wise.
That was the time when the three Abrahamic religions lived in harmony in the city. May that time live again.
8. Hammam al Andalus Córdoba
From the Castle of the Christian Monarchs, it is an easy walk to the Caliphate baths. You'll find illustrated the various steps of the process of bathing at the time with all its steps really as a socializing activity and the splendour of life in the Andalusia kingdom. These are the largest Moorish baths in Europe.
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Cordoba Food Specialties
There are two dishes that we enjoyed in Cordoba:
1. Rabo del Toro (Braised Oxtail)
2. Eggplant with Honey
Key Tip to Cordoba Travel:
Parking is difficult to find so get a hotel where there is parking. This will make your travel stress free.
Try preparing Rabo del Torro
Best City in our Visit of Southern Spain and Portugal
We spent six weeks in Southern Spain and Portugal and Cordoba by far was our best experience. Seville was second and Sintra came third. Try to visit them all.
Get this guidebook for more tips on visiting this beautiful Spanish city as well as other cities close by. Make more use ofyour trip by combining your visit to these places.
As a footnote, visit tiny, perfect Obidos or you'll live forever in regret.
Top Tip in Visiting Cordoba
Schedule your visit to this Spanish city in May when the Courtyard Festival is on. The courtyards of the Cordoba houses are fully decorated and there is a competition which dates back to 1921 as to which courtyard is the best. It has even been recognized by UNESCO with a cultural heritage status.
Courtyards in Cordoba started when the Romans built their homes around a courtyard to have a place to take refuge from the heat. The Moors raised this to even more prominence by adding fountains, climbing roses, beautifully crafted furniture and other sculptural elements to the courtyards that today, they have become the centers where people receive their guests and have regular social exchanges.
This is a 12-day festival in May so you have sufficient time to experience it. Below is a peek at some of Cordoba's courtyards:
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© 2015 Mary Norton