In Search of Al-Andalus: Córdoba

“Life, if you know how to use it, is long enough.”

– Seneca –

Layers and layers of history have rendered Córdoba’s streets crooked, narrow, and full of intrigue and mystery. According to the 17th century Muslim chronicler al-Maqqari, Córdoba, in the 10th century, had 600 hammam, 3000 mosques, 1600 inns, 50 hospitals, 25 schools, and 4000 shops. Hailed as a place where Muslims, Jews and Christians lived and toiled together in peace and harmony, Córdoba was for a brief period of time the most refined and tolerant city in all of Europe. Some historians argue that statements like these are exaggerated and not quite true, but what is true, is that Cordoba attracted poets, philosophers, doctors and scientists to her bosom. Many of whom were far ahead of their time. During her heyday, 60 000 books were published annually, and were distributed throughout the Islamic world.

The many learned men born here included the Muslim scholar and poet Ibn Hazm (994 – 1064), who wrote important works on theology, philosophy and jurisprudence, as well as the jurist, doctor, and philosopher Averroes (1126 – 1198). Like his contemporary Maimonides, he was driven from his home town by the fanatical Almohads, Berber fundamentalists, who came from North Africa and hated books.

Mosche Ben Maimon or Maimonides (1135 – 1204) wrote on biblical and talmudic matters, mathematics, astronomy and medicine. His literary works were translated from Hebrew into Arabic and circulated within both the mosques and synagogues of Andalusia. It is said that if you grasp the slippered feet of his statue, and draw your hands towards you, you will experience a transfer of ancient wisdom.

Seneca (4 BC – 65 AD), Rome’s leading philosopher in the mid 1st century, was born in Córdoba, and even Cervantes, most famous for creating the memorable Spanish character Don Quijote, lived in Córdoba as a child.

 

PLACES TO VISIT:

1. The Mezquita

This 10th century mosque still stands regal and proud despite it being converted into a cathedral in the 16th century.

2. The Alcazar

Although the walls are imbued with history, it is the gardens that I loved the best. It is a good place to linger with a book, or to simply watch the antics of the many visitors who rushes through the space.

3. The Roman Bridge

The bridge over the Guadalquivir is the most dramatic legacy left over from the important Roman city that once stood here.

4. Palacio de Viana

Muslim home life centred around the inner patio with its fountain, climbing flowers, and sometimes even a citrus tree, and although there are many wonderful examples of these patios one can visit, the Palacio de Viana should not be missed.

5. Simply walk

The Jewish Quarter with its narrow lanes is often awash in a sea of humanity following a tour leader, but Córdoba has many narrow streets, spilling into squares, that are quiet and empty. Where the footsteps of the tourists fade, and the locals trample on daily errands, buildings often have peeling paint, and weather vanes are whimsical.

To Eat or Drink:

1. La Flamenka has good food, including enough choice for vegetarians, and friendly service. It is by far my favourite restaurant in Córdoba.

2. Mercado Victoria is a great place for a glass of wine and some people watching. There is also a stall selling excellent salmorejo (a cold tomato soup thickened with bread), a speciality of the area.

To Read:

  1. Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed
  2. Ibn Hazm’s The Ring of the Dove
  3. Averroes’ On the Harmony of Religion and Philosophy
  4. Letters From a Stoic by Seneca
  5. Guide to Spain for History Travellers by Bob Fowke
  6. Seville, Córdoba, and Granada by Elizabeth Nash

Good to Know:

Both the Mezquita and the Alcazar are free to visit if you enter between 8h30 and 9h30.

Visited:  September 2016

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