Any time I’m presented with the chance to travel, especially to a new place, I try my best to take up the offer. In this case, my aunt and uncle were traveling down to southern Spain after their stay in Madrid, and invited me to come along. So I took the fast train and met them in Córdoba. We stayed for 2 nights there, then headed to Sevilla (I’ll tell about that next time).
The best time to visit Córdoba is in the spring, when flowers are in bloom, because they’re famous for their “patios” and tiny streets (callejas) that are filled with flowers. We got there on May 18th, which was right after the festival of the flower patios, so I thought we would miss seeing them. But no! The patios were still on display, during certain hours. More on that later.
I love taking the fast train. It’s really no hassle, the security line at the train station takes about 3 minutes to get through, and you only have to arrive about 20 minutes before the train departs. Then, even in the cheapest seats you have plenty of leg room and there is no middle seat!
I arrived in the city before my tíos, so I checked into the hotel and started walking around. I saw the calleja de flores, a very narrow street with potted flowers lining the walls, the outside of the famous cathedral/mosque, and some plazas. I asked the hotel concierge for a local bar recommendation and went there for lunch. I ordered salmorejo, which is like gazpacho but thickened with bread. I also got some kind of meat that I didn’t recognize as having tried before, and it was good! Both were served cold, which is common in the south in the summer because it’s so hot outside.
I love how when you’re walking around in pretty much any country in Europe and you stumble upon ancient Roman buildings/artifacts, like this mausoleum in Córdoba.
Once my aunt and uncle arrived, we decided to go check out the famous patios. Since we hadn’t done much prior planning, we just followed Rick Steves’ map of where they were. After a bit of searching, we found them and learned that you have to buy tickets to see them and that they were closing in an hour. We quickly decided to get the tickets and see them as fast as we could (knowing that the next day we wouldn’t have time). All of a sudden we had less than an hour to see seven patios…seems reasonable, but it was a bit rushed. Luckily, we saw them all, as each one is unique.
The patios are actually people’s homes, so when you go to see each one, you are visiting someone’s house. A few of them told us that their family had been living in the same house for generations. Each one has some interesting history and architecture. One of the rules in the patio contest is that the flower pots must be painted blue. So the first patio we went to (for free) wasn’t in the contest because of that, but was very impressive.
Some of the most amazing patios have flowers that we had never seen before. I asked how long it takes to water them all, and most say about 2 to 3 hours. They have to use a special device that hooks up to a hose to be able to reach all the pots. One of the patio owners had a well and actually pulled up water from there to water his plants. He said that the water is better, and worth the extra effort. Another patio was unique in that it was facing the original wall of the city. That one also had a very pretty wooden blue ladder.
It seemed that everywhere you turned, there were more details to take in. Seeing these patios was definitely a highlight of the city for me. For that reason, I think seeing Córdoba in May is the best time.
After seeing all the patios, we went down to the river to check out an unfinished monument and the bridge, a triumphal arch made for King Philip II. It looks kind of weird next to the Roman bridge, as you can tell that it isn’t quite done. Don’t hold your breath though, the project was canceled and probably will never be finished. We went to a restaurant near the river and tried some food typical of Córdoba (ox tail, salmorejo, fried eggplant with balsamic honey sauce). I usually don’t like eggplant, but the way the spaniards fry it nice and thin gives it a great texture, and the sweet sauce is delicious. Side note, did you know that Brits call eggplant “aubergine”? Most Spanish restaurants have english menus, and almost always use the british translation, which leads to interesting discoveries.
The next morning, we went to visit the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral). This is arguably the most famous and most visited thing in Córdoba. It’s a must see for all, regardless of religious views! According to history (and Rick Steves), the building was originally a Christian temple that dates back to the 6th century. Actually, you can see some of the original tiles from the 6th century building. Things like this make Americans drop their jaw at the sheer idea of such an old thing being on display. Anyway, in the year 785 the mosque was built, using some remnants from the original temple. Then in 1238, after the christian reconquest, the mosque was turned into a christian cathedral.
So as you wander through the current building, you really see the quite literal mix of the two religions. It’s got the iconic muslim archways with beautiful white and red contrasting stripes, then in the middle, a huge baroque style cathedral. Then of course the catholics added on many different chapels filled with statues of Jesus, Mary, and an array of saints and other religious figures.
Then on one side of the building you find a huge keyhole arch facing Mecca. Many attributes from the mosque still stand today–even though the christians were a different religion, they saw beauty in the architecture and art and decided to keep some parts of the building the same. Overall, it’s an extremely unique building showcasing the most eye catching art and architecture of each religion.
Later, we went out for lunch and enjoyed local beer from Córdoba. Although the service at most restaurants was pretty bad, we were thankful for the fact that they were never pushy or made us feel rushed to leave.
And just like that, we were off to our next city: Sevilla. Time to see some flamenco dancing and enjoy more of the southern Spain charm. (Next post)