November 20, 2013

Moorish Medieval Marvels

“Following the light of the sun, we left the Old World.”  Christopher Columbus

Carol writes: 
CORDOBA:  So far our travels throughout Western Europe had taken us from one splendid cathedral/basilica to another.  Most of these churches have been airy Gothic marvels with incredibly high vaulted ceilings and wondrous stained glass windows.  In Spain we were looking forward to seeing a very different architectural style dating from the era of Islamic medieval Spain.  The city of Cordoba was the capital and crown jewel of Arabic Andalusia, the region in southern Spain where the culture of the Arabs met the great western thinkers of the day.  Aristotle was widely read and much admired by Cordoba’s Islamic thinkers.  For a time, Christianity and Islam actually existed peacefully side-by-side until the activism of the Crusades began. 

Our first destination for the day in Cordoba was the medieval wonder of ‘The Mezquita’—Islamic Cordoba in prime-time condition.   The Mezquita complex was the location of a massive former mosque that subsequently had a 16th century Christian church built right in the middle of it.  The Mezquita walking tour began in a pleasant courtyard.


As soon as we entered the dimly lighted area of the former mosque, we were dazzled by a repeating display of red and white striped arches.

The most sacred area of the mosque was the mihrab, not much more than a little niche-like area where the prayer leader would stand to read scripture or give a sermon.

Since Islamic art forbids the use of the human form, all of the artistic decoration in the mosque section was abstract design.  Many of these fascinated my quilter’s eye, especially the ones with continuous line designs.  Some of these may become inspirations for future quilting projects.


On entering the cathedral area of the mosque, we were suddenly thrust into an entirely different ecclesiastical world.

Exiting ‘The Meziquita’ brought us back out into a brilliant sunny day.  We were fortunate to get one of our rare twosome pics on Cordoba’s ancient Roman bridge.  It was heavenly to have a day in which we could get by in short sleeves and no jackets!

We savored the rest of our day with a stroll through the narrow streets of Cordoba,

first through the Jewish Quarter, where we paused to admire the statue of Maimonides, who lived in Cordoba and was one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of all time.

We had a quick peek into an ancient Jewish synagogue,
then finished off our day with a little sangria

at an outdoor café just inside the ancient city walls of Cordoba.

GRANADA:  Perhaps the grandest expression of the Moorish kingdom in Spain is found in the foothills of Granada at Alhambra, the greatest Moorish palace in all of Europe.  We spent the first day in Granada doing a “get familiar with the lay of the land” walk.  We passed through an area that once was a Moorish silk market but now was host to numerous colorful vendor stalls selling all the popular trinkets of the day.

We visited the ‘Royal Chapel’ where we gave a nod of thanks before the grandiose Carrara marble tomb display of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, who were the Spanish king and queen who financed the voyage of Christopher Columbus.  What was most unusual was the viewing of the simple, unadorned coffins of Ferdinand and Isabella, just beneath the lavish tomb display.

To visit Alhambra the next day, we had to jump through a few hoops to reserve a timed entry, but our campground host offered to do the reservation online for us, plus order a taxi to take us directly up the hill to Alhambra the next morning, so the planning of our visit was greatly simplified.

The entire Alhambra complex was composed of four venues:  The Gardens, the unfinished Palace of Charles V, the fort, and the royal palace itself (the Palacios Nazaries).  Since we had an early afternoon timed visit for the palace, in the morning we started our visit to Alhambra in the lovely palace gardens, where it was impossible to take a bad picture.

We visited the unfinished palace of Charles V,

then continued on to the fort complex, where we got the most eye-popping views of Granada below and, in another direction, a snowcapped peak in the distance!


Our last venue for the day was the Alhambra palace itself—what we had been waiting all day to see…

How to describe Alhambra?  For starters, it was a glorious feast for the eyes.  It seemed like every square inch of the walls, floors and ceilings were decorated with either tiles, stucco, carved wood, or molded plaster.  In keeping with Islamic beliefs, all designs were abstract and did not reflect any human forms.


From an historical perspective, the largest room (the Grand Hall) held a unique fascination because that was the very room where Christopher Columbus made his request to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to finance his voyage to the Orient.

The Courtyard of the Lions was even more interesting to me when I learned that the circular fountain of 12 lions once functioned as a clock with a different lion spouting water each hour.  How clever!

The laciness of the stalactite-type plaster ceilings was hard to capture with a camera lens.

Finally, the best view of Granada from the palace was from the balcony off the room where Washington Irving stayed in 1829 and wrote “Tales of the Alhambra.”

We were quite thrilled with our visits to both Cordoba and Granada, with their captivating Moorish ambience.   In our drive throughout all of Andalusia, the beauty of the sparkling white hill towns was breathtaking.  However, those snow-dusted peaks that we saw in the distance from ‘The Alhambra’ reminded us that Fall was making its relentless march into Winter.  Our plan to keep winter at bay as long as possible meant that our driving route the next day would be directly south to Spain’s famous fun-in-the-sun coast called the Costa del Sol.  We wondered if the endless high-rise condo sprawl on the Costa del Sol would be as bad as we had read.  We also debated with ourselves if we should make the effort to negotiate a day trip into Gibraltar…

“Do not weep like a woman for what you could not defend like a man.”  Said by mother of last Moorish king as he fled Alhambra




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