Southern Spain has been on our travel list since we moved to Toulouse. I had originally suggested a visit last August (instead of Switzerland), but was denied due to the heat (probably a wise decision). So we decided it’d be best to visit in winter or early spring, when it couldn’t possibly be hot, but probably mild and comfortable. We decided we’d visit Córdoba, Granada, Ronda, and Seville where we’d soak up the architecture, eat too many tapas, learn to love olives, and try to stay dry.
Our trip started late on a Saturday night with a flight and overnight stay in Seville. We got up the next morning, ate breakfast and then hit the road for Córdoba. The countryside between Seville and Córdoba is quite lovely with many olive groves (?) and hillsides hugging the main highways. After two hours or so we arrived at our destination, checked into our hotel, and decided it was time to check out La Mezquita. Unfortunately, the Mezquita was closed until 3 for lunch. As such, we decided it was the perfect excuse to enjoy a Spanish lunch (read: late & long) before our visit. We settled on Garum 2.1.
Should you find yourself in Córdoba, we cannot recommend this spot enough. It’s a relatively quick walk from the river and La Mezquita. On a Sunday afternoon it wasn’t too busy (though it got busier the longer we were there). They have an extensive selection, but what caught our eye was the tapas tasting menu – option of 8 or 11 plates. Our waitress (who was absolutely delightful, by the way) asked us if we spoke Spanish. I explained I spoke a little so she said she’d speak in Spanish, but slowly, which I loved. We ordered the tasting menus to which she said, “Gran elección, entonces no tienes que pensar en nada.” I chuckled and said, “Sí!” then quickly translated for Jim, which got a wink and smile from her. Sometimes, I really miss Spanish. Every dish was tastier than the last though I think our favorite was probably the duo of cold soups: salmorejo (tomato) and ajo blanco (almond paste). She explained the tomato one was a “new world” soup, after tomatoes had been brought back to Spain while the ajo blanco was an “old world” soup, what they traditionally made as a summer soup in the area with almonds, grapes, and local sherry. We were told to start with the ajo blanco as it was sweeter…and it was really delicious, which I wasn’t entirely expecting. It was creamy and complex. The sherry had been turned into a gelee that was even colder than the soup. When she came to clear our plates she asked which we liked better and we both said the ajo blanco which elicited another, broad smile and wink along with an explanation that that is the local favorite and her favorite, too.
After lunch, we rolled ourselves out of the restaurant and started our quick walk over to La Mezquita. La Mezquita is the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, highlighting Islamic architecture with Hellenistic, Roman, and Byzantine touches along with Christian architecture. A trip inside is like an unbelievable walk through time. It started out as a Christian church (Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente) in the mid-6th century then a Muslim period (Aljama Mosque of And al-Rahman I) through the 8th to 13th century when it became a Christian Church again as it remains today.
After walking through the Triunfo de San Rafael de la Puerta del Puente or The Gate of the Bridge (above, bottom left) you find yourself in a courtyard (above, bottom middle & right) with the one wall of La Mezquita exposed (above, top). We made our way to the main entrance (Puerta del Perdón or Door of Forgiveness) just next to the bell tower, opening us up to the orange tree courtyard (below photos) and purchased our tickets and audioguides. Your tour will start and end in the orange tree courtyard. We learned the courtyard was completed during the second Christian period (around the 16th century), they had reworked the Muslim ablutions patio to have orange trees mirror the columns which make up the prayer hall inside.
In the courtyard there are cypress trees along with orange trees and an amazing watering system, which you can see leads to the fountains and well as the trees.
The main entrance to the mosque/cathedral leads you into the original Mosque of And Al-Rahman I. “The floor plan of the original mosque was based on a basilica model and followed the example of mosques in Damascus and the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem. The reuse of materials gives it a noticeable Hellenistic, Roman, and Visigoth feel. Its originality lies in the construction which is based on the superposition of a double arch, which allows for higher ceilings and which has determined the constructive evolution of the building and influenced the history of its architecture.” This is probably my favorite part of the entire building. The double arches really DO make the ceiling seem unbelievably tall and the placement of the columns make it seem like it goes on forever. It’s truly unlike anything else I’ve ever seen. The photo below (bottom, right) shows the Chapel of the Immaculate Conception.
Immediately from the Chapel, you continue into the first enlargement by And al-Rahman II. In this space you can also see the Choir Stalls, High Alter, and Transept (part of the Christian additions). It’s incredibly wild to be walking through these arched column ways and then see Gothic, Renaissance, and Mannerism art. It’s an absolutely unbelievable juxtaposition of architecture that is just beautiful.
From there you continue on into the 2nd enlargement by Al-Hakam II. This enlargement brought an innovative and more lavish appearance to the mosque through plant motifs, marble, and mosaics along with four skylights. The mirhab itself showcases all of these elements via an octagonal room with a scallop shelled dome (below, top and ceiling is photo to the left below main). In addition to the mihrab, this addition showcases numerous chapels (I didn’t take photos of all of them) as well as the treasury (statue & white ceiling photos below). Many of my photos don’t even come close to capturing the magnificence of this area as it is so huge and nearly impossible to capture even 1/4 of it in a frame.
From there we worked our way into the 3rd enlargement or the Almanzor expansion. This one is noted for being the enlargement that was more understated compared to the 2nd enlargement. This was mainly due in part to the arches NOT alternating between stone and brick (the white & red) and instead being painted on as well as no marble bases. Something else we noted in this area was the skull & crossbones (which ended up being quite prevalent throughout Andalusia).
From there we exited back to the orange tree courtyard (notice how the skies were blue on our way in and gray on our way out).
We decided to tour a little more of the city before it started raining again and made our way to the Jardines de la Victoria. What was so interesting to us was the amount of orange trees we saw EVERYWHERE along with how many oranges were on the ground, seemingly untouched. We wondered why squirrels or birds or dogs or any animal weren’t eating the oranges and figured there were so many on the ground as it had been pretty windy and rainy for a couple of days. Evenso, take a look at all those oranges!
On our way back to the hotel we came across some Roman ruins (above, bottom right). After resting, we decided to grab a small bite at Restaurante La Boca. Initially we had thought we’d just have some wine and small plates, but once we were there we decided to try the noodles, the salad (best salad I’ve had in ages) and the iberian pork in curry dish (AMAZING) along with a bottle of red from Ronda (this was after our waiter convinced us a Rioja was fine, but this one from Ronda would be more interesting). Honestly, this was probably one of the best meals we had of the trip. If you’re there, definitely recommend this spot. It will NOT disappoint.
When we left we were met with a colossal downpour for our uphill walk back to the hotel. Luckily we had our raincoats and 1 umbrella. Regardless, we were both soaked from our thighs to our feet. No matter – the dinner was worth it.
The next morning we got in our car and started our drive to Granada and to tour the Alhambra. Córdoba did not disappoint. Wish we could’ve spent a little more time exploring, though in the sunshine!
3 Comments Add yours
A nice commentary. If I ever visit again I shall definitely try your tapas recommendation.
I commented on the Mezquita in one of my posts on Islamic architecture. I like the quote, that might well be apocryphal, of Carlos V, Hapsburg emperor of Spain:
“habéis destruido lo que era único en el mundo, y habéis puesto en su lugar lo que se puede ver en todas partes”
They destroyed something that was unique in the world only to build something that you can find everywhere.
If Carlo V didn’t say it, he certainly should have!
An interesting side trip from Córdoba is Medina Al Zahra, an Arab palace in the hills. It has been an archeological site for a long time, with some restoration. The decorative arts displayed are beautiful.
Thanks, Dave! That’s a great quote, one which I hadn’t heard but definitely does seem appropriate when looking at La Mezquita. However, I will say a mosque/cathedral is something I’ve never seen anywhere else. We’re already back in France, but a reason to return to the Córdoba area will be Medina Al Zahra.