Wednesday, November 20, 2013

In Beautiful Cordoba

When we next find our much healthier traveler... the train is entering the depot in Cordoba. The days are very warm in this ancient city where there are still Roman ruins, reminders of the Visigoths and Moors and a mixture of all past cultures and conquerors.

This is the first stop in "Al-Andalus" (Arabic for the region of southern Spain) and the seat of the Moors empire in Spain. Small city by today's population, in
the 10th century it was the most populated city in the world. It was the vibrant center of education - medical, mathematics, astronomy - and the intellectual center of Europe.
It was a time of tolerance between Muslims, Jews and Christians. It excited me to be on the trail of what remains of the Moors' art and architecture.

You see, I've long been fascinated with the stylized representations of nature and the beautiful calligraphy at the height of the reign of the Moors in Spain. I took an art history class on Islamic Art and Architecture in college and vowed someday I'd visit the region in Spain and now... Wow! I had arrived!

My hotel was perfectly located to everything. It was in the "old" portion of the city- an easy walk to the Guadalquivir River, transportation, and the famous Cordoba Mosque. I had only 3 full days and nights with so much to do.

To get my bearings, a bought a ticket for the city tour bus and a ticket for the ruins of Madinat al Zahra. The bus was a wonderful idea. I saw so many areas and that gave me an overall feeling for the city. Next, was one of the goals on my list.

For the final in that art history class, I wrote about Madinat al Zahra( "beautiful town" in Arabic). This walled city was built by the caliph about 13 kilometers outside of Cordoba as the administrative, governmental and palace for the region and to rival the caliphates of Damascus and Baghdad. The gardens, buildings and location accomplished all that the caliph desired to display the power and richness of his kingdom and more. Sadly, it would be sacked and almost disappear within 80 years. Now, about 10% of the entire complex has been restored. 
A tour ticket to the site includes transportation to a low-build building where you find the theater featuring a 15-minute film with wonderful animations picturing how the city must have appeared. You see an ambassador and his aides entering on horseback completely in awe by the splendor of the gardens and buildings against the backdrop of the Sierra Morena mountains. Then, the scene dissolves and shows the viewer where it is in the restored area at the ruins. Very well done. With those images in mind, you board buses to go to the site. 

On my final day, I visited the famous Cordoba Mosque. Let me say that no photos or paintings can prepare you for its size and grandeur. I was so awestruck that even thinking about it brings tears to my eyes. What magnificence! I kept thinking I was experiencing one of the wonders of the world. I shot photo after photo in the hope that somehow I could capture the scope of it. (Everyone who's seen it comments on the size. I read that at the city's zenith 20,000 worshippers prayed there!) 

When the Christians conquered Cordoba, they plopped a church in the middle of it. At least they had the good sense not to destroy and replace it. I'd like to think that they realized how extraordinary it was.

That evening, as I sat at an outdoor cafe enjoying my dinner, I realized that there was one more thing I wanted to do in Cordoba. I paid my bill and hurried to the river just in time to photograph the sun setting over the Guadalquiver River which passes through to
the next stop on my journey - Seville. Yet, saying good-bye to Cordoba wasn't easy. 

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Arriving in Madrid, Spain

Now that I've been home for almost two weeks and have loaded 700 images to my computer, cleared out a month of emails and snail mail, I'm ready to share my experiences and impressions of Spain with you. To make it easier for both of us, I'll divide the blog into 5 weekly segments - one for each city I visited.

The order of the 5 blogs as I visited them are: - Madrid, Cordoba, Seville, Granada and Barcelona.

As part of the cultural experience, I decided to stay with families via AirBnB. As much as possible, I wanted to repeat the opportunity I've had by staying with friends in Paris and Naxos. The only exception was Cordoba. I just couldn't find anything that met the criteria and so I stayed in a wonderfully located hotel.

In Madrid, my host family was Jose and his partner, Marcello. Jose sent me directions for arriving at airport Terminal 4 (T4) to take the train to their home. Try as I may, I could not find any sign of a train. The entire plane unloaded and left with their baggage. I was all alone trying to find the blankety-blank train. I must have roused the interest of security cameras. Finally, a guard asked me what I was doing. This is how I found out that I was at T4S (S=satellite). No wonder I couldn't find the train!

By the time I arrived at their apartment, I was concerned that no one would be waiting. As it happened, Marcello greeted me and showed me to my room. It was a lovely, large bedroom and  my own bathroom equipped with everything I could possibly need. Given my interest in fine art and the Moors' time in Spain, Jose put together a map of the most important places to visit in Madrid.

My plans got a big kick in the head, so to speak. You see, the trip to Spain was arduous... a train to Seattle, a flight and overnight in San Francisco and two flights the next day - first to Dallas and then on to Madrid. By the time I arrived in Madrid, I had caught a bug. Jose was so compassionate. He raced around the apartment locating a heating pad and decongestants; which helped immensely.

I couldn't imagine being in Madrid and passing on all the art museums for a dang cold. I had three museums I wanted to see. I rallied enough to take the bus to the Prado. It's a huge museum and I only managed to see a portion of it.

Most outstanding for me was a special exhibit of Valezquez's works, a stunning self-portrait by Albrecht Durer and the statue of Goya in the beautiful gardens surrounding this enormous museum. (see images below)

On the 5th day, with the cold bug passing, I headed for the high-speed train that would take me to Cordoba and what would be the most exalted and overwhelming site of my journey. Ah, but that's for next week.

The Prado:

Diego Velazquez "Las Meninas" (1656):

Albrecht Dürer "Self-Portrait" (1498):

Statue of Goya in Park at the Prado: