We have a GPS in our rental car. We call her Clio (after the model of our Renault) and she is British. We are having a lot of fun with how she pronounces the names of Spanish streets and cities, and the kids are developing quite the British accents. One of my favorites was the way Clio says Córdoba – “Cor – doh – baaaah.” The emphasis is always on the last syllable.
Today’s post will be largely pictoral. We are on the road, having left Andalucía for a few stops in northern Spain, wine country in France, Germany and then our ultimate arrival in Poland (two weeks from now).
While staying in Arcos in Andalucía, we visited numerous Spanish cities, including Córdoba. Córdoba held a special place in my heart. While I was working two jobs, saving money for this adventure, the Roman Bridge pictured above, was my desktop photo at work. It was a night-time shot of this very bridge and it kept me going on days where I was frustrated or just burned-out. Something about the arches, the expanse of the bridge and the medievalness of the scene drew me in and created a yearning.
And fortunately, the picture did not disappoint. Córdoba instantly left us enchanted. While every city in Spain we’ve visited is distinctly and fantastically Spanish, they also each have their own soul – their own vibe. Some we feel an instant affinity with (Madrid!) and others take a little more time to peel away the layers. Córdoba was an instant attraction.
Córdoba was one of those cities, that despite having only one day, we knew was a place that would leave an indelible mark on our souls. We arrived mid-day, walked the Roman Bridge, played at a park, lunched on some AMAZING tapas and then toured the breathtaking Mezquita.
I think La Mezquita might be my favorite tourist site in Spain. It is a 10th-century mosque with a 16th-century cathedral rising in the very center. It is a juxtaposition like I’ve never seen. Córdoba was once the heart of Western Islam, rivaling cities like Baghdad and Constantinople. By the year 950 it had more residents than Paris, oil lamps lit the city by night and running water was piped throughout.
And in the center of this great city was the Mosque (or the Mezquita), with it’s 850 red and blue columns and hundreds of arches, dating back to 786. It is an architectural marvel and a photographer’s dream. I could easily have lost myself for hours in this labyrinth of marble, granite and alabaster – all recycled from Roman and Visigothic ruins.
The significance of this very site is mind-blowing. The Visigothic ruins below the mosque date back to the 6th century! And the mosque itself is a thing of sheer beauty dating back centuries. It’s difficult to even find the words.
Then in 1236, the Christians conquered the city and the last Muslim prayers were said among these arches. Sixteen columns were removed to create a chapel and the mosque became a church (although, fortunately, it retained most of the original architecture). Then, in 1523, Córdoba’s bishop proposed building a grand cathedral in the center of the mosque. While the mosque’s ceilings rose to 30-feet, the cathedral’s soared to 130-feet!
The contrast is almost overwhelming. You walk from this intimate expanse of columns that extend before you like a calm sea into a peaceful horizon, into this dramatic, powerful and bright cathedral opening to the vast skies above. It’s jarring both in its differences and similarities.
It’s hard not to feel the passion and emotion of both the mosque and the cathedral. I’ve honestly never been in such awe and wonder. The beauty, the complication, the simplicity, the light, the dark, the horizons and the heights, the modesty, the grandeur, the fear, the warmth – they all co-mingle in a way that is profoundly moving and also impossible to describe.
But, this is a family sabbatical and while I could spend hours upon hours soaking up the immensity of the Mezquita, the kids need to run. And fortunately for us, Córdoba is home to La Ciudad de los Niños. A city park built especially for big imaginations and vast quantities of energy!
City parks are not unique to us per say. At home we have the newly opened Maggie Daley Park in downtown Chicago, a beautiful park dedicated to the City’s kids. However, having now experienced Córdoba’s childrens’ park, I think ours, despite it’s beauty and creativity, greatly misses the mark.
Córdoba’s park is truly for the children. There is a fee to enter – one or two Euros, but once inside everything is self-contained, safe and free. The kids can run, explore, play and simply be kids. It’s not showy. It’s not about architecture or art. It’s not about “ribbons” and climbing walls, or making money. It’s about simple, unadulterated play.
Reasonably priced concessions are available, facilities are clean and aplenty and there is enough room for kids of all ages to run free!
Needless to say, Córdoba won our hearts – as if we weren’t already in love with Spain! It was a wonderful excursion and a place we’d gladly revisit. It’s beautiful, thought-provoking, energetic and charming!
And worth every late night and extra hour at the office staring at a desktop background dreaming of what’s to come!