April 30, 2014
Festival de Cruces y le Patio competition – what a wonderful time of year to visit the city of Cordoba, which was the most charming city I visited during my 2014 España trip. With its 350,000 inhabitants, the month of May is a festive time for all those who live in the historic city and for others who make the journey to partake in the celebrations.
The spring season kicks off with the May Crosses Festival which is then followed by the Patio Competition. April 30th was the beginning of the Festival de Cruces. Crosses decorated in red or white flowers are placed throughout the city typically in town squares or in front of churches. The festival is actually a competition between Catholic brotherhoods and neighborhoods which started in 1953 but the tradition of decorating the crosses dates back to the 18th century and is based on the story of St. Helen. With the help of a kind store owner, I managed to make it to Plaza de las Tendillas, the city center, for the start of the festival where there were a series of flamenco performances by the young and old. This area was much more modern than the historical part of the city and it felt like your typical metropolitan city. I stayed for about an hour then headed back to Plaza del Potro which is much more reminiscent of a village.
With Cordoba’s dry and hot climate, traditional homes were designed and built with a central patio, which was filled with flowers and water to keep the homes cool – this tradition dates back to the Romans! During festival season, many proud homeowners decorate their patios with vibrant colored flowers, including jasmine and orange blossoms, and open it up for all to see. Of course you can’t actually step into their homes, but they usually leave the front door open so you can peak through the iron gates. Strolling the streets and stumbling upon these magnificent patios is an activity in itself. To add to the charm, many of the doorways are lined with multicolored mosaic tiles, which is distinct to Spanish architecture.
After arriving at the train station from Granada, I checked into Hostal La Fuente which is located off the old town’s main street Calle de San Fernando. The old city isn’t very big, so this “budget hotel” definitely offered the most value for my buck! A single room with a private bathroom cost about $45/night, there are two lovely decorated courtyards, and even a small restaurant/cafeteria, perfect for grabbing a quick and cheap breakfast in the morning. Its location was great too as most of the main sites were about a 5 min walk down the road.
Cordoba is widely known for its Mosque Cathedral, or Mezquita Catedral,which is the largest mosque and most accomplished monument of Moorish architecture in Spain. It’s Islamic style red and white arches and history of mosque-turned-cathedral distinguishes it from many other cathedrals found throughout Spain. The original mosque was built in 786 and about 13 aisles of columns deep. Over the next two centuries, the mosque underwent expansions and now totals over 850 columns. In the 15th century, the construction of the Cathedral began with Gothic structure Renaissance vaulting and domes. The Mezquita is truly a World Heritage Site that embodies generations of history.
Just behind the Mosque Cathedral is the Puerta del Puente and the Roman Bridge, which was built in the early 1st century BC across the Guadalquivir river. In the 17th century, a sculpture depicting St. Raphael was added in the middle of the bridge. Sunset (around 9pm in the spring) is the best time to visit as the purple and pink colors of the sky offer up great opportunities for amazing pictures with the golden city from a far.
Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of the Christian Kings) is also a must see as well. The surrounding gardens with three main beautiful fountains are free for anyone to enter, but you need to purchase a ticket to enter the alcazar itself. The inside isn’t as grand as the Alacazar in Sevilla, but the views from the towers are definitely worth the admission fee. You’ll be able to see the city of Cordoba as well as the symmetry of the palace gardens below.