Travel to Cordoba for a day trip to see the Mosque/ Cathedral , the palatial ruins of Medinat Al Zahra and the Jewish district, among others.
Cordoba was both the capital of the Roman province of Baetica as well as the capital of Al Andalus. Hide- and- seek in the shifting light past the slender columns of the Mosque- Cathedral, roam around the ruins of Medinat Al Zahra, the first caliph court in Spain, taste the refreshing salmorejo or celebrate with the locals the Feast of the flowered patios.
If population were any yardstick, who would fathom that this quiet town of churches, monasteries, parks and aristocratic palaces was of yore the capital of Muslim Spain, the most populous and cultured city of Europe around 1000 AD ?… How did that come to happen ? We’re in the 8th century and the Arab armies are disseminating over North Africa, carrying with them a new religion and culture. When a local lord in Tarifa asks for their help in combatting an opponent, he is completely unaware of what he would set in motion. If those armies hadn’t crossed the Mediterranean in 711 AD, who knows how the history of Europe would have unfolded ?
The capital is drawn in Cordoba, the former capital of the prosperous Roman province of Baetica. After a few years of internal intrigues, an exiled prince from Damascus, fearing for his life, arrives and proclaims himself sultan. He is set to lay out his own kingdom, to reflect the burgeoning empire capitals from the other side of Mediterranean. But how can a community thrive without a place of worship ? A few decades later, the sultan Abd Al Rahman purchases from the Christians a plot of land next to the site of an ancient Christian basilica. Enlarged over the next few generations, the Mosque of Cordoba increasingly becomes the largest one in the Western hemisphere, with a capacity of 15.000 worshippers. Nowadays one can roam around the slender marble columns and admire the gold- filigree mithrab with its honeycomb shells, but also the cathedral that the Christian authorities built after the expulsion of the Moors within the mosque and which almost equals it in grandeur, with its vaulted arches and raised altar.
But life, even in the Middle Ages, is not just worship. The two extremes of the Mediterranean use the sea as a highway of goods but also of ideas, and sciences and arts travel from the courts of Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad to the courts of Granada and Cordoba and vice- versa, giving birth to a ‘Renaissance before the ( European) Renaissance.’ Disciplines as diverse as medicine, astronomy, agriculture, algebra, law, poetry, arts, music, hydrology are spurred and burgeon at the courts of sultans in the East as well as West to contrast with volatile regimes of power where intrigue, treason, coup d’etat or poisonings are commonplace. Nevertheless, Jews, Christians and the reigning Muslims are forming a mostly- coherent community, mutually enriching.
The ruins of Medinat Al Zahra, just outside the city, the projected sultan residence, albeit never inhabited, translate the refinement, precision and architectural mastership that were imported from the East, along with perfected techniques of water distribution, irrigation and the introduction of exotic species of plants.
The splendor of this golden age lies not only in hammams, mosques, monumental gates, its Roman bridge, the water mills and other such inert relics of the past, but more so in the living craftsmanship that is very much alive and well in Cordoba: the delicate filigree work in gold and silver or the tradition of guadameci consisting of a piece of sheepskin tanned and later gilded, polychrome and garnished in iron or the equestrian arts, first perfected by the Arabs, that charm present generations as the Royal Stables and continue to breed world- class horses.
Admire the chipped stucco engravings of the local synagogue, the only one surviving in Andalucia, the Roman columns solemnly rising opposite the Ayntamiento or the Renaissance palaces of the 18th century bourgeoisie. And should you happen about in July or August when the summer heat lashes the most intrepid flanneur, one always finds a shady patio, an ancient well or a narrow alley to replenish the forces. And what to say of a fresh bowl of salmorejo complemented with a dish of berenjenas con miel ? It doesn’t get much better than here, on a terrace with a view on the churches and palaces, sipping a glass of Rioja…
We suggest an early departure, preferably around 8 AM. We shall return to Granada late afternoon/ evening.
Best time of year: all year round, except July and August.
Price: 75 euros per person when 2 persons traveling;
65 euros per person when 3 persons traveling