Visit to Cordoba
My visit to Cordoba, one of Andalusia’s main points of interest, was exceptionally special, as I had already fallen in love with the charm of Granada and the energetic buzz of Seville. Declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, Cordoba’s old town consists of a maze of streets, vibrant squares and narrow back alleys, all bordered by the Guadalquivir River (the very same that runs through Seville). Its origins are Roman and the charming, sturdy Roman bridge still provides the main crossing to the other side of the city. Once the capital of the Al Andalus caliphate under Muslim rule, the grandeur of Cordoba has remained. Pre Ferdinand and Isabella (pre expulsion of Muslims and Jews) this cosmopolitan and peaceful city was home to Jews, Christians and Muslims. A sizeable cultured and thriving Jewish community (the Sephardi) once populated Cordoba, from whom Spaniards inherited the custom of eating small plates,‘tapas’, or mezze- as it was called back then.
In this pedestrian-friendly city, it is best to explore on foot. Turning off the large avenue into the old town, warm rays of sun, sounds of clinking cutlery, and a light scent of frying garlic surrounded me. Heading to my accommodation, I was almost swept up by a gaggle of loud Spanish women decked out in typical flamenco outfits. Complete with tight-fitted polka-dotted dresses, layers of frills and tasselled scarves, they were a sight to behold. The highlight of their outfit was long leather necklace from which a medium-sized wine flute hung. It was apparently one of the many local holidays in Cordoba, which meant that the Cordobans were out eating and drinking.
5 minutes later I found myself planning my itinerary in front of a small portion of Salmorejo- a thicker, luscious cousin to Gazpacho. Garnished with hard-boiled egg and shredded cured ham, I am not afraid to report that I had a second helping. I am not quite sure what makes salmorejo so delicious, and it could just be a matter of taste (no onion, pepper or vinegar like in Gazpacho) but I have a hunch it has to do with the top-notch olive oil used in the recipe. In fact, some locals call it ‘oro liquido’ or liquid gold, or so my barman said. Olive trees and their delicious fruit are not only native to the region, but play a crucial role in the local economy and cuisine. Before I left the bar for the Mezquita, the barman made sure to reinforce the superiority of Spanish olives over their Italian counterparts.
The Mezquita of Cordoba is one of the main points of interest in Cordoba and Andalusia, and was my next stop. Officially named the Mosque-Cathedral the Mezquita is a spectacular monument and one of the world’s most beautiful pieces of architecture. Built on the site of a 6th century Visigoth temple, the grand mosque was constructed during Muslim rule and boasts Mudejar features such as horseshoe arches, colourful geometric designs and inscriptions in Arabic. When the Reconquest began and Catholics took over, the mosque was converted to a cathedral, and gained high gothic style vaulting and a Baroque choir, among other elements typical to European Cathedrals of the time. Hence, it is somewhat a hybrid and a gem for architecture enthusiasts and tourists alike. One need not belong to any particular faith to appreciate the beauty of the Mezquita-Cathedral’s tenuous light, intricate plasterwork or the smell of incense wafting amongst the marble pillars. Even the Patio de los Naranjos, the courtyard filled with orange trees and bubbling fountains, is a superb place for quiet meditation or a rest before your next stop.
While many towns in Andalusia decorate their inner courtyard, or patio, with plants and flowers, the Alzacar Viejo neighbourhood of Cordoba is practically the Garden of Eden. Centuries ago the Roman residents filled their patios with as many plants and flowers as possible in order to keep their homes cooler in the scorching heat. The practice became a local tradition in the region, but Cordobans take it to the next level. If your visit coincides with the annual patio festival during the month of May, residents open their doors to visitors and participate in a fierce flower contest. During any other month of the year, a select number of friendly residents proudly display their vertical gardens, Roman-Moorish wells and offer historical anecdotes about their family property. During my trip I met local resident Rafael Cordoba, who lives in one of the oldest patio-houses in the neighbourhood. He has been participating in the patio competition for over 25 years and kindly demonstrated how to water over 100 flowers pots each day- some of which are attached to the top of the courtyard walls at 12 ft. high. Visiting the patios of Cordoba is a unique experience to see fantastically decorated patios, meet locals and experience Cordoba as it would have been 500 years ago.
After visiting the Mercado Victoria (the best place for tapas according to the locals) and a Roman amphitheatre in the Archaeological museum, my feet and brain needed a bit of a break. Hence, a spa session at a Hammam was a must. An age-old practise of cleansing and revitalization, the Moroccan hammam is very similar to the Turkish bath- a dimly lit and serene water temple housing a collection of pools, massage tables and steam rooms. Completing the water circuit, guests move amongst marble columns and under horseshoe arches taking in the scents of relaxing essential oils and sounds of running water.
Complete with soft terrycloth robes and lush vegetation, there was nothing missing from this experience. After nearly 3 hours inside and a Moroccan mint tea, the experience became almost spiritual. I really did not want to leave the Hammam or Cordoba.
By booking our 7 days in Andalusia tour, you can experience these highlights of Cordoba any many others as well as other points of interest in the region.
By Jenna Randall Hill
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