The Best of Andalucia: Cordoba, Seville and Granada Tour

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Accomodations, Advice, Cordoba, Spain, Europe, Granada, Spain, Restaurant, Seville, Spain, Story, Toledo, Spain

IMG_2521The popular images of Spain as a land of bullfights, flamenco, ceramic tiles and ruined castles derives from Andalucia, the southernmost territory and quintessentially Spanish part of the Iberian Peninsula. In this short trip of ours, I wanted to see as much highlights as we could cover and the most intriguing for me in Spain were to see the great Moorish monuments in this region.  To maximize our limited time while enjoying our vacation, we opted to join a group tour organized by Viator.  Everything was seamless as our driver and guides were very professional. The accommodations were good and the pace was relaxing – we also had a reasonable amount of free time to explore the cities on our own.  It was a great value for money proposition for an information and visually-stunning packed 4 days.

IMG_5446To share a little bit of history, the Moors, a mixed race of Berbers and Arabs who crossed into Spain from Morocco and North Africa, occupied al-Andalus for over seven centuries. Their first forces landed at Tarifa in 710 AD, and within a few years they had conquered virtually the entire country; their last kingdom, Granada, fell to the Christian Reconquest in 1492. Between these dates, they developed the most sophisticated civilization of the Middle Ages, centred in turn on the three major cities of Cordoba, Seville and Granada.

Each city preserves brilliant and beautiful monuments, of which the most perfect is Granada’s Alhambra palace, arguably the most striking building in all of Europe. Seville, not to be outdone, has a fabulously ornamented Alcazar, the dramatic backdrop of Plaza De Espana (used in StarWars Episode I The Phantom Menace and Star Wars II Attack of the Clones) and Catedral De Sevilla, one of the grandest of all Gothic cathedrals. At last but not the bit least, Cordoba boasts of its exquisite Mezquita, a splendid mosque constructed by the Moors. Interestingly, a cathedral was built within its dome when it was converted back into Christianity. Landmark buildings in world architecture not to be missed.

On our way back to Madrid, we opted to stop by Toledo. Once the capital of Castile–La Mancha region, known as the “Imperial City” for its extensive cultural and monumental heritage and historical co-existence of Christian, Muslim and Jewish cultures.

Cordoba

IMG_2465Cordoba is the place of birth of the grand Roman philosopher Seneca.

Cordoba looks back at more than two thousand years of history. The city was founded by the Romans in ancient times but in the Middle Ages, it became the capital of an Islamic caliphate. During its reign, Cordoba was the world’s largest city counting about one million residents.

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Ancient planks of hard wood used as part of the Mosque. If I remember our guide correctly, since it was used in a religious place, its considered sacred as well.

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba also called the Mezquita and the Great Mosque of Córdoba, is a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christian cathedral. The Mosque is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

Mezquita is most notable for its red-and-white colored giant arches resting on 856 columns. These were made of a Roman temple and other buildings that had occupied the Mezquita site previously.

The walls of the mosque had Quranic inscriptions written on them. As Islam rejects all sculptural or pictorial representation of people or of God, all decoration of the mosque is accomplished through tile work, calligraphy and architectural forms.

IMG_2515Due to its outstanding historical development, including influences of different cultures, Mezquita unites architectural treasures of several epochs, including Greek-Roman, Egyptian, and Visigothic styles. A Byzantine mosaic with praising inscriptions can be found in the southern part of the Mezquita.

The challenge of building this cathedral within the mosque took almost 4 centuries to complete. Every detail was added meticulously to arrive to this glorious state.

The 16th century cathedral is located in the middle of the mosque. Precious marble and paintings by Palomino decorate the main altar.

Admiring the intimate details on the ceilings and the massive organ in the cathedral. The ceiling bounces off very good acoustics they say.

Seville

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Plaza De Espana was built in Renaissance and Neo-Moorish style for the Ibero-American Exposition of 1929 by Aníbal Gonzalez. The main building is a half-circle with other buildings along the edges and joined by several bridges across a moat.

The Plaza de España has been used as a filming location, including scenes for the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia. The building was used as a location in the Star Wars movie series — Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999) and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002) — in which it featured in exterior shots of the City of Theed on the Planet Naboo. (Wikipedia)

The Barrio de Santa Cruz is a labyrinth of narrow streets and alleys dating back to the old judería.

These narrow streets provided protection from oppressors and shade from the scorching sun during typically hot Sevillian summers.

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Scattered through the neighborhood are several plazas or squares.

The Catedral de Santa María de la Sede, better known as Seville Cathedral, is a Roman Catholic cathedral. It is the largest Gothic cathedral and the third-largest church in the world.

IMG_2683Outside the building is a statue of Curro Romero, famous matadore of Spain. Curro Romera was the professional name of Francisco Romero Lopez. He was born in 1933 in Camas, near Seville. After 42 years of fighting bulls, he retired at 66 after becoming one of the longest performing bullfighters in history.

Metropol Parasol is a wooden structure located at La Encarnación square, in the old quarter of Seville. It was designed by the German architect Jürgen Mayer-Hermann and completed in April 2011. It claims to be the largest wooden structure in the world. Its appearance, location, and delays and cost overruns in construction resulted in much public controversy. The building is popularly known as Las Setas de la Encarnación (Incarnación’s mushrooms).

The Alcázar of Seville is a royal palace that was originally a Moorish fort. The palace is one of the best remaining examples of mudéjar architecture. Subsequent monarchs have added their own additions to the Alcázar. The upper levels of the Alcázar are still used by the royal family as the official Seville residence.

Appreciated this little addition to our tour. There was an interesting exhibit on ceramic tiles. The exhibition showcases many exquisite ceramic tiles and describes the influences on their designs by many cultures and people who lived in Andalusia throughout history.

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Hall of Ambassadors

The Courtyard of the Maidens refers to the legend that the Moors demanded 100 virgins every year as tribute from Christian kingdoms in Iberia. The story of the tribute was used as a myth to bolster the Reconquista movement.

Calle Sierpes has a good selection of contemporary stores. A welcome break from all the sightseeing – information overload. We came across a  shop specializing in Flamenco Fans – perfect gifts for close friends back home.  Then continued our leisurely walk around Seville,  Appreciating the Heritage Sights of this Fascinating City.

Granada

Part fortress, part palace, part water garden, the Alhambra is a pinnacle of Moorish art that encapsulates Andalusian history and is one of the great architectural sights of Europe.

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The Palace of Charles V was commanded by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor, who wished to establish his residence close to the Alhambra palaces. Although the Catholic Monarchs had already altered some rooms of the Alhambra after the conquest of the city in 1492, he intended to construct a permanent residence befitting an emperor.

Entrance is through the 14th-century Mexuar, perhaps an antechamber for those awaiting audiences with the emir. From the Mexuar, you pass into the Patio del Cuarto Dorado. It appears to be a forecourt to the main palace, with the symmetrical doorways, framed with glazed tiles and stucco.

The Arabic inscription ‘Wa la ghaliba illa Allah’ (There is no conqueror but God) covers nearly every surface in various calligraphy styles, transforming the words from ritual praise into geometric pattern.

Salón de Comares, where the marvellous domed marquetry ceiling uses more than 8000 cedar pieces to create its intricate star pattern representing the seven heavens.

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Sala de Dos Hermanas (Hall of Two Sisters). The walls are adorned with local flora – pine cones and acorns – and the band of calligraphy at eye level, just above the tiles, is a poem praising Muhammad V for his victory in Algeciras in 1369, a rare triumph this late in the Islamic game. (Lonely Planet)

The dizzying ceiling is a fantastic muqarnas dome with some 5000 tiny cells. The carved wood screens in the upper level enabled women (and perhaps others involved in palace intrigue) to peer down from hallways above without being seen. (Lonely Planet)

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View of Sacromonte from the Palace balcony. The Sacromonte neighborhood is a hill next to the Albaicín which is the old Arabic quarter of Granada. For many centuries it has been populated by the gypsy community who inhabited the caves. This is where Flamenco originated from.

The Partal Palace Portico is one of the newer additions to the Alhambra Complex as it was only included a little over a century ago.

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Albayzin – An ancient muslim neighborhood situated on a hill above the center of town and across from the Alhambra. Our guide kept on repeating the word “Carmen” to the point that It was getting tiresome. “Carmenes” are actually traditional properties located in the historic quarters of Granada, which resemble pleasure gardens the Arabs used to owned in the surroundings of the city. Nowadays they have become simple private gardens whose owners can still enjoy the feeling of being peacefully away from the disturbing city.

Passing through narrow, winding alleys (typical of jewish quarters), we arrive at Plaza Larga derived from the world “large” since the Jewish were not used to having this extended kind of space for recreation.

The Arco de las Pesas, off the plaza, is an impressive gateway in the Albayzín’s 11th-century defensive wall. We walked in zig zag motions as we exited the wall. A defensive strategy to attack intruders by surprise.

We also visited the Capilla Real. Final resting place of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand together with their children. A rich display of fabulous treasures belonging to the Spanish monarchy, from the royal jewels extending to the ornate tombs of the royal couple.

Dinner was near Ayuntamiento Plaza Del Carmen.  We found the Real Alsador De Castella. Our friend from Vask told us that it was a must to enjoy Granada’s Solomillo specialty thus we researched for a place that serves an excellent choice.  The tapas that came with our starter cervezas were a meal in itself. But when our solomillo came to view, we were ready to eat again.  It was truly “Muy Bueno!”  To cap off our dinner, the staff treated us with a special dessert – A sort of cream puff / napoleons type of pastry that was wonderful! Stuffed – we vowed to walk back to our hotel.  An enjoyable stroll with the city lights and festive vibe as the young ones were just about to start their evening, while us “oldies” were ready to snooze off.

Driving through the Sierra Nevada Mt. Range

Thanks to literature: La Mancha. The route from Madrid to the region of Andalucia runs near the city of Toledo and is the setting for the adventures of Don Quixote, the character brought to life by Miguel de Cervantes. Along the way, we saw wide open plains and small mountain ranges with one of the region’s symbols: the windmills of La Mancha.

We stopped by this sleepy, quaint little town for a short lunch break before proceeding to Toledo.

Toledo

IMG_2807 Damascene is the art of decorating non-precious metals with gold. It has roots in the Middle Ages and originates from the oriental-style artisan work done in Damascus, Syria. The craft, perfected by the Arabs and brought with them to Spain, has remained virtually unchanged over the centuries.

IMG_2826Toledo is the world’s largest center of production of Damascene. Apart from this novelty, Toledo is also known for its exceptional sword making. Its swords made from Damascus steel were forged the most terrible arms in the world. All European armies knew the superior quality of Toledo steel swords and many great warriors even Japanese samurais relied only on sabers of Toledan provenance.

Puerta del Perdón (Portal of Forgiveness) of the Toledo Cathedral. The Toledo Cathedral is the second largest cathedral in Spain, after the one in Seville.

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