Viva Andalusia: Cordoba

Posted on February 2, 2014 by Toothpicker There have been 0 comments

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I took a 45-min high-speed train ride from Seville to the historical Cordoba, and was pleasantly surprised by the conditions of the trains (and train stations). The train was clean, roomy, modern and comfortable, a huge contrast from the old and dirty trains in the U.K. ( sorry but

Although Cordoba is much smaller than Seville, there are many sights to visit, so two days are certainly not long enough. However, perhaps due to the season, many non-touristy restaurants were closed and the streets seemed rather empty ( I am sure this is not the case in the summer seasons). The Moorish influence is more evident in this city, and many streets are paved with cobblestones. Many of the main sights are within the historical centre, where streets are narrow and difficult for cars to drive through. The shopping and more residential districts are on the north and west of the city, where the vibe is quite different from the more touristy historical centre.

 

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Sights

I have seen photographs of the UNESCO World Heritage site, The Great Mosque/ Cathedral of Córdoba before, but I was still rather gobsmacked when I entered this magnificent and incredible site. I have visited many other extraordinary religious sites like Vatican and The Blue Mosque, but this site is so unique and has a magical mesmerising effect. I have always loved Islamic/ Arabic arts and architecture, but what is so fascinating about this place is its successful fusion of Moorish and Renaissance style. Everything blends together and is in harmony, nothing is overpowering, and with only a few tour groups there, I was able to walk around freely and examine the Moorish architectural details and Kufic inscriptions up close. It is when I am inside onuments like this that makes me marvel at the human beings' capability in creation and engineering.

 

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Mezquita–Catedral de Córdoba

 

The main attraction of the medieval fortified palace (and later a prison) Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is not so much its interior but its wonderful gardens. Even in winter, it was very pleasant to walk around, where I couldn't stop admiring the identical well-trimmed orange tress!

 

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Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

 

Not far from the Alcazar is the Baños árabes del Alcázar Califal, a museum built over the site of the 10th century Arabian baths discovered in 1903. The baths are thought to be part of the Umayyad residence (Alcázar Omeya), which no longer exists today. The museum is informative and reconstructed the warm room for visitors to get an idea of how the baths looked like and what went on inside. I was particularly amazed by the ceramic piping and boiler used back then, again, it demonstrates the 'genius' of Arabic design and engineering.

Walking further up north, I visited the small but significant 14th century Synagogue in the Jewish quarter. It is very well-preserved with Mudéjar style decoration, Hebrew inscriptions. Being one of the three Synagogues left in Spain (and the only one in Andalusia) makes this a popular site with the tourists.

 

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Top left: Baños árabes del Alcázar Califal; Top right: The Jewish quarter; Main: The Synagogue; bottom left & right: Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba

 

In order to learn more about the multi-cultural history of Cordoba and Andalusia, then a visit to the Museo Arqueológico de Córdoba is a must. The museum is not very big, but it is very informative and is built on top of the ruins of a roman theatre. There are many interesting artifacts from different key historical periods and visitors can also visit the excavated ruins in the basement.

Squares

There are many beautiful squares in Andalusia, but the medieval Plaza del Potro is especially well-known because Posada del Potro ( situated on the square) was mentioned by Spanish novelist, Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra in Don Quixote, first published in 1605. The famous and charming inn has been turned into a flamenco museum, Centro Flamenco Fosforito. I didn't go to the flamenco museum in Seville ( I thought it looked rather touristy and the entrance fee is even more expensive than the Cathedral!), but this museum feels more authentic and I was able to enjoy my time there as I was the only visitor!

There are several rooms full of interactive display and a performance area in this museum, I especially like the first room which contains information and videos of key flamenco figures in a long row of drawers. On the first floor, there are videos and audio equipments that allow visitors to understand the rhythmic structures and the relationship between guitar, voice and dance. There is also a room dedicated to the local flamenco singer, Antonio Fernández Díaz, alsoknown as Fosforito. Though one of the most fascinating room is the last one, which traces the inn's history, myths and architectural models that shows its transformation throughout the ages.

 

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Top and bottom main: Plaza del Potro; Middle left and right: Posada del Potro/ Centro Flamenco Fosforito.

 

Besides the Plaza del Potro, there is also the solemn Plaza de Capuchinos, where visitors can find the the statue of Christ of the Lanterns in the middle of square and convent of Santo Ángel. And for a square with a grander scale, the 17th century Plaza de la Corredera ( the site of a Roman amphitheatre) is usually packed with tourists in the summers, but virtually empty in the winter!

Not far from the square is another interesting historical site: the Roman temple ruins built at the end of the 1st century and discovered only in the 1950s. The square is in the shopping district, and fenced off from the public, but it is worth stopping by especially at night when the lights are lit up. It looks much more atmospheric than during the day.

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Main and second row left: Plaza de la Corredera; second and third row right: Roman temple. Third and bottom row left: Cuesta del Bailio; third and bottom row right: Plaza de Capuchinos.

 

Real Círculo de la Amistad (translated as "Real circle of friendship") is not listed in my guidebook nor on Tripadvisor. I stumbled upon this building and I poked my head in out of curiosity ( like I have been doing throughout the trip) and was welcomed by the hospital receptionist/ doorman ( who spoke no English). He kindly showed me around the building and informed me that the paintings upstairs are done by the artist, Julio Romero de Torres. After the tour around the building, I also enjoyed a glass of wine in the 'old-style' bar ( serving extremely reasonably priced drinks and tapas) without any tourists.

It was only later I managed to find out that the building was built around the mid 19th century ( and originally opened as a casino), but then it became the Artistic and Literary Lyceum for the bourgeoisie and aristocracy. I thought it was rather amusing that I was given an unofficial tour of this private club, I could not imagine this happening in the U.K.! And what struck me was not only the doorman's hospitality but his pride in the building itself, I could feel his joy when was showing me around, the club is lucky to have hired such a wonderful staff!

 

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Real Círculo de la Amistad 

 

Patios

Cordoba is famous for its patios, but in the winter, the patios don't look as attractive as they do in spring and summer. However, even without the blooming and colourful flowers, the green plants are still soothing to the eyes!

 

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Art

At Plaza del Potro, there are two small art museums: Museo de Bellas Artes and Museo de Julio Romero de Torres. Both are worth visiting especially if you want to see more of Julio Romero de Torres' work, whose paintings often feature Cordoba women, the theme of flamenco and gypsies, and Cordoba itself.

I also stumbled upon Sala de exposiciones Vimcorsa, where I saw a wonderful photography exhibition, Peru, featuring work by two photographers from different era, Martin Chambi and Castro Prieto. I was rather moved by Chambi's portraits of the indigenous Peruvians and seeing vintage photos of Peru was a revelation to me.

Another accidental discovery was Casa Museo Arte sobre Piel ( leather art museum) near the Cathedral. The tradition of crafting leather is a historic craftsmanship that was developed in the Caliphate of Cordoba in the 10th century. And the master of this craft, Ramón García Romero spent the last 50 years researching and reviving this ancient crafts technique in Cordoba. At this small (and free) museum, some of the master's stunning collection are on display and they are absolutely mind-blowing, so do not miss this!

 

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Top left and middle: Museo de Julio Romero de Torres; Top right and bottom left: Museo de Bellas Artes; Bottom right: Sala de exposiciones Vimcorsa

 

Although Cordoba is not as buzzling as Seville, it is extremely charming and its intriguing history also makes it rather unique. I would love to return again when the flowers are blooming so that I can fully appreciate the city's famous patios.

 

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To be continued...


This post was posted in Architecture, Travel, Andalusia and was tagged with architecture, museums, Andalusia, Cordoba

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