Cultural Crossroads: Córdoba

córdoba-36Córdoba concluded my journeys through Southern Spain. Just as I thought my adventures were over, there was another one waiting for me along the road. Without a couch and a bus ticket, I ventured into the city by hitching a ride with two sisters from Sevilla who gave me the ultimate adventure of my Andalusian trip. As we entered the city, the police signalled us to pull over for driving on the wrong lane. But everything went well after convincing the officer by promising not to do it again. I kept wondering how she maneuvered the situation and got away with it. (It must have been her Andalusian charm?:)) Although it was a short ride between the two cities, Maita and Martha knew how to manage the time to make the trip worthwhile.

Upon reaching the city center, I found out that my Couchsurfing host had cancelled my request because he realized that he didn’t feel like hosting after all. Though infuriating as it was, throwing tantrums wouldn’t solve the problem, and so I hit up the Tourist Info right away and prowled the streets of Córdoba with my 65 Liter backpack (and another bag) for accomodation. Everything seemed fully-booked and I had a difficult time getting one. All I wanted was a bed. Nothing else… And a shower.

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Moorish influences are completely retained on the portals of the cathedral

Though it took me over two hours to look for a place to stay, I did find one at last in the Jewish Quarter, which is basically the city center. Without spending much time in the hostel, I went straight to the Mezquita. I always try, if possible, to avoid paying an entrance fee to a church (I’ve paid enough church taxes in Austria for being a registered Catholic) but the Cathedral was surely the reason I came here for. Located right in the heart of La Judería (Jewish District), La Mezquita is the throbbing pulse of the city’s tourism. There’s also an option of visiting the church from 8:30- 10:00 am every day for free, (except Sundays) otherwise, there’s a fee of €8 and no discounted price for students.(how harsh :-/)

córdoba-153A friend of mine once commented, “Once you’ve seen one church, then you’ve seen all of them.” But La Mezquita-Catedral is obviously an exception. “The Mosque-Cathedral” may be an ironic term for a church name but the fusion of these two worlds that were never supposed to come across each other had already met since the 8th century when the Moors, Christians and Jews peacefully coexisted side by side in a diverse community. How else could I describe this majestic structure when all I felt was tranquility amidst a wide space of more than 800 pillars that seemed endless to look at? The Mezquita was originally a Visigothic church that stood on the same site. Half of the structure was then converted to a mosque to attend to the needs of the growing Muslim community in the 8th century.

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Cathedral belfry

córdoba-85 córdoba-86In the 10th century, more parts were added to the mosque including this mihrab or the prayer niche  (top photos) The structure that we see now had been radically transformed córdoba-146through the centuries with the exemption of the Moorish pillars. The cathedral that presently stands in the center was added in the 16th century, where parts of the old mosque had to be destroyed for the construction of the Catholic edifice. It is said that after the Christians had taken over the mosque, the Muslims were allowed to pray for the last time before their expulsion. Having gone through different styles from Gothic to Renaissance and Baroque, the Mezquita-Cathedral is truly a visual delight for every visitor and a witness to different architectural developments.

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The old town and the Roman bridge as seen from the top of the Calahorra Tower

After staying for more or less than three hours inside the Mezquita, I headed off to the opposite bank of Río Guadalquivir, the same river that flows through Seville. However, the current that reaches Córdoba is more shallow, so the ships are out of sight. The heat of the sun was literally pricking my skin pores as I walked on this 247-meter long bridge, obviously without any shade (top photo). Known as Puente Romano or Puente Viejo, the construction of this bridge dates back to the 1st Century BC by the Romans then it was rebuilt out of ruins by the Moors. On the other end of the bridge stands the Torre de Calahorra (Calahorra Tower) of Moorish origin that was used as a watchtower by the Almohads in the 12th century to guard the nearby bridge on Río Guadalquivir.

CalahorraI took shelter in the tower, which houses a museum dedicated to the history of Córdoba on the heyday of Islamic rule. Thank goodness, the airconditioning was turned on that made my visit more bearable. Then I spent the rest of the afternoon walking around the old town. It seemed as if the historic core hadn’t changed radically since the 8th century. Or at least, that’s the impression it gave me.:-) The good thing about Córdoba is that the city is so small and compact, it basically takes one day to see most of it. Some even do a day trip to Córdoba and then back to Seville. I ventured around the winding medieval streets of the Jewish Quarter. Even without carrying a map, the center is easy to navigate. Or maybe I should say, it’s easy to get lost around the dissecting medieval streets. After all, the best sights are not the ones mentioned in guide books! There’s also plenty of bazaars scattered in every corner and so I started to imagine how life had been when those three religions lived altogether back in that bygone grandeur. However, strong reminders of that era are still visible to this day through old Moorish houses, countless mosques (converted into churches), narrow alleys, the Jewish synagogue and the Alhambra-like Alcazaba (citadel.

Back in the hostel, I finally had the chance to meet my roommate, who happened to be Filipino-American. It dawned on me how small the world was when she told me that her mother’s family lived near my hometown– not just a simple family though, but a well known clan in the world of politics. Our conversation seemed endless and we stayed on the patio even until after midnight since we didn’t want our other roommate to be in our presence. The downside of staying in a dorm was that I could not choose my companions. The other guy who happened to be sharing the room with us seemed a bit different and hardly talked to anyone even when talked to. That night seemed eternal when he started watching the TV at three in the morning, and at the same time talking over the phone without taking his roommates into consideration.

I had to wake up early the following morning to visit an archaeological site outside the center. Madinat al-Zahra is another must-do activity in Córdoba. It is an excavatcórdoba-435ion of an old city, situated on the outskirts of the town about a 30-minute bus ride. There’s still so much to be  dugged up and there’s a long way to go to reveal the entire surface of the lost city. 5% of which is now open to the public, though. When this short-lived city went downhill and was destroyed after the wars, the columns of the medina were rummaged and stolen, parts of which now decorate the Reales Alcazares in Seville. It is advisable to buy the ticket beforehand or directly on the bus that departs twice a day (www.reservasturismodecordoba.org) from Paseo de la Victoria (Glorieta Hospital Cruz Roja/ Mercado Victoria). Doing an individual tour is surely less stressful but a guided visit would also be of great help to learn more interesting facts about the lost city. The entrance ticket to the archaelogical museum is not included, though EU and Iberoamerican citizens are exempted from the fee.

córdoba-449 córdoba-444Unfortunately, the main highlight of the ruins, the well-preserved hall of Abd al-Rahman III, would remain closed until 2015 due to undergoing restoration. It should be ready by 2016 when Córdoba becomes the European Capital of Culture, which should be another reason to come back in a few years time.

córdoba-538I had to change rooms as I came back to the hostel. Luckily this time, with an Italian guy and two French siblings. I got along so well with Claudio, my Italian roommate that he took me for a stroll around the barrios I hadn’t visited yet. Since he was working on his Ph.D. research in Córdoba, he knew the sights better than I did. Some places we visited included the districts of San Andrés and Santa Marina, as well as Jardín de Colón, former mosques, patios cordobeses and the Roman columns. We concluded the evening by eating at Montaditos, a kind of fast-food chain that is ridiculously cheap and where the crowd is young. (€1,50 euro for a half a liter drink and €1 for a sandwich) Then we tried to hang out a bit at a bar called Soho with an overlooking view of the bridge and the river but we were both exhausted from too much walking and the bar was quite expensive too. So, we finally called it a night for I had to catch the earliest and the only bus going to Extremadura the following day.

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details of a patio cordobés

After almost a week of cultural discovery and culinary adventure in Granada, getting ill while traveling around Málaga, doing a spontaneous trip to romantic Ronda, and reviving my love affair with Sevilla, Córdoba finally wraps up all these journeys by leaving me a lasting impression of Andalusia that is still, by far, my favorite region in all of Spain. Having mentioned this, I know that someday, I will be able to complete the 8 provinces that make Andalusia a place like no other. Cádiz, Huelva, Almeria and Jaén, Nos vemos pronto.

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