Travels in Spain before Covid: Cordoba Day 4

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October 30th 2020
Published: October 30th 2020
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CORDOBA 10/23/19

After a pleasant night spent at the Cordoba Center Hotel we had time to organize and repack for the next leg, before leaving for a walking tour of the historic center of Cordoba. This unique city was once capital of Islamic Spain. Referred to as Spain’s historic cultural capital, it is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We found that Cordoba, like Toledo, is often a study in contrasts: a historic mixture of Moorish, Christian, and Jewish, old and new. A reference to when it was possible for 3 major religions to coexist in harmony. We should take a lesson from this!

Our lovely Vera gave us some historical background of the region which I supplemented with my own research. Once capital of the Western world, Cordoba was founded by the ancient Romans at the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River, where it was easiest to ship olive oil, wheat, and wine back to Rome. It was after its conquest by the Moors in AD 711, that the Islamic Golden Age began and the city grew to become the largest in the world with more than 150,000 inhabitants (to compare, at that time Paris and London were small villages.) It is estimated that 5,000-10,000 Jews lived in Cordoba at its peak. During this period Cordoba reached the height of knowledge and enlightenment as the Moors brought their extensive knowledge and culture to this region including the introduction of libraries and medical studies.Interestingly, around AD 929, the Cordoba region broke away from the Islamic Center, Baghdad, and formed its own independent kingdom, falling into anarchy shortly afterward.

We began our walk through narrow alleys and streets flanked by tall whitewashed houses into the heart of the ancient Jewish Quarter (Juderia) on Calle Judíos. It was here that we found a small rather unpretentious building that is one of three remaining medieval synagogues still standing in Spain. Hebrew inscriptions dating from 1350 still cover the high walls. Nearby there is a small square, Plaza de Tiberiades, where we found the Monument to Moses Maimónides, a great rabbi and philosopher who was born in Cordoba in 1138. He was one of the great thinkers and doctors of Jewish Cordoba. The statue portrays Maimónides seated on his tomb. He is buried in Tiberiade, Israel, one of the four Jewish Holy Cities.

A statue of Mohamed al-Gafequi, famous Andalusian eye doctor and Islamic literature scholar was prominently displayed in a small square. A highly recognized oculist, he was an expert in the operation of cataracts and other treatments of eye diseases, a remarkable achievement for this age. Born in the 12th century, he had a practice in Cordoba and wrote a treatise on ophthalmology called “Guide to the Oculist,” and authored “The Right Guide to Ophthalmology.” He died in 1165. This statue, erected in 1965, celebrates this medical genius 800 years after his death in Cordoba.

Leaving the Jewish Quarter we walked through the very popular Calleja de las Flores, a small street ending in a famous Andalucian square that is bedecked with bright blue pots filled with colorful pink and red geraniums. It is also “bedecked” with numerous tourists, even in the off season so get there early and hope for sunnier weather than we had.

Today, Cordoba is best known for its most famous landmark, the UNESCO-protected Mezquita (Great Mosque), originally constructed in 785, it was the third-largest mosque in the world. This unique mosque/cathedral is roughly the size of two soccer stadiums. When we entered the Mezquita we were given an excellent brochure that gave a timeline of world events, a guide describing the wonderful details inside and details of the historic construction of this great museum. The Mezquita was built during the tenth century, while Cordoba was in its glory as the capital of the Moorish kingdom of El-Andalus, one of the wealthiest and most powerful cities in Europe. During this sophisticated and unique time Jews, Arabs and Christians all practiced their beliefs without persecution. All was well until Cordoba was conquered in 1236 by King Ferdinand, a Christian who we find had little respect for any religious belief other than Christianity. Thankfully he had the presence of mind to save the beautiful mosque by constructing and consecrating a Catholic cathedral in the middle of it, thereby preserving the remarkable beauty of the original structure.

The details inside the 16th-century Renaissance cathedral, with its mahogany pulpits and choir stalls, leave one in awe at its unique blending of Moorish and Christian architectural styles. As we walked through the forest of columns made from granite, jasper, and marble (many of which were taken from Roman and Visigothic buildings) we admired the candy-striped archways that were influenced by the aqueducts and triumphal arches of ancient Rome. The transept is a beautiful combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerism art. This transept was created to provide an enormous skylight to illuminate the art of this extraordinary building. One could have a sore neck spending so much time admiring the detailed ceilings. An elegant golden scallop shell invites worshipers into the mihrab, a prayer niche facing Mecca. It is remarkable that the cathedral/mosque remained largely untouched since the eleventh century. Because of its protection, this unique building reveals some of the finest Islamic architecture in Spain and now, as a major global tourist attraction, it has become a symbol of coexistence.

After spending a great deal of time (yet not nearly enough) wandering the vastness of the inside of the Mezquita, we were told we finally had to leave. It was cloudy and rainy as we attempted to stroll outside through the Orange Tree Courtyard. In season it would be filled with sweet scents from the orange trees that surround the courtyard’s fountains, intended for Muslim ablutions in the former prayer hall, but in the wrong season, we only could imagine this.

Adjacent to the famed cathedral we saw displays of colorful ceramics, a few small restaurants and numerous shops selling local crafts, olive oils, delicious cheeses and of course, souvenirs. One of the shops 1490 featured the best tasting goat cheese I have ever had. They offered samplings of their olive oils that were good but the goat cheese stole the show! Nearby, Dave and I dashed into Taberna Ordonez, a small Cordoba restaurant conveniently located on a quiet side street near the mosque. I had a respectable couscous and my first taste of tender beef cheek, accompanied with rice, raisins and vegetable for 6 euro. I’m glad the waiter talked me into the beef cheek. Dave had tuna and onions that he liked (I didn’t) for 5 euro. We are learning that in Spain, you are given, and charged for bread, and never asked. It is a tiny restaurant with bano, always a plus on the tourist run.

Before leaving Cordoba the sun came out so I took the opportunity to walk through the Puerta del Puente across the Roman Bridge over the Guadalquivir River to photograph the mosque in the afternoon light and to enjoy a long view of the mosque as it dominated the landscape. From the bridge I was able to look back for a good look at the city. I now realize that this 2,000-year-old bridge was the Long Bridge of Volantis in the Game of Thrones, the first of many filming locations I will see on this trip.


We left Cordoba and headed southeast to Seville arriving at the Hotel Hesperia Sevilla in the late afternoon giving us a little time to get settled and run between raindrops in the chill fall air. Since the hotel was quite a walk from the historic district I focused on running to the nearby El Cortes Inglese department store along the lines of Paris’s Le Bon Marche, hoping to find organic Naranga Armaga, Spanish marmalade, in their gourmet shop. Bitter oranges are used to make marmalade and I soon found out it was oddly hard to find in Spain because apparently the English eat bitter orange marmalade, but, I was later told, Spanish people eat sweet oranges from young fruits. I also attempted to get a Sim Card for my iPhone but didn’t have my passport with me. Who knew you needed a passport to buy a Sim Card?

By the time I returned to the hotel I barely had time to change for dinner and our flamenco show. Our dinner was just down the block at MonTolivo, a little Italian restaurant on a quiet side street. They had a banquet room and had planned an elaborate six course meal starting with a good tasting sangria and Shiraz wine, soon followed by some hearty bread and fragrant olive oil. Burrata mozzarella salad with mustard dressing was good but the meal went downhill after that. The eggplant with honey and potato omelette with egg and whisky sauce were just ok. The beef cheek was quite good but the Carrillera de ternera with French fries tasted like a poorly done brisket and was way too fatty. Profiteroles were ok with dark chocolate for our dessert but I’ve had better.

We hurried through dinner and soon were on the bus to an intimate Flamenco show at Tablao Flamenco El Patio Sevillano near the Guadaliquivir River. Flamenco is a dramatic expression of the oppressed who mainly hid in the mountains and the Gypsies who came in from other regions. These people combined their cultural dances and expressions to create moving, and usually sad stories about lost love. Our seats were right in front providing an excellent opportunity to watch the animated guitarists play while the singers clapped to the beats or danced in a flurry of colorful and expressive, passionate movements across the stage above us. We were so close in fact that their often painful and dramatic expressions felt palpably real to me. Even so, I had the feeling they were acting a rote performance rather than a more personal impromptu experience.

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