“The Supreme Caliphate of Cordoba was set up in rivalry to the Abbasside dynasty of Baghdad and was so cultured, sophisticated broad-minded and fastidious a state that for a century southern Spain was the lodestar of Europe” Jan Morris – ‘Spain’
Although the road was swinging encouragingly to the south it couldn’t keep us ahead of the cloud and by the time we reached the city of Córdoba it was beginning to overtake us. It was still patchy as we parked the car but by the time we had set off for the centro historico its advance was relentless and it became quite gloomy, overcast and cold and we were beginning to regret the lightweight clothing option that we had selected earlier.
Córdoba is a moderately sized place today but once it was the largest Roman city in Spain and later became the thriving capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba that once governed almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. It has been estimated that in the tenth century it was the largest city in Western Europe and, perhaps, in the whole world with up to half a million inhabitants. If this is true then only Constantinople and Rome would have previously been bigger and even today a population that size would be in the top three in Spain.
As always of course, be wary of biggest, highest, widest claims!
Walking to the city centre we were disappointed to find that one of the two principal attractions the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos was closed for the afternoon so we had to make do with the external views and move on to Córdoba’s Great Mosque, the Mezquita.
As well as being the second largest mosque in the world at the time of its construction this was the grandest and most beautiful mosque of all constructed by the Moors in Spain and it is situated amongst a picturesque lattice work of narrow streets, patios and plazas in the city’s old Jewish quarter. After the Spanish Reconquest, it was transformed into a church, and some of the Islamic columns and arches were replaced by a basilica and today it is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and the main church of the diocese of Córdoba.
Inside it was really spectacular with nearly a thousand columns of granite, jasper and marble stripped buff-white and rose-pink supporting the roof and creating a dazzling visual effect. When the Cathedral was constructed in the sixteenth century some of these pillars were removed which I suppose might be described as an act of cultural vandalism, the Reconquista, Christianity over Islam, but in actual fact, despite being a sort of cuckoo in the nest, the Baroque structure didn’t seem to be entirely out of place.
That is the good things about buildings, when they are no longer required for their original purpose they can always be converted to some other use. All over Spain Mosques were converted to Christian Churches, Arab Alcazabas to medieval fortresses and more recently stately homes, haciendas and castles to modern Parador hotels.
“To Cordoba belong all the beauty and ornaments that delight the eye or dazzle the sight.” – Stanley Lane-Poole – The Moors in Spain
The mosque of Córdoba is without doubt one of the finest buildings in Spain – the most original and the most beautiful. From the moment of entering the great court planted with orange trees it is possible to experience a feeling of peace and harmony which is quite different from the mood of religious holiness and austerity imparted by Christian cloisters. The small reddish oranges cluster among the dark green leaves, butterflies chase one another, birds compete and squabble and the thrusting columns make a statement that they have been willed by God.
It took some time to walk through the Mezquita and see all of the highlights and when we left and returned to the courtyard it had thankfully stopped raining and although it was still quite cold the temperature had thankfully risen a degree or two above zero. We walked for a while down by the river and crossed half way on the Puente Romano, which is an elaborate bridge that still sits on original Roman foundations.
Because of the weather we didn’t really see Córdoba at its best and the grey skies took the edge of the visit and because of that we walked back to the car stopping briefly for a drink and a warm in a café and then drove away in the direction of Granada.
we weren’t staying in the city but in a small village called Romilla just about ten miles west and we drove in in the late afternoon and we knew immediately that this wasn’t going to be very thrilling. This place was like a cemetery for the living and apart from the excitement of the visit of mobile vegetable shop our arrival was most likely the only thing that had happened in Romilla all day and possibly all week!