Chapter Thirteen: The Marvelous Mezquita

18Chapter Thirteen: The Marvelous Mezquita

Day Thirteen – The Train In Spain Is Really Not A Pain, Pillars Of Strength, Who Put This Cathedral In My Mosque, A Stable Environment, Flower Power, Pepe Power, My Biggest Fan, Hospital For The Water Fearers, A Quick Stop At San Miguel, The Golden Arches, You’ll Fry On The Roof, A Familiar Wine, Bridge Work and Should We Hit The Flamenco Tonight

The kids were up early on this Friday morning thanks to one semi-OCD person….that would be moi. When it comes to trains and planes, I’m pretty much a freak when it comes to getting to the train station or airport early (most would say “too early”), and thankfully my traveling partners indulge me (somewhat willingly) in my obsession.

P1020451Gary from Spain Select (a company whose services we would use when our journey hits Madrid) met us at 7:30 for the transfer of the apartment keys and to make sure a taxi (€7) would be there on time to take us to the train station, where we would catch the 8:45 to Córdoba.  The Sevilla train station is very easy to navigate. After grabbing coffee and pastries, we put our luggage through security and we were off on the short 40-minute ride to Córdoba.

P1020450I had booked our tickets online before we left on the Loco2 (Loco seemed like the perfect name for a maitaitom trip) website (it had been endorsed by the Man in Seat 61…good website for train travel in Europe).   Loco2 provided great customer service via email when I had questions regarding times and cost. One thing to note, the prices quoted on that website are shown in pounds.

1Grabbing a cab in Córdoba (€8), we were taken to our lodging for the night, Hotel Conde de Cárdenas (Conde de Cardenas 9). Since it was only 9:40, our room was not ready, but the very nice desk person said she would take the luggage and put them in our respective rooms when they were ready. It was time to explore Córdoba.

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We walked through town until we came upon the reason most people visit Córdoba…flamenco. Not really…it’s the Mezquita de Córdoba/Catedral de Córdoba.  Just like Doublemint gum, “it’s two…two…two religions in one.”  Constructed between the 8th and 10th centuries (La Sagrada Familia eat your heart out…you have a ways to go), the Mezquita (“mosque”) was once considered the “center of Western Islam.”  It was actually founded in 785 by Abd ar-Rahman II, who I assume was known as the top Rahman.

P1020455First, we traversed El Patio de los Naranjos (The Courtyard of the Orange Trees).  We hadn’t seen a Courtyard of the Orange Trees  in a couple of days.

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While we contemplated the navel courtyard, we looked skyward to the huge bell tower (Torre de Alminar), which was built where the old minaret once stood.

11                             2                                  After paying our €8 entrance fee, we walked through the Puerta de las Palmas (Door of the Palms) at a little past the 10 a.m. starting time. The four of us quickly became the pillars of society (more than 850 pillars were used to support the mosque).

15These pillars alternate brick and stone.

P1000865According to an Islamic architecture website: “Making arches by piling whitish stones and reddish brown bricks alternately produced a striped effect. Compared with the method using quarried stones entirely, it was much less laborious and expensive to combine them with bricks.  And they didn’t coat the surface of the bricks and left them natural, that might have been the intention to get a color effect.”

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The pillars seemed to stretch from here to eternity…

P1020490…although Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr were nowhere in sight.

UnknownArriving here early afforded us the opportunity to walk around without the mad crush of people that would flow through the doors a short time later.  Words or photos can’t really give you the full effect of walking around the Mezquita.

18As we found out in so many Spanish venues, you have to see it to believe it.

3One of the most beautiful aspects of the Mezquita is the Mihrab (Prayer niche…above).

4It is stunning, as you can see.  The ceiling is amazingly carved from just one single block of marble. Looking at either side, the Byzantine mosaics of gold were mesmerizing.

P1000850Then, in an instant, we were transported to a completely different religious site.  Walking through pillar after pillar (well, actually around them), we ran smack dab into a Renaissance Cathedral, which calls the center of the Mezquita its home.  What’s a Christian cathedral like you doing in an Arab mosque setting like this?


In the 1200s, the Christians conquered Córdoba (the Reconquista…you needed a scorecard to see who was conquering who back in the day…before the Mezquita and the Islamic conquest, it was a Catholic church dedicated to St. Vincent).   I read that while the Muslims were saying their final prayers at the Mezquita during the Reconquista, the Christians constructed an altar and celebrated their first mass.

P1000851Not stopping at just an altar or small place of worship, a couple of centuries later, with the support of Charles V, the Christians built this huge cathedral where we were now standing.

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It was pretty spectacular. It’s good to be the conqueror.  We are fortunate that the Christians felt the Mezquita too beautiful to destroy when they constructed this huge cathedral in the center of it.

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The cathedral also has a gorgeous ceilings…just like most cathedrals.

10There is also a painting of the Annunciation by Pedro de Cordoba, which was of interest…

P1020498…along with the requisite giant organ.

P1020474The main retable (which I learned on this trip was a framed altarpiece and not an extra table) in red marble is a work of art created in the neo-classical style.

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An interesting tidbit regarding this UNESCO World Heritage site, which we had been touring for the past hour, concerned the literature handed out to us when we bought our tickets. The pamphlet read that we would be visiting the Catedral de Córdoba, not the Mezquita de Córdoba/Catedral de Córdoba.  Reconquista revisionist history?

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As Andalusia’s minister for tourism Rafael Rodríguez has stated, “Hiding its past as a mosque is like calling the Alhambra ‘the palace of Charles V’…it’s absurd.”  Who can argue with that?

16Back out in the Mezquita, we stopped by the Treasury…

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…which is full of religious artifacts including…

7..the gigantic, 16th century Corpus Christi Monstrance that is 8 1/2 feet tall and weighs in at more than 400 pounds and looks like a Gothic cathedral. My brain, of course, turned to song.  “What A Marvelous Night For A Monstrance,” danced in my head, but for fear of alienating the group I sang it to myself. I didn’t know then, but Corpus Christi was going to have a negative effect on our trip in a couple of days.

12Before departing, we walked by some underground ruins…

P1020493…and other artifacts…

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..and the four of us exited to the courtyard on another hot day (I’ll cut to the chase…all our days from now on were hot).

P1020515We walked by the Plague Monuments dedicated to St. Raphael…

P1000877..and the Arco del Triunfo near the Puenta Roman…

P1020520…the Roman bridge built over the Guadalquivir River during the time of Augustus.

P1020521It was now time to go in search of some patios (not to sit and relax on) to view beautiful flowers.

P1020523We thought about stopping at the nearby 14th-century Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, which Generalissimo Francisco Franco (yes, he’s still dead) used later as a prison, but we wandered on.

21On our way to the patios we ducked into the Caballerizas Reales (Royal Stables), which house Andalusian horses.  The Royal Stables were created in the year 1570 by the King Philip II, who loved horses.  There’s even a show, but after our ill-fated stop at the Lipica Stud Farm in 2008, where we suffered through the Lipizzaner Slow Walk Show…

LIPICA 1…and the dreaded 2013 Royal Horseguards’ debacle in London (I bet those damn horses are still staring at each other)…

P1000507…we thought a quick glance inside the stable and a horse trotting in the exercise ring were more than sufficient as our mane event this year.  Luckily, this did not stall us too long.

P1020526Even our resident horsewoman Tracy didn’t nag me to see the show. It was tempting, though, because the horse dances with a flamenco dancer…

horse1…which would make for a lot of hoofers at one show (truthfully it looked interesting, and I’m sure it would have made for quite a nice pony tale).

You’d think it was time for lunch, especially since we’d once again had only a pastry in Sevilla before leaving, but we decided to hit the patios first.

P1020536After Tracy and Mary posed with a statue…

P1020528…we walked for a bit before I saw the sign for the Ruta de Patios Del Alcázar Viejo (not the one I took a photo of).  I knew we were now in the right place, or that we had dropped by Ruta Lee’s Córdoba residence (old movie star reference).

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The Ruta de Patios Del Alcázar Viejo afforded us the opportunity to view six patios full of flowers and decorations (we had just missed the Córdoba Festival of Los Patios, which is a contest where participants open up their patios or courtyards to outsiders for free).

P1020530The Ruta de Patios Del Alcázar Viejo is not free, but we were willing to part with €6 to pay to see the six patios (plus two that were not on the tour).

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This was another instance where, at the time, we were slightly underwhelmed, but the photos tell another story.

22Indeed the patios were vibrant, but the flowers were a little past their prime (no wonder, it was about 200 degrees at noon).

P1020537We wandered from patio to patio…

IMG_2496…and the people were very friendly as they explained their gardens, although nary a one offered me a GinTonic.

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After our visit, we all said the experience had been just so-so.

32Of course, upon returning home, as we looked at our photos, we said. “These look very beautiful.”

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Perhaps the heat had just gotten to us by this time, but upon further review, visiting the patios was not a bust.

24                                              P1000900                                   Tracy noted (I don’t remember because I believe sunstroke was rearing it’s hot head) that if you just want to see one beautiful patio (for free), check out the Asociación Amigos de los Patios Cordobeses, which is the main office, and, according to my beautiful bride, “had an enchanting patio.”

IMG_2501It was mercifully time for lunch. We strolled down some picturesque streets with colorful signs and walls…

P1020563…until we came to the restaurant recommended by the woman at our hotel…the Restaurante Casa Pepe de la Judería, Calle del Romero,1.

P1020572We were asked whether we wanted the regular restaurant or the tapas restaurant, and since I would have rather shot myself in the groin than eat more tapas, we chose the very lovely restaurant.  We chose to eat inside, although there is a nice courtyard area, too.

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Our server was David, who could be a voice over talent if he wanted to be.  Kim’s veal stew was excellent, but the portion was pretty small.

Mary is always a fish out of water and ordered anchovies to start with a salad.  Tracy and I shared some of that delicious fried eggplant with syrup (that reminds me, we have to make this at home).

P1020567My veal cutlets were as giant as Kim’s dish was small, and they were very, very good.

IMG_2510David asked where we were from, and within minutes we found out why.  Nice touch!

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After looking at some colorful fans…

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…and other colorful stores, it was on to our last destination before checking into the hotel.

P1020578The Sinagoga de Córdoba is one of only three remaining pre-Inquisition synagogues.

33Built in 1315, over the years it has also been a hospital (in 1492…everything happened that year…the synagogue was used as the St. Quiteria hermitage for hydrophobic people) and a Catholic chapel.

P1020576Near the synagogue is a statue of a bull (because you can never have enough statues of bulls)…

P1020582…and the bronze statue of Maimonides, a great philosopher. I read afterward that you’re supposed to rub Maimonides’ bronze feet for good luck. Right now, we all wanted a foot rub.

It was time to go back and put our aching feet up at the Hotel Conde de Cárdenas, but I can only rest so long. My sister says if i was a kid today I’d be on Ritalin.

P1020587While Tracy siesta’d, Kim, Mary and I took a little walking tour around the area of the neighboring Plaza San Miguel.

P1020589There was a tile tribute to the famed bullfighter Manolete, who met a bad end. He was gored in the thigh at a bullfight in Linares, and despite numerous blood transfusion, he died.

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Nearby was the Iglesia San Miguel, a medieval Gothic building with just a hint of Baroque added to it. And just to add some different architecture to the building, it has Romanesque doors.

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The parish was founded by Saint Ferdinand III in 1236 (yes, it’s a former mosque). It was declared a monument of national interest in 1931, but the only thing that interested us right now was a good meal.

P1020603Tracy joined us on our crosstown sojourn to dinner.  We walked by the church we’d seen so often near out hotel…Iglesia de Santo Domingo de Silos (St. Dominic of Silos Church…above)…

P1020604…and quickly made a stop at Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús.  It has a Baroque altarpiece that’s carved from Paraguayan cedar.

Now we were finally off to a restaurant called Casa Rubio, but since we were early for our reservations, we checked out the nearby surroundings.

P1020608The Puerta de Almodóvar is an old Moorish gate (and Córdoba’s most well-preserved gate) that marks the entrance of the Judería.

P1020611The statue standing near the gate is of Seneca, who was a Córdoba-born philosopher who fiddled around in Nero’s court in Rome. Seneca had the misfortune of being implicated in a conspiracy to kill the wacky emperor, although history says he probably wasn’t involved. Nonetheless, the evil Nero forced Seneca to kill himself, which he did by severing numerous veins, so he could bleed out.

P1020609Near Seneca’s statue and the Puerta de Almodóvar is a rather long length of the city wall with a promenade where one can have a nice stroll, however we decided to promenade back to the Casa Rubio (Puerta de Almodóvar, 5) where I had made reservations for some delightful rooftop dining.

The outside temperature was still hovering above 300 degrees, and the nice gentleman informed us that we could indeed sit on the rooftop, but we might end up like Icarus’s wings (“know your Greek mythology for $400 Alex”) and melt.

icarus1Instead we ate in the cool of the inside dining room of this historic restaurant, which opened in 1920 and is located in the same building of the Jewish quarter that gave birth to the famous Córdoba historian, Antonio Jaén Morente. Ok, he’s famous in Córdoba.

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The special starter of fava beans, carrots, sausage, potatoes and saffron was terrific as was our daily supplement of even more eggplant lathered with cane syrup (we were addicted).

P1020617In a Paul Bunyan moment, I ordered the ox sirloin (I did not sing “It Ain’t Me Babe”), which was great, as was most everything else.

P1020615The only dish that missed was Tracy’s pork ribs “mostly ribs”). We downed it all with my favorite Spanish wine, Juan Gil, which I buy by the caseload back home. Total bill was a quite affordable €114.

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DIVERSION:  Sometimes Mary would become upset that we would have to pay a small fee for bread at restaurants.  It’s true that you pay for bread, however (and this is a big however), for instance at this restaurant the bread cost a “whopping” €1.50, while three glasses of wine plus a bottle of wine came to €25.40.  In the United States, yes, the bread would be free, but the wine would probably total $70 to $80 instead of about $28. I kept telling Mary, “Don’t worry about the stupid bread, we’re saving lots of dough.”

35We walked off dinner by meandering along the Guadalquivir River toward the Puenta Romana. Before the bridge stands the Albolafia Water Mill, which was built during Top Rahman’s rule.

36It carried river water up to the Emir’s palace by means of an aqueduct. The water wheel has been on Córdoba’s Coat of Arms since the 14th century.  That big wheel keeps on turning.

37We made it to the Puenta Romana.  At the far end, the building you see is the late 12th-century Torre de la Calahorra, which you can visit unless you get there too late like we did.  At about the halfway point in the bridge is a shrine to the archangel San Rafael created by sculptor Bernabe Gomez del Rio in 1651.

P1020630Gazing back toward Córdoba, we saw the Arco del Triunfo…

38…and the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, both lit up as darkness fell.

39There was a fair on the far side of the river that had started earlier in the day, and a lot of people were walking to attend it on this night, but it was 10:30, and before we fell down, it was time to get back to the hotel for a good night’s sleep.



“Hey, we missed flamenco again,” Tracy said.  “Well, we still have Toledo and Madrid,” I answered.

Although we only spent a day in Córdoba, we gave it all we could (except missing that darned flamenco)…walking nearly 11 miles in the process. Looking back, I could possibly see spending another day here, so in hindsight I might have cut out that Pueblos Blancos day (especially Ronda), although a relaxing night in Zahara de la Sierra and our visit to Grazalema made that a worthwhile experience, too.

Tomorrow we’d hit the tracks again for a much longer train ride and we’d end up in Toledo’s famous train station. We would settle in at an incredible apartment (one of the best places we have ever stayed, especially for the price) and set off to explore a little bit of the town. Sadly, we would find out that a holiday I’d never heard of until this trip was going to spoil one of the sights for us, but I did get my first look at an artist that I would come to appreciate much more during our time in terrific Toledo.

Next: Day Fourteen:  Where Is Everybody, The Perfect Combo: Coffee And Gin, Drinking Problem?, The Madrid Turn Around, Room With A View, We Are Not In Ohio, Pick Your Dish, Burger Joint, We’ve Got The Meats, Cathedral Shut Out, Short Changed, The Doménikos Theotokópoulos Experience And The Revenge Of The Sneeze

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