Friday, February 27, 2015

Real Alcázar, part 2

Equally beautiful are the gardens, in particular the pools and fountains. Here are the "Baños de Doña Maria de Padilla, located underneath another patio, and accessed from a garden on the lower level.

It's the season for Seville oranges! These must be marmalade oranges because no one is interested in eating them.
I've started another pair of socks...

Real Alcázar, Sevilla part 1

Our internet connection is slow so I am going to post the Alcázar images in a few batches. Here are a selection of ceilings and walls! Interestingly, in the gift shop are some beautiful scarves, neckties and other items which have made good use of these designs. It is sure easy to see why quilters find these geometric patterns so compelling.

This is all examples of Mudéjar (a decorative style attributed to Islamic architecture but executed under Christian rule. 
The Real Alcázar was founded as a fort by the Moors in 913 and has been renovated and restored many times since. It has been one of the royal palaces since the Christian conquest of Sevilla in 1248 (almost 150 years before Granada capitulated to Isabel and Ferdinand).
I will post photos of the gardens and other fabulous bits next!

Sevilla, Spain

We arrived in Sevilla from Córdoba Wednesday afternoon, via a fast train...took only 45 minutes instead of twice that on the "slow" train. And then walked to our accommodation and only took a few wrong turns, the first one being that we turned right instead of left out of the station... We're in La Casa del Pozo Santo, a large mansion built a few hundred years ago and renovated into tourist apartments. This is the third such apartment we've been in, and they've all had their quirks. One good thing about this one is the washer-dryer, so small it fits under the kitchen counter...we've already done one load. None of these three have had an oven, just an electric cook top plus microwave, and I've realized how much I like an oven! Kitchen equipment has been scanty in all (in spite of that, there is a dishwasher in this place--why?  There's only dishes and cutlery for four! Wouldn't take up half the space in the machine.) I won't list the other shortcomings--it's apparent to us that neither the managers or owners have ever actually stayed in any of these apartments. I do like this feature for dishes...wash and rinse and store directly above the sink...they drip dry and the rack doesn't take up counter space.

Sevilla is similar to Córdoba and Granada but much bigger. It's the provincial capital so its economy is not as dependent on the tourist industry. It has also experienced earthquakes...a major one conveniently devastated the large mosque, and so they decided to continue knocking it all down to built an enormous cathedral...third largest in the world after the Vatican and London's St Paul's (and we will have been to all three on this trip.) We haven't been inside are a few outside views. The bell tower was originally the minaret of the mosque which survived the earthquake. 

And at night...

The main exit doors are the original doors of the mosque, wood wrapped in bronze, decorated with either intricate vines or Arabic calligraphy (phrases from the Koran) 

And this lovely door knocker is original to the mosque as well:

We're quite close to a 21st C addition, the Metropol Parasol in the Plaza de la Encarnacìon. It's claimed to be the largest wooden structure in the undulating roof reminiscent of a honeycomb, and has been called a "flying waffle". We've been underneath to the food market, but not on top yet because it's closed for maintenance! Here's a night time view:

I finished my double-knit scarf which I had started last summer. A double knit scarf is the ideal travel project...slow and small! Here it is tied to the railing of our balcony:

The next post will be about the Real Alcázar, the Royal Palace of Sevilla (still in use today) which rivals the Alhambra.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

A sunny day in Córdoba

A beautiful day in Córdoba on Tuesday...not a cloud in the sky by the time we emerged after breakfast and doing laundry! Off we went to the Palacio de Los Marquesses de Viana, renowned in Córdoba for its thirteen patios or courtyards, and we spent a happy hour or so wandering through. 

This would be amazing in the spring.

Then over to the Museo Archeologico, a purpose-built building on top of the ruins of a Roman theatre which can be seen in the basement. There are many splendid artifacts as far back as Paleolithic times, and up to medieval times...well designed and nicely laid out. This was an intricately carved sarcophagus:

This museum highlighted the many cultural influences over the centuries which has created a unique Andalusian culture. Our walking tour guide had also emphasized this point in discussing the idiosyncrasies of the language here--they speak Spanish (Castillian) with many words derived from Arabic, for example "Olé" is thought to be derived from the Arabic for "Allah" used throughout the peninsula...

We sat down for lunch in a courtyard café, La Cávea, immediately outside the museum, just as a couple of musicians were setting up. My initial fears upon seeing the amplifier were unfounded...they played at just the right we happily dined listening to music reminiscent of Django Reinhard, but more like Neil Fraser and Shelby Wall, two favourites from home. It was so pleasant while we ate salmorejo (a cold tomato soup thickened with bread and garnished with chopped jamón), potatas bravas and bacalao croquettes...while yet another fountain gurgled and gushed in the background (I am having difficulty finding exactly the right words to describe the wasn't obtrusive and loud but obvious. It didn't "burble"...oh well...)

Then to the Alcázar de Los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of the Christian Kings)..."alcázar" is another Arabic word which means palace...which was built on the ruins of first Roman and then Arabic fortresses. Amazing mosaics are on display; these were unearthed below the Plaza de la Corredera in 1959. First here's a reminder about what this plaza looks like on a normal day (not Carnival)...

And the murals...

The Alcázar gardens are wonderful and were inspired by the Nasrid gardens of the Alhambra...

This set of statues doesn't have a label, but because we know that Christopher Columbus made his pitch to Isabel and Ferdinand in this palace, we assume it is the three of them...

And Lloyd with another medieval statue, maybe Ferdinand? 

The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

On Monday we visited the most famous site in Córdoba, the Mezquita-Catedral. (Mezquita = mosque in Spanish). Here's a view from across the river...

One of the entrances to the site:

And another, with carved Latin inscriptions (probably replacing the original Arabic inscriptions):

And inside the complex in the Patio de Los Naranjos (Patio of Oranges):

The first building on this site was a Roman temple dedicated to Janus. The conquering Visigoths then erected a Christian church honouring Saint Vincent around about 600 AD. When the Moors conquered Córdoba in 711, they shared the church with the Christians for a while before buying them out and demolishing and replacing it with a mosque in 785. It was enlarged a few times before reaching its current dimensions within a hundred years or so. In 1236 the Christian conquerors converted it back into a Catholic Church, and started the renovations. Instead of destroying the mosque, they inserted a few chapels. In the 1300s the minaret was converted into a bell tower, and in the 1500s the centre was demolished and a Renaissance-style cathedral was inserted. The ruling monarch, Charles V is purported to have said "I have destroyed something unique in the world" when he saw the finished work. Through all this change, the Mihrab was conserved, and interestingly it isn't on the east side facing Mecca; rather it's on the south side. (See Wikipedia for more info!) 

The inside is incredible...

While Lloyd wandered around taking many pictures, I sat in one place for a while marvelling at all the changes that had taken place. It was fun to identify building materials from different eras, notably Roman columns and capitals that might have been salvaged from the original temple, probably used in the Visigoth church, and then in the mosque, and finally the cathedral. 

The juxtaposition of Islamic and Christian architecture was sometimes jarring and sometimes beautiful...

We were fortunate to be treated to an organist's practice session. I was able to sit about 15 m away from the pipes and enjoy familiar opening phrases from Bach as he worked out different settings.

As I wandered, I thought about the conflict between religious groups, and how wonderful it would be if they could co-exist, even worshiping in the same space. Well, apparently Spanish Muslims have been petitioning the Vatican for several years to be allowed to worship in the Mezquita again but have been denied. On Sunday our walking tour guide told us that the official name is no longer "Mezquita-Catedral". The "mezquita" was dropped about six months ago and it's now known as La Catedral de Córdoba. The pamphlet we received at the entrance is quite clear that this is "The Mother Church of the Diocese" with a history extending back to the Christian Visigoths, and during "The Islamic Intervention" the martyr's church of San Vincente was destroyed. The tone of the pamphlet verges on being disparaging, e.g. in describing "The Christian Transformation" after the reconquering of Córdoba in 1236, ..."the reforms of the Cathedral were motivated by...the inconvenience of celebrating the Liturgy amid a sea of columns." There is no mention of the original Roman temple on the site, nor any mention of the financial transaction between the early Muslims and Christians. Nonetheless, if the reconquering Christians had not taken this magnificent building as their cathedral, it would have likely deteriorated into rubble by now, like the ancient Roman and Greek temples.

Sunday, February 22, 2015


We have arrived in Córdoba just as the city is celebrating the end of Carnival. Yesterday afternoon we went out for a wander around and first came across this group, La Chirigota de San Lorenzo (I believe translated as The Joke of San Lorenzo)...

...singing songs that the crowd was finding very entertaining. I googled them today and they seem to have a long history of composing songs and coming up with different costumes for carnival. Today we took a walking tour and our guide, Rafa, told us that the songs are full of local political humour and recent current events with inside jokes that sometimes he can't even understand. 

Córdoba was first established as a Roman colony over 2100 years ago but there were likely indigenous Iberian settlers here before then. Rafa said that it's impossible to dig anywhere without coming up with some sort of artifact. A Roman temple was discovered in the mid 60s during an expansion of city hall (they had to build elsewhere) and intact Roman mosaic floors were discovered when excavation for an underground parking garage was started under the Plaza de la Corredera (that project was abandoned as well).  Here's a view of the plaza this afternoon in the throes of carnival revelry...

...and when the carnival mascot (we assume) was lit on fire...

This plaza was built in the 17th C probably on the site or near a Roman amphitheater. It was originally used as a bullfighting ring, hence the arches. Now these arcades are bars, cafes, shops, restaurants and entrances to the apartments above.

In 711 Córdoba fell to Muslim invaders, and within a couple hundred years was the largest city in Western Europe. It was a thriving centre of multiculturalism...Jews, Christians, and Muslims...libraries, universities, observatories, aqueducts, and artisan workshops. The famous Jewish scholar and philosopher Maimonides was born here, and this bronze sculpture of him is in the former Jewish quarter, Juderia.

We're enjoying the narrow and winding lanes, similar to what we've experienced in other Mediterranean towns with an Islamic past. This town has a lot of little plazas...come around a corner and the lane suddenly widens at an intersection. There's often a little fountain like this...
Quilters will recognize this tile "tumbling block" pattern.
Here's the Roman bridge...much restored...there's not a lot of original Roman work left in this...

And finally, a view of our accommodations:

Lloyd making breakfast this morning...

Tomorrow, the sightseeing continues!