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.
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.
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.
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 Mudéjar, resulted 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.
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!
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.
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!
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!