Cordoba is almost as much like OZ as Istanbul was. My introduction to this city is a drive through a very crowded street, along a stone wall which I would discover is the Mezquita, a model of which I saw at the Islamic Science Museum in Istanbul last year, and a major reason I came here.
My taxi drops me off at the front door of Los Patios, across the street from the Mezquita.
What a happy little hotel! The enclosed courtyard is filled with palms and tables, with 23 fully furnished hotel rooms overlooking it from the second floor. The concierge tells me that admittance to the Mezquita is free in the morning (Sunday) and that my meals in the hotel are discounted by 10%. I take advantage of that offer by sitting down to a dish of squid in ink sauce and my first Sangria before setting out to explore the city…
Near my hotel is a horse stable and a poster advertising the equestrian festival which begins the day after I leave. The stable is locked but I find a piece of screening that had been torn away enough to be able to slip a camera through. I can just barely see the heavily vaulted ceilings and iron railings that separate the stalls.
The next street leads me through Los Patios District. The origins of these courtyards date to Roman times, when houses were built round open air ‘agora’s. The Moorish term is casinillo, with their additions of fountains and flowers. They are almost always whitewashed, and every inch of wall space is covered with potted plants and flowers, predominantly geraniums, and many of the owners will gladly charge you a pittance to allow you to come in and look around. I paid a 50-cent admission fee to enter one of these courtyards, and found it cool and incredibly fragrant.
Heading north takes me into the Art Nouveau District, where the architecture is a mix of Nouveau and Deco facades. Turning a corner suddenly brings me into the stark ruins of a Roman temple dating to the 1st century.
I tour the Palacio de Viana, a series of twelve courtyards and a garden taking up 6,500 sq.m. of space surrounding a 14th century manor house named after the Marquises of Villaseca, a ruling family who lived here until the 19th century. Among my favorites was the Courtyard of the Cats, the oldest documented community courtyard in Córdoba, known in the 15th century as the Houses of Puentezuela de Tres Caños. The Courtyard of the Orange Trees was originally the Arabic kitchen garden, and the entrance to the palace in the 15th century. It includes a maze garden with a fountain at the center, surrounded by 100-year old orange trees.
I was not able to take photos inside the palace, though I did take a few of the kitchen, including an interior water well, a version of which I would see again in the Jewish Quarter. The rest of my photos for today are on my photo-blog at Daveno Travels.
I finish my day with dinner at an outdoor cafe, where my lack of Spanish thwarts my efforts to order tapas. I notice the tent card on the table for pre-packaged flans, custards and ice creams, that are delivered to your table in their wrappers. I would find identical menus at nearly every restaurant I ate at here, and was amused with the concept of restaurant menus for freezer-case desserts.
Breakfast the next day is toast and pate that tasted like a spam product, peach juice and plain yogurt with a separate sugar packet, all served in individually pre-packaged servings. I share the dining space with sparrows who are scavenging crumbs from underneath the tables, and bathing in the fountain, two tables over.
Ready for my day, I walk across the street to the Mezquita. Admission is waived on Sunday mornings so locals can attend Mass. Walking through the 800+ Islamic arches with Latin liturgy echoing in the background remains one of my most memorable experiences.
Walking from one end to the other is a tour through history, as you can discern the ages of the various naves by the differences in the columns and the structure of the arches.
Guards are posted around this area during Mass to prevent tourists from taking photos. You are free to wield your cameras once prayers have concluded.
I admire the fretwork encased windows, many of which are reproductions. At the other end of the building are a number of glass cases housing artifacts ranging from Visagoth carvings, to bibles with silver fittings, and what I believe is the gearwork for a clock or chime tower, as tall as me and about 8 feet long. It’s a pretty impressive clockwork.
It was difficult for me to leave this mosque. I leave the dark coolness of the Mezquita and step out into a brilliant sun, filtering through palms onto a hard-packed yellow clay where most public places would have either pavement or grass. I’m off to the Andalucia House…