We took some time to travel through Andalucia a bit and visit some of the well known moorish cities such as Cordoba and Granada but also smaller town such as Jerez de la Frontera, Arcos de la Frontera and Ronda, the oldest town in Spain. We used Spain’s great public transportation system and traveled by train and bus mainly.
We started with Córdoba, an Iberian and Roman city in ancient times that later became the capital of an Islamic caliphate. In 10th century it was believed that Córdoba was the most populated city in the world, and an intellectual center for Europe. During these centuries Cordoba, although predominantly Muslim, was tolerant toward its Christian and Jewish minorities.
The bus ride from Sevilla to Cordoba took us through acres and acres of predominantly olive tree orchards. Not surprisingly we found out later Spain is the world’s top producer of olive oil (a small bowl of olives is almost always given free as a tapa). As soon as we stepped into our hotel, our host explained the city sights, gave us a map, took our luggage, and also mentioned there was a great horse show not to miss, that day of our arrival at noon! But it was 5 minutes before noon, yikes…It was if she read our minds as far as our interests and hurried us to the door, telling us to run to catch it….
We hurried and made it there on time – although forgetting our cameras- and caught this splendid horse/flamenco show. It was very unique as they mixed the horses dancing or “prancing” with a flamenco dancer, very graceful…They also featured the more traditional dressage aspects. We both enjoyed it thoroughly and just snapped a couple of pictures at the end and a quick movie realizing we had the ipad with us.
That afternoon we toured the Jewish quarter and peeked at all the gorgeous patios. Cordoba is famous for its very ornate patios (lots of flower pots and traditional decorated tiles) and they even hold competition each year for the best ones. The patios are an open courtyard in a middle of a building usually shared by several residents. It is common they leave the main gate open so anybody can peer in and admire their work of art.
The next day we were up early to see the city’s most famous landmark, the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba, also called the Mezquita. It is a medieval Islamic mosque that was originally a Christian church that was converted in 784. It was later converted into a Catholic Christian cathedral in 1236. As with the Sevilla cathedral and other sights we’ve seen in the region, it is an over-the-top architectural piece. We wandered through the “candy cane” like arches that were meant to give the appearance of being in a date palm forest.
That afternoon we walked over the Roman bridge that was originally built in 1 BC (we also took it in at night – pic below), but since has been reconstructed several times and restored recently in 2006. There is a water wheel close to the bridge built between the 8th and 10th centuries that supplied water to a palace.
We then took a break from our sightseeing and had tea and sweets (James could not help himself and actually got coffee!) at one of the typical tea houses that usually sport ornate Moorish decor (complete with hookas) in a converted patio.
Our next stop was Granada where we spent 3 nights. Granada is located at the foot of the Sierra Nevada mountains and sits at an elevation of 738 metres above sea level.
After getting off the Cordoba-Granada bus, we took a city bus that dropped us off closer to the apartment we had reserved. It was suppose to be a 4 minute walk to the front door, but we managed to turn it into a 20 minute detour dragging our luggage up & down on uneven cobblestone streets, pulling the iPad out every two blocks to check on our progress (or lack thereof).
We finally made it there and were rewarded with a comfortable apartment decorated in typical Andalusian style.
Granada’s main draw is the Alhambra Palace. It was originally constructed as a small fortress in 889 and then largely ignored until its ruins were renovated and rebuilt in the mid 11th century and later converted into a royal palace in 1333. We spent the better part of a day touring its lavish gardens and palaces.
After the palace visit, we walked through the Albaicín district of Granada, a neighborhood that retains the narrow winding streets of its Medieval Moorish past. It was declared a world heritage site in 1984, along with the more famous Alhambra.
It rises on a hill facing the palace and we enjoyed the spectactular views of the Alhambra from the plaza where the church of San Nicolas sits . This neat little plaza was filled with street vendors, artists, and tourists wanting to snap a picture.
We lazed there for quite some time and enjoyed the singing and guitar playing of the locals (so much that we bought their CD) and the vibe the place gave off.
Locals would start dancing on certain songs and it was fun to watch.
We hopped on a train to Ronda, the oldest city of Spain and the birth place of modern bull-fighting – or so they claim. We did not visit the bull-fighting arena as we are not much into corridas.
The main attraction of Ronda is the spectacular city itself set over the mass of two stone cliffs and separated by the narrow and deep gorge of the river.
Connecting the old town to the new town is a 18th century Puente Nuevo ‘new’ bridge, which straddles the 100m gorge below. Around it is an ample valley with working fields, oaks and olive trees.
That night, we witnessed a spectacular sunset and had a great vegetarian dinner at a local restaurant…finally some true veggies cooked and served to perfection!