Cordoba, Spain – Crossroads of History

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

One of the many pools in the gardens of the Alcazar Palace.

Our ride inland through the fertile and most populous region of Spain, Andalucía, revealed a checkerboard of golden acres of wheat alternating with verdant fields of sunflowers.  I have never seen or imagined so many sunflowers, and the fields in full bloom glowed with bright yellow made all the more vivid under the shining sun.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

The walls surrounding La Mezquita give it a fortress-like appearance.

Our ABC Tour (Another Blessed Cathedral) ultimately led us to La Mezquita (The Mosque), now known as the Cathedral of Cordoba.  There is nothing like it in the world and a bit of history is necessary to appreciate its story.

Pushing back the boundaries of a weakened Roman Empire, the Visigoths built a Christian church in Cordoba on the site of a temple honoring the Roman god, Janus.  The Visigoths controlled most of what is now Spain for over 100 years before the Muslim conquest early in the 8th century.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The courtyard of palm and orange trees leading to the entrance of The Mosque Cathedral.

The Muslims (referred to as Moors in Spain) made Cordoba the capital of their Al-Andalus region in 718 AD.  Beginning in 784, the emir of Cordoba ordered the construction of a mosque on the site of the Christian church, which was demolished.  During this period, Cordoba also became one of the most prosperous cities in the world, known for its advancements in science, art and architecture.  The Christians and Jews in the city were welcomed to stay and worship as they pleased as long as they paid a tithe to the Muslim emir.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

The array of columns hints at rows of palm trees in a desert oasis.

Over a period of 200 years the mosque was enlarged and enhanced until it became one of the largest and finest mosques in the world.  It is an impressive structure covering some 250,000 square feet.  From the outside the mosque does not appear that impressive.  While ornate by today’s architectural standards, the mosque gives off a distinctly military feel with forty foot high walls and iron gates at its arched entries.

So magnificent was the finished mosque that when the Catholic Church proposed building its cathedral addition in the middle of the mosque, it was over the objections of the people of Cordoba.  Opposition to the cathedral was overruled by King Carlos V without his ever having visited the site.  In 1526, when the king did witness the damage he had unwittingly allowed, he is said to have remarked, ‘You have built here what you or anyone might have built anywhere else, but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

The Mosque covers an area of over 250,000 sq. ft. with over 800 columns spread throughout.

Once we entered the huge courtyard and the cathedral itself is its grandeur revealed.  Florence and I both looked at each other and simultaneously mouthed, ‘Wow.’  (If only there was a word that equaled Wow to the tenth power.)  The expanse of the mosque is filled with over 850 columns made of onyx, granite, marble and jasper, all holding up brightly colored red and white arches which in turn support much higher arched ceilings.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

The Roman Bridge featuring 12 arches connects the Old City with the new.

Cordoba today is a tranquil city with parks and plazas with plenty of fountains and statuary.  It is also one of the premier locations in the world for bullfights.  Many people find bullfighting to be a cruel sport.  In fact, bullfighting has been banned in some areas of Spain, most notably Barcelona in the Catalan Region.  However, bullfights remain popular in Andalucía.  There are fourteen bullrings in Cordoba, the largest of which is the Plaza de Los Califas, which seats 16,900 spectators.  The excitement stems from the possibility of death faced simultaneously by both fighter and bull.  It is worth noting that bulls bred to fight are raised and treated gently and fed only the finest food fit for a bull.  As for the moral principle of bullfighting, I personally find it hypocritical to criticize a fight to the death between man and bull when we as a society raise vast herds of cattle to be unceremoniously slaughtered without giving it much thought.

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

Strolling the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba with our new British friends, Ruth and Mike Steele

We topped off our tour of Cordoba with a stroll through the picturesque Jewish Quarter with its artisan ceramic and leather shops and a synagogue dating back to AD 1350.  We passed the museum of the Spanish Inquisition in which about 3,000 people (some estimates are higher) were executed for their religious beliefs.  We also visited the nearby Alcazar Castle with its spectacular gardens.  The royalty of Spain clearly knew how to live in grand style.

The power of the once mighty Spanish Empire came full circle for me after having seen the Spanish influence in colonial Latin America during our two years touring and living there.  Even though Spain is no longer considered a major world power, its place in history is forever set with an elegance that rivals any country.

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17 comments on “Cordoba, Spain – Crossroads of History

  1. […] Source: Cordoba, Spain – Crossroads of History […]

  2. nantubre says:

    Like you, I am loathe to say anything unkind about a society different than my own. But bull fighting – sorry, not a fan. As for the comparison to raising and slaughtering beef cattle for food, I rather think killing for sport is something altogether different. In my neck of the woods, idiots fight cocks. And dogs if they can get away with it. Appalling!!

    • Mike Lince says:

      Your sentiments about bullfights are shared by many, Nan, even here in Spain. An important distinction between fighting dogs and cocks is that the bullfight is a test between a man and a potentially lethal animal opponent. Also, bullfights are part of a long tradition in Spanish culture, and to this day there are a number of schools that teach promising novices the art and techniques of the matadors.

      Matadors are still elite celebrities in Spain, although modern day scrutiny by other societies has led to less killing of the bulls. It is now not unusual to spare a bull after a bullfight.

      Thanks for your comments. – Mike

  3. Fascinating! Thank you for sharing…

  4. That cathedral is stunning, Mike, and your photos really do it justice. When we saw it I fell in love with those graceful arches. Great post! ~Terri

    • Mike Lince says:

      One thing is for sure on the ‘ABC Tour’ – there always seems to be another spectacular cathedral in the next city. That was certainly the case in Barcelona and Granada, and as I will share soon, the Cathedral of Seville – the third largest cathedral in the world and the largest with Gothic architecture. Thank you, as always for sharing your comments. – Mike

  5. Kris says:

    One question:
    All those Jews and Christians who were invited to stay and worship as they pleased…how did they manage that, since the church had been demolished and replaced with a giant, militaristic mosque? Just wondering. And, you know, looking at history and current events.

    Still, I don’t begrudge you your rose-colored glasses at all. I just don’t share them.

    • Mike Lince says:

      Other churches and synagogues existed in Cordoba other than the original church built by the Christian Visigoths. One of those synagogues still exists in the Old City’s Jewish Quarter. Fortunately for the modern era, the Moors were more interested in advances in education than in warfare, and they preserved and advanced much of what would have been lost from Greek, Roman and Carthaginian civilizations. In the 8th century, Islam was only about 100 years old, and in that era there existed no xenophobia about extreme Muslim sects or what we would call today ‘Muslim fundamentalism’. There was no basis for enmity between Christendom and Islam prior to The Crusades.
      Thank you for sharing your comments. – Mike

  6. reocochran says:

    I loved your “Wow” to the tenth power idea! I tend to use Awesome! a lot and that is getting old, too! I wish I knew some more words to describe this beautiful cathedral and all the wondrous sights in Cordoba, Spain that Florence captured in her photos and you, in description and details.
    I think that it is interesting that in Mexico they do bull fighting and they don’t kill the bulls, I think Spain is going in that direction. It is beautiful to watch, we went to Mexican and Spanish bull fights. I guess that it is okay in their tradition, pride and majesty of the red cape and the expertise. My brother and I were sad at the Spanish one, we got teary eyed. My Mom was explaining why (this was 1974) that she felt they may even eat the bull, which may give it some valid ‘excuse’ for the actual killing.
    You know I was a little intrigued by the comments today. I am a worldly person who believes all cultures have their place among the area they come from, as long as each is fairly treated and no fighting occurs. In Jerusalem, my brother felt the Arabs and the original “natives” should have not been told to get out of the Gaza Strip. But that is very controversial and a lot of fighting over the religious rights of a few over the majority. In Spain, I believed there was less animosity. I am like you, wearing rose colored glasses, liking the view from my peaceful perspective. No one has priority and that is how I feel! Smiles, hugs and hopes for a wonderful last days in Spain, soon to be back home again! Robin

    • Mike Lince says:

      Robin, your comments are always a breath of fresh air, even here amid the onshore breeze coming off the Mediterranean. No matter how I offer excerpts from history, someone is likely to read more into the story than what I have shared. That is nowhere more evident than in the mention of bullfights. I think people forget how young our civilization is, and how customs from one culture and another are not likely to change fast enough to please some people’s sensibilities.

      If there is one thing Florence and I have learned from our years of travel, it is that we are in no position to judge the customs and lifestyles of other cultures. And by reserving judgment, we have made good friends who might just as easily take exception to the customs of Americans, since not all Americans leave a favorable impression. More than one individual who has taken time to talk with me has said something to me like, ‘You aren’t like a lot of other Americans. I am going to have to reassess my opinions about Americans.’ I can think of few compliments greater than to be viewed as an ambassador of good will for my country. – Mike

      • reocochran says:

        You and Florence are the perfect ambassadors to other countries, for exactly that reason! You are open, friendly, like to try new things, and are not judgmental. I am sure that is why we connect so well, since most of the time, I would be a great ambassador, too! I am so glad you understood my long comments about the bull-fighting. I was defending this, like when other cultures may consider the way we whipped horses over long stretches out West, or riding our bulls while making them do this time and again and other silly things we do in America, that other cultures wonder about! I like to have a sense of humor about life, which I can see in Florence’s face and your smiles. You both have tried on hats and costumes, tried tastes of foods and liquors, brews and ‘broken bread’ with many folks, along the paths you have traveled. We have kindred spirits, Mike! Smiles, Robin

  7. Mike, this is spectacular! This is a region that I would so love to visit… high on my list! I love that you and Florence take it all in and share such diverse, interesting and beautiful things with us. Unlike some other commenters, I find your comparison of bull fighting and beef production, very interesting. I am against the idea of killing the bull, in theory– but you have really made me look at this a little differently. It’s a very valid point, in my eyes. Many of the comments were intriguing on this post… it’s interesting that Palestinians and Arabs are referred to as “natives,” when in fact the Jews were living there as well, since biblical times. It is a complicated topic, on so many levels… in the end, one of the things I most admire about you and Florence, is your passion for meeting others and absorbing the milieu of the places you visit– with such grace and open mindedness. I am always glad I read your post! Ciao. xo

    • Mike Lince says:

      I encourage people to share their thoughts on what are sometimes controversial subjects because it adds to the readability of my stories. Your comments always add worthwhile content and perspective to my posts, and I am grateful for your input. If I have added to anyone’s interest in areas I have visited and written about, then I have accomplished more than just documenting our travels.

      Spain is full of amazing beauty, and for that reason it should merit a visit on any traveler’s itinerary. I think Spaniards have been so inundated with tourists that they are resigned to the cruise ships and tour buses that bring streams of people to their cities. For that reason we prefer to travel in the off-season. Also, it was when we got off the beaten path and I approached a shop owner or individual and I spoke to them in Spanish that I experienced their friendliness.

      Nowadays, there is much greater ethnic diversity in Spain than there ever was during the Middle Ages and at the height of the Spanish Empire. The interesting history is how Spain has become who and what it is today. Thank you, as always for your comments, Dawn. – Mike

  8. RoShawn says:

    Hello Mike & Florence! I felt like I was there in Cordoba :-)! Miss you guys!

    RoShawn

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