Just arrived at vile hotel in Cordoba. A flea pit. The air con is on cold and can’t turn it off. Never mind we shall be stoic and go down and moan a bit, except the girl on the desk has big tattoos and so we will be pathetic, and hope she doesn’t turn violent. This was the only hotel left in Cordoba, which is heaving, with any rooms left. Just one, as it turned out. Last minute decision to come here, so we were due a bit of a comedown after getting such great deals in hotels so far. Will venture out in a bit amongst the hordes. Hope we don’t get bitten by bed bugs tonight, but may be too cold for them.
Traffic hasn’t been too bad except for getting out of Seville. I only screeched a bit.
G had to wait outside to park the car, which took ages as the only supposed to be free parking space was filled with a woman breastfeeding a baby so he had to wait until she finished and was ready to go on her way.
I asked the tattooed girl if she could sort out the air on. She came up with me in the tiny lift and we had to take it in turns to breathe. She wasn’t as tall as G but was much, much wider so we were both glad when it got to the third floor.
She tried to work the aircon, nothing happened, so she said, ‘control needs batteries’ and tried to take the old ones out. She didn’t want to risk breaking her false nails so she banged the remote control on the wall to loosen the batteries and broke it in half. She glared at me as if it was my fault and stomped off to get a new remote. The new one worked, but the machine still pumped out freezing cold air.
‘Solo, frio,’ she said. Only cold air .
I decided we should turn it off then as the night was supposed to be very cold. It had been a lovely day and people were still sitting outside, but with such a clear sky and being high up above sea level here, everyone said tonight will be cold,
When G got back from parking the car, very fed up, he said the reception girl had something for me. We went down, much more room in the lift with G and me in it, but still very tight space, and found a coffee and drink waiting. The girl had asked G on his way in what I would like to drink to make up for the faffing about with the air con. He said ‘Tia Maria’ and there was a huge measure of it and a coffee waiting by an armchair. Very nice.
G showed me the garden area, which was a bomb site, and the overflow parking area which as even worse. We both laughed.
‘What’s the room like?’ G asked as he’d only been in to carry our luggage in.
‘Awful,’ I said and we laughed again. Must be all that Tia Maria. As things turned out, it wasn’t too bad. The beds were on the firm side, but no more so than the road outside, and the shower cubicle was a dead ringer for the one in Psycho. I insisted on a dramatic recreation. G rolled his eyes at first, but played the knife wielding killer so realistically my screams were genuine.
The people staying here are very friendly, the hotel is packed, and we took part in a sort of pub quiz in the dining area. We didn’t understand most of the questions so were never likely to win, but everybody else had been to a wedding and were pretty drunk so we didn’t come last. It was funny and we even slept well. Until five o’clock anyway when the people next door had a storming row. We saw them briefly last night and he looked just like Art Garfunkel and his wife/partner was about two feet shorter than him. It was her making all the noise though and she sounded very fierce,
When we went downstairs, G went out to get something from the car. He came back and said the car windows were all frozen and the temperature was minus three. I went off and ordered a pot of tea and some toast. Not going out there until it warms up.
Everybody from last night was already there and we realised the idea of toast was a good one as they used the local fat, doughy, bread rolls so you got huge chunky pieces of toast. Art Garfunkel turned up and had breakfast on his own. No black eye though.
After breakfast, we checked out, put the luggage in the car and only then realised we were blocked in by other cars, two of them looked abandoned and were completely blocking the exit. The man from the hotel came out, in just a tee shirt and jeans, shrugged his shoulders and rushed back inside.
We decided to flag down a taxi, which is what we did, and sort out the getting out problem later. G will tell you all about Cordoba, but I just remembered something about a café we went into just before we left Cordoba. It was packed with customers and the people running it were both very old. They made the coffee and drinks and three other men and a woman took food out to customers. They kept getting the orders wrong, taking food to the wrong tables and it was chaos. Obviously, we loved it.
We only had coffee, but when we offered one of the waiters some money he looked terrified and backed away saying no, no no. We realised the ‘staff’ were not allowed to handle any money and we had to wait for the old granny to shuffle out from the kitchen part to take our money. After ten minutes, we hadn’t had any change, from 20 euros, so we went up to the counter. The old woman gave us a very suspicious look as if we were trying to rob her and then gave us the right change. I don’t think they were coping very well with the Bank Holiday crowds. As we left an American man started shouting as the waiter took yet another wrong order to their table. They had been there when we arrived and were still waiting for their order. I started laughing and G pushed me outside quickly as me finding it all very funny didn’t seem to improve the American man’s temper.
The Mezquita of Cordoba is one of the world’s most impressive buildings. We’ve been here before so we know what to expect, but even so, there’s a buzz in the air as the taxi drops us off. Just as well we have been here before as we were dropped off right next to a vast herd of people waiting outside some big, old doors of a building. Not the mosque/cathedral though, no fooling us, these people are waiting for an official tour.
There’s a long queue of people trying to buy entry tickets, it’s very cold in the orange tree lined courtyard and we’re not equipped for Arctic conditions so we go and find a man in uniform fiddling around with a wall mounted ticket machine under a sign saying Out of Order.
The sign has evidently deterred everyone else, but that’s a very, very long queue. After a couple of minutes, the man starts to screw back the faceplate.
‘Is it working now?’ asks Marigold.
The man shrugged and said what we took to mean, ‘no idea, but if you want to risk 10 euros, give it a try.’
We put a note in and tickets came churning out. Four of them. We only need two, so the man frowns and says he will need to do more repairs. He asks for the spare tickets, which we were intending giving to whoever in the queue looked most cold, but never mind, we had our precious tickets to enter the Mesquita.
Each year approximately 1.5 million tourists come here and surely none of them could fail to marvel at what’s inside the gates. It’s a fully functioning Cathedral now, but the Cathedral was built inside the former grand mosque of Cordoba, not only the largest mosque in the world, but the largest temple in the world, as well. It’s huge, jaw-droppingly huge. There are 856 supporting red and white columns – no, I didn’t count them – made of marble, granite or jasper and the mosque tails away into the distance in every direction between the twin arches supported by these ornate columns.
A minaret, the highest ever seen at that time, was added by Caliph Abd Al-Rahman the Third and became the inspiration for minarets in Seville and Marrakesh, both of which we’ve had the privilege of visiting. The minaret is now the bell tower of the ‘new’ Cathedral.
The original mosque was built to symbolise the sophistication of the Islamic culture that had conquered Spain and much of the rest of Europe in the 8th century. Given its size and sheer magnificence, no wonder the building took over 200 years to complete after work began in 785 AD with succeeding generations adding new additions. Its pattern was based on the basilica model, following on from mosques built in Damascus and the al- Aqsar mosque in Jerusalem. Underneath the foundations, archaeologists have uncovered sections of the Basilica of San Vicente, a much earlier building presumed to have been erected by Visigoths and also containing fragments dating back to the Ancient Greeks.
Cordoba became the capital of Spain at the time of the Moorish Conquest, easily the largest and most cultured city in the known world and remained so until the Christian re-conquest many hundreds of years later.
After Cordoba was recaptured by King Ferdinand III in 1236 and the Moors were driven out, the mosque began to be used as a Christian church.
In the centre of the mosque, beneath the dome, Bishop Alonso Manrique began the building of a Renaissance cathedral in 1523 and work on the project continued until the beginning of the 17th century. When a further addition, a Renaissance nave, was added, encroaching still further into the original mosque, even King Carlos I, who had commissioned the work, deplored this as ‘desecration’ and condemned the Church for ‘having undone something that was unique in the world.’
The row rumbles on as although Mass has been conducted here every single day since Christianity was restored as the dominant religion of Spain in the 13th century, worship by Muslims in the mosque is forbidden.
As recently as 2006, the diocese of Córdoba paid 30 euros to register ownership of what it calls the cathedral-mosque, or sometimes they refer to just as the cathedral. The universally approved name is the mosque-cathedral of Córdoba. The local council in Cordoba stood their ground, denying the right of the Diocese, representing the Catholic Church in Rome, to claim legal ownership of the mosque-cathedral, declaring that “religious consecration is not the way to acquire property.”
The council’s report says the building does not belong to the Catholic Church nor to any other organisation or individual as the site has been classified as a UNESCO world heritage site “of exceptional universal value” and therefore cannot be owned by anyone.
In 2014 the Mezquita bell-tower reopened for the public. This means we could have taken the opportunity to clamber up a few hundred uneven stone stairs, walk around the bell tower in the frigid air of a December morning and take in the views. We watched a group come back down. They didn’t look cold. Far beyond cold. They looked close to death. We decided the bell tower could wait for a warmer day.
I liked a winding mechanism, part of the bell tower, removed and replaced from above after a supporting beam broke causing one of the bells to become dangerous, for its Heath Robinson construction. The bell, and offending beam, are also on show.
On our second circuit, we took time to fully explore the architectural differences between the Renaissance Cathedral and the Moorish mosque. Ornate splendour contrasted with almost rustic simplicity, on the surface, but even the most simple original arch is extensively carved. A Byzantine mosaic we discovered, covered with inscriptions of praise and holy passages, is easy to miss, but compellingly impressive.
Of course, the ‘bling’ elements of a Catholic Treasury, common to most cathedrals, are to be found here too. One magnificent item, which a helpful security guard, not Spanish at all, but from South Africa, (so, he introduced himself as a “Seth Iffrican”) told me was called a ‘monstrance’ (hope that’s the correct spelling) and manufactured by a German goldsmith Heinrich von Arfe in about 1510, was particularly impressive.
The Treasury and the ostentation of the altar in the Catholic area stand out starkly against the spartan simplicity of the mosque, but this particular mosque is significant in its own way. There’s none of the majestic extravagance that defines the Blue Mosque of Istanbul, for instance, which so bewitched Marigold and myself, but the sheer scale of this place, its seemingly endless lines of arches and columns, has a unique majesty all of its own.
The same security guard told me this is the only known mosque that does not face Mecca, but instead turns its face towards Damascus in Syria. He added this was an assertion of the dynasty that began the construction of the mosque, the remnants of the Umayyad dynasty, in the face of the rise of the Abbasid faction from Baghdad.
He wrote it down for me when when I looked perplexed so if there are errors here, blame the security guard’s handwriting and not my lamentable failure to check his assertions.
Outside again, the sun was shining and it was warm enough for shirtsleeves. Not that the Spanish people readily abandon their winter clothing at the first glimpse of the sun. We Brits may think this is a warm day, but the locals huddle down in their fur coats and boots, shivering.
After passing an interesting twenty minutes or so having a warming drink in a café Marigold selected, from a vast choice available, which was full of customers shouting at the waiters and vice versa, we walked across the Roman Bridge in the, by now, warm sunshine.
The bridge was built over the Guadalquivir river on the command of the Roman emperor Augustus in 918 AD, although it’s safe to say that most of the original bridge has been repaired and restored over the past thousand years or so. Today’s bridge is based on 16 ancient Roman foundation sections with the river flowing freely between the arches. The Roman Road, the Via Augusta, linking Rome with the coastal port of Cádiz, passed through Cordoba and the bridge was constructed to allow both traders and armies to travel freely throughout this far flung section of the Empire.
In the middle of the bridge we found a statue of San Rafael, the patron saint of Cordoba, dated 1651. Nearly new, then, by Cordoba standards! On the return journey, we passed through the Triumphal Arch, mostly known locally as the Roman Bridge Gate, which leads up into the city.
For any Game of Thrones fans, the ancient structure of the Roman Bridge of Cordoba was transformed into the Long Bridge of Volantis in the TV series.
We got a taxi back to the hotel, found the car park exit was now clear and set off for Granada. Or that’s what we’d intended. As were were about to set off, I decided to surprise Marigold and go somewhere very different. Will she like it? I’ll let you know in the next blog post.