Cultured Cordoba

Posted on: 18 June 2018 by Michael Edwards

Spain’s sunny southern city, an hour inland from the Costa del Sol, is perfect for a short break reports Michael Edwards.

Mezquita de Cordoba

The exquisite Mezquita, frequently ranked amongst the World’s top five attractions, is Cordoba’s big draw. Building began in 784 and over two centuries later a vast, beautiful mosque, topped with a 54 metres high minaret was complete. Although this was religious adulation on an industrial scale - there are 1293 towering red and white columns - Moslem, Christians and Jews lived reasonably tolerantly alongside each other: until the Spanish Inquisition arrived.

Early morning is the best time to visit the Mezquita. Not only is admission free between 8.30 and 9.30 but queues are much shorter and early morning sunlight plays on the columns. Remarkably, when the Spanish reconquest finally took Cordoba in 1236 they did not ransack the Mosque. Instead they built inside it: creating a Catholic cathedral encompassing those columns with sunlight backlighting the stain-glass windows.

At around an hour, by train from both Malaga or Seville, Cordoba is weekend-break territory even though it does not have its own airport. For those enjoying a longer stay on the Costa del Sol a luxurious but leisurely coach heads through the spectacular Sierra Nevada mountains to Cordoba from Malaga, for remarkably few Euros.

Los patios

Come July and August, Cordoba is baking and blisteringly hot. Spring and Autumn are warm, comfortable times to visit. Throughout April and May the gardens and courtyards of Cordoba are preparing for the Los Patios competition. Courtyards and gardens are decorated with red geraniums contrasting with the white wash walls. Beneath the window boxes fountains sparkle. Usually over fifty gardens take part in the competition.

Sweeping across Europe from their Syrian home the Umyyad dynasty, finally settling in Cordoba, was at the heart of a cultured Islamic caliphate numbering over a quarter of a million people. Their civilisation brought oranges, toothpaste and the rice which became a key ingredient in Spain’s national dish: paella. Unusually, Cordaba’s Moslems faced Damascus, their home, rather than Mecca when they prayed. It was a liberal regime too: harems contained both men and women.

braised bulls tail with Iberico ham and manchego cheese

Cordoba is working hard to establish itself as Spain’s culinary capital. Visit the Victoria Mercado, in Cordoba’s leafy Park. Wander round the stalls, pick your tapas, find a table, consume your chosen tapas, then resume your stroll to find your next mini-course. Alongside the classics of anchovies, aubergines in honey, braised bull’s tails, chorizo, Iberian Ham and Manchego cheese you will find new creations such as squid croquettes in their own ink. You’ll find plenty of craft beers and fine wine too. Cordoba is serious foodie territory: the city even has a museum devoted just to Olive Oil.

In the evenings your meal maybe served with Flamenco too. This is Spain’s most passionate music and dance - with finger snapping, castanet clacking, swirling red-skirts, defiantly passionate foot-stamping and haughty over-the-shoulder stares - all straight from the soul.

Old Cordoba at dusk

In the labyrinthian passageways of the Jewish Quarter – one alley is just 34 inches wide – you will find the Casa de Sefarad, a small museum which chronicles Jewish heritage in Cordoba. Many of the exhibits make for poignant viewing. The Spanish Inquisition demanded pure Spanish blood from those holding well-paid public office jobs. Some people made a living from tracing family trees until they found Jewish ancestry and then blackmailing the family.

Just before the sun sets take a stroll across the recently restored Roman Bridge that crosses the wide Guadalquivir River and look back to Cordoba’s Castle, the Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos, where King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella finalised negotiations with Christopher Columbus before sponsoring his expedition to discover a New World. Then store one last memory of the sun setting on the sandstone walls of the Mezquita.

Fact file

Many low-cost airlines fly to Malaga from the UK.

Use Spain’s rail network or take the bus

Research your trip at Cordoba.es.

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