A city usually passed up on visits to Andalucía, Córdoba’s just a quick train ride away from Seville – one really ought to go.
POSTED BY PINKY
I’m not gonna to lie to you. On a trip to Andalucía years ago, Seville and Granada were the ones at the top of my list of places to see.
As for Córdoba? Let’s just say a visit here was merely something that we could do. Possibly. If we had the time.
First on our priority had always been Seville. The quintessential Spanish village with its white-washed walls, black wrought-iron grillework, bougainvillea-adorned courtyards, and colourful tiles – it’s the vision of Spain in most people’s minds. (Our post on the touching love story behind Seville’s fabulous Alcázar here.)
And Granada we just had to visit mainly because of the glorious Alhambra Palace immortalised in books and paintings. And for the chance to eat in one of those fascinating Miradors or lookouts located in the Albaicín, the moorish quarter set on a hill that overlooks straight onto the Alhambra.
So, What Gave?
What drove me to finally make the time to visit Córdoba? Intriguing as it may have looked in photos, it wasn’t quite the city’s famed Mezquita that nudged me in this direction.
It was food. (Surprise, surprise.) But more specifically, a culinary trip to Córdoba by someone perhaps quite unexpected.
Yup, Italian-American chef Mario Batali and his gang of four managed to get me to go to Córdoba.
No, I don’t know any of them personally but they certainly worked their magic through a series of TV specials called, “Spain…On The Road Again”, released on the same year as our trip.
The show (and book) documented his culinary adventures in Spain with actress Gwyneth Paltrow, New York Times food writer Mark Bittmann, and Spanish actress Claudia Bassols.
And boy, am I glad our appetites led us to Córdoba. Otherwise, we would have missed out on one of the most fascinating and important sites in all of Spain.
La Mezquita de Córdoba
For me, this is the place that best embodies the centuries of struggle between Christians and Muslims in southern Spain.
The Cathedral-Mezquita was said to have been the site of a small 6th century Christian temple, known as the Basilica of San Vicente.
Then when the Moors conquered Córdoba in the 8th century, they destroyed the original temple and, in its place, built what became the most important Islamic sanctuary in the west: the Great Mosque of Córdoba.
Why Córdoba? Well, primarily because it was the capital of the western Caliphate, Al-Andalus – an honour it held for over a hundred years before it was transferred to Seville.
Then in the 13th century, King Ferdinand III, also known as El Santo or the Saint, reconquered Córdoba.
Certain details of the building were replaced and “Christianised” (i.e. the minaret became the belfry, the Muslim courtyard was installed with cloisters), and major additions to the mosque’s structure were made, lending to its predominantly western appearance today.
Cathedral or Mosque?
So the Mezquita went from being a church to a mosque and back to being a church again. But the story doesn’t end here.
In recent years, there’s been a clamour from Spain’s Muslim community to be allowed to pray within the grounds of the Mezquita.
The Catholic Church, however, has claimed ownership over what’s also known as the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption. But the local authorities of Córdoba have questioned its legality, claiming that the Mezquita’s status as a UNESCO World Heritage Site prevents it from being owned by any individual or specific group.
And the saga continues.
As an aside, though, I do have to say that it was the Mezquita’s moorish features that truly captivated me. Its vibrant hues and repetitive arches and motifs simply dominate the latter additions of Gothic, Baroque, and Renaissance details to the Cathedral.
More importantly, however, what this building brings to the table is a visual appreciation for the story of Andalucía.
From its culture to its people, one can see that Andalucía has, for the most part, come to terms with its colourful past. As to embracing it fully with complete abandon, well, that’s for the Andalucíans – or the Cordobeses – to decide.
And now, it’s time for what led me to Córdoba in the first place…
I’ve always enjoyed good, simple local food. And what attracted me to the restaurant recommended by Batali’s show was its apparent humble origins.
But as luck would have it, we ended up not eating there, after all. Yup, we “ditched” Mario and the gang! (Note: It was actually Bittmann and Bassols who covered the show’s Córdoba segment.)
It was raining hard and we had a train to catch back to Seville. It just made more sense to find a place that was much closer to the Mezquita.
Ergo, Casa Pepe de La Judería
Located in the old Jewish quarter (as the name implies) and less than 5 minutes away on foot from the Mezquita, this restaurant simply called out to us.
I don’t remember exactly how my husband and I found it, but I clearly recall how inviting the restaurant looked from the street.
Upon entering, it quickly became apparent that the place was filled with locals. Well-dressed, with men in suits appearing to be on their lunch break (which had nothing to do with why I found the place inviting, of course), all I could hear was the delightful chatter of a happy lunch crowd.
Ushered into a smaller room that had four or five tables, we were then seated at a particularly nice spot at the corner right by the window.
We ordered Salmorejo Cordobés, which is a heavier version of gazpacho, and our favourite oxtail stew, Rabo de Toro. The salmorejo was extremely refreshing and served as a perfect antidote to a humid day. And the rabo? Oh, just tasty, tender, and hearty as it should be.
We all know the saying, “the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach“. Well, I think this holds true for women as well. Food absolutely seals the deal for me when it comes to liking a destination.
I find that the more passionate a city and its people are about their food, the more they inadvertently open themselves up to the world, affording us lucky travelers with a priceless glimpse into what they’re really all about.
Whether I end up liking the food or not somehow becomes secondary.
Rather, it’s this desire to connect with others through food, again and again, that continues to draw me in. Making me feel welcome. And definitely wanting for more.
A Walk To Remember
Quite pleased with our lunch, it was time to head back to the train station. Fortunately, we still had a few moments to see a bit more of the historic center of Córdoba.
With the entire walled center being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, we couldn’t possibly just go to the Mezquita, eat, then run, could we?
And as if coming here were written in our stars, the bus that would take us back to the train station stops just a few steps from the Alcázar, the Palace that once served as a residence of Isabela I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon.
Sure, it rained when we were there that warm September day, but it certainly didn’t take away from my experience of Córdoba.
A few precious hours spent getting to know this fascinating city
by a girl who was drawn here by the promise of a great meal….. but had left with so much more.
Main Photo: Wikimedia Commons / Jim Gordon
Mezquita Arches: Wikimedia Commons / Timor Espallarga
Show’s Cast with guest Ferran Adrià : Spain…On the Road Again
Mezquita Exterior: Wikimedia Commons / Ian Pitchford
Detail of Wooden ceiling: Wikimedia Commons / Alex Proimos
Calleja de las Flores: Wikimedia Commons / Dolores María Macías Naranjo
Restaurant: Casa Pepe de la Judería
Minaret / Belfry: Wikimedia Commons / Einwohner