Southern Spain – The Jewels of Andalucía – Córdoba and Granada

In a land known for being enriched by the comings and goings of history, Córdoba and Granada stand out as the jewels of the mixed currents of history.

Córdoba

Of the two, Córdoba felt more a mixture of glorious history and modern livability. Granted, I did not explore both cities fully, so this is a high-level impression and I welcome comments sharing further perspectives on this.  The centerpiece of Córdoba, of course, is la Mezquita de Córdoba. Originally a church, converted to mosque, and returned to a church during la Reconquista (the expulsion of the Moors from Spain), it stands as a record of the currents it experienced.  Seeing the inside of the mosque (not sure why we call it a mosque to this day since it is officially a church now but we do) is to marvel at the artistic and architectural talents of the Moors.  It is also a credit to someone from the 13th century who, after the expulsion of the Moors, did not go back and undo all the construction done by them so, today, we can enjoy the beauty of the arches that grace the church.  (There was some retrofitting done to insert a church within the structure much as the Moors had done earlier when they converted the church to a mosque.)  Outside the structure, the orange tree garden is also a nice feature of the grounds.  To me, it is one of the most important architectural sites in Spain, or at least one that appeals to me for being a picture of the movements of history.

Granada

Granada definitely had a unique feeling as well.  Granada felt more regal.  From the cathedral as a final resting place of the Catholic Monarchs (“tanto monta, monta tanto, Isabel como Fernando“, for native Spanish speakers, remember that?) to the Alhambra and Generalife settings and gardens, everything about Granada makes me think of “royalty”.

But the most vivid memory for me is the night we arrived.  I was at the wheel and we were looking for our hotel in the city center.  This is before Internet days, etc. so we just had an address and a map.  I found a street that would deposit me on our hotel’s street.  However, as the street began to narrow, I wondered what I had gotten myself into.  Yes, the road continued narrowing as small beads of sweat began appearing on my forehead.  Of course, the climax of this was when we came to the narrowest point in the street.  The car would not go through.  Cars were beginning to accumulate behind me.  The motorcycle ahead of me stopped to look back at me.  Beads became torrents.  How would we get out of this bind??!!  Well, thank the Peugeot engineer who decided that model should have folding mirrors.  That was the margin of error in passing or not passing…  Drivers beware – choose cars with folding mirrors and wear a bandanna when driving in ancient city centers.

Back to the main features though… The Alhambra was a hilltop palace of the Moorish rulers of Spain.  The attention to detail in the carvings on the walls, ceilings, columns, etc. is spectacular.  Thinking of someone doing that detailed work blows my mind.  Some of the most famous sights from the Alhambra are the water fountains in the courtyards of the palace (e.g., the Courtyard of Lions).  The Generalife (pronounced “heh-neh-rah-LEE-feh“) gardens are constructed next to the Alhambra and also use water fountains.  The design of water flowing between fountains at different levels as you descend down the hillsides is enchanting.  To me, it is not that there are fountains but it is how they were able to show water in motion in a clever scheme to move water from fountain to fountain.

Finally, having grown up studying Spanish history and the discovery of the New World, seeing the tomb of the Catholic Monarchs was like closing the book on all those history classes.  There they were, their remains in metal caskets in the Royal Chapel, the most powerful people of their time.

Both of these towns have plenty more to offer than I explored or than I wrote about.  They are enchanting and should be tops on the list of anyone wanting to see and get to know Spain.

Would like to hear about your experiences in Córdoba and Granada and what you saw that impressed you the most about these two great examples of two cultures clashing or combining, as the case may be.

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