Week 11: Córdoba, Sevilla and Costa de la Luz

This week we explored 2 more of Andalucia’s fascinating cities before unwinding in beautiful and seemingly unspoilt Costa de la Luz.

Cordoba – Mezquita-Catedral, the Medieval city and snacking

After seeing the majestic Alhambra in Granada, we were curious to see the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, which had been described to us as a “cathedral built inside a mosque”. Despite knowing what we were going to see, the description still didn’t quite prepare us for how shocking it is to see in reality.

As you enter the Mezquita, the first thing you see are hundreds of soaring double arches, for what feels like as far as the eye can see in all directions. Your eyes are immediately drawn upwards. It was clearly a grand site for Islamic worship. In Córdoba’s heyday in the 900 AD, it was the biggest city in Western Europe and the Córdoba caliphate encompassed much of the Iberian Peninsula, plus the Balearic Islands and some of North Africa. Córdoba became a place of pilgrimage for Muslims who could not make it to Mecca or Jerusalem. The size and beauty of the Mezquita reflect how important Córdoba must have been to the Islamic faith.

As you walk further into the site and your eyes grow accustomed to the setting, you notice that, woven into the arches are Catholic capillas and chapels dedicated to various saints. At the centre of the site is a soaring Transept, the main Cathedral. Construction of the Catholic elements began in 1237 following Fernando III’s conquest of Córdoba.

On the one hand, it was shocking to see what was obviously a majestic place of worship for one religion, disfigured by another. The differences in how each religion worshipped could not be more stark. The mosque elements of the site included the graceful arches, intricate carved stone and mosaics. The Catholic elements of the site incorporated numerous paintings and sculpture depicting the human form of saints and the holy trinity, as well as elaborate gold objects used in Catholic worship such as chalices and other objects for the alter or processions.

On the other hand, one could appreciate that much of the original mosque was preserved. Rather than tearing it down to build a new Catholic place of worship, the Catholic elements where built onto the original mosque structure. In our era of the mashup, this could even be considered culturally relevant.

Whatever one’s views on the matter, it was definitely a unique and awesome sight worth seeing.

We spent some time walking around Córdoba. The medieval city centre around the Mezquita-Catedral is fairly compact with narrow winding streets, so it’s a lovely place to wander. Aileen enjoyed peeking into patios, usually places of lush greenery hidden from view inside otherwise simple-looking building structures. We found the statues of Averroes and Maimonides, eminent philosophers (one Muslim, one Jewish) from Córdoba’s heyday who believed that philosophical reasoning could and should be applied to religious faith.

Finally, we sampled some Córdoban food specialities – Flamequín, jambon rolled in pork, breaded and deep fried, and ox-tail croquettes. Both were delicious.

Sevilla – Real Alcázar, escaping the van and tapas-fest

From Córdoba we headed to Sevilla. Whilst driving we considered our options on where to stay. It had been quite cold in Cordoba so we didn’t find the idea of staying in another cold parking lot appealing. In addition, none of the caravan sites around Sevilla seemed handy for exploring Sevilla’s nightlife. So we booked into a dog-friendly hotel, El Rey Moro, in Barrio de Santa Cruz (Sevilla’s medieval Jewish quarter) for 2 nights, and parked the campervan in a secure parking place in the port area of Sevilla.

We’ve been happy living in the campervan for the past 3 months, but it was was very nice to be able to have a hot shower (with dry towels) when we wanted, get into bed without having to put on multiple layers of clothes to stave off the cold, and generally enjoy some space. Zeus also enjoyed jumping between the sofa and bed, especially when being told not to.

The streets in the center of Sevilla are very narrow and totally inappropriate for a campervan, but do have lots of different tapas places to try. So for 2 days we enjoyed having other people cook for us. Highlights were cazón de adobo (marinated and fried dogfish), tortilletas de camarones (shrimp fritters), espinaces con garbanzos (spinach and chickpea stew), washed down with good but cheap wine. We fully appreciated the 5 minute walk back to the hotel, bellies full and buzzed from a good night out in Sevilla.

On the day we arrived, we wondered what the big compound near our hotel was. It turned out to be the Real Alcazár, a palace-fortress that has evolved with Muslim and Christian monarchs – including Al-Mu’tamid, Fernando III, Pedro I, and Isabella and Fernando. We decided we needed to see it. We found the most impressive site to be Palacio del Rey Don Pedro, a palace that Pedro I built with the help of Muslim artisans his ally Mohommed V in Granada sent. They were also responsible for decorating Alhambra’s Palacio Nazaries. So the palace is largely in Muslim-style but incorporates elements that were contemporary to Catholic culture at the time. The harmonious integration was in stark contrast to what we’d seen in the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba.

We visited Plaza de España, which is historically or architecturally less significant than the other places we’ve visited, but was a fun way to spend the afternoon. It’s a semi-circular building and plaza with a big fountain and pond, built for the 1929 Sevilla Expo. It features tiled alcoves showcasing all the provinces of Spain, in alphabetical order. We noted that many depicted conquistas. It was great for people watching (Tik tok-ers and Instragramers let loose), and Zeus met more of his fan club, more particularly 2 Ukrainian students who missed their Italian Greyhounds back home.

We had hoped to visit the Sevilla cathedral which also incorporates elements of the mosque that previously occupied its site. The cathedral’s impressive and iconic tower is a repurposing of the mosque’s minaret. But we didn’t have the time so it’s one to visit for our future selves.

We were a little nervous when we returned to the van, that it might have been broken into or the bikes stolen off the back. We’re please to say we found it as we left it.

Costa de la Luz

After 4 days of visiting cities, it was nice to spend some time in relatively undeveloped Zahora on Costa de la Luz. Our campsite sat next to a coastal pine forest and you could hear horses neighing and frolicking nearby. We were a short walk away from beautiful, sandy and very quite beaches. It seems however, there was no escaping from history geeking – the coast overlooks the site of the Battle of Trafalgar.

We did a hike along the coast in nearby Parc Natural de La Breña y Marismas del Barbate. It had awesome views of the coast and ocean. We wondered if the landmass we saw in the distance was Gibraltar, but after checking Google maps it must have been Tangier!

We also enjoyed a bike ride along the coast between Los Caños de Meca (where we had a sherry stop), and El Palmar (where we saw lots of surfers and wild camping but not much surfing).

What’s next?

We’d like to visit a sherry bodega in one of the nearby sherry towns, and then possibly head to Portugal!

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