I visited Cordoba and Granada for a long weekend in May this year mainly because I needed a break from the grey weather in the UK and because during this time of the year Andalusia isn’t boiling hot. During the summer month temperatures can reach up to 40 degrees or more. The downside of visiting Cordoba and Granada in May is that the there are a large number of tourists thronging the streets of Corodoba.
Cordoba is a fantastic little city, once the melting pot of Muslim, Christian and Jewish cultures and hence there are plenty of historic monuments to choose from ranging from the stunning Mezquita to the ruins of a small Jewish synagogue. I only had a day and a half in Cordoba and as I do not like to rush, I choose to visit the Mezquita, the Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos and the Roman Bridge. In between these visits, I wandered around the Old Town and the Jewish Quarters, admiring the colourful flower pots in the white-washed alleys and trying to steal a glance at the gorgeous and often hidden patios of the traditional houses. Occasionally I would plonk myself in a caffee or teashop to relax and watch the world go by.
There are an infinite amount of places to have a drink or to have a meal but one of the places I liked most was the Salon de Te (13 Calle Buen Pastor) a small Moroccan tea shop with a nice courtyard, pretty amazing food and a lemon and lime lemonade to die for.
The Roman Bridge
The Roman bridge, across the Guadlaquivir River, was originally built in the early 1st century BC though it has been reconstructed at various times since. Most of the present structure dates from an Islamic reconstruction in the 8th century AD. The bridge now has sixteen arches only two of which date back to the original one.
Cordoba was initially founded by the Romans in 169 BC and it was an important the cultural and political center in southern space under the Romans, the Byzantine Empire and the Visigoth who captured the city in the 6th centuray AD. In 711 Cordoba was captured by the Umayyad army and it became a provincial capital of the Umayyad empire, subordinate to the Caliphate of Damascus.
It is generally believed that during the reign of the Visigoth the site of the Mezquita was occupied by a Christian church, the Basilica of San Vincente, which, after the Islamic Conquest of the Visigoth kingdom, was divided and shared by Muslims and Christians. This arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir Abd-Al-Raham I, who the proceeded to demolish the original structure and build the grand mosque of Cordoba on its ground. The mosque was enlarged three times between 833 and 934 by Abd-Al-Raham II, Al Hakam II and Almanzor. If you look carefully at the red and yellowish arches you can see where the second enlargement started as, because of the lack of funds, they painted the red brick pattern onto the arches, rather than alternating stone and bricks as in the original building.
After the reconquest of Cordoba by Ferdinand III of Castille, the centre of the Grand Mosque was transformed into a Catholic cathedral and the minaret was converted into a bell tower, which was adorned with the bells of the cathedral of Santtiago de Compostella.
The mezquita, whit its beautiful arches and the stunning islamic and Christian architecture is a must see. The best time to visit the Mezquita is probably between 8AM and 9AM in the morning as tour groups are not allowed to enter the Mezquita during this time and consequently you will have the Great Mosque pretty much t yourself.
Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos
The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos has been a Fortress since the Visigoth wrested Cordoba from the Romans. After the Islamic conquest of the Visigoth, the Umayyads used it as they palace. Under the Umayyads Cordoba flourished and the Alcazar was significantly expanded. Extensions included a hammam, large gardens and a library. The gardens were so extensive that watermills were build on the Guadalquivir, pumping up water from the river in order to irrigate the gardens. Most of the present day structure dates back to the early 14th century, during the time of the reconquest of Cordoba by Ferdinand III of Castille.
Cordoba to Granada: Alcaudete
Unfortunately, I only had two days in Cordoba which is not enough to see everything in detail but is sufficient for me to know that I would like to go back at some stage to explore this beautiful city a little bit more. So on Saturday afternoon I packed my back and drove to Granada via the N-432 eschewing the faster A-45 route. Although, the N-432 takes slightly longer it is much prettier and it passes through the town of Alcaudete, the location of a pretty impressive castle and the chuch of Santa Maria la Mayor. Unfortunately, neither the castle of the church were open when I got there. As it turns out the Castle of Alcaudete is only open to the public from late May to September. After wandering Alcaudete I drove pretty much straight to Granada, although there were still some nice looking villages on the way I would have liked to visit.
Although the Alhambra is spectacular and I thought it would be the highlight of my trip it was a bit of a let down because the guided tour I had joined. Firstly, the guide was pretty much completely useless and they rushed us through all the nice parts of the fortress. This kind of reinforced my impressions that joining a guided tour is a bad idea in general and I normally try and avoid them.
There are several ways you can get a ticket to the Alhambra. Firstly, you can buy a personal ticket directly from the official Alhambra ticketing website. This is by far the cheapest (14 Euros) and the best way to see the Alhambra as you can spend as much time as you like visiting the Alcazaba, the Nasrid Palace and the Generalife. However, note that the tickets to the Nasrid Palace are timed; once you are inside the Palace though you can stay as long as you want. The downside of this approach is that there is only a limited amount of individual tickets available and these get snapped up really quickly. When I looked in April for a ticket in May they had all sold out and the earliest available ticket was for the beginning of June. Hence I was forced to buy a ticket for a guided tour, which cost me more than three times as much as the individual ticket (£45). And the tour was pretty dire… So if you are going down the guided tour route I suggest that you do your research properly into which organiser to choose., something I did not to my regret. There is a third option to buy a ticket assuming that you are not risk averse and will not be disappointed if you do not see the Alhambra at all. Each day they sell a limited amount of individual tickets at the ticket office of the Alhambra. In order to get one of these tickets you have to get up early in the morning and hope that they have not sold out by the time you get there.
Hiking in the Foothills of the Sierra Nevada
On my last day I drove from Granada to Monachil in order to go for a short hike, as my flight back to the UK was late afternoon. Having looked at the Trek Sierra Nevada website I came across the Los Cahorros de Monachil trek, a short 8 km hike with several hanging bridges and deep some narrow canyons. I thought the walk was pretty much suitable for anybody that is reasonably fit, but there are sections where you are required to scramble under overhanging rocks along the side of the gorge. in order to make the scrambling easier metal handles have been inserted into the rock no technical ability is required.