Lovely Cadiz

Lovely Cadiz
Cadiz - my favorite place so far in the trip to Southern Spain

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Bloggo Andalusia Siete: Cordoba and the great Mezquita

I originally planned to spend only two nights in Cadiz, then head for another two nights to Tarifa, a 35 minute ferry ride away from Tangier. I yearned to take a day trip to Morocco, if only to step foot on another continent. It was a complicated plan, and one that, as I looked forward to a very busy second part of my trip to Spain, suddenly seemed foolish.

After all, as I have said before, saying that you have been in Africa when all you've seen is Tangier, is like saying you've been in Mexico when all you've seen is Tijuana.

I still feel a tinge of regret that I didn't make the ferry crossing. But all in all I had such a fine - and relaxing - time in Cadiz that I was quite content to head directly to Cordoba. Don't I take a long time to get around to the subject?

So! Cordoba - fine city with an atmospheric old town centered in the Juderia, the middle-ages era Jewish ghetto. Tiny streets, twists and turns - getting lost is almost guaranteed, but because it is a relatively small area, one finds oneself again fairly easily. I found it pleasant, if in places tacky-touristy.

My hotel was in the center of the old city, and it was a beauty of a place. The hosts were very gracious, and I very much enjoyed my stay - except for the sporadic (at best) wifi. When a traveler posts as many photos as I do, writes blogs, as (you see) I do, slow internet - slow to the point where Google Chrome or Safari (I use both) tells you that there is no signal, it becomes a real issue, and I freely admit getting quite angry about it.

But the place gets A for atmosphere. In terms of that possibly the best of the 9 hotels I slept in during my stay. Just below is the lobby area - I was waiting for a glass of wine offered by my host while he filled out the registration form. Below that, an old, working well added to the common area's charm.

My room was colorful and tasteful:

I loved the tile in my nice bathtub (which featured a great shower head.

After I got somewhat over the discovery that my access to the internet would be almost non-existent for two days, I took myself out of my room and explored the old town. Few street were wider than this one:

And several not as wide as that. You see also that the way into that tiny walkway is decorated in the Moorish manner.

One of the pleasures of this almost maze-like area is discovering, at the end of a narrow street, a wide and friendly looking square (or plaza as the Spanish call it).

I was in search of the mosque, THE attraction in Cordoba, one of the most famous interior designs in the world. But as noted above it is very
easy to get lost, and get lost I did. I stumbled at one point on a gate out of the old city and into the new. I immediately found a statue of the Roman philosopher/poet/playwright, who was born in Cordoba, and strolling along the old town walls I discovered a beautiful and quite Moorish fountain, really a stream of quietly running water. I was charmed by it, and decided to follow it and the city wall for a bit, rather than continue to get twisted and turned inside the old city.

Which brings me to what might become a rather lengthy...

Aside: Cordoba, as with many places in the south of Spain, in Andalucia or Andalusia as we spell it, is simply filled with history. Spain was a very important colony of Ancient Rome, and Seneca not the only but probably the most important ancient "Roman" (though from the Iberian Peninsula) to hail from this area. I knew him first as a dramatist. His plays, which include a version of Oedipus, and probably more importantly a "Senecan revenge tragedy" called Thyestes, one of, if not THE, earliest of this genre. In it the title character, jealous of his brother Atreus, has his brother's sons killed and then serves them to their father baked in a pie! Those among you who know Shakespeare will realize that this play is the seed for the Bard of Avon's Titus Andronicus. And if for some reason you didn't know...well, now you do!  Seneca also had the misfortune of being appointed tutor to the Emperor Nero. When the Emperor tired of his teacher, he ordered Seneca to commit suicide, and that if he did not Nero would have his men murder him. Seneca, good Roman that he was, chose to commit suicide.

But! Back to my journey! I followed the streaming fountain (two looks at it just below) until it ended, alas. I was sorry to see it go.

Almost immediately at stream's end I came across another entry gate into the Juderia, a very attractive gate, in fact, called the Puerta de la Luna shown in the photo just below. In the very thick wall at the gate, one one side and the other, were two bar/restaurants, which spread their tables in an open area outside the old town and also inside it, on the tiny square at the entry. I chose one and stopped for una cerveza and a rest.

Aaahhh, nothing like a draught of local favorite Cruzcampo beer to relieve a slightly tired traveler.

After the brew I plunged back into the old city, wandered along what seemed to me increasingly tiny lanes, when I found a few points of interest. Some of the University of Cordoba lives within the walls, notably the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters. My kind of place.

Also a plaza, at the center of which stood a huge bull - a statue fortunately. There is a museum dedicated to the art of bullfighting here, and while I did not have much desire to go in, I enjoyed bumping into it. The museum, not the bull.

Lastly, statues of Averroes and Maimonides (see photos just below, Averroes first, then Maimonides), tremendously important thinkers of the Medieval era. One a Moor, the other a Jew, both were born here, about 10 years apart, in the 12th century. Both sought to reconcile their faiths with Aristotle and reason, along with Thomas Aquinas, who later worked similarly on the Christian faith (making use of some of their work). This reminds me that Cordoba was for a time the center of not just the Moorish world, but also the most advanced, sophisticated and civilized city in all of Europe. Its days of glory passed, but should not I think be forgotten, especially in a time when it is difficult to equate Islamic, Jewish and Christian religions with reason, sad to say.

Ah well. It is said that if you touch the foot of Maimonides you will return to Cordoba. Not certain I will, but I really enjoyed the visit.

Quick but important Aside: Andalusia, the name for much of the land in the South of Spain, comes from what the Moors called the place: Al Andalus.

Primarily because of the Mezquita. This amazing collection of red and white columns was (and remains) so beautiful that the conquering Christians did not destroy it, instead, somewhat strangely, built their cathedral right in the middle of it. The mix is bizarre at times. Charles V, Spanish Hapsburg Holy Roman Emperor gave his approval for the cathedral to the Christian architects, but when he saw it he famously stated: "You have built what others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world."

I visited it on a walking tour that began in the Christian Alcazar, then became a walk through the Juderia, leaving, wisely, the finest for last - the Mezquita. I had the benefit of a brilliant tour guide, and even though I'd read about all of these places I KNOW that I got much more out of them being guided through, rather than wandering on my own.

As the tour begins, so will I, at the Alcazar, entrance pictured just above.
Our guide took us first through its lovely gardens. Keep in mind that I visited in very late October. Imagine what they must be like in the spring.

The last photo was called by our guide the perfect place to photograph the Alcazar. She admitted that the view is much better when no cranes insinuate themselves into the picture.

Another interesting feature of the gardens is the treelined walkway, with sculptures of several kings of Spain, which leads to a statue of Isabella
and Ferdinand and an obviously pleased Christopher Columbus. During a time when many people are decrying Columbus Day (and I agree with them), because of what he did to indigenous peoples, it is relevant to note that in Spain he is looked on more favorably. Whether or not honor has a thing to do with it, money does: the Spanish monarchs gambled on Columbus when no one else in Europe showed interest, financed his trip, and were paid back with interest (and I mean a LOT of interest) not just by Columbus but also by subsequent Spanish conquerors/explorers who brought back huge amounts of gold and silver.

Heading into the Alcazar, a statue "greets" you as you enter -  Alfonzo X, also known as "the Wise," standing strong and righteous more than wise but do notice the book in his left hand. He encouraged the continuation of learning and art in the 13th century that had been so central in previous centuries of Moorish domination of the Iberian Peninsula.

As you enter, however, there is more about a much earlier time. You will see ancient Roman funerary pieces, and mosaics, even a pillar from what little is visible of the Roman city on which modern Cordoba was built, below the present building.

The funerary vault below is beautifully sculpted, and if you can see it, the left door at the center is slightly ajar. This is the door to Hades, and is open to insure that those who died could enter,

This mosaic depicts Polyphemus and Galatea

and this one I love - kissing Roman cherubs in flight???

In the photo above, our terrific guide Ana. I would say she is animated in her presentation, but the proper term may well be "ANA-mated!"

On the way to the Mezquita, the indefatigable Ana showed us a memorial to two star-crossed Moorish lovers - from different families of different
statuses, their union could never be allowed. I told Ana that the tale reminded me of Romeo and Juliet, and asked if this story ended happily, She said no, but for very different reasons. It turns out that the male lover's eyes began to wander and he began to pursue other liaisons, leaving his unrequited lover heartbroken, I suspect. All too typical.

And then Ana began winding us down the tiny streets of the old city, passing the bullfighting museum and into that area which was once a long time ago the Jewish quarter, or the Juderia.

The highlight of this part of the tour was one of only three Jewish temples in Spain that managed to survive Islam and Christianity. The other two are in Toledo. As was true of the temple I visited in that city a few years ago, this tiny sanctuary is as much Islamic as it is Hebraic. Whatever its make-up, it is a beauty.

From there we passed the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters, then headed for the star attraction, the Mezquita. Along with the Alhambra in Granada I expected this to be a top experience in my tour. It did not disappoint.

The mosque was built in the late 8th century upon the ruins of a Visigothic church, and expanded into the 10th. The columns and colorful arches stand out, forests of them covering much of the huge area.

But another beautiful feature of the mosque is its mihrab, or niche for prayer

Then the oddity. Because remember the nave, high altar and choir of a Christian cathedral were placed in the mosque. Here are a few of the juxtapositions:

Under Moorish columns, a crucifix

Above the Moorish arches, a Christian rose window

The above is the most obvious. As you face the high altar of the cathedral, look left and there are the Islamic arches and columns.

To some these images may clash, seem disturbing. To me this forced togetherness signifies the difficult and yet working relationship between Islam, Judaism and Christianity in that era. And remember, the Christians could have torn the entire mosque down, as they did in Seville, for example (well, except for the great Giralda tower, the minaret of the mosque once on that site, which they topped with Christian symbols).

Our tour ended in the Mezquita. Once outside I remained dazzled by what I saw, but the art continued - here is one of several entrances, beautifully designed.

I crossed the Roman Bridge to get a look at the Mezquita from a distance. First, I crossed it - a look at the other end

Then I turned and looked back.

My day in Cordoba was complete and as fine as I'd hoped. 

BUT! A man has to eat! So I took myself to a place that served traditional Cordoban cuisine. Gaspacho is a staple of southern Spanish food, but in Cordoba the broth is a good bit more thick, and Iberian ham and eggs are tossed in - they call it Salmorejo:

It was yummy and filling, but I had also ordered pisto (like the French pistou, a yummy mix of vegetable stew. In Cordoba they like it with egg atop it. I knew what I was getting, but I thought, one small fried egg. Instead TWO large fried eggs. I was taken aback, but it was delicious.

After three hours of touring and this wonderful meal - the vino tinto was also delicious - I felt the need for a siesta, so I walked back along the street where I lived, granted, for only two days. And slept like a baby.

I think I will write just one more blog post from this trip, on Granada and the Alhambra - unless I decide it needs to be turned into two. So those of you who are reading, thanks - I hope you've enjoyed this and will enjoy a wee bit more of Andalusia, Dottore Gianni style!

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