Our last main stop in Andalucia was Cordoba. It was a city that I was quite pleased to be going to, if for no other reason than to see the mosque-turned-cathedral that I had seen so many beautiful pictures of.
As it turned out, I ended up feeling a little disappointed, although to be fair, I recognise that my disappointment is probably unreasonable. Cordoba is actually quite a good place to visit, with some interesting sights and great food, and I have to say that overall, I enjoyed having been there, and would recommend it to others.
So why did I feel let down? Well, there were two aspects that caused it. The first was the tourists and the touristy nature of the place. Now I know that complaining about tourists might seem hypocritical, but for me there are different kinds, and places have different ways of dealing with them, some of which are better than others.
Unusually for us, we were staying in a little hotel, that was right on the square where the mosque is. From the moment that we arrived, we felt that kind of claustrophobia that you (or at least I) can get from being constantly amongst a crowd of people. Now bear in mind that I have lived and worked in London for years, so I am quite used to crowds, but some crowds are worse than others. Here, even in off season, we found ourselves constantly coming up against big coach groups of loud, selfie stick toting tourists, who were apparently blissfully ignorant of the concept of personal space.
This kind of tourist, that appears to have no regard for anyone else - locals or other visitors - irritates me. I know I should be more patient, but I'm not. So having multiple groups of them immediately around where we were staying, added to the number of tacky souvenir shops nearby, and I can't say that it put me in the best frame of mind for the city. In fairness, things improved greatly once you moved further from this main square, but you know what they say about first impressions.
The second thing, was the Grand Mosque itself. I think this was one of those cases where something has been hyped up, and the photos that we see of those lovely red and white striped arches, are so carefully set up and edited, that reality can't quite live up to the expectation. It isn't that the building wasn't remarkable, but rather that, without the perfect lighting and camera settings, it just doesn't normally look like those stunning photos.
But enough with the negative and on to the more positive now; the mosque - or Mezquita de Cordoba - is still beautiful. It was built in the 10th century, when Cordoba was at its peak, by Emir Abd ar-Rahman III. You enter through the elegant Patio de los Naranjos (Patio of Oranges), and inside are greeted by row upon row of the lovely arches. The red and white stripes are created by alternating the use of white stone and red brick, and they sit upon pillars of granite, jasper and marble.
After the Catholics took control in 1236, the mosque was consecrated as a cathedral, and over the next few hundred years, Catholic elements were added, which in my opinion, detract from the original.
If you are visiting on a tight budget, then you can get in for free and avoid the normal €8 entrance fee by going between 8:30-9:30am (Mon-Sat), but you must go around in strict silence.
Aside from the mosque, there are quite a few things to visit here in Cordoba, and we made it to a few of them. One was the Torre de la Calahorra, which is the fortified gate on the other side of the old Roman Bridge. It was originally built by the Moors, but was restored and added to by King Enrique II of Castille in 1369, in his efforts to defend the city against his brother, Pedro The Cruel.
The gate itself is OK, but the main reason to visit is the Vivo de Al-Andaluz museum, which gives an interesting look at life in Cordoba in the 10th century, when it was home to Christians, Moslems and Jews. It is only a small museum, and the exhibits are a little mixed in quality, but there are some really quite fascinating bits, which for us made it well worth while. And there are great views from the rooftop.
That's all for today, I'll continue our stroll through Cordoba in the next post.
Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.
Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.