Tag Archives: Moors and Christians Festival

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

Click on an image to scroll through the gallery…

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, Alcoy and the Festival of the Moors and the Christians

I do like Spanish carnivals and I have always been keen to see a Festival of Moors and Christians which take place regularly throughout the year mostly in the province of Valencia in the Levante region of Spain.

Earlier this year I was trawling the airline web sites and reconciling these to suitable events and came across the perfect combination; cheap flights to Alicante and one of the most famous of all these festivals in the nearby town of Alcoy near to Benidorm and with dates that matched perfectly,  I didn’t take a lot of persuading to book the flights.

Finding a hotel was a lot more difficult, Alcoy gets rather busy during the three day festival and the nearest that I could find at a price that suits my skinflint budget was twenty miles away in the village of Confrides near to Guadalest.

The Festival of Moors and Christians celebrates the seven hundred year period between 722 and 1492 which has long been known to historians of Spain as the ‘Reconquista’ and the Spanish have organised and interpreted their medieval history around the drama of this glorious event which over time has become an established feature of the self-image of the Spanish people.  It has become embellished into a sort of organised Catholic national crusade but it is a confusing story because Spain has largely embraced its Muslim occupation as a proud part of its history.

In popular culture the reconquest has been raised to the status of a crusade and the expulsion of the Moors as liberation from an occupying army but this is not strictly the case and it would be wrong to interpret it in this way.  At this time Córdoba became the largest, richest and most sophisticated city in Western Europe.  Mediterranean trade and cultural exchange flourished.  Muslims imported a rich intellectual tradition from the Middle East and North Africa and Muslim and Jewish scholars played an important part in reviving and expanding classical Greek learning in Western Europe.

The period of Moorish occupation was to last nearly four hundred years and in eastern Iberia the Moors created the landscape of the region. After irrigation they planted citrus groves and peach and almond orchards. The terraces seen on the hillsides throughout the region are an everlasting Moor legacy.

As it is essentially a celebration the people of the town and the surrounding villages split themselves equally into Moors and Christians and then organise grand parades and mock battles to tell the story of the ‘Reconquista’.

After meeting Mick and Lindsay (my sister and her husband) we began by driving from the airport directly to our hotel and when I say directly I use this term in the loosest possible sense because the mountain drive from Alicante to Confrides is anything but direct with roads that sweep and climb and rise and fall around the contours of the pepper grey mountains decorated with sprawling orchards and fruit trees.

Just a few miles out of Alicante and we noticed something pretty dramatic – suddenly, almost within the turn of a corner, the landscape changed from brown and arid to green and mountainous; the high-rise concrete hotels gave way to pretty villages and we found myself in lush valleys of oranges, almonds and lemon groves.

We were delighted with the hotel, a simple place on a bend in the road that provided excellent views along the fertile valley.  There is nothing boutique about Pensión El Pirineo just a down-to-earth place with unpretentious rooms and a promising menu so we booked a table for later and made our way to Alcoy.

The town was busy and parking was difficult but eventually we squeezed into a spot along a dusty track and made our way on foot to the Plaza Major which was anticipating the procession of the Moors.  The Christians had arrived earlier this morning so we had missed that already.  The procession was timed for five o’clock and as the event got closer the square was filled to bursting with people taking up their positions ready for the parade.

It was mad, chaotic and disorganised.  In my last job once a year I helped organise a street parade in Spalding in Lincolnshire but by the time it stopped forever the police and the health and safety fanatics had squeezed the life out of it but this was not a problem in Alcoy I can tell you as people pushed and shoved and wandered around unrestricted on the parade route.

I didn’t know exactly what to expect but it was wonderful. The Moors arrived on horseback and in marching columns some in historically accurate uniforms but others with a very loose interpretation of Moorish costumes. – rather more carnival theatre than history.

The Festival lasts for three days and is all rather intense so we were happy with our one afternoon, this year we saw the parade, maybe next year we will return for the final day siege.  As it happened we had to battle our way out of the town as people filled the streets and the bars and the festivities continued on every street corner and we felt happy to have shared a happy slice of Spanish life and culture.

We shared another slice of Spanish life later that evening back at Pensión El Pirineo where local people came and went through the bar and the restaurant and we savoured an evening of local cuisine and Murcian wine – it was delightful!