In Januray 2008 we spent a couple of days in Cordoba. Booked a hotel through the web and it turned out to be right across the road from the Mezquita – the Mosque which is the main purpose of visit. Getting to the hotel was a bit of a problem because Mrs TomTom didn’t know the latest one-way rules and barred access routes, and because the hotel is in a pedestrianised area. Having gone round the houses for a while we parked up (having been guided into a slot by a dodgy-looking itinerant who looked at my €2 with a distinct lack of enthusiasm) and then walked to the hotel to seek further guidance. Having sussed a route, and negotiated the barrier into the pedestrian zone, the porter helpfully drove the car into the underground car-park.
The hotel was the Conquistador and was very nice, particularly a double room, breakfast (an impressive spread) and parking at €79. The reviews on Trip Advisor had been good and there were numerous comments about the location being ideal as was indeed the case as our room looked onto the Mezquita walls a few metres away.
The Mezquita was wonderful: OK from the outside, fantastic from the inside, and made more bizarre by the medieval church shoe-horned into the centre. Photos shot with the ‘night’ setting (and many resting on Sheila’s shoulder to keep them steady) turned out particularly well, and much better than auto shots using the flash. Originally there had been a Roman temple and then the Visigoths built a Christian church on the site, and then the Moors came and built their mosque on the site of the church and after the removal of the Moors the building was converted to a Cathedral.
The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos was another interesting building, an old palace built by the Moors which had been used for a number of purposes in the past, including a prison, and which has fabulous gardens. There were lots of orange trees, some of which had been trained into neat shapes and also there were juniper trees that had been trained to look like pillars. Water features had arcs of water – it was a beautiful sight and probably a cool oasis in the heat of the summer. One of the guide books suggests that these gardens rival part of the gardens in the Alhambra and that is a good description as they were lovely. You could wonder around the building and climb up steep towers and admire the view.
We walked around the Juderia (Jewish quarter) and visited the synagogue (small and not wildly impressive) and – a few doors along – a 12th century house as it would have been in the Moorish period (which ended in 1261 or thereabouts) which was small and crowded with bits, but quite impressive. The streets there are very narrow – you could almost reach out of the windows and touch the building opposite in some places) but this didn’t stop taxis and transit-size delivery vehicles using them. Pedestrians had to squeeze against the wall to let them through or – in the narrowest bits – the vehicles just had to wait until the pedestrians walked to a wider bit.
Walking along these streets, you would occasionally catch a glimpse of the inner courtyards which looked very attractive – lots of white paint, trailing plants, tiles and fountains – and would doubtless provide a cool spot in summer.
This area is a UNESCO world heritage site and one can fully appreciate why.
We lunched in a tapas bar near the Mezquita where we had a glass of wine and five raciones of tapas; this was very nice but not a patch on the tapas we had a few months ago in Haro. We had dinner in one of the restaurants in the Juderia – lamb chops (what else?) for Gilroy, grilled salmon for Sheila. Very modest portions so we both had a pud (cheese and quince jelly for Gilroy, puff pastry filled with stewed apple for Sheila) to help us finish the excellent rioja. Not cheap at €62, and I have had better lamb chops – and more of them – elsewhere in Spain and Portugal.
We were the first into the restaurant, but were immediately followed by a dozen Chinese (from Taiwan according to our resident ear-wigging specialist), then a table full of French, then Brits and soon the place was heaving. Not bad for a Wednesday in January. The food came quickly and the service was very efficient – even for the Chinese who didn’t seem to have much Spanish between them.
The following day we did a bit more strolling, and then checked out of the hotel and drove out to the Madinat al-Zahara, a huge Moorish town built from 929 to house the HQ of the Caliphate, and largely destroyed by fire in 1010/13. We probably would not have gone there but had got talking to a young Australian earlier in the week who had said that this place was a "must". What has been excavated so far is extraordinary, and aerial photos suggest that there is much more to dig up. Unfortunately they had run out of English guide brochures and the info panels spread around the site – though useful – were not enough and not sufficiently detailed. But there was enough there to impress the visitor concerning the wealth and power – and cultural achievement – of the Muslim rulers.