The Gems of Andalucía

This weekend, the entire group embarked on a three day long tour of the Spanish southern province of Andalucía to visit what are considered to be two of the most beautiful sights in Spain, and perhaps in the world. Groggy and a bit sleep-deprived, we arrived at the bus stop Friday morning at 7am ready to be hustled through about 800 years of Spanish history with our professor (and built in tour guide/photographer) as well as other Spanish students. Cameras in hand, we toured the famed Mezquita in Córdoba, Arab ruins outside of Córdoba, as well as what is argued to be the 8th Wonder of the World: La Alhambra in Granada.

The excursion group!
The excursion group!

Our first stop, a little out of the historic order, was the recently discovered Arab ruins of Madinat al-Zahra. This city, which literally means “brilliant town” was built in the 10th century just outside of Córdoba at the height of the Arab regime when Córdoba was the center of Muslim Spain. Only very little of it has been recovered, as 40 years after it was completed (80 years after construction began) it was abandoned due to the reconquering of the city by the Spanish Catholics. After that, it was buried for hundreds of years under rubble from the nearby mountains until discovered in 1910. Probably one of the most interesting parts of this tour was being able to walk through and peek into the excavation areas. I had never seen anything like that in progress before!

Medina Azahara
Madinat al-Zahra

Hopping back on the bus for a short ride, we arrived in the lovely Andalusian town of Córdoba. A visual mix of Visigoth, Muslim, Jewish, and Catholic remnants, this usually sleepy town was everything but quiet at the height of the Friday afternoon tourist rush. Yet, after that died down, it was easy to see the draw of the city. Córdoba is a white canvas with splashes of vibrant color . The quiet, typical Andalusian patios are set back and even in February offer a beautiful display of flowers and mosaic works.

cordoba collage

We managed to get there early enough to have a little bit of time to explore before visiting the Mezquita-Catedral situated right off of the river. So, explore we did…

cordoba collage 2

Upon meeting up again, we were handed our tickets and were able to go see the beautiful Mezquita that Córdoba is so famous for.

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Built in 786 AD, when Córdoba was the center of Muslim Spain, this mosque could hold 20,000 people to pray five times a day. It is most known for the 850 candy-cane striped brick arches that stand about 30 feet off the ground, held by marble pillars. The ornate details along the walls are so small and intricate that every time you look again, it is something new.

What I thought was the most interesting is how visitors can see the different regimes that ruled over this city, all in this building. For example, when the Muslims conquered Córdoba, they decided to build the mosque on top of a Visigoth church that had been built in the 6th century. As we were walking, we noticed a glass paneled floor, and if you look through the glass, you can see a part of the mosaic tiled floor of the original church that stood there. It is a proud point for locals because the site was once a church, and now it is once more.

Remains of a 6th century Visigoth Church
Remains of a 6th century Visigoth Church

In 1258, when the Spanish Catholics reconquered Córdoba, they immediately came to the mezquita and set up a make-shift church inside, declaring it a Catholic place of worship, though it was still referred to as the mezquita. During the 16th century, King Charles V ordered a cathedral to be built inside of it. The feeling of suddenly turning a corner and walking from one religion into the other was awe striking. The change from 30 ft ceilings to 130 ft ceilings, as well as the gold and white details featured in the cathedral made me feel a little out of place, but I was able to get over it quickly.

View from the cathedral into the mosque. Notice the different styles.
View from the cathedral into the mosque. Notice the different styles.

The next morning, as hard as it was for me to leave this beautiful town, it made it easier because we were off to another gorgeous city: Granada, home of La Alhambra palace, occupied by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabel after they successfully reconquered all of Spain. 

La Alhambra
La Alhambra

With Granada being the final city that was reconquered after the Muslim rule in Spain, it has the most Arab influence, which can be seen in the artisan work, the menu options at restaurants, and in the architecture of the city. What is difficult for me to explain about La Alhambra is how beautiful it is. I could not take photos to capture the beauty, because there is so much to be missed. I am not doing it justice by simply saying “there is a lot of detail and it is one of the most beautiful buildings I have ever seen”. Everything I could say or write about it in this post is an understatement. Hopefully that explains the beauty.

But, for the photos I did take to try and capture the beauty:

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Take note of the intricate details–these were on every wall in the entire palace.

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I was very proud to be one of the 8,000 people that visit it every single day (8,000!!). I also realized that life would have been great as a young Spanish princess who lived there…

View of part of Granada from a tower of La Alhambra.
View of part of Granada from a tower of La Alhambra.

After a long weekend of visiting beautiful sights with great friends, it was nice to have a day of rest yesterday. But now I have to get everything planned for a weekend trip to Barcelona beginning on Thursday…

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