Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Córdoba's Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos & Mezquita

Córdoba was an Islamic city from 756 to 1031, and the capital of the Moorish kingdom of Al-Andalus. Built by the Catholic King Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos was built on the remains of vast Moorish fort. In the late 10th century, when the Islamic Kingdom was at the height of its powers, Córdoba was the kingdom’s, and indeed one of the world’s, great intellectual cities. Not only was the Alcazar the palace from which the wealthy and powerful Caliphate of Córdoba was governed, it was also home to the largest library in the West. When King Alfonso XI decided to build his own royal palace on the same site in the early 14th century, he used only a small part of the original remains. Yet, in a tribute to the aesthetic refinement of his Moorish forebears, he chose a Mudéjar style for the building and the gardens, and created the Califal Hammam Baths which consisted of three rooms where different temperatures were maintained – cold, warm, and hot – and ventilated by star-shaped holes carved into the clay ceilings, clearly inspired by Moorish principles of design. 

Towards the end of the 15th century, Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella lived in the castle for over eight years while they orchestrated the reconquest of the last remaining Moorish stronghold in Andalusia – the Nasrid-ruled Caliphate of Granada. The last of the kingdom’s rulers, Muhammad XII, also known as Boabdil in Spain, was imprisoned here in 1483. Seven years later, he was still refusing to give up Granada, so Ferdinand and Isabella launched an attack on the city in 1489, and in 1492, finally took Granada from the Nasrids. After the reconquest of Spain was complete, the Monarchs donated the building to the church of Cordoba, who made it the site of the feared Spanish Inquisition. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994, the Alcazar was also the setting for talks between the Catholic Monarchs and Christopher Columbus, as he planned the trip that would result in the discovery of the Americas. Today, the Alcázar displays some remarkable Roman mosaics dug up from Plaza de la Corredera in the 1950s which formed part of the Roman Circus in Cordoba. Despite originating from the Christian era, the Alcázar's gardens are typically Moorish in design full of fish ponds, gurgling fountains, orange trees and flowers, which are a delight to stroll around even in the pouring rain.

Damp horse drawn carriages outside the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

Tower entrance to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos 

Interior courtyard of the Alcázar leading to the Torre de los Leones 

Our wonderful Tours by Locals guide Myriam, who picked us up from our hotel and took us on a walking tour through Cordoba, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and spectacular Mezquita

One of several fish ponds in the Alcázar gardens

The ponds are teeming with fish

The ponds also provide water to irrigate the gardens, and in the summer, the cool marble floors and the murmur of water running down the channels into the ponds, is refreshing in the hot summer air 

The gardens are green with the help of all the rain

With its thick defensive walls, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos was built under Castilian rule in the 13th and 14th centuries and served both as a fortress and a palace

The Hall of the Mosaics of the Alcazar was built in the 18th century, formerly the Inquisition Chapel, and features remarkable Roman mosaics, dug up from Plaza de la Corredera in the 1950s

Mosaic of Eros and Psyche 

Mosaic of the Oceanus with his companions of the sea

Brick lined walking paths meander through the gardens

Once serving as the Hammam bathhouse of the caliphs, Cordoba's Alcazar Califal baths are among the very few that still remain today

Star shaped vents in the vaulted ceiling of the Hammam allowed light and fresh air to circulate 

The Torre del Homenaje or 'Tribute Tower' of the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

Cordoba's Bridge Gate originally formed part of the city walls 

Originally built in the 1st century BC across the Guadalquivir, 
the Roman Bridge of Cordoba has been reconstructed at various times since

Walking from the Alcázar to the Mezquita, Cordoba's great Mosque-Cathedral, 
which is the second largest mosque in the world

Rain cascading off the roof of the west wall of the Mezquita

The Great Mosque of Cordoba was considered a wonder of the medieval world by both Muslims and Christians. Built on a Visigothic site, which was probably the site of an earlier Roman temple, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was begun between 784 and 786 during the reign of Abd al-Rahman I, who escaped from Syria to the Iberian Peninsula after his family was massacred by a rival political dynasty. A World Heritage Site since 1984, the Great Mosque is one of the oldest structures still standing from the time Muslims ruled Al-Andalus in the late 8th century, an area which included most of Spain, Portugal, and a small section of Southern France. The Mezquita reached its zenith in the 10th century under a new emir Abd ar-Rahman III, one of the great rulers of Islamic history. At this time Córdoba was the largest, most prosperous cities of Europe, outshining Byzantium and Baghdad in science, culture and the arts. The mosque's hypostyle plan, consisting of a rectangular prayer hall and an enclosed courtyard, followed a tradition established in the Umayyad and Abbasid mosques of Syria and Iraq. However, the dramatic articulation of the interior of the prayer hall was unprecedented. The system of columns supporting double arcades of piers and arches with alternating red and white voussoirs is an unusual treatment that, structurally, combined striking visual effect with the practical advantage of providing greater height within the hall.

One of the world's greatest Islamic buildings, the Mezquita is mesmerizing with its giant arches and forest of over 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite, which were appropriated from the Roman temple which had previously occupied the site as well as other Roman buildings throughout the city. The Mezquita also features richly gilded prayer niches, but the most interesting feature is certainly the mihrab, a domed shrine of Byzantine mosaics built by Al Hakam II in 961, which once housed the Koran and relics of Muhammad. Worn flagstones around the prayer niche indicate where religious pilgrims circled it seven times on their knees. In front of the Mihrab is the Maksoureh, an anteroom for the caliph and his court, decorated with mosaics and plasterwork that make it a masterpiece of Islamic art. Although it does not fit in with the rest of the mosque, the 16th-century Baroque choir is an impressive sight, with an intricate ceiling and richly carved 18th-century choir stalls. Outside the Mezquita is the Patio de los Naranjos, or Courtyard of the Orange Trees, which in springtime is perfumed with orange blossoms and has a beautiful fountain. The Torre del Alminar, the minaret once used to summon the faithful to prayer, is now crowned with a Baroque belfry, which the brave can climb for panoramic views of Córdoba.

The Puerta de San Ildefonso with horseshoe-style arch, an icon of Western Islamic architecture

The Puerta de San Ildefonso doorway of the Mezquita

Detail of window with ornate arch and engravings

Street performer with puppet playing a small violin 

With the capture of Cordoba by Fernando III in 1236AD the mosque was converted to a cathedral and almost all the outer doors were sealed

The Door of Forgiveness with inset Christian frescoes

Puerta de San Esteban, also called Puerta de Bab al-Wuzara

Beautifully crafted handle on one the doors

This lovely courtyard, with its orange, palm and cypress trees and fountains, forms the entrance to the Mezquita, anchored by the Torre de Laminar bell tower, which was originally the Muslim minaret 

Glistening pebble walkway with sprouting greenery in the Mezquita courtyard

Built between the 8th and 10th century, Cordoba’s mosque is one of the earliest and most beautiful examples of Spanish Islamic architecture

One of the most extraordinary buildings in the world, the Mezquita is most notable for its giant arches and forest of over 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite

The great mosque of Córdoba was begun by the Muslim caliphs in the eighth century, its forest of pillars and red-and-white striped arches meant to convey a powerful sense of the infinite

A wooden gabled ceiling of the Mezquita 

In the 10th century Abd al-Hakim II doubled the size of the mosque by adding 
additional aisles and naves

Christian fresco ceiling and side altars with iron grillwork

The greatest glory of Al-Hakim II’s extension of the Mezquita was the portal of the mihrab – a crescent arch with a rectangular surround known as an alfiz. For the portal’s decoration, Al-Hakim asked the emperor of Byzantium, Nicephoras II Phocas, to send him a mosaicist capable of imitating the superb mosaics of the Great Mosque of Damascus, one of the great 8th-century Syrian Umayyad buildings. The Christian emperor sent the Muslim caliph not only a mosaicist but also a gift of 1600kg of gold mosaic cubes. Shaped into flower motifs and inscriptions from the Quran, this gold is what gives the mihrab portal its magical glitter. Inside the mihrab, a single block of white marble sculpted into the shape of a scallop shell, a symbol of the Quran, forms the dome that amplified the voice of the imam throughout the mosque.

The focal point in the prayer hall is the famous horseshoe arched mihrab or prayer niche

Above the mihrab, is a dazzling dome, built of crisscrossing ribs that create pointed arches lavishly covered with gold mosaics in a radial pattern

Area in front of the Mihrab with interlocking multi-lobed arches

 The arches of the Maksoureh are the mosque’s most intricate and sophisticated, forming a forest of interwoven horseshoe shapes

The ornate horseshoe arch of the axial nave at the end of the choir with carved reliefs and 22 figures in the alcoves by Leopoldo de Austria in 1541

The mesmerising multiarched Mezquita

Detail of Roman column which was likely appropriated from a temple which had previously occupied the site as well as other Roman buildings around the city

Following the Christian conquest of Córdoba in 1236, the Mezquita was used as a cathedral and remained largely unaltered for nearly three centuries. But in the 16th century King Carlos I gave the cathedral authorities permission to rip out the centre of the Mezquita in order to construct a new main altar and choir. Legend has it that when the king saw the result he was horrified, exclaiming that the builders had destroyed something unique in the world. The cathedral took nearly 250 years to complete, from 1523 to 1766, and therefore exhibits a range of architectural styles, from plateresque and late Renaissance to extravagant Spanish baroque. Among the later features are the rich 17th-century jasper and red-marble altar screen, and the fine mahogany stalls in the choir, carved in the 18th century by Pedro Duque Cornejo.

In the centre of the mosque sits an enormous Renaissance cathedral which dates back to the early 16th century 

Altar Mayor de la Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Richly detailed mahogany choir stalls were carved in the 18th century by Pedro Duque Cornejo

Carving detail

A World Heritage site since 1984, there's a subtle but steady police presence at the Mezquita and surrounding area

Very creative mosaic-style designs feature in the walking paths in Cordoba

Córdoba's real charms unfold as one explores the winding, stone-paved lanes of the medieval city

Córdoba is a city as ancient as any in the Middle East, with a cultured past as grand as that of Rome or Constantinople

The pretty Calleja de las Flores

Leather craftsman at ZOCO artists co-op in Cordoba

Sculpture of Ben Menmonides, a Cordovan theologic philosopher from 1135

Bronze plaques with Jewish letters in the shape of the Iberian Peninsula can be found throughout the Jewish quarter, which say 'Safarat' or 'Spain' in Hebrew

Decorative pebble mosaics are found throughout the old city

Cordoba's large devotional column to the Archangel St Raphael

Casa Rubio in the Jewish quarter of Cordoba

The charming interior with original flagstone floors

Casa Rubio menu of traditional Andalusian dishes

Toro Albalá Dos Claveles Blanco 2017

A fresh young dry and delicious wine made with Pedro Ximénez grapes

Bacalao frito con vizcaína: Fried cod with Biscay-style red pepper sauce

Salmorejo cordobés con huevo y jamón ibérico: Córdoba-style salmorejo with egg and Jamon

Boquerones en vinagre: Anchovies in olive oil, onions and vinegar

Jamón ibérico de cebo de campo: Iberian ‘cebo de campo’ ham from Los Pedroches Valley, Córdoba

Traditionally-crafted mature sheep’s cheese made from raw milk

Warm roasted garlic dressing

Little Gem Salad with roasted red peppers and warm garlic dressing

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