Across Andalucia: Cordoba – The Director’s Cut

My original travel journals were split across August Phoenix Hats and a few other websites. February 2021 marked the 12th anniversary of the beginning of my travels. To celebrate, I’m reissuing my journals as Director’s Cuts, with the complete text as well as larger and additional photos. 

My travels have taken me from Venice to Florence, Genoa, and Istanbul. In 2012 it brought me to Andalucia, in search of the remnants of medieval Spain when it was under Moorish rule.

There is no direct route from Toledo to any other city, so it’s back to the train hub in Madrid. The landscape between Toledo and Madrid reminds me of Eastern Washington, with rolling brown hills, and red clay soil along the railroad tracks. About an hour outside of Toledo, olive groves give way to deciduous trees and more rugged mountains in the distance.

Back at the Madrid train station, the misting machines are at work in the conservatory, and the pond is swarming with baby turtles. The traditional breakfast here is cafe con leche and either a croissant or fried pastry. I confuse the staff by ordering a club sandwich which I finish well before the train arrives. My next destination is Cordoba.

Cordoba is almost as much like OZ as Istanbul was. My taxi takes me through a very crowded street, along a stone wall which I would discover is the Mezquita, the model of which I saw at the Islamic Science Museum in Istanbul last year. Although this building was the main thing that brought me here, I was also drawn to Cordoba because of its history as a scholastic and scribal center as far back as the 8th century.  

Under Muslim rule, Spain celebrated a golden age of economic and cultural revival. Christians, Jews and Muslims worked side by side in the scribal houses, translating the world’s works into their respective languages.  It was among the most diverse and religiously tolerant city of its time. 

The door of Al-Hakim II, also called the San Esteban Gate.
The architectural and design elements mirror the mihrab which I believe is on the opposite side of this wall.

My taxi drops me off at the front door of Los Patios, across the street from the Mezquita. What a happy little hotel!  I’m booked into a second floor room, with a balcony overlooking an enclosed courtyard filled with palms and tables. I sit down to a dish of squid in ink sauce and my first Sangria, to fuel up before exploring the city.

Los Patios, photo credit: lospatios.net

A few blocks up the street, I find a horse stable and a poster announcing an equestrian festival that begins the day after I leave. Bummer! The stable is locked but I find a tear in the screening and cautiously slip my camera through, tethered to my wrist so I don’t drop it. My camera sees what I cannot – heavily vaulted ceilings and iron railings that separate the stalls.

Aside from the Mezquita, Cordoba may be best known for its Los Patios District. They architectural style dates to Roman times, when houses were built around open air agoras (courtyards). The Moors added fountains and flowers. There is an annual festival and competition among the home owners, many of whom will charge a small fee (50 centavos) if you want to come in and have a look around. The courtyards are cool and fragrant, and are simply delightful.

Heading north takes me into the Art Nouveau District, where the architecture is a mix of Art Nouveau and Art Deco facades.  I was lucky enough to catch a dancer in her traditional flamenco dress, on her way to some festival that I never did find.

Turning a corner suddenly brings me into the stark ruins of a Roman temple dating to the 1st century.

Cordoba dates to about 160 BC, when it served as a Roman trading port. It remained a Roman city for eight centuries. It became an Emirate in 756 and a Caliphate under Abd-ar-Rahman in 929.

I tour the Palacio de Viana a 14th century manor house and gardens, named after the Marquises of Villaseca, who lived here until the 19th century.  Among my favorites was the Courtyard of the Cats, the oldest documented community courtyard in Córdoba, dating to the 15th century, and the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. Originally an Arabic kitchen garden, it became the entrance to the palace during the 15th century. It includes a maze garden with a fountain at the center, surrounded by 100-year old orange trees. The Courtyard of the Columns is a modern addition, built in the 1980’s.

Courtyard of the Cats, photo credit: PalaciodeViana.com

I finish my day with dinner at an outdoor cafe, where a menu advertises pre-packaged flans, custards and ice creams that are delivered to your table in their wrappers. I would find this at every restaurant I ate at here, and was amused with the concept of restaurant menus for freezer-case desserts.

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