NOTE: I have attempted to use English spelling for all names, including Cathedral for the oft-used Mezquita. This is simply for the sake of consistency and does not imply either correctness or personal preference. You may find that our visit to Cordoba was as much culinary as cultural, but that's the way our family likes to do things ;-).
|The Mezquita at Córdoba|
First of all, you really have to visit Cordoba with a sense of history. It almost pales into insignificance if you try to compare it with the majestic beauty of Seville or the magnificence and draw of Granada and the Alhambra. But if you read a little before, during and after your visit about Cordoba you'll truly be able to appreciate what seems little more than a provincial town at first glance.
For example, you should know that Cordoba was once a city with one of the world's highest populations - over 1 million inhabitants in the 10th century! At this time it had paved and lighted streets (several centuries before any other European capital), sophisticated irrigation systems, waste removal processes and a highly educated population. The city was the capital of Muslim Andalusia and owed much of its development to its Moor rulers from the Umayyad dynasty, in particular Abd-ar-Rahman III (912 - 967 AD). However, it was already the largest city in Roman Spain around 150 B.C.
We had tried and failed to get a room in the Hotel Maestre, much recommended by John, since we had left it too late for this peak Easter period and had to settle for the Hotel Occidental. If you're looking for budget hotels this is not for you, but for us it was worth the money, set in splendid gardens with a large outdoor swimming pool (the weather was nice enough for us to be able to bathe on 2 days). Situated just outside the city centre, it allows a tranquil stay although some may
find this location an inconvenience since you'll need transport of some kind (there is a nearby bustop and taxi rank) to get into the centre. We took our car in every day and every evening with no problems - once we used a public carpark and the other times we just drove around until we found a parking space.
We arrived late afternoon on Wednesday 27th for our 3 night stay and, after a quick dip in the pool, made our way into the city centre. We were advised by the hotel staff NOT to take the car, because some streets were cordoned off due to the Easter processions. We took the risk, however, and were able to drive around the centre with no problems until we decided to leave the car in the 24-hour public car park in front of the Hotel Gran Capitan on the Avenida de America.
We then walked to the Jewish quarter around the Cathedral and to the Cathedral itself. We were able to walk in to the sweet-smelling patio, adorned with orange trees in full blossom and open for the processions to pass through, and get our first glimpse of this magnificent monument. We then stopped off at a nearby bar just off the Plaza Benavente to sample the local Montilla-Moriles fino wine, a dry sherry-type wine (), and watch one of the first processions pass by.
If you've seen Easter processions in Seville or Madrid, you'll not be impressed by many others. There are certain magical moments to the Cordoba processions, though, such as seeing the massive religious images being manoeuvred down narrow streets such as Deanes street, or watching as they emerge from inside the Cathedral, the large candles shining through the smoke of the incense.
After loosing ourselves amongst the maze of small streets that form the Jewish quarter (and doing this is really one of the things that so appeal to me about Cordoba) we found our way back to the Cathedral and to the taverns on the nearby Velazquez Bosco street. We stopped at the Taberna La Aldaba where they were offering 4 small dishes of food (tapas) and a beer for 6 euros. Amongst other dishes (meatballs, garlic mushrooms, roast red peppers with tuna) we ordered salmorejo (a thicker Cordoba version of gazpacho, but made with ham and egg).
We found out that most establishments offer little on the way of wines (the only white was often the local Montilla-Moriles fino and the reds a poor selection indeed). As in many cities, tapas have to be paid for. It's becoming increasingly evident that free tapas in Spain are a thing of the past, the custom being maintained in Madrid and Granada province but few other places. In Cordoba you could order small dishes in measures of half or full "raciones" at an average price of 3 or 6 euros.
On the second day we once more headed for the Cathedral. It's open from 8.30am to 5pm and costs 6.50 euros for adults, 3.25 euros for children aged 10 to 14 and free for under 10's. I believe it's also free from 8.30-10.00am - John will be able to confirm this. The Cathedral itself almost deserves its own dedicated discussion list, so I won't attempt to describe it in detail here. I will say, however, that its uniqueness lies in the fact that the original Muslim temple was developed (enhanced or spoilt is for you to decide) into a Christian one by order of Carlos V, thus providing an intriguing mix of architecture and religious symbols. Different Moor rulers expanded the original construction and these extensions are easily discerned. Of particular interest are the mihrab (Muslim prayer niche), the central Christian chapel and the general perspective of all those marvellous columns.
Lunch was had at the Federación de Peñas Cordobesas on Conde y Luque street where they were offering 4 different fixed menus at a price of between 8 and 11 euros. Here we tried another local speciality, flamenquin, a long roll of pork fillet, fried in breadcrumbs rather like a scallop, stuffed with serrano ham and served with chips and salad. It was tasty enough but perhaps a bit dry, needing a sauce of some kind for my taste.
After a short rest and shower back at the hotel, we returned once more to the Jewish quarter, which really is the focal point of any visit to Cordoba. Our first fino was taken at El Burlaero in the diminutive Hoguera street. This is truly a bullfighting bar, with a large bull's head and dozens of bullfighting photos decorating the walls. The speciality here are meat kebabs or "brochetas", a bit expensive but they certainly had an exquisite look to them, although we didn't try them as it was still a bit early in the evening for us.
We moved on to Hostal Deanes on the eponymous street and had a quick tapa of fried chorizo at the bar, before making our way to the Las Comedias tavern on Velazquez Bosco street for our evening meal of "Pechugitas a la pimienta" (small chunks of white chicken breast done in a peppery white sauce), home-made croquettes and "Asadillo de pimientos" (strips of roasted red pepper mixed with chopped fried onion, garlic, boiled egg-white and sprinkled with black pepper). We finished off with coffee and a slice of
"Pastel Cordobes", the typical cinnamon flavoured pastry.
Our last full day in Cordoba, Easter Friday, was spent visiting the Palace Fortress (Alcazar) and gardens, the Roman bridge with the Calahorra Tower at its southerly extreme, the Corredera square and, of course, more taverns. We headed first for the Alcazar. This was originally a Roman, later Muslim fortress which was rebuilt in the 14th century by Alfonso XI, then extended by the Catholic Monarchs Isabel and Fernando and whence Isabel ordered the nearby Muslim waterwheel destroyed because "it made too much noise". The wheel has since been rebuilt and still sits proud by the Guadalquivir river.
We were pleased to discover that entrance to the Alcazar is free on Fridays and quickly made our way in. The main room contains some impressive Roman mosaics discovered in excavations near the Corredera square. You can also visit the Muslim baths and finally the gardens, which may not be as impressive as the ones belonging to the Alcazar in Seville, but they make for a pleasant visit nevertheless.
After the Alcazar we walked out towards the river, past the waterwheel and onto the Roman bridge. One of the old gates to the city, the "Puerta del Puente" stands at one end of the bridge, while the Calahorra Tower stands at the other. The Tower contains some sort of exposition but we wanted to make it to the Corredera square before lunch so didn't go in. In hindsight this was a mistake because the square simply isn't worth the effort if you're used to Castillian plazas. Because that's what it is, the only
Castillian-style plaza in Andalusia, which you'd think would make it a bit special but it's really just ugly.
However, the walk allowed us to visit the Plaza del Potro, mentioned in Don Quijote and gave us a glimpse of the famous Hotel Maestre. We also discovered plenty of places to eat lunch - one of which was offering true Arabic food but was so small less than 10 people could sit down at one time. Opposite this place, on Corregidor Luis de la Cerda street, we entered the small Pepe Misi tavern which I can thoroughly recommend. It has a small bar, 6 tables downstairs and 4 on the second floor. We trouped upstairs and started talking to the couple on the next table and the waiter who was rushing up and down stairs all the time and who told us he had lost 35 kilos since starting work here 1 year ago! He also informed us that if you order a "medio" (literally a half) you are actally asking for a full glass of fino, whereas a "copa" will only get you half a glass. This is particular to Cordoba and apparently something to do with old measures. In any case, we ordered 2 "medios", a plate of "Cohollitos de lechuga" (small lettuce hearts sprinkled with chopped fried garlic), a "Pincho Moruno" (a small pork kebab), home-made croquettes and "Ensaladilla Rusa" (potato, vegetable and
mayonaisse salad). The service was excellent, the company charming and the food tasty. We returned to the hotel content and full.
Friday evening was spent trying (and failing miserably) to dodge the many processions winding their way through the narrow streets of the Jewish quarter. We made our last visit to a tavern although I can't remember what it was called, but it was situated opposite the Las Comedias tavern in Velazquez Bosco. We ordered another flamenquin, together with "Montaditos de Lomo" (slices of pork steak on bread and topped with tomate), "Alitas" (chicken wings) and "Berenjenas" (fried aubergine slices). Coffee and to
During our walks around the city we discovered many other sights without properly visiting them - the Synogogue, Viana Palace, so many mediaeval churches, the bullfighting, Archaeology and Fine Arts museums, etc. Some sites you see all the time but perhaps need to step back and stop to fully appreciate them - the old city gates Puerta de Sevilla and Puerta de Almovodar, the city walls and of course all those patios.
Apart from the Cathedral/Mezquita what I most enjoyed was just walking through the Jewish quarter discovering new streets, squares, statues and taverns. If you've made it this far, I would recommend you do the same - just go and discover your own Cordoba and then tell us about it when you return home!
Trip report taken from the Travel Spain discussion group.
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