Dwight Peck's personal website

We flee South in the winter

Two weeks in Andalucia, December 2011

You may not find this terribly rewarding unless you're included here, so this is a good time for casual and random browsers to turn back before they get too caught up in the sweep and majesty of the proceedings and can't let go.

A brief three days in Córdoba

We've dumped the Europcar at the main train station in Córdoba and dragged our little rollies a pleasant half hour through the commercial districts, down the Avenida del Gran Capitan and over to the Eurostars Patios de Córdoba hotel.

Nice patios (courtyards), a lot of them. The hotel's central in the old town, a few blocks from the Judería district where most of the good stuff is; and not too expensive.

Another patio, at the level of the (exceptional) breakfast buffet and Roman excavations under the glass floor. Carthaginians, however, preceded Romans here, and it's been said that Hamilcar Barca gave the settlement its name, as Kartuba, 'City of Juba', after a Numidian military buddy.

The view from the front door of the Patios de Córdoba hotel

A hopeful visit to the Convent Church of San Pablo nearby to see if we can have a quick look in. Not without a handwritten note from the Pope.

Neighborhoods near the hotel

Córdoba street scenes

First stop in the morning, the Mezquita-Catedral, a World Heritage Site that's on top of our list -- this is the pretty little square between the Mezquita and the river.

The gate of the Roman bridge. Córdoba was the capital of the Roman colony of Baetica, founded in 152 BC -- our sometimes-tedious playwright and Stoic philosopher friend Seneca the Younger was born here (as was Seneca the Elder), and he's got a generic statue out near the Almodóvar city gate.

The 1st century BC Roman bridge across the great river Guadalquivir (Arabic for "big river". Duh.). The Visigoths took over where the Romans left off, but in 719 this town became an important centre for the Umayyad emirs as they swept through the Iberian peninsula. This was the only bridge over the river here until the 20th century (there are seven now).

A view of the Mezquita and the 16th century bridge gate. Under the self-proclaimed Caliphs Abd al-Rahman III and his son al-Hakem II, over the 10th century Córdoba became "the capital of the entire Western world" (!). It was evidently the most populous European city, with perhaps as many as 500,000 souls (down to 20,000 in the 18th century, presently at about 300,000). Certainly, Muslim, Christian, and Jewish communities together here produced a cultural and commercial flourishing unmatched anywhere in Europe at the time; perhaps since.

Ancient mills strewn across the river below the Roman bridge. Even in the period of the Taifa Kings following the caliphate, in the 11th and 12th centuries, Córdoba continued as a centre for all realms of knowledge, home to Averroës, the Muslim scholar who effectively gave us Aristotle, and the Jewish philosopher and legal scholar Maimónides, Moses ben-Maimon. Amongst others.

One of the strangest buildings in the world -- the Mezquita or mosque, built throughout the 8th to the 10th centuries (on top of an old Visigothic Christian church), with the 16th century Christian cathedral sprouting right out the middle of it.

Ancient mills as bird feeders -- originally they milled things, but also pumped water up to the gardens of the Alcázar palace on the riverside.

The Mezquita seen from the top of the tower on the far side of the Roman bridge -- the Torre de la Calahorra, formerly part of the Moorish fortifications covering the bridge, presently a museum to the idea of the different religious cultures all living together harmoniously. (Best of luck with that.)

Kristin and the Mezquita -- looking for an entrance.

The minaret and Patio de los Naranjos (among the best of the 1,433 "Courtyards of the Oranges" we saw in two weeks in the region)

The minaret-cum-belltower, with oranges, and a 14th century Mudéjar doorway. Mudéjar refers to an eclectic Christian-Moorish style practiced by the unconverted mudéjar Moors who remained in re-Christianized areas of Spain during the phases of the Reconquista. The term morisco describes those Moors who converted to Christianity, ostensibly anyway, at the time.

The Mezquita, begun in 785, was extended with more and more columns in 848, 961, and again in 987 -- there are about 900 columns now, some scavenged from old pagan, Roman, and Visigothic temples and shimmed up to the same height.

An astonishing place, covering 24,000 square metres of real estate. More than enough room for praying and related activities, one would have thought.

Ferdinand III, King of Castile, reconquisted Córdoba in 1236 and the mosque was retro-dedicated as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, and his son Alfonso X "the Wise" built some discreet Christian chapels in it later in the century.

Not surprisingly, some present-day Moslems in Spain would like be able to pray in the ex-mosque as well, and there were some violent demonstrations to that effect in 2010.

That's the mihrab (I think), showing the direction you're supposed to pray in (towards Mecca) if that was what you came here to do.

After the Reconquista, certain bishops got permission (over opposition from better people) to ram through a plan for a new Christian cathedral smack in the middle of the mosque, presumably to make a point. The Emperor Charles V, who'd signed off on the plan from afar, when he saw the result is said to have excoriated the locals for taking something unique in the world and turning it into just another big church.

'Just another big church' just about covers it.

Minaret and oranges

The Minaret, built by Abd al-Rahman III in the 10th century, is, however, presently inside that baroque bell tower built around it in the late 16th century. It still looks very nice.

Outside the mezquita, we're poking round in the narrow but now-fashionable streets of the Judería, the medieval Jewish quarter that's got the best of the things to see.

The Jews were here in Córdoba long before the Moors stormed in, and in general they flourished in this part of the town under the Moorish regimes -- along with all the usual medieval financial reasons for needing Jews nearby (e.g., no religious prohibitions against money-lending), the Jewish community developed important scientific and textual centres of learning and culture, and some of them rose to the number 2 and 3 positions in the royal governments (e.g., Samuel ibn Naghrela [see R. Fletcher, Moorish Spain, 1992]).

When Fernando III and his Castilians appeared here in 1236, however, the churchmen followed hot on their heels, and things got tougher for people of the Jewish persuasion. Their synagogue was knocked down, they started having to wear special stuff to identify themselves, paid special taxes for the maintenance of the Catholic churches, and got scapegoated with every visitation of the plague. When Ferdinand and Isabella finally reconquered all of the Kingdom of Granada, they tolerated the Moors for a while, but threw all the Jews out straightaway.

The outside of the Alcázar (with its own little garden of these blessed Naranjos (you can't eat them, you know; they're not like REAL oranges.))

A little street alongside a well-preserved section of the ancient city walls, just outside the Judería

The Puerta de Almodóvar in the old city wall, leading back into the Judería. There's a statue of Seneca here, but it's not worth a photo (looks uncomfortably like Richard Nixon in a big fat toga).

Here's an intimate portrait of an ancient Middle-Eastern workman's wife and kid, preparing for better things.

A wall painting in the street of Capitulaires, across the street from the excavated Roman Temple:
happy kids out to play.

Wall painting II: the checkpoint.

Wall painting III: off you go, kids!
(The script in French says "for all the kids who don't know what it means to 'play', 'dream', 'love'...".)

We're here bright and semi-early in the Plaza de los Páez to visit the Archaeological Museum, which isn't open yet.

No problem, plenty of other stuff to see in the meantime

-- Stay in line, and please don't push.

We're taking a short-cut through the Patio of the Naranjos at the Mezquita, heading for the Alcázar but mainly to see the nasty oranges again.

In the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos ("of the Christian Monarchs"), here's the man who made it all possible: Alfonso! What a mensch was Alfonso XI of Castile, "the Implacable", who built the present fortress/palace beginning in 1328 on the site of an original Visigoth and subsequent Umayyad fortress at the bend in the Guadalquivir river.

A stairway. The "Catholic Monarchs", Ferdinand and Isabella again, established this place as a headquarters of the Inquisition. Those were seriously Catholic Monarchs.

The Tower of Homage ('de Homenaje'), in effect, the castle keep, seen from the pools of ugly fish.

At the top of the Torre de Homenaje

The view from the Homage Tower of the mosque/cathedral hybrid religious thing just over the way

The Torre de los Leones nearby (and the garden of oranges down to the left)

We've just spotted Kristin heading for the Tower of Lions. Click!

The Tower of Homage from the castle walls. Kristin's presently winding up the internal staircase, and we've got the zoom ready.

-- Hi Kristin. Wave!

Kristin safely down off the battlements.

In the gardens of the Alcázar

Glorified fish tanks (with enormous great ugly mottled fish slithering round and round in them)

Another look at the gardens of the Alcázar

We're told that it was here -- exactly right here -- that the godawful Reyes Cristianos met with Christopher Columbus before he set off on his historic voyage to China or wherever the currents took him.

Some of those ugly fish are a meter long. Mottled, off-white and orange, squirming back and forth through the water; it's unnerving.

It's time to go.

Awaiting the summer crowds pensively

Back to the Archaeological Museum -- a fabulous display of the lives of the Neolithic and Roman pre-occupants and a subterranean walk through the foundations of the Roman amphitheatre below.

-- Hey, lady, that bus doesn't stop here any more.

Córdoba street scenes

That's possibly the Iglesia de Santa Marina -- it's shot from inside the Palace of Viana, the rich Marquises' de Viana collection of patios or courtyards, dating from the 14th century and frequently onwards, whilst we're cooling our heels waiting for the next tour of the interiors.

Fountains: Spain (Córboda, 2011) Fountains: Italy (Amalfi, 2010)

Same church, from the family Viana's digs when in town. Well, Córdoba's been great fun!

Time's up. Now we're on our way to Sevilla.

Feedback and suggestions are welcome if positive, resented if negative, . All rights reserved, all wrongs avenged. Posted 30 January 2012.

Spain, 2011