Many believe that Spain is all about Madrid – that the city is the best place to be if you’re in the country. The fact is that there must be hundreds more regions, cities, pueblos, and barrios to see and explore in this Iberian peninsula other than its capital – and one of them is Andalucia.
Where is Andalucia?
The region, which because of its exotic qualities has made it a favorite setting of popular movies like Lawrence of Arabia, Indiana Jones and many more, is found in Spain’s southern point. It is undeniably world-class as a tourist destination, where every area must reek in countless amazing sites and attractions.
The region also boasts of the ideal climate all throughout the year – hot in summer and mildly cold in winter – perfect for those once-in-a-lifetime vacation adventures.
In other words, you need not be stuck with Madrid as Spain affords you at least another option. If you’re someone who rares to experience the most unique Spanish culture and tradition, Andalucia is the perfect choice.
The 8 provinces of Andalucia are clumped together down the southern tip of Spain (Map courtesy of www.theodora.com/maps used with permission.)
Andalucia has eight provinces – these are Cadiz, Cordoba, Almeria, Jaen, Granada, Huelva, Malaga and Seville. Each one is beautiful and breathtaking – ready for any tourist to explore and appreciate.
My next two blog posts (including this) will be about Cordoba
Spain and Granada, the first two Andalucian provinces that I had the pleasure to see and experience.
Off to my Andalucian Adventure
A city that was declared a World Heritage site, specifically the Historical Center of Cordoba, it was first ruled by the Romans until the Moors took over in the 8th Century. It was said to be the start of the blossoming of a city, the greatness of which easily rivaled other Moslem territories, like ancient Damascus and Constantinople.
And as Cordoba experienced being immersed in both Roman and Moorish cultures, what resulted is a place that exudes the strong characteristics of these two as evidenced by the massive edifice of worship that accommodates at least two religions; the Moorish-inspired whitewashed towns complete with Catholic cathedrals, basilicas, and parroquias; and the lively fiestas and celebrations that honor both Christian and Islamic traditions, among others.
First Stop: Cordoba Spain
Thru the initiative of an adventurous bunch of Filipinos (their common denominator is that they attend masses at Iglesia de Nuestra Sra. del Espino, along C/ Conde de Serrallo near Plaza del Castilla), a Saturday trip to Andalucia’s Cordoba and Granada was organized.
Leaving the church premises at 1AM, the bus arrived at Cordoba before 6AM, stopping near the foot of the Puente Romano and the Gate of the Bridge. It was still early in the dawn, but a number of people are already around and checking the place. We just came in, yet it was easy to to tell that the place reeks of magnificent attractions — and the following are just some of them.
Cordoba Spain Attractions
1. La Mezquita
Try to start a discussion about Cordoba, and surely, La Mezquita will be mentioned. It is to be expected as the edifice is of utmost importance to the Cordobans, it being a highly-revered Arab-Andalucian treasure.
Mesquita means Mosque, and its complete name is Mezquita Catedral de Cordoba. It is called as such because it was originally a mosque, but now serves as a Catholic place of worship. Mesquita is unique in that the Moslems also want to have it for their own, proving its immense significance to the Islam religion. In fact, it is recognized as the most important Islamic structure within the Western world.
One look at the façade and you see how it reflects Moslem and Baroque designs. It is a huge mosque, and touted as the third largest in the world. Judging from our walk around its perimeter, the building must cover an area equivalent to a few city blocks. No doubt, it is one of the most fascinating landmarks that you can see in Cordoba.
2. The bell tower of Mezquita
This is the present bell tower and is open to the public if you’re touring the Mesquita-Catedral. During the days of the Moor occupation, the tower was originally a minaret or a place where the call to prayer is made.
Built by Abderraman III, the leaders of the cathedral decided to convert it into a bell tower, with the last of the series of reconstruction happening in 1664. If you want great views of Cordoba and the grounds of the Mezquita-Cathedral itself, it is a must that you climb up the bell tower.
3. Puente Romano
In English, it means the Roman Bridge – an impressive structure that crosses the equally great Rio Guadalquivir. This is known to be the sole bridge of the Ancient Cordoba region for a long time. A colossal work of architecture by the Romans way back in the 1st century A.D., the Spanish government reconstruct it into its original state to preserve its historical importance.
Watch the above video of the Puente Romano de Cordoba as it was featured in HBO’s Game of Thrones. Notice its appearance markedly altered thru the use of computer-generated effects. (Video is courtesy of Cordoba Film Office).
4. Torre de Calahorra
After the Moslem took reigns of Cordoba, they added a tower to the Roman Bridge in order to protect it and the city itself from invaders coming from the south side of the banks. Inside you will find a museum that displays artifacts from the three great religions – Christian, Jewish, and Moslem. It is open to the public, starting at 10AM. Price of regular admission: 4.50 euros
5. Plaza de la Corredera
This is one of the city’s famous squares, built right within its midst. The plaza presents a strong Castilian style and is said to be modeled after Madrid’s Plaza Mayor. The square is rich in ancient Roman history, evidenced by the pieces of mosaics found in the site at the time of its construction.
Today, especially now that is summer, the terrace becomes a place where great drinks are enjoyed such as a chilled Fino. On one side of the plaza is found the entrance to a popular Cordoba mercado – El Mercado de la Corredera.
6. Puerta del Puenta
In English, it means Gate to the Bridge. Puerta del Puenta was constructed in 1570 with Hernan Ruiz II at the helm. Its imposing presence was meant to greet King Felipe II during his Royal visit of the city.
Located at the end of the Puente de Romano, the arch also served as the entrance to Cordoba; hence, the name. The one that stands today was a replacement to the Moslem Gate, which then also replaced the original gate created by the Romans of Julius Ceaser’s time.
7. Roman Water Wheel
Walk to the right of that part of the bridge near the Gate, and you will see the giant (wooden?) water wheel constructed during the ancient Roman times. It was initially intended as a mill wheel, but the Moors later used it as a way of bringing water to the palace. It is said that the one standing today is a replica. The original wheel was dismantled as the noise it created was deemed a nuisance by Queen Isabella.
8. Triunfo de San Rafael
This is an old Monument with a locked gate found near the Mezquita-Catedral. It is built to honor the protector of the city, Archangel San Rafael. It is near the Gates to the Roman bridge, a strategic position which I assume as a way for San Rafael to oversee and protect the city.
9. Cruz del Rastro
Cruz del Rastro, or the Flea market Cross, is a reminder of that part of history when the Christians and Jews were pitted against each other. The end of the conflict between the two groups and in honor of Alonzo de Aguilar is remembered with the construction and installation of the cross in the Middle of the flea market.
10. Statue of San Rafael
An addition to the Roman Bridge, way back in the 1600’s, is still another magnificent statue of San Rafael. Created by Bernabe Gomez del Rio, it stands right in the middle of the bridge. In front is a candle stand on which visitors and tourists may light a candle in honor of the Patron Saint of Cordova
Cordoba is, needless to say, an Iberian city that’s unique because of the harmonious blend of Roman and Moorish cultures. Apart from the Roman and Moslem built structures, towns, and bridges, the place is above all proudly Spanish; it exhibits strong Iberian tradition that was handed down through numerous generations, like the famous flamenco dances and the celebration of Spanish fiestas.
Particularly awaited by many during the month of May is Cordoba’s Patio festival. It’s a major event in which the town residents open their patios or yards wide to entertain tourists and guests.
There’s always the next time, I can only say. If ever I get the chance to return, I must do it outside the hot summer months – as the less punishing weather will allow me to see more sites and really enjoy endless trekking with friends, hopping from one whitewashed Andalusian town to another. Here’s hoping to see more of Cordoba once again.
How to Go From Madrid to Cordoba:
Bus: Mendez Alvaro is where public bus services to different cities and regions, including Cordova, are available. Basic bus tickets are worth 15 euros; however, be prepared for a long travel, which is approximately 5 hours. If you don’t mind the long journey, then go and book a bus seat now at Madrid’s premier bus station at the Intercambiador, where its own metro train stop, the Metro Mendez Alvaro, is also found.
Train: Want to reach Cordova faster? Take the fast train service of AVE, and you will arrive at your destination in under two hours. Tickets, of course, are much more expensive at 70 euros.
Join Informal Group Tours: I paid 40 euros for the whole trip, and this amount even includes the entrance fee to the Nazaries Palace of the Alhambra complex. And so, one clear advantage is that you are saved the trouble of getting the entrance tickets – the organizers do it for you. Information about these types of tours are usually posted at message boards of local churches.
The only downside of these tours is that time is very limited; we were allotted only 3 hours in Cordoba as we were also scheduled to go to Alhambra of Granada. Hence, we didn’t visit many other important sites like the Juderia and Medina Azahara. We weren’t even able to witness the magnificent interiors of Mezquita since it opens at 10AM and we had to leave at 9.30AM. (The entrance fee is 8 euros.)
Therefore, to make the most of your travel, my advice is to take the bus at Mendez Alvaro, and go online to buy a professional guided tour package that covers much of Cordoba Spain attractions.