Friday, June 01, 2018

Andalusia

The Alhambra was once described to me as the most beautiful structure in all of Europe.  This is too complicated a statement for me to agree completely but it is certainly in the top 10.  I love the Moorish architectural style that is found all over southern Spain's Andalusia region.  Parts of the south were Moorish for about 700 years so their cultural stamp and influence still run deep.  With only 8 days to visit the area we had to move quickly.
In pre-planning routes and places to see we decided to stick to public transit and the most useful guidebook turned out to be Rick Steves Spain.  Pre-booking accommodation (we used a combination of airbnb, couchsurfing and cheap hotels) and especially transport saved us a ton.  Early May was a perfect time to go as it was bright and sunny but not too hot (low 20's) and tourist crowds not quite at their peak yet though it was starting to get busy in the more popular spots.
It made sense for us to start in Granada.  What an introduction to the region.  Granada is home to the Alhambra, the palace built by the Moors in their final capital in Spain and the royal court of Ferdinand and Isabella in 1492 when they finished the reconquest of Spain.  It was here that Christopher Columbus received their support as well.  I love tying in the pieces of history and connecting places and events from one side of the world to another so this was a big moment for me.  One of the major "dots" if you will and a must-do pilgrimage for anyone interested in world history.
Whatever their reason, there are a lot of visitors to Granada now so it is mandatory to pre-book tickets and reserve an entry time to enter the Alhambra. The complex is beautiful, ornate and crowded with great views over the old town but I think our favourite part was walking through its gardens on such a perfect day.  Well worth the half day we spent there.  The rest of old town Granada is nice though a little grungy in places.  There are some nice lookouts with some perfect views of the Alhambra and nearby snow-capped mountains.

At the Alhambra
Granada cathedral
Alhambra gardens



Alhambra

Old town Granada


After 2 nights in Granada we went up to Cordoba.  When the Moors were at their peak influence and control over nearly the entire Iberian peninsula about 1000 years ago, Cordoba was the capital.  At a time when the rest of Europe was struggling through a lot of medieval nonsense, Cordoba was one of (if not the) most tolerant, intellectual and progressive cities of the world.  It has since become just a small regional capital but is packed with historical sites, including Roman and Moorish ruins, a Jewish neighbourhood of tiny winding streets and one of the most unique religious structures I've seen, the Mezquita.
Built on top of old Christian churches (still seen below the floor), the Mezquita was a low-roofed mosque known for it's many pillars and striped arches.  When the Spanish took over in the 1200's they converted it into a church and built a towering cathedral right in the middle of the mosque.  It is very strange in that the mosque part is still very large and you feel like you are accidentally discovering a hidden cathedral of a completely different style and atmosphere in the middle. Like the intimacy of wandering in the woods at dusk and stumbling into a clearing and finding a bright, imposing tower looming above you.

In the Mezquita

The cathedral in the Mezquita

In addition to a quick visit to the Mezquita, we wandered through the old town, saw it's plazas, the remnants of the city walls, some Roman ruins and the old Roman bridge before calling it a day.

Cordoba lunch

Old Cordoba

Old city walls

Old Roman bridge

The following morning we took the train to Ronda, a small city with a fantastic location on the edge of a cliff with amazing views.  They city is small and easily walkable and definitely worth a quick visit.  We stopped for a few hours on our way to Algeciras.   There are so many viewpoints to stop at and gawk at the homes built right on the edge with the balconies literally hanging over the side.  There is a beautiful view of the bridge to the old town from below and the trail down to see it is a must do.  Within Spain, Ronda is probably most famous for its contributions to the culture of bullfighting so there is a bullfighting ring and museum and a handful of statues around tow but we were content with just strolling and taking in the view.


Old Ronda


Plaza in old Ronda
Ammon

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