Tag Archives: Andalusia

Travels in Spain, The Mezquita of Cordoba

Spain - Historic Centre of Cordoba

“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

Although the road was swinging encouragingly to the south it couldn’t keep us sufficiently ahead of the cloud and by the time we reached the city of Córdoba it was clear that we couldn’t outrun it and it 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 all beginning to regret the lightweight clothing option that we had selected earlier.  It was lunchtime so we looked for somewhere warm to stop and eat and came across a restaurant with a reasonable menu del dai at only €10 and we enjoyed a pleasant if not an especially spectacular lunch.

Outside the weather had not improved as we had dined and 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.

Situated amongst a lattice work of narrow streets, patios and plazas in the city’s old Jewish quarter the Mezquita was once the second largest mosque in the world and at the completion of its construction this was the grandest and most beautiful mosque constructed by the Moors anywhere in Spain.

Cordoba Moors Mosque

After the Spanish Reconquest, it was transformed into a church and today it is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and the main church of the diocese of Córdoba.  This 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.

It was getting even colder and there was a spot of rain or two so we were pleased to buy admission tickets and go inside in the warm for a while.

I think I can rightly say that 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 rows of orange trees there was a feeling of peace and harmony which is quite different from the mood of religious holiness and austerity imparted by some Christian cloisters.

Inside it was immediately spectacular with almost a thousand columns of granite, jasper and marble supporting the roof and creating a dazzling visual effect.  When the Cathedral was constructed in the sixteenth century some of these pillars and arches were removed which I suppose might be described as an act of vandalism 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.

“To Cordoba belong all the beauty and ornaments that delight the eye or dazzle the sight.”  –  Stanley Lane-Poole – The Moors in Spain

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It took some time to walk through the Mezquita and see all of the highlights and explore hidden dark corners 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 and was used as another Game of Thrones location, this time the Long Bridge of Volantis.

On account 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 back to Carmona.

Once in the car there was a continual chorus from the back seat of ‘put the heater on’ and I had to agree that it was a bit chilly.  We took the direct route back along the Autovia which confirmed that there were no tolls and as we drove west the weather started to improve and by the time we arrived back at our hotel the sun was breaking through again.

Across the square was a café bar called the Bar Plaza and later that evening, even though we hadn’t intended going inside, the owner spotted us in the street and shepherded us in through the doorway in a much practiced customer gathering round-up routine and before we had time to make our own decision he had taken drinks orders and provided us with menus and there seemed to be a sort of commitment to dine there.  Actually it was rather good and we ordered a range of dishes and shared them between us.

When we left the Bar Plaza it was raining again so went straight back to the hotel where we had a last drink in the lounge and a hand or two of cards before going to bed at about midnight feeling a bit uneasy about the weather prospects for the next day.

Roman Bridge at Cordoba

Travels in Spain, Castillo de Almodóvar and The Game of Thrones

Castillo de Almodóvar 4

It was a glorious morning and although it was slightly chilly there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the perfect blue sky and we interpreted this as a really promising sign and although this was November dressed appropriately in summer linens and short-sleeved shirts.  After all we were in Spain!

Together with a lot of local people we had a traditional breakfast at the Goya and this made a nice change from the usual hotel buffet arrangement that we usually have.  It was a simple affair with a choice of toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and a thin tomato puree and topped off with thin slices of cured ham or alternatively, for those who didn’t care for the ham, toast and marmalade made from finest Seville oranges.

After breakfast we prepared for a drive to the city of Córdoba about a seventy miles to the east along the River Guadalquivir. 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!

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We didn’t take the direct motorway route because we thought the alternative may be more scenic and anyway we were worried about paying unnecessary road tolls.  This proved to be a mistake on both counts because it wasn’t especially picturesque and there weren’t any tolls either.

First we drove to the town of Lora Del Rio along a road that took us through an agricultural landscape with fields all freshly ploughed and waiting for next year’s grain crops.  Although the highest mountains on the Spanish mainland are in Andalusia most of the Province, which stretches from the deserts of Almeria in the east to the Portuguese border in the west is a flat plain in the valley of the Guadalquivir, which at nearly four hundred miles is the fifth longest river in Spain and is one of the country’s most important because it irrigates a fertile valley, and creates a rich agricultural area.

Lora del Rio was an unexceptional working town and there was nothing to stop for so we continued along the road through the similar towns of Palma del Rio and Posadas.  On our left, to the north, was the Sierra Morena mountain range that separates Andalusia from the central plain of Castilla-La Mancha and there were some worrying accumulations of cloud that looked a little too close for comfort.  Eventually we came to Almodóvar del Rio where a large castle was perched strategically on the top of a hill and this looked well worth stopping for.

Carmona 01

The Castillo de Almodóvar is a grandiose Caliphal fortress erected on a high mound along the Guadalquivir.  Square towers flank its towering walls and the entire castle is surrounded by a large moat.  During the years of occupation it was a Moorish stronghold and after the reconquest it became the medieval home for members of the Spanish nobility.  It gradually fell into disrepair however and much of it was plundered for convenient building material by the people of the nearby town but the Count of Torralba rebuilt it a hundred years or so ago restoring the external appearance of the original Arab fortification.

The castle was used as filming location for the TV series Game of Thrones where it was used (if anyone is interested, I know that I’m not) to represent the castle of Highgarden, the seat of House Tyrell in the Reach on the Mander River.

GOT Castillo de Almodóvar

At its elevated position there was a spectacular view of the plains to the south and the mountains to the north and although the sun was shining it was getting cold and the clouds were getting closer.  We visited the castle in the company of a school outing who were enjoying an interactive history lesson which must have been highly entertaining judging by all of the laughter and giggles.

It was a good castle and well worth the €5 entrance fee and we climbed the towers and walked the ramparts and when we had seen all there was to see we left and continued the drive to Córdoba.

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More Game of Thrones filming locations…

Travels in Spain, Car Hire and Trouble with Maps

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“I would sooner be a foreigner in Spain than most countries.  How easy it is to make friends in Spain!” – George Orwell – ‘Homage to Catalonia’

In the summer a cheap flight opportunity to Seville and Andalusia in November provided the perfect opportunity to continue the quest to discover the real Spain.  A visit to the South and the part of the peninsula with which, thanks to the travel brochures I suppose, we are all familiar, the Spain of flamenco, Moorish architecture, sherry, tapas bars and bull fighting.

The first task after arrival at Seville airport was to pick up the hire car and the lady at the desk took me step by step through the formalities and then showed me a diagram that identified all of the previous damage that the car had suffered.  This took some considerable time because it turned out to be practically every single panel, front back and sides and when we collected it from the car park it was in a real mess and looking quite sorry for itself and my first reaction was to be a bit annoyed that we had been allocated such a tatty vehicle.

I was soon to discover however that this was quite normal for cars in this part of Spain!  The interior was clean but there was an overpowering smell of industrial strength air freshener that was so unpleasant that we had to drive with the windows down and we began to worry about what sort of previous smell the deodoriser was covering up.

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Instead of staying in the city of Seville, where the hotels seemed to be a little expensive and beyond our budget, we had chosen instead to book a cheaper alternative in the nearby town of Carmona that was about twenty miles away.  The first part of the journey along the Autovia du Sur was pleasant and without incident and then we left at the junction for the town and things started to unravel.  We didn’t have a proper town map, only something from the multimap website and this didn’t prove to be especially helpful.

We (I) became confused and did a couple of circuits of the town looking for street names that we could identify but these proved to be illusive and of little assistance because they didn’t seem to correspond in any way to the map.  Eventually, on third time around the main town square I found a bar that was still open and asked (pleaded)  for help.

The man was just as confused by multimap as we were and it took him some time to interpret it for himself before he could even begin to draw the route that we needed through what looked like a tangled web of streets with a baffling one way system.  Finally he provided comprehensive instructions but in rapid fire Spanish that made it difficult to follow but it was helpful just to discover that we were in the new part of the town and what we really needed was the centro historico, which was a few hundred yards away.

Confident now of directions we set off again and this time took the correct turning through an imposing medieval fortress gate and into a labyrinth of confusing narrow streets.  At a fork in the road we were presented with two options.  We were staying at a hotel in San Fernando Square and there was a sign that seemed to suggest that we should turn left but I overruled Micky who pointed this out and foolishly decided to ignore the sensible thing to do and took the right fork instead.

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This was a very big mistake because the road climbed up a narrow cobbled street barely wide enough for the car to pass through and then seemed to abruptly stop at what looked like a pedestrian alleyway.  There was an elderly Spanish couple out strolling so we asked for help and after they had studied the map seemed to suggest to us that we should carry on down this narrow path.  We were not entirely convinced about this and asked for clarification several times and the man, who spoke no English and was not terribly useful, was determined not to let his wife, who could speak a little English and was a lot more helpful, have her turn with the map.

Maps and men must be the same everywhere, let me explain, it’s a macho sort of thing that drives us to take control and this is based on years of experience of being sent in the wrong direction.  Women generally are as hopeless with maps and town plans as men are with knitting patterns.  Anyway, while we were debating the situation another car pulled up behind and seemed to be heading in the direction of the alleyway so this was a clue that this was indeed the correct way to go.  As we pulled away the woman looked into the car and in a genuinely caring sort of way said ‘Be careful, good luck’ and this parting comment filled my cup of confidence full to the brim and overflowing.

We set off and it soon became clear why we needed both precision and good fortune because if we had thought that the previous street had been narrow this one made it look like a six lane highway.  First of all it was necessary to negotiate a dog leg gate that was barely wider than the car and we all had to collectively breathe in so that we could squeeze through and after that the street narrowed down still further and I needed delicate keyhole surgery skills to manoeuvre through 90º bends and past carelessly parked cars and iron bollards strategically placed to impede progress at every turn.

It was like threading a needle blindfolded and we now understood why the car was covered in dents and scratches and probably why the air freshener was so strong; the previous hirer had possibly driven down the same street and had an unfortunate bowel incident in the process!

Going forward was tricky and we were making slow progress but what really concerned me was the possibility of reaching a – and having to reverse all the way back because that would have been impossible.  Finally however we came out into a square (that was actually a circle) and by luck we had found our hotel.  After three circuits of the square it was obvious that there was nowhere to park however so we had to settle for a side street and a hundred yard walk back to the Hotel Posada San Fernando where a lady on reception was waiting to check us in.

Carmona 07

Travels in Spain, Guadix and the Cave Houses

Guadix and Sierra Nevada

Not a great picture – it was on the wall of a bar and the lighting was poor but still better than any picture that I could get of Guadix!

“For almost the first time I felt I was really in Spain, in a country that I had longed my whole life to visit. In the quiet back streets of I seemed to catch a momentary glimpse, a sort of far-off rumour of the Spain that dwells in everyone’s imagination.”  –  George Orwell

It didn’t take long to reach Guadix, it is only a few miles east of Granada and we arrived there about at lunch time and instead of going straight to the city centre we took a detour into a neighbouring village in search of something to eat.

We were in a coach trip tourist sort of place lined with shops selling local earthenware and pottery but being just out of high season there weren’t any tourists there today, the shops were empty and we found a bar/restaurant with outside tables and busy with local people, which is always a good sign, so we selected a spot on the pavement in the sunshine and ordered a small selection of tapas.

The owner must have thought that we looked under-nourished because the food just kept turning up, we thought that we had ordered a light lunch but very soon the table was in danger of collapsing under the weight of rustic tapas and plates of fine food. It was rude not to eat it all but this took us some time and after we had finished our glutinous challenge we settled up and continued on our way.

Guadix Street

Guadix was quiet, almost as quiet as Puerta de Don Fadrique and we needn’t have worried in advance about car parking because the streets were empty, the shops were closed and there was almost no one about.  We found the hotel easily enough, checked in, unpacked only what we needed for an overnight stay and then went back out into the centre.

I liked it, it wasn’t Trujillo in Extremadura or Almagro or Siguenza in Castilla-La Mancha, it wasn’t Santillana del Mar in Cantabria but it was authentic and rustic, Spanish and Andalusian and I was glad that we had chosen to spend some time here.

We walked around the centre, along the banks of the crusty dried-up river bed and through some lush public parks but in late afternoon there was never much sign of life.  I looked for a shop to buy some wine but I had forgotten my corkscrew key-ring thingy that I can smuggle through airport security and there were no screw cap bottles anywhere in my price range so I was forced to buy a carton of Don Simon Vino Tinto which is really cheap and tastes just the same.

The product manufacturers make this extraordinary claim…  “Don Simon Vino Tinto Wine offers an expertly and exquisitely manufactured wine with fruity aroma; light fruit flavour, crisp acidity, light body and dry, tart finish. Good for every occasion. Best when served chilled. It looks as good as it tastes.” 

No grape variety information or expert tasting tips and in truth it is the sort of wine that at about 1.50 a litre, if you have got some left over you don’t mind pouring down the sink when you leave if you are not too concerned about environmental damage or taking the risk of destroying the hotel plumbing system.

Don Simon wine in a carton

We sat for a while in the lonely Plaza Mayor which was abandoned and quiet but decided anyway to return later for evening meal.  Two hours after it was transformed, the square was busy and there was fierce competition for tables but we swooped on one and the owner talked us into a Menu Del Dia which, as it turned out was a brilliant bit of salesmanship by him although not a brilliant decision on our part, but we had a hearty meal which filled us up including a truly enormous portion of Tiramasu for sweet for Lindsay which arrived just as she was explaining her planned dieting schedule.

I liked Granada and I liked Guadix, two completely different places which all adds to the richness and diversity of Spain and keeps me wanting to go back again and again.

The following morning we had a good breakfast at the hotel and we cleaned them out almost completely of tomato for the tosta and then we checked out and drove a short distance to the cave houses.

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This is the main reason for visiting Guadix.  It is like Bedrock and the Flintstones.  People still live in caves.

People still live in caves!

Just outside of the City old town there is a community of residents who cling to and persevere with the old ways which includes digging a hole in the limestone cliffs and then setting up home inside.  Not just any old cave however and today the mountain homes have brick façade and all of the modern home conveniences inside.

After a walk to the top of the village to an observation platform and then down again a man asked  us in to his cave home and invited us to look around.  People in Andalusia used to live in cave houses because they are cool in summer and warm in winter and they are cheap to build.  Some people, like those here in Guadix still do!

We spent an hour or so investigating the intriguing village and then we left and set off back east towards Rojales and the Mediterranean coast.

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Travels in Spain, The Flamenco

Granada Flamenco

“We are in the Spanish south.  The castanets click from coast to coast, the cicada hum through the night, the air is heavy with jasmine and orange blossom… the girls have black eyes and undulating carriages.”  –  Jan Morris,  ‘Spain’

Flamenco BarcelonaThe Flamenco Dance of Spain

Some pictures that I have picked up along the way, pictures of pictures in bars and restaurants…

Flamenco Andalusia SpainFlamenco Wall PaintingFlamenco

Travels in Spain, Reflections on a Balcony in Granada

Granada Balcony 1Granada Balcony 7

 

Travels in Spain, Tiles of the Bullfight

Bullfight Tiles 2Bullfight Tiles 1Granada Matador

 

Travels in Spain, Balconies of Granada

Granada Balcony 3

“And thank God for home-sweet things, a green and friendly hill,
And red geraniums aflame upon my window sill.” – Martha Haskell Clark

Granada Balcony 2Granada Balcony 4

More Balconies…

Spain

Malta

Portugal

Naples

Travels in Spain, Doors and Windows of Puebla de Don Fadrique

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Travels in Spain, Rojales to Granada

Road to Granada

The sun was shining when we left the Spanish east coast town of Rojales just south of Alicante in the Province of Murcia.  It is close to sea level so it didn’t occur to me to take a rain coat or even a pullover in the event that it might later turn cooler as we drove inland and into the mountains.

We were in Spain and the sun always shines in Spain – doesn’t it?

We were driving inland towards Andalusia on the way to the city of Granada and just a few miles after we left the clouds began to build and the temperature began to drop. Kim worried about this and concerned for my welfare asked if I needed to stop and put on something warm. I shivered but didn’t own up to not packing anything that might usefully be described as warm so this wasn’t an option. She pulled a cardigan out of her bag and wrapped it around her shoulders. My sister, Lindsay did the same.  I tried to look brave.

Shortly after bypassing the city of Murcia there was some improvement and we took a planned detour through the Province of the same name towards Andalusia and towards the small town of Puerta de Don Fadrique which is a small village that makes the extravagant claim to be the prettiest in Spain.

Puebla de Don Fadrique 01

As it happens I have been to a number of self-proclaimed prettiest villages in Spain so I was interested to see how this one compared.

Santillana del Mar in Cantabria is a picturesque town and often appears in any top ten of best villages in Spain along with Cudillero, Almagro, Ronda, Trujillo and Alcala de Henares.  This may of course have something to do with the fact that the French writer, philosopher and all-round clever dick, Jean Paul Sartre declared it to be the prettiest village in Spain in 1938 (“Le plus joli village d’Espagne”) although I am not absolutely sure just how much of Spain he visited and just what he was comparing it with or how he came to this rather sweeping judgment.  Perhaps it was just a lucky guess!

The approach to Puebla de Don Fadrique was indeed stunning set against the backdrop of the Sagra mountain range and we continued to climb to three and a half thousand feet before eventually arriving in the town.  As we parked the car I couldn’t help noticing that everyone was wearing pullovers and coats.  By necessity (not having a pullover or a coat) I declared it warm enough to walk around in shirt sleeves!

It was time for refreshment but the first café was closed and so was the second and the third.  The whole place was completely desolate as though there had been a nuclear accident and the place had been abandoned in a dreadful hurry.

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Everywhere was shuttered and closed which led me to speculate that maybe Puebla de Don Fadrique was suffering from a collective hangover from a Festival the day before, which is usually just my luck,  or maybe it just doesn’t open on a Monday.

It was a pretty little place for sure, whitewashed houses and black metal grills in the Andalusian style but without people it lacked any sort of vibrancy or interest, no bars, no restaurants and no shops.  We walked through the streets half in anticipation and half in disappointment and made our way back to the car and suddenly there was signs of life as a group of men in coats and pullovers were sitting at a street corner debating the big issues of the day and at the end of a street about a hundred yards away we finally spotted a bar that was open.

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So we made our way towards it, alarmed the owner by sitting down and ordering a coffee and then slightly bemused by all this left and drove out of the village and resumed our journey towards Granada.

As we drove further west the weather continued to rapidly deteriorate.  Ahead of us we could just about make out the Sierra Nevada Mountains, at eleven and a half thousand feet the highest in Spain and the third highest in Europe after the Caucasus and the Alps.  But the storm clouds were gathering, the sky turned black and it started to rain.  The temperature sank like a stone and I began to plan my first task in Granada, to find a shop to buy a coat.  And I am not a great shopper!

A few miles out of the city we passed through the wet weather front and the mercury and my spirits began to rise once more and by the time we reached our destination I was pleased to see people wandering around in tee-shirts and short sleeves.  Almost effortlessly we found an underground car park located conveniently next to a supermarket and just a couple of hundred yards from our accommodation.

We found it easily and after we had declared it completely satisfactory and had settled in we set off to find somewhere for late lunch and a bit of a stroll.

More Attractive Towns and Villages in Europe

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