Monday, 2 July 2012

When is a church not a church?

From Merida to Cordoba is a long run with a sweeping curve around the outside of Seville. I decided to give Seville a miss, since hard experience has taught me that parking the 'van in big cities is anything but easy, and I've been there before. The run out of Extremadura was quite hilly, which caused a few issues with the heat of the engine. Whilst normally, she runs at about the midway mark, having to climb the slightest incline at anything faster than 40mph meant a disturbing balancing act on the edge of sliding into the red on the engine heat gauge.  That said, the cork oaks were still very prevalent, with occasional swathes of grain land, and more tropical palms appearing the further south you went and the sunset on arrival into Cordoba was gorgeous

In Cordoba itself, there is one major thing to see : the Cathedral and former Great Mosque of Córdoba, in ecclesiastical terms the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción (English: Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), and known by the inhabitants of Córdoba as the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque–Cathedral), is today a World Heritage Site and the cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba. It is a surreal experience, in that the building feels nothing like a church and everything like a mosque - except for the entrance, which felt like a hindu temple! And no matter how much Christian iconography there is, the 'sense' of the building is just different. I spent ages trying to capture the sweeping arches and the sense of cool low roofed calm expanse and I think I may just have succeeded. Offset that against the busy high ceiling Christian section, and perhaps the juxtaposition will appear as strange as it felt.

There remains a few areas of highly decorative islamic art which I could stand and gaze at for hours - it's impossible to really bring out the beauty and the impact of the work on a photograph.

A lot of the marble columns have graffitti on them - an area of study for a number of scholars, as they date back into the islamic kingdom. Wonder when these two little chaps appeared?

The Mosque is situated in little winding pedestrianised streets full of white washed buildings all catering fanatically to the tourist trade. It's the old Jewish quarter, and as further north, the Spanish seem determined to bring out their Sephardic history despite having done their best to exterminate them! Wandering along the streets, just past the 'alley of flowers'  - a little passage full of floral baskets - you come across a statue of Maimonides the philosopher , a famous - Jewish - son of Cordoba, and the Sephardi Museum and old Synagogue has a substantial history to impart.

 By now, I was pretty hungry, and more importantly, thirsty! It was *hot* and I hunted for a suitable
 location to enjoy lunch at. I ended up in a delightful traditional courtyard building, with a particularly helpful Spanish waitress who could assure me that there was very limited alcohol in their sangria ( down to the specific gravity measurement - I was impressed once I worked out the spanish! ) and that I'd be fine driving later that evening. Lunch was Andalucian gazpacho, artichokes with ham, chorizo in wine and cardoons in an almond sauce. The last was a definite must try - it's a known favourite of the Victorians, in hundreds of my cook books and almost impossible to lay hands on in England.

The streets were full of buildings that were open to the public either on a free or a very cheap basis to visit : this building was a Moorish bath house, that is now used as a Flamenco house of an evening. The cool stone arched roof worked really well, and I wish very much I'd been staying on long enough to come and watch a performance. From there to a uniquely cluttered junk shop - part museum, part gallery and pretty much entirely price tagged up, it is one of the oldest Andalusian courtyard houses in the quarter. I believe the only item which didnt have a price tag was the mosaic in the basement!
Outside the jewish quarter are the old walls, the fort and the roman ruins. Sadly I fell foul of visiting on a closed day, so other than the Mosque the majority of the tourist sites that were nationally run were closed and only visible from the outside. Never mind, means I have to go back again soon!

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