…and the road in-between
The highlight of Cordoba has to be the Mezquita – a mosque built shortly after the Moors arrived in Spain in 711 when Abd al-Rahman I made Cordoba the headquarters of the emirate. The mosque was consecrated as the Cathedral of Santa Maria Mayor, when in 1236 the Christian army led by Fernando III took the city.
The construction of the cathedral as seen today was begun in 1523 and is an impressive piece of architecture, set within the columns and red-brick and white-stone arches of the original mosque. I stayed in a friendly ‘pension’ or guesthouse just one street from the Mezquita which gave plenty of opportunities to wander past it’s walls with impressive doors and bell tower which is a beacon at night when illuminated. Indeed, crossing over the Roman bridge and looking back on the city as the night approaches and the sun sets beyond the hills behind Cordoba is a beautiful sight.
The Road Between
After a third day in Cordoba, I finally left the city in the evening. Having sorted through my gear and discarded a number of things that weren’t really being used, I successfully filled the space again following a brief stop at a camera shop to buy a tripod and bag! By the time I left it was gone 7pm but it was still 40 degrees. I cycled until it was dark, having passed through Almodovar del Rio with it’s castle atop the hill overlooking the town. I stopped somewhere after Posadas, but exactly where I wouldn’t know without checking the GPS!
I pulled off the road and followed a dirt track past a field of olive trees, under a bridge and alongside a railway. Under the bridge there was a perfect little spot to camp, or so I thought. Just as I was contemplating putting up the tent, a high-speed train hurtled above my head at, well – high speed. The noise was deafening and I could feel the vibrations through the steel structure and beneath my feet… Maybe not the perfect camp spot afterall. So I pushed the bike back to the olive trees and settled in for my first night wild camping alone in between one of the rows.
It was a pleasant night with a cool breeze which made a refreshing change. A refreshing change that is, until I woke up in the morning to find myself lightly dusted from head to toe in a fine coating of dirt, which had been blown through my mesh inner with the wind and stuck to my tacky, sweaty body. It still being dark, I could only guess at how much dirt was encrusted in my hair, but the taste of dirt as I licked my dry lips before gulping down some tepid water was unmistakeable. After an hour or so on the road when I pulled into a gas station to use the services and wondered why my white top was so totally blackened with dirt smeared across the front. I then looked in the mirror and saw not the usual reddened cheeks, a combination of heat from exercising and too many hours in the sun, glowing back at me but a face more akin to that of a chimney sweep.
The wind had also brought with it some cloud cover, which provided shade for a good part of the morning until I passed the weather front and was again cycling under the clear blue sky. The ride from Cordoba to Seville was very enjoyable – the roads were flat and quiet and the headwind strong enough to cool without hindering progress.
After a trip to the tourist office in Seville and a short search for a place to stay, I stumbled upon the Seville Inn Backpackers hostel which met all my needs; those being cheap with somewhere to put my bike and friendly too. A shower and a sleep set me up to head out into the town and explore the myriad of maze-like streets.
Whereas Cordoba has the Mezquita, Andalusia’s capital Seville has the Giralda and cathedral. The Giralda was originally built in the 12th century as the minaret of the Great Mosque. The Giralda still stands today overlooking Seville’s cathedral, which was built from 1420 in Gothic and Renaissance styles and replaces the mosque.
Another fine example of Moorish grandeur and subsequent Christian transformation and extension is the Reales Alcazares, or fortified palaces, in Seville.
The first alcazar was built by Abd ar-Rahman III, also in the 12th century, but the structure of the impressive site that I wandered around for the best part of a morning dates to the 14th century and time of King Peter I. The palaces, halls, courtyards and gardens are exquisite in style and immense in scale – it’s a wonder that any of the resident monarchs over the centuries had the need or desire to leave the compound.
It is not hard to see why Seville is such a popular tourist destination and I had a lovely couple of days wandering around the streets and chatting with some great people I met at the hostel over tapas on the balcony. The company and flowing conversations (in English) were in contrast to my contemplative days in Cordoba. On the one hand, it was hard to leave the familiarity and relaxed atmosphere of the hostel, but on the other I was again craving some time alone, away from the bars and restaurants and busy streets which are all there to entice you to part with your Euros, albeit in a subtle non-intrusive way that I’m unlikely to experience in Africa.
With that I loaded the bike one evening and left the city to explore Andalusia’s natural beauty.