CORDOBA - THE HEARTLAND OF ANDALUCIA
The province of Cordoba is located in the centre of ANDALUCIA and since Palaeolithic times has been marked by the hands of man. Cordoba is a seductive city which must be seen on foot so that you can wander the narrow streets and peer into the shady patios where dozens of potted plants and scented, colourful flowers will engulf you with their aroma. In the 10th century Cordoba was proclaimed the capital of the Islamic world in the west and such was its grandeur that it competed in power and wealth with far-away Baghdad. The city was home of a large group of wise men, poets, doctors, philosophers and mystics, some of whom achieved universal status such as the philosopher Averroes and the Jewish doctor Maimonides.
The Old Quarter, which has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with the mosque, s spread out north of the river and is reached by crossing the Roman bridge, part of which is a walled enclosure, and then you enter the historic quarter where you will find the MEZQUITA which dates from the 8th century. This is the city’s most outstanding monument and there are nearly one thousand columns in this unique mosque. Under the Caliphate of Cordoba the city became the most cultivated and magnificent in 10th century Europe with around 1,000 mosques, 600 public baths and lighting in the streets, (700 years before London or Paris). The Mezquita is Cordoba’s pride and joy, and the splendid Cathedral, come Mosque and is the largest and only one of its kind in Europe.
This beautiful city has many monuments and numerous ancestral homes with resplendent indoor courtyards. An especially beautiful time to visit is during the first two weeks of May when the patios around the Mezquita are in full bloom for the annual competition and open to the public. The most traditional area is around the MEZQUITA and a horse drawn carriage ride is a pleasant way to see the ancient quarter. Or take a night time walking tour – as the sun sets the streets are bathed in artificial light and the city comes to life through its legends and traditions, and is filled with music, tinkling fountains and the fragrance of jasmine and orange blossom wafting through the narrow cobbled streets. With each step you are taken back to a forgotten time, to the soul of the city, with serenity and mystery envisaged in the streets, squares, taverns and the memory of Cordoba will long remain.
In the Jewish quarter lived Cordoba Hebrews until they were ousted by the Catholic Kings in 1492. Walk the labyrinth of narrow streets and squares and imagine a bygone time. It is well worth a visit to the restaurant Bandolero opposite the Mezquita the old residence of the Count of Cabra where you can enjoy a super meal in the courtyard under the stars on a beautiful summer’s night. There are many other buildings full of history, beauty and with many a tale to tell.
Cordoba, by the banks of the Guadalquivir River in a valley, is sheltered from North wind by foothills. With a mild climate in the spring, autumn and winter any time is perfect to visit, but summer can be extremely hot with life stopping after lunch until the evening.
There are a number of places within a short distance of Cordoba that should not be missed. 8 km from the city lay the ruins of Madinat al-Zahra, built on the orders of the Caliphate Abd Al-Rahmann lll in 936. He established a luxurious residence here at the foot of the sierras which became an administrative point of the middle Ages due to the refinement, beauty and magnificence of the legends that surrounds the mythical city of ZAHARA. Also nearby is the Medina Azahara, the Monastery of San Jeronimo de Valparaios and the hermitages.
The Castillo de Almodovar takes you back in time of Pedro 1 El Cruel where armory, costumes, a chapel and much, much more can be viewed.
The forests around the city are evergreen and cork oak, and are washed by the Bembezer River, streams and dams. They are plentiful with wildlife, lynx, black storks, vultures and Imperial eagles.
The province of Cordoba is split in two by the Guadalquivir River. In the northern part of the province is the long, wide mountainous band formed by the Sierra Morena where you will find plentiful game. Here is LOS PEDROCHES, an area presided over by landscape of meadows and holm oak. Pedroch is devoted to agriculture and pig-raising and the Iberian pig can be found here rummaging under the oak trees and the towns are rich in history with warm, friendly people.
In Belalcazar stands a medieval castle which served as a feudal lookout in ancient times. Santa Eufemia is a small hamlet from where the remains can be seen of the old Moorish castle of Miramontes which formerly acted as a kind of boundary.
The Parque Natural Sierra de Hornachuelos is a good example of Mediterranean forest and is endowed by plenty of wildlife such as black vultures, imperial eagles, black storks, lynx and melconcillo, a relation of the mongoose.
Located on the banks of the Guadalquivir are attractive towns with interesting histories, such as Montoro with the Tower of San Bartolome and the Plaza de Espana, and a few km further is Almodovar del Rio, famous for its impregnable Moorish castle. In the town of Palma del Rio the walled quarter and Convent of San Francisco, with its luminous 15th cloister are interesting.
In the south there spreads a fruitful country, the Campina, speckled with white villages and trimmed by another stretch of mountains belonging to the Southern Betica mountain range. In this region grapevines and olive trees flourish with Montila being the capital of the Cordoba wine production and Baena the capital of olive oil, considered one of the best in the world.
Under the CALIPH OF CORDOBA, Abd al-Rahman III in the tenth century, LUCENA was a prosperous community of Jewish merchants and enjoyed virtual independence. In the last days of the Kingdom of Granada, the Moorish King Boabdil was imprisoned in the Torre de Moral. Nowadays LUCENA and the surrounding area is famous for furniture, pottery, brass and copper-ware. Five kms from Lucena is the Sanctuary of Nuestra Senora de Arael, where from the hillock in the heart of the Sierra de Aras it is possible to see five of the eight Andalusian provinces.
Take a short detour to CABRA in the Subbetica Natural Park where the architecture is reminiscent of the Moors. Near the castle is Asuncion Church, built in the 15th century over a mosque.
In the Castle is the "Ermita de la Virgen del Castillo" dating from 18th century. THE ROMAN DUNGEON, in the historic quarter is well preserved and the houses of the nobility in St.Majadella and Santa Ana are stunning.
The road travels through landscape of holm oak until reaching the Sierra Subbetica where the baroque city of Priego de Cordoba is located, and the nearby towns of Luque and Carcabuey with their lovely castles.
A few kms further is the pretty village of Zuheros, site of the caves called Cuevas de los Murcielagos and its castle perched over the cliffs and literally hanging in space.
IZNAJAR is a beautiful hilltop town sitting on a promontory in the River Genil valley & known as the MIRADOR OF THE GENIL VALLEY. It is the natural entrance to the Sierra Subbetica Natural Park & originally a prehistoric settlement. Its fortunes changed in the 8th century when the Arab settlers built a castle on the promontory and named it “Hins Ashar”. After many battles it was finally taken by the army of Abderraman III who supported the Caliphate of Cordoba which was then the capital of Al-Andalus. During the Christian Reconquest, after the fall of the Caliphate, it was under the rule of the Muslim-held Granada until 1431, when during the reign of the Catholic King Juan 11 it was returned to Christian rule at least 60 years before the fall of Granada in 1492. In 1861 IZNAJAR became famous when the town supported an uprising against the monarchy led by Rafael Perez del Alamo. The results were of course devastatingly predictable.
Some years ago the town was transformed when the creation of a reservoir, which is 32 km long, was estimated to contain 900 million cubic meters of water destined for human consumption. This served to give IZNAJAR a waterfront overlooking an inland sea & many streets & indeed some houses have a lake view. There is a lovely sandy beach for swimming in the summer and walking in the winter, two restasurants and activities on the lake in the summer months.
Iznajar Castle, built in the 7th century, is one of the oldest fortresses in the region & has squared towers on each corner; the highlight is the homage tower. It stands at the highest point on the promontory & what was then a primitive village tumbled down before the fortress. Like most towns the oldest houses are still near the castle & the most recent at the base. The castle ruins are now undergoing repair work.
Just outside the castle walls is what the old agricultural depository was dating from the time of Carlos 111. Since 1989 it has been used as the public municipal library. The Iglesia de Santiago was built in the 17th century & has beautiful baroque chapel behind the altar which guards the clay modelled statue of Santisma Virgin de la Piedad, Our Lady of Piety, whose statue is the oldest in IZNAJAR dating from 1460. In the oldest part of the town just down from the castle walls the Calle Real is cross-crossed by Calle 9 Junio 1910. No-one knows why this street was given this name.
Situated at the foot of "La Tinosa", hidden in the Subbetica and on a small plateau lies PREIGO DE CORDOBA. This small kingdom of villages and sierras was once an Arabic citadel that has an Alcazaba in the highest part, surrounded by walls, facing the Medina with Mosque and fabulous architecture. Preigo was the ancient lock and key to the Kingdom of Granada. There is much to see in Priego with the jewel being the Capilla de Sagrario and of course the Fuente del Rey (Kings' Fountain), where, for over 100 years water has flowed into its 3 terraced pools.
DONA MENCIA lays clean white, surrounded by olive groves and vineyards, in a sheltered spot protected by hills of 1000 m. In the Roman period the town was called FAVENCIA and various cultures have left its mark on the surrounding area. It was converted during the Reconquest into a country estate by Don Alvaro Perez de Castro, the town taking on the name DONA MENCIA when he married Dona Mencia Lopez de Haro. Wander the narrow streets around the ancient Arab quarter leading to the castle and the church, declared as Artistic-Historic buildings, but now only the Torre del Homenaje and part of the walls remain. Continue up to CALVARIO, a hermitage where Christo de la Caridad is venerated, and a nearby viewpoint of a natural balcony where you can see for miles the lovely countryside. Climb to the hill Oreja de Mula where the remains of the Roman road, OBULCO-IPAGRO used to pass at the foot. A gigantic enclosure was built at the top and served as a watchtower and lookout post. DONA MENCIA has cellars famous for the quality of its wines, which can be tasted along with the salmorejo, patatas en abobillo and other typical dishes.
At Christmas time take a trip to RUTE where the many factories making mantecados, (shortbread like cakes), polvorones and sweets made from almonds are on sale to the public. A must do is a visit to the CHOCOLATE BELEN - people come from all over Andalucia to see this wonderful creation made by local craftsmen.
The VIA VERDE (GREEN ROUTE) has resulted in the recovery of the history of the TREN DE ACEITE, the OIL TRAIN. Now used by cyclists, riders and walkers the route is 58 kms long and links the town of Lucena, Cabra, Dona Mencia, Zuheros and Luque. Instigated because the main source of wealth in these towns comes from exporting oil, cereals and wine this was hindered by the overlong and defective forms of transport. In 1893 the chief engineer of the new company addressed the governors of Cordoba and Jaen information that the entire line from PUENTE GENIL to LINARES was open for business. The railway has preserved bridges, stations, level crossings, guard houses and even a tunnel and the beautiful scenery of the SUBBETICA natural park and the LAGUNA DEL SALOBRAL can be admired from a completely different way.
In ZUHEROS the presence of man goes back to Prehistoric times, the Cuevas de los Murciélagos will testify to this with remains and wall paintings, these discoveries, together with pieces of pottery, take us to the Neolithic age. Zuheros is in the middle of an impressive gorge cut by the Bailon River and doubtlessly one of the most beautiful villages in the Subbetica. The Arabs left a fabulous legacy, a castle built out of rock, defending the frontier against the Kingdom of Granada.
Wandering the streets and alleys under a blue sky you soon lose sense of time as tranquility and enchantment washes over you. Discover the character of this quaint village with the house lined up in an irregular way crating curved and numerous streets with white walls being absorbed into the rock on which they are built. Smell the flowers mixing their scent with the mountain air, the blue sky contrasting with the white walls, and without even realising it the village will have enchanted you and you have lost all sense of time!
Beauty is CORDOBA, she holds and excites you, and will linger in your memory, beckoning you to return to her one day.