Cordoba was once the capital of the Islamic Al-Andalus region. It was originally founded as a Roman colony in 152 BC, some traces of which can still be seen in the city. In 711 it fell to the Muslim invaders and in the centuries that followed it developed into the biggest city in Western Europe, drawing many Jewish, Muslim and Christian scholars. In 1236 Cordoba eventually fell to the Christian conquerers.
We had breakfast in the Occidental Hotel at half past 8.
Certainly nothing to write home about; the food was the least compelling we had so far. Grabbing a cab we made our way to the Mezquita, arriving in time to be one of the first visitors at 10 AM. The Mezquita is the highlight of Cordoba, a mosque build in several phases, beginning in 785. The Muslims built it on top of an old Visigothic church, using pillars they took from the Roman temples in the area. After the conquest the Christians tore the middle section down and built a cathedral right in the center of the mosque, converting the outer areas to Catholic shrines. I guess you can't gather any more sacrelidge in one building! But however questionable its history may be, the Mezquita is certainly one of the most impressive and bizar buidlings I've seen on my travels. And I've seen quite a few.
Approaching the original mosque from the peaceful Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees), we found the entrance in one of the corners of the square.
Entering the building immediately takes your breath away since you're suddenly in the middle of a forest with 856 pillars (just imagine that before the cathedral was build there were 1293!). The mosque has dark and light areas, built in different eras and red-and-white-striped arches stretching as far as the eye can see. Wandering around the huge halls I was baffled by the combination of the Islamic pillars and arches and the Chritian shrines and chapels that were visible everywhere. At the back of the hall I found the 'maksura' (royal prayer enclosure) with its 'mihrab portal', decorated with 1600 kg of gold mosaic cubes. And when you've stared at this area in awe, turn around and walk back, the bizarness reaches its peak when you come across the cathedral in the middle of the hall. As if it had been planted there as some kind of weird joke. Nothing could ever have been so misplaced and as Carlos I said 'You have destroyed something that was unique in this world'. Then again, the construction of the church probably saved the mosque from being destroyed completely and the weird combination of Islam and Christianity in the building makes it all the more unique.
After walking around the columned hall of the Mezquita for an hour we proceeded to the Puenta Romana (roman bridge across the Guadalquivir river) and the 14th century tower Torre de la Calahorra beyond.
After walking back to the northern bank and walking around the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos (Castle of the Christian Monarch), which unfortunately was closed today, we had a drink in a bar near the Mezquita at noon (a well deserved first cerveza) and after another stroll through the narrow streets of the Juderia (Jewish quarters) we sat down at the La Abaceria where we finally (!) ordered tapas for the first time during this vacation. We ordered some 12 small plates, but owning to some confusion with the two waiters we got some of them twice. Now, since we had a healthy apetite after todays walks we did not have any difficulty making these extra ones disappear as well, although the bill was a bit more hefty than initially planned. ;-)
Having seen all of Cordoba's main sights mom and dad decided to return to the hotel for a quiet afternoon.
Mark and I continued exploring the city. Well, exploring, make that sitting down at a terrace in the sun at Plaza de las Tendillas to sip cervezas and discuss the beautiful things in live (read: Spanish women passing by). After an hour or two Mark went to look for cigarets while I tried to upload some pictures and blogs in a cybercafe. Unfortunately all the USB ports were disabled.
After Mark and I dropped by a supermercado for supplies of water and Licor 43 we took a taxi back to the hotel at 18:30. As a relaxed evening out I had booked places at the Hammam Banos Arabes (Arabic bathhouse) at eight. Not really Mark's kinda thing, he decided to go walking instead while the three of us headed back to the city, arriving in time for the 8 PM bathing session. The Hammam consisted of 2 small cold baths, one big warm bath, 2 small hot baths and a Turkish steam cabin. After all the driving, walking and watching of the last days it was excellent to be able to relax for an hour or two.
But the highlight was without a doubt the aromatheraphy massage I had booked for the three of us. There's only one word for being rubbed with lemon oil (my personal choice) and squeezed by a professional female massage specialist: heavenly! I need to find myself one of those at home. ;-)
After the bathing session we had a cup of tea at the Arabic teahouse next door and to the initial horror of my parents I ordered myself a sheesha to go with my mint tea. As if he had sensed I was up to something, Mark called on the phone to ask where we were. A couple of minutes later he walked in and gladly joined the sheesha and tea.
So, to sum it all up .
.. this day had a stunning building, delicious tapas, beers in the sun and an excellent massage and sheesha as the icing on the cake. It doesn't get any better than this. As you can imagine I went to sleep a very happy man this night.