|Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba|
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
|Castle of the Christian Monarchs|
There’s not much to write home about this place, but I did enjoy the views of southern Córdoba and that surreal feeling you get whenever you step into a place that’s just overflowing with historical significance, like the U.S. capitol building or Westminster Abbey in London.
|Archaeological Museum of Córdoba|
Another plus is that the current museum is built on top of the ruins of a Roman amphitheater. You know, no big deal. The nearby ruins of a Roman temple and the Plaza Séneca (where the Roman philosopher is rumored to have been born) really tied my visit together well.
Built on the site of a Visigothic church, the mosque was expanded three times from its initial construction in 785 to the shape it has today. When the city was conquered by King Fernando III in 1236, he decided to spare the magnificent building the destruction that was so often the doom of mosques across re-conquered Spain in the Middle Ages. Little construction was done on it except for a small chapel where the original skylight was.
But in the interior, the cathedral has been seamlessly grafted into the original mosque structure. The architects tore out only those sections that were necessary and even incorporated striped arches into the supporting buttresses. Within the small, square, cross-shaped cathedral light pours into the dim naves below. Of course, the reason the rest of the building is so dark is because all the doors were walled up after the Reconquista; the Lonely Planet guide mentions that centuries ago these doorways “would have filled the original Mezquita with light.”
The experience was truly magical for yours truly, a student of history and Spanish language & culture. I went gaga walking under the endless overlapping red-and-white striped arches; seeing the contrast between light and darkness; and recognizing the transitions between the original naves, the Muslim enlargements, and the Christian additions.
|Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba|
Roman Bridge & Calahorra Tower
|Roman Bridge & Calahorra Tower|
At the southern end of the bridge (i.e., the other side of the river) you can find the Torre de la Calahorra or Calahorra Tower (calahorra comes from the Arabic qala’at al-hurriya, “free-standing fortress”).
Inside this renovated mini-fort is a small museum highlighting the three cultures of Christians, Jews, and Muslims that once shared the Iberian peninsula together. At times the narration came across as abrasively pluralistic (e.g., going on and on about how spiritual the mosque was) and often simply cheesy (e.g., melodramatic descriptions of the Alhambra). However, I really appreciated the miniature mosque in one of the exhibit rooms. It was maybe 1-2 meters square with tiny arches and columns meticulously reproduced and even a prayer floor looking suspiciously like sushi mats. It showed what the building just across the river used to look like before the Reconquista rolled in, illuminating the different sections of the mosque as they were built over time.
|Calahorra Tower - Museum of the Three Cultures (note the sushi mats)|
Jewish quarter & synagogue
Just down the street I visited the Casa de Sefarad, or Sepharad House (sepharad is the name given by Jews to Spain; for example, Sephardic Jews come from the Iberian peninsula). This is the museum the synagogue should have had; it presented a great exposé of Jewish history and culture in Spain as well as an overview of the Inquisition (which affected Jews as well as non-conforming Christians). I got chills reading about how the Jews gradually lost their homes and rights in Medieval Spain—something that would be repeated over and over again in Europe up through World War II.
Ruins of Medina Azahara
|Madinat al-Zahra ruins|
|Me at Madinat al-Zahra|
I caught a morning bus from Córdoba that first took me to the Madinat’s museum. Its exhibits were so-so, but its introductory video was extremely helpful in explaining what a big deal the Madinat was in its time. Through 3D animations and voiceovers, I got to see how the ruins used to look before setting off to explore them. Today, the place looks pretty pitiful, but in the movie this palatial capital appeared outrageously lavish and precisely designed.
Another bus took me from the museum to the ruins themselves. They weren’t quite like the video made the originals out to be, but hey—they’re ruins, so I guess that’s the point. Still, that video made wandering through the stones and paths much more constructive since I was able to visualize what the buildings would have looked like as I walked past them. However, the star of the show, the well-preserved Hall of Abd al-Rahman III, was closed for “conservation problems.” Oh well.
|Mosque ruins, Madinat al-Zahra|
|“I’ve finally found you” / “Por fin te he encontrado”|
A few years ago they began spray-painting these short quotes on sides of abandoned buildings using the same font that the road signs use, so at first you don’t notice that it’s actually graffiti. But then you see a “road sign” that reads Finding My Place and you realize, “hey…that’s not that street’s name, right?”
|“I’ve found a shortcut” / “He encontrado un atajo”|
|Salmorejo from Salmorejería Umami|
Blogging note: I will be traveling around France and Spain over Christmas vacation sans laptop; therefore, I am putting future blog posts on hold until after January 7th (read: I don’t have any finished blog posts in the queue, therefore none will be published!).
Question: What are your impressions or expectations about the city of Córdoba? What’s your opinion of the microcosm of Spanish history that is the Mosque-Cathedral? Comment below!
For more pictures, check out my set on Flickr here.