Beautiful Córdoba

For our Spain trip, I wanted to do Madrid plus one smaller town. I like big cities, but I find that after two or three days, I need a break. It’s an introvert thing, I guess. So, I chose Córdoba, a couple of hours south of Madrid by train.

The old town as seen from the Moorish tower across the Roman bridge.
The old town as seen from the Moorish tower across the Roman bridge.

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Lovely old building with flowers blooming in January.
Tourist street in the Jewish quarter.
Typical–if touristy–street in the Jewish quarter.

Córdoba was even warmer and sunnier than Madrid. There were palms and orange trees with fruit on them everywhere even in the middle of winter! I think it would be awfully hot in the summer, so I’m glad we visited during the off-season.

Orange trees in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque.
Orange trees in the courtyard of the Grand Mosque.

It was also nice that none of the attractions were terribly crowded. The only minor issue was that many of the bars and restaurants were not operating at full capacity. Lunch was no problem, but many places closed around 4 p.m. and did not open again, or did not open until at least 8 p.m. for the locals. (I think this was probably because most tourists in town were day-trippers from Madrid.) So, our tapas for dinner plan didn’t work quite as well as it had before, but we did manage to find somewhere every night that would feed us.

Tapas in the sunshine.
Tapas in the afternoon sunshine.

Besides being a lovely city and UNESCO World Heritage Site, Córdoba has a really interesting history. It was once the capital of a Muslim caliphate, Al-Andalus. Under Moorish rule, Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in relative harmony and Qurtubah, as it was known, became one of the largest, most advanced cities in Europe. A particular decorative and architectural style, called Mudéjarresulted from this blend of cultures and is in evidence all over Córdoba, from the beautiful tilework to the courtyard-style houses. I really, really like it.

Typical enclosed patio. People leave their doors open all town to show off their courtyards and often-elaborate tiled entryways.
Typical enclosed patio. People leave their front doors open to show off their courtyards and often elaborately tiled entryways. (Most are much fancier than this one!)
Examples of gorgeous tile compositions can be seen all over town.
Examples of gorgeous tile compositions can be seen all over town.

However, factionalism led to a decline, and by 1031 AD, the caliphate had fallen. The weakened Moorish state was conquered by Ferdinand of Castile in 1236, and Córdoba gradually declined in importance and population until the Renaissance. It also underwent a process of Christianization along with the rest of Spain, peaking under Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabel of Castile. The Reyes Católicos ordered the expulsion of all Jews and Muslims from Spain and brought in the notorious Inquisition to help with that process.

The famous Gran Mezquita (Grand Mosque) was built under Moorish rule during the 8th century on the site of a former Visigothic Christian church. In 1236, it was converted back to a Christian church and subsequent (and ever more bizarre) renovations resulted in the architectural hot mess that today is known as the Catedral de Córdoba—but which is quite obviously a mosque underneath. It’s a fascinating place!

The interior of the Gran Mezquita.
The interior of the Gran Mezquita.
Baroque cupola topping off Moorish columns.
Baroque cupola topping off Moorish columns. Too weird!
Fortunately, the Christians did not destroy these gorgeous Moorish doors.
Fortunately, the Christians did not destroy these gorgeous Moorish decorations. They are called a mihrab, directing worshippers to Mecca for prayers. (However, the Catholic church still does not allow Muslims to worship here.)
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A Renaissance portico in front of an older Moorish archway.
The bell tower, AKA minaret, as seen from the beautiful inner courtyard of the cathedral, AKA mosque.
The bell tower, AKA minaret, as seen from the beautiful inner courtyard of the cathedral, AKA mosque.
The courtyard as seen from the tower, which of course, we had to climb.
The courtyard as seen from the tower, which of course, we had to climb.

For hundreds of years during the Christianization of Spain, “crypto-Jews” or hidden Jews, existed in the shadows there, and in other countries. These were Jews who had technically converted to Catholicism in order to survive, but who continued to honor Jewish traditions in private. It’s a subject of interest to me because there is evidence to suggest that some of my ancestors were crypto-Jews who fled Spain around the time of the Reyes, fleeing to Italy, and later to England. So, it was cool to see an ancient synagogue in Córdoba and learn more about the crypto-Jews at the Sephardic history center nearby.

This 13th century Mudéjar-style mosque survived by being used as a hospital.
This 13th century synagogue survived Christianization by being used as a hospital. This is the women’s gallery.
The walls of the Sephardic history museum are covered with the names of Jews who were burned by the Inquisition.
The walls of the Sephardic history museum are covered with the names of Jews who were burned by the Inquisition. (“Juduizante” in this context means crypto-Jew.)

It was a great visit, marred only slightly by my coming down with a cold that slowed me down a bit. Fortunately, it didn’t get really bad until we got home to Warsaw, at which point it laid me flat on my ass. I am now on my sixth day hibernating in our apartment while considering the effects of accumulated stress on my immune system. But, at least I have all these beautiful photos and memories to sort through!

Eggplant with honey--a local specialty that is actually yummy!
Fried eggplant with honey–a local specialty that is actually yummy!
"Fino" sherry is also a local thing. Not so yummy to me, but the husband liked it.
“Fino” sherry is also a local thing. Not so yummy to me (I think it tastes like cough syrup) but the husband liked it.
Cordoba by night.
Cordoba by night. Definitely not Warsaw.

We enjoyed our visit so much that we are thinking about a two-week trip to southern Spain next winter. A location really doesn’t have to be tropical to be a nice break from northern European winter. And Spain is just so interesting!

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6 comments

  1. Beautiful photos. It is a fascinating place, but I visited in July one year and it was the hottest I’ve ever endured. I had to repair to a tapas bar and drink lots of iced coffee to survive.

    Like

    • I can imagine it would be! Since I wrote the post, I read somewhere that Cordoba is the hottest city in Europe. If I go back, it will definitely not be in the summer.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I was in Morocco while you were in Spain and saw a lot of architecture from the other side of Moorish rule, so this was a fascinating complement :-). I loved the blooming orange trees everywhere!

    Liked by 1 person

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