I had been planning to visit Malaga for a few days in the sun after my visit to Granada but swapped it out for Cordoba after being advised that it was a beautiful city that shouldn’t be missed.
I stayed at the wonderful Bed & Be Hostel, located on a quiet pedestrian street and decorated in a fashion that could only be described as hipster-chic light. The guy who owned the hostel was a backpacker and it showed – instead of normal bunk beds, he had a big metal platform that was very loft-like with a nice little staircase instead of ladders. The breakfast had fresh oranges so that you could squeeze your own juice… the perfect pairing for some cereal and toast.
The best part of this hostel? It had air conditioning.
Cordoba was hot. Really hot. The temperature was 39 degrees Celsius at 8:30pm which means that it was in the forties during the day, as I wandered through the streets. I had only scheduled one night in Cordoba and after suffering through the heat I really felt that one was more than enough.
The Mezquita is the primary tourist attraction of Cordoba. I was a bit confused about the naming, so I will explain it here. In English, it’s known as the “Mosque – Cathedral of Cordoba” while in Spanish it is referred to as the “Mezquita – catedral de Cordoba.” I was under the impression that it was a mosque, as that’s how it was referred to when people told me about it, but that terminology wasn’t quite accurate. The history, in brief, is that there was a Roman temple on the site, then a Christian church followed by an Islamic mosque which was converted into a Catholic Cathedral during the Reconquista in 1236.
It cost €8 to enter the Mezquita despite the fact that it is still an active church. It seems to be fairly common to charge for entry in Spanish churches and cathedrals and this is the last one that I’m willing to pay for. I skipped the cathedral in Granada and will probably skip any that charge going forward… the beautiful, ornate churches of Rome didn’t charge a penny for entry so why should the rest of them?
The inside of the Mezquita was a refreshing break from the heat – but the building itself is kept really dark. I’m not quite sure why they won’t turn on the lights, but it made photo taking difficult. I picked up an information brochure at the front entry and could barely read it – I had to use my cell phone. There was more light available later, when one entered the main nave of the cathedral and the museum in the back, but it’s a bit frustrating to pay €8 and then have to struggle to see the details.
The nave was stunning – it was light and airy, unlike the rest of the structure – but it was not without controversy. Permission for the addition was given by Charles V during the Renaissance, however he was unhappy with the final result.
Another annoyance was that the chapel they use for daily masses, which is decorated with lots of intricate paintings, is closed to visitors during the day with big iron gates. I don’t want to sound repetitive, but if I pay to enter a church I expect to be able to see all of the public areas. Mezquita, you’re doing it wrong!
The Mezquita has a lot of small chapels dedicated in honour of specific saints and, based on my understanding, it seems that many of them were funded by Cordoba’s richest citizens. It also appears as though a lot of the chapels also serve as burial places for these families. The cathedral was massive and seeing all of the chapels was a bit of a challenge.
Walking out of the Mezquita, I headed towards the waterfront to see the Roman Bridge. It was first built in the 1st century BC, was reconstructed during the Islamic period and has undergone several renovations since. I was trying desperately not to melt onto the pavement as I gazed out at over it… and decided that crossing the bridge was out of the question.
Sipping water, refilling at the public fountains and cooling off wherever possible, I tried to follow the list of recommended tourist sights that was offered to me by the hostel. I skipped the gardens, only because I couldn’t imagine spending more time wandering around in the heat.
One surprising element was the number of shops that stayed open during the siesta, especially with the sun baking overhead. I can’t help but assume that it was due to the hundreds of tourists still in the streets.
I finally made it back to the hostel around 6:30pm, completely overwhelmed by the heat and ready to take a break. A few people had started to filter back out into the streets by then although many restaurants were still closed. I was desperate to shower, needed some hydration and had to get out of the heat.
There is a reason that Southern Spain has adopted a siesta and after a day in Cordoba I am a firm believer. Had I stayed in the city for more than a night I probably would have taken part, but I didn’t want to miss out on anything that the city offered. In the end I really just had a long, hot day and a rather underwhelming visit. Blame it on the heat, blame it on the hype, but I really didn’t fall in love with the city. One can only hope that Sevilla, the next stop, lives up to its promise!