While ransacking folder after folder on my hard drive in pursuit of some self-portraits shot a while back, I stumbled upon photos from my 10 days spent in Spain. After gushing about the magic of Granada, I completely forgot to post about the remainder of the trip. These set of photos are from the historically rich city of Córdoba - the cultural heart of Andalucía. So I'm sharing these before I forget again, while you wait for more updates on Paris Fashion Week. Soon. I promise.
Córdoba was only meant to be a 24 hour stopover as I made my way to Madrid from Granada - little did I know how quickly I was about to be enchanted all over again. Completely unprepared and unaware of what to do in this city, I arrived by train under the shade of the stars. A strange sensation filled me as noticed the emptiness surrounding me on the streets, with the exception of the occasional fog rolling by. Being the clumsy character that I am, I struggled through narrow, cobblestoned streets with my trolley bag that clearly was made for far smoother surfaces. I reach my hotel and join the rest of the city's inhabitants in slumber.
The following morning I explored the vicinity on foot - a little bit of a habit I've developed while travelling. I pass gardens and plazas, still lush and green, giggling children chasing mariposas and horses waiting to begin their day's share of carriage-pulling. As I walked, the winter sun warmed my skin. But there was something about this light that was different. Filtering through branches, heavy with oranges, it scattered shadows in all directions and bathed the city in a dusty glow of gold - as though to acknowledge the antiquity of this once-great place.
Over a millennium ago, Córdoba was the most sophisticated place in Europe - ahead of great cities like Rome or Byzantium. As the capital of Islamic Spain, it boasted parks, palaces, schools, libraries and mosques. It was home not only to Muslims, but to those of the Christian and Jewish faiths as well - and they lived in harmony, albeit for a brief moment. Travellers of all sorts made their way to this Mecca of knowledge, adding to its stature as a melting pot of culture and creativity. Oil lamps lit up the streets at night, almost 700 years before the rest of Europe. For a twinkling flash in time, Córdoba flourished and glistened like a stream of liquid gold.
As María Rosa Menocal put it so eloquently, it was the ornament of the world.
Alas, in the face of hunger and greed for power, Córdoba's brilliance proved to be too fragile. Maybe it was just me, but I could feel the melancholy of the city's grim fate and the grief of the massacres. It lingered in the air, between shadows, like the bitter scent of orange blossoms.
If and when you do visit this city, I recommend some reading on medieval Spain (here and here) in order to greater appreciate your time there. And hopefully you'll make the smarter decision of staying longer than a day, unlike myself. There is so much more I've yet to explore, but hopefully time will bring me back there again. Here's a quick list of the things that I did get to experience and that I recommend you see or do.
1. Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba - Also famously known as La Mezquita, this church-turned-mosque-turned-church-again is reason enough to visit this city. The architecture, on a grand scale and in every minute detail, is simply breathtaking. You could do some extensive reading about this place before you visit. Or, if you're a little lazy and short on time like me, just rent one of those little audio-guide devices that speak into your ears as you explore the space. [Pictures 5, 6, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 17, 18, 20, 23]
2. Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos - Another historical site, this severe-looking fortress features two towers, the Torre de los Leones and the Torre de Homenaje, from the tops of which you get a beautiful view of Córdoba. What you should really focus on when visiting, though, are the well-groomed gardens of fairytale proportions. I definitely need to make my way here again for some serious self-portrait action. [Pictures 1, 3, 8, 10, 14, 16, 19, 21]
3. Judería - Not exactly a specific place, but a neighbourhood. It's the Jewish Quarter of Córdoba, home to Jewish residents between the 10th and 15th centuries. Avoid the tourist-trap stores selling overpriced souvenirs and get lost in the narrow, winding roads. An ancient synagogue, tranquil courtyards, restaurants serving authentic tapas and so much more await you. [Pictures 4, 7, 24]
4. Salon de Té - Tired and cold, but still not ready to stop exploring, we wound up at the doorstep of this enchanting tea house. Nothing like some mint tea and Middle Eastern snacks after a long day on your feet. You'll find this little haven at Calle Buen Pastor n˚13. [Picture 15]
5. Guadalquivir - I'll be really honest - I'm a huge sucker for scenic sunsets, and I experienced a breathtaking one by the banks of the Guadalquivir river, on the Roman Bridge. It's the perfect spot for a breezy stroll and you'll find artisans and street performers along the bridge as well. [Picture 22]
On my last trip, I was reminded that magic exists – and it’s all around us. For ten days last December I travelled through Spain for the first time, finally getting a glimpse of the country I had wanted to see for many years, especially since I started learning Spanish in school.* The cities I visited had their own flirtatious charms, effortlessly courting my wide-eyed heart, but the three days I remember most vividly were the three days spent in Granada.
From the fog-veiled dawn that welcomed me, to the fading pastel sky that bid me farewell, there was not a moment that passed without wonder. It was different in every way possible to home, yet something in the air felt like I belonged there.
The first day was spent walking around, as I always do in new places when vacationing. It sounds pretty boring and unexciting, but for me, the opposite is true. The most interesting way to get acquainted with a place is on foot. The sights, the smells, the sounds, the people and (most importantly) the food – everything is boundless and unrestricted, waiting to be discovered. After a few hours of getting delightfully lost, I somehow found my bearings and managed to make my way back to my hotel.
Neighbourhoods with their distinct façades, narrows alleys thick with colour and scent, whitewashed walls adorned with pottery and paintings, conversations en Español fluttering through the air, trapezoid courtyards fountaining with vendors, cobblestone roads that seemed to want to trip me at every opportunity, the pace of life that moved far slower than I’m used to – all the unfamiliarity of these things faded away and became less foreign as I immersed myself in my surroundings. I was under a spell.
Taking advantage of the fact that Granada is situated at the foothills of a mountain range, the following day was spent at the Sierra Nevada Ski Station. After a short and scenic bus ride to the top, I could hardly contain my excitement of actually being on the white-tipped peaks that I could clearly see from the city, thanks to the lack of tall buildings. To my dismay (but later to my relief as I tumbled around clumsily in the snow), it was strangely warmer than I had expected – 13°C and blazing sunshine called for a couple of layers to be shed. Now that I was there, there was only one thing left to do – ski.
You’d think that learning how to ski at the age of 4 and being able to do it independently by age 7 is something that would remain with a person for their whole lives. But apparently and (very evidently) it’s something you will forget if you leave a decade between your ski sessions. Despite multiple falls and several crashes (I was convinced I was the worst student my very amused instructor ever had), I actually had a good time. I found time to grab a little bite and go for a mini trek through the snow, and before I knew it, it was time to make my way back down to the bus station.
On my final day in the Andalusian town, I visited the Alhambra – a palatial fort overlooking the ancient city, described as "a pearl set in emeralds” by Moorish poets. A slice right out of history, saturated with architecture and design dating back to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada. The last refuge of the Muslim rulers on the Iberian Peninsula, this crowning glory was built towards the end of the thirteenth century, and after the fall of the Emirate of Granada, Christian influences were overlaid on Islamic structures, giving rise to its telltale legacy. Palaces, courtyards and gardens, the Alhambra is breathtaking not only in it’s scale, but in its scrupulous attention to every little detail that makes it what it is. Plain as the exteriors may be, the interiors are equally ornamental.
I can confidently say that I have discovered one of my favourite places, not only in Spain, but also in the world. An air of tranquility hangs through every harmonious space, making it more than easy to spend an entire day (as I did) wafting through corner to corner, from the Puerta de las Granadas to the Peinador de la Reina, from the Patio de los Arrayenes to the Patio de los Leones, from the Sala de los Abencerrajes to the Palacio de Generalife. This was definitely the highlight of the trip and will always hold a special place in my life, for I have left a piece of my heart there.
The rush I feel when seeing things I’ve never seen before or don’t get to see often is what keeps me fueled every morning, continually inspiring me. Words can never fully do my experiences justice**, so I hope the photos that I’ve taken will suffice. Can’t wait to be back in here again, the city definitely warrants a second visit. Granada, te amo.
* Touring South America – now that’s the next dream.
** Unless I had the literary capabalities even slightly comparable to Diane Ackerman.