Monday, 8 December 2008

Andalusia - Day 2, Castles & Mosques

It was a glorious morning and although it was slightly chilly there wasn’t a cloud to be seen in the perfect blue sky and we interpreted this as a really promising sign and dressed appropriately in linens and short-sleeved shirts.

Together with a lot of local people we had a traditional breakfast at the Goya and this made a nice change from the usual hotel buffet arrangement that we usually have. It was a simple affair with a choice of toasted bread drizzled with olive oil and a thin tomato puree and topped off with thin slices of cured ham or alternatively toast and marmalade made from finest Seville oranges.

After breakfast we prepared for a drive to the city of Córdoba about a hundred and twenty kilometres to the east along the River Guadalquivir. Córdoba is a moderately sized place today but once it was the largest Roman city in Spain and later became the thriving capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba that once governed almost all of the Iberian Peninsula. It has been estimated that in the tenth century it was the largest city in Western Europe and, perhaps, in the world with up to half a million inhabitants.

We didn’t take the direct motorway route because we thought the alternative may be more scenic and anyway we were worried about paying unnecessary tolls. This proved to be unnecessary on both counts because it wasn’t especially picturesque and there weren’t any tolls either. First we drove to the town of Lora Del Rio along a road that took us through an agricultural landscape with fields all freshly ploughed and waiting for next years grain crops. Although the highest mountains on the Spanish mainland are in Andalusia most of the Province, which stretches from the deserts of Almeria in the east to the Portuguese border in the west is a flat plain in the valley of the Guadalquivir, which at six hundred and fifty-seven kilometers is the fifth longest river in Spain and is one of the country’s most significant because it irrigates a fertile valley, thus creating a rich agricultural area.

Lora del Rio was an unexceptional working town and there was nothing to stop for so we continued along the road through the similar towns of Palma del Rio and Posadas. On our left, to the north, was the Sierra Morena mountain range that separates Andalusia from the central plain of Castilla-La-Mancha and there were some worrying accumulations of cloud that looked a little to close for comfort. Eventually we came to Almodóvar del Rio where a large castle was perched strategically on the top of a hill and this looked well worth stopping for.

The Castillo de Almodóvar is a grandiose caliphal fortress erected on a high mound along the Guadalquivir. Square towers flank its towering walls and the entire castle is surrounded by a large moat. During the years of occupation it was a Moorish stronghold and after the reconquest it became the medieval home for members of the Spanish nobility. It gradually fell into disrepair and much of it was plundered for building material by the people of the town but the Count of Torralba rebuilt it a hundred years ago restoring the external appearance of the original Arab fortification.

At its elevated position there was a spectacular view of the plains to the south and the mountains to the north and although the sun was shining it was getting cold and the clouds were getting closer. We visited the castle in the company of a children’s school outing who were enjoying an interactive history lesson which must have been highly entertaining judging by all of the laughter and giggles. It was a good castle and well worth the €5 entrance fee and we climbed the towers and walked the ramparts and when we had seen all there was to see we left and continued the drive to Córdoba.

Although the road was swinging to the south it couldn’t keep us ahead of the cloud and by the time we reached the city it was beginning to overtake us. It was still patchy as we parked the car but by the time we had set off for the centro historico its advance was relentless and it became quite gloomy, overcast and cold and we were all beginning to regret the lightweight clothing option that we had selected earlier. It was lunchtime so we looked for somewhere warm to stop and eat and came across a restaurant with a reasonable menu del dai at only €10 and we enjoyed a pleasant if not an especially spectacular lunch.

Outside the weather had not improved and we were disappointed to find that one of the two principal attractions the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos was closed for the afternoon so we had to make do with the external views and move on to Córdoba’s Great Mosque, the Mezquita. As well as being the second largest mosque in the world at the time this was the grandest and most beautiful mosque constructed by the Moors in Spain and it is situated amongst a lattice work of narrow streets, patios and plazas in the city’s old Jewish quarter. After the Spanish Reconquest, it was transformed into a church, and some of the Islamic columns and arches were replaced by a basilica and today it is a Roman Catholic Cathedral and the main church of the diocese of Córdoba.

It was getting colder and there was a spot of rain or two so we were pleased to buy admission tickets and go inside in the warm for a while. That was all of us except Micky who ‘doesn’t do churches’ so he stayed outside and sheltered from the rain in a doorway. He should have come inside because it was really spectacular with nearly a thousand columns of granite, jasper and marble supporting the roof and creating a dazzling visual effect. When the Cathedral was constructed in the sixteenth century some of these pillars were removed which I suppose might be described as an act of vandalism but in actual fact the Baroque structure didn’t seem to be entirely out of place.

It took some time to walk through the Mezquita and see all of the highlights and when we left and returned to the courtyard it had thankfully stopped raining and the temperature had risen a degree or two but it was still quite cold. We walked for a while down by the river and crossed half way on the Puente Romano, which is an elaborate bridge that still sits on Roman foundations. Because of the weather we didn’t really see Córdoba at its best and the grey skies took the edge of the visit and because of that we walked back to the car stopping briefly for a drink and a warm in a café and then we drove back to Carmona.

Once in the car there was a continual chorus from the back seat of ‘Put the heater on’ and I had to agree that it was a bit chilly. We took the direct route back along the Autovia which confirmed that there were no tolls and as we drove west the weather started to improve and by the time we arrived back at our hotel the sun was breaking through again. We found a parking space; this time even further away from the hotel and when we got back Christine was pleased to see the scruffy dog was waiting for her.

I don’t like dogs and there was no reason for me to make an exception in this case but I did have to agree that this was a canny beast. It was a street dog and it obviously knew how to look after itself and being a con-dog it could clearly assess the situation quite expertly and pick out the soft one in the group who was going to be taken in by its put on forlorn, down-trodden appearance that was all a bit of a clever act. In our case this was Christine!

Across the square was a café bar called the Bar Plaza and later that evening, even though we hadn’t intended going inside, the owner spotted us in the street and sheperded us in through the doorway in a much practiced customer gathering round-up routine and before we had time to make our own decision he had taken drinks orders and provided us with menus and there seemed to be a sort of commitment to dine there. Actually it was rather good and we ordered a range of dishes and shared them between us. The menu had made an attempt at some English translations and we especially liked the Revuelto de la Casa that had been translated as ‘In a Mess (untidy) of the House’.

When we left the Bar Plaza it was raining again so went straight back to the hotel where we had a last drink in the lounge and a hand or two of cards before going to bed at about midnight feeling a bit uneasy about the weather prospects for the next day.


1 comment:

Castles of La Mancha said...

I went to the town of Sigüenza (in Guadalajara) this castle is one of the most representative castles of the area; built on top of an earlier Moorish structure, and is now a Parador Hotel.