The One with Córdoba, Spain

Friday, March 13, 2015

Just one more travel recap after this! That is, until next time ;)

We begrudgingly said goodbye to Seville because we loved it so, and made our way to a day trip in Córdoba.
Straddling a sharp bend of the Guadalquivir River, Córdoba has a glorious Roman and Moorish past, once serving as a regional capital for both empires. It's home to Europe's best Islamic sight after Granada's Alhambra: the Mezquita - a splendid and remarkably well-preserved mosque that dates from A.D. 784.
Beyond the magnificent Mezquita the city of Córdoba has two sides: the extremely touristy maze of streets immediately surrounding the giant main attraction lined with trinket shops, hotels, and restaurants and the workaday part of town centered on the Plaza de las Tendiallas.
We found parking behind the old city wall and headed into the old town near the Jewish Quarter.
Córdoba's Jewish Quarter dates from the late middle ages after Muslim rule and during the Christian ear. Now, little remains. It still has a lot of charm with flower-pot decorated walls and narrow, twisty lanes that still feel fresh and bright.
Photographer's dream. Not that I consider myself a photographer, I just like taking pictures.
Pink paint and mint barrels? Yes please!
Skinny streets make sense in hot climates as they provided much-appreciated shade. Skinny streets were also a necessity since the city's Jews had to make the most of the limited space in which they were allowed to live.
Thick, white-washed walls were both features that serve as a kind of natural air-conditioning. What little color there is in this famously white-washed city is found on the windows, doors, and flowers.
Someone was excited for today's adventure!
Handmade goods.
After a mediocre breakfast (think toast with ham and cheese for a pretty penny...) at a little cafe in the old town, we made our way to the main attraction: the Mezquita. This massive former mosque - now with a 16th century church rising up from the middle - was once the center of Western Islam and the heart of a cultural capital that rivaled Baghdad and Istanbul. A wonder of the medieval world, it's remarkable well-preserved giving visitor's a chance to soak up the ambience of Islamic Córdoba in its 10th century prime.
The Mezquita's big, welcoming courtyard is the Patio de los Naranjos. When this was a mosque the Muslim faithful would gather in this courtyard to perform ablution - ritual washing before prayer, as directed by Muslim law. Historians believe this was the first such courtyard with trees for shade. The trees (probably olive, palm, or orange) were planted in rows that line up with the colonnades inside the mosque symbolically extending the place of worship through the courtyard. They just let the oranges fall to the ground and then scoop them up and throw them away. They should let the local boy scout troop pick them and set up a fresh-squeezed OJ stand to sell to tourists! They'd make a killing!
I spy Fox.
Gazing up through the trees for a view of the bell tower which was built over the remains of the original Muslim minaret around 1600.
Entering the former mosque from the patio you pass from an orchard of orange trees into a forest of delicate columns dating from 786. That's hecka old. The 850 red-and-blue columns are topped with double arches - a round Romanesque arch above a Visigothic horseshoe arch - made from alternating red brick and white stone. 
The columns and capitals (built of marble, granite, and alabaster) were recycled from ancient Roman ruins and conquered Visigothic churches. The columns seem to recede to infinity. upporting such a tall ceiling with thin columns required extra bracing with the double arches you see - a beautiful solution to a practical problem.
For the first (and only!) time this trip: The ENTIRE Evans family crew in the Mezquita at Córdoba.
Delving deeper into the mosque-turned-church, we found the Mihrab. The mosque equivalent of a church's high altar, this was the focus of the mosque and is the highlight of the Mezquita today. The Mihrab, a feature in all mosques, is a decorated niche - in this case more like a small room with a golden-arch entrance. During a service the imam would stand here to read scripture and give sermons. He spoke loudly into the niche, his back to the assembled crowd and the architecture worked to amplify his voice so all could hear. Built in the mid-10th century by Al-Hakam II, the exquisite room reflects the wealth of Córdoba in its prime.
Three thousand pounds of multicolored glass-and-enamel cubes panel the walls and domes in mosaics designed by Byzantine craftsman, depicting flowers and quotes from the Koran. Gaping up, the colorful, starry dome with skylights and interlocking lobe-shaped arches blew me away.
Another detail of the area near the mihrab.
Near the mihrab is the Villaviciosa chapel. In 1236 Saint-King Ferdinand III conquered the city and turned the mosque back into a church. Still, the locals continued to call it "La Mezquita," and left the structure virtually unchanged (70 percent of the original mosque remains today). Sixteen columns were removed and replaced by Gothic arches to make this chapel. It feels as if the church architects appreciated the opportunity to incorporate the sublime architecture of the pre-existing mosque into their church. Notice how the floor was once almost entirely covered with the tombs of nobles and big shots eager to make this their final resting place.
Immediately to the right, the Royal chapel, designed for the tombs of Christian kings, is completely closed off. While it was never open to the public, the tall, well-preserved Mudejar walls and dome are visible. The lavish Arabic-style decor dates from the 1730s done by Muslim artisans after the Reconquista. The fact that a Christian king chose to be buried in a tomb so clearly Moorish in design indicates the mutual respect between the cultures at the time.
Then we headed into the treasury which was filled with display cases of religious artifacts and the enormous monstrance that is paraded through the streets of Córdoba each Corpus Christi, 60 days after Easter. The monstrance was an attempt by 16th century Christians to create something exquisite enough to merit being the holder of the Holy Communion wafer.
Just outside the treasury exit a glass case shows off casts of the many stonemason marks and signatures found in this one building. We had fun looking for the marks on the columns nearby.
More pretties in the treasury. 
Rising up in the middle of the forest of columns is the bright and newly restored cathedral. Yes this is still the same building. Gazing up at the rich decoration, it's easy to forget that you were in a former mosque just seconds ago. While the mosque is about 30 feet high, the cathedral's ceiling soars 130 feet up. What a glorious ceiling! 
In 1523 Córdoba's bishop proposed building this grand church in the Mezquita's center. It would have been quicker and less expensive for the Christian builders to destroy the mosque, but they respected its beauty and built their church into it. So unique and cool!
The choir has Baroque-era stalls added much later, around 1750. They are made of New World mahogany and this choir is considered one of the masterpieces of 18th century Andalusian Baroque. Each of the 109 stalls features a scene from the Bible: Mary's life on one side facing Jesus' life on the other.
The exterior of the Mezquita.
Walking around Córdoba.
Leaving the area near the church, we headed down to the river front and saw the Triumphal Arch. This is an unfinished Renaissance arch that was designed to give King Philip II a royal welcome, but he arrived before its completion so the job was canceled.
Souvenir store | Plague column
The column is an 18th century plague monument dedicated to St. Raphael who is in charge of protecting the population from the main scourges in this region at the time: plague, hunger, and floods.
Spanning the river is Roman bridge. Well, the bridge sits on its first-century Roman foundations with 16th century arches and a restored surface on top. It was the first bridge over this river and established Córdoba as a strategic point.
Jane being Jane on the bridge. 
We crossed over the river and same some great views.
Córdoba, Spain in all its glory. Bridge on the left with the Mezquita and Cathedral rising up out of the middle on the right.
On the far side of the river we found a fancy playground and let the kiddos run their little hearts out. It was sunny and warm so I sat on a bench and basked in the sunshine.
Evans family on Tuesday February 11th 2015 in Córdoba, Spain.
Final destination of our Southern Spain road trip: Granada!


  1. The church was super cool! Loved it!

  2. Yes, the ceiling shots were spectacular; loved the bridge photos too. sigh.....

  3. Oh my goodness- your photos are just so fun!! I love it that you share these -- makes me so jealous and I want to travel more!!


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