From Ronda to Córdoba, it seems that every square centimetre of farming land is devoted to olive production. As far as the eye can see, over hills and across plains, rows and rows of every age tree from hundred year old gnarled oldies to newly planted saplings give the landscape a dotted look. The ground beneath is usually starkly white and contrasts with the deep grey green foliage above. In this area, there aren't even many villages. We have grown used to villages being only a few kilometres apart but here in this country, you can look in all directions and not see one.
Outside Córdoba is an archaeological site called the Medina Azahar. A very modern museum, with excellent and well-set up displays (in English as well which helps) and a very good film (with English sub-titles, even better) gave the history of the site. In the 900s, the Caliphate of Córdoba decided to build a new city bigger and better than Córdoba. It was built in 10 years but only lasted until about 1010 when it was overthrown and destroyed. A bus then took us to the site itself up on the hill where we wandered around with a barely adequate pamphlet and tried to make sense of the archaeology. Only a tenth of the site has been uncovered and only a little of that is open to the public but there was still plenty to see. Quite a bit of restoration work has been done so it is easy to see the grandeur that once was.
Interestingly we find that the Spanish archaeologists like to restore their ruins quite extensively. This style of archaeology is the opposite of what we found in Ireland where they preserve their ruins as they are and do not any more 'restore' them to what they would have been.
It was a good thing we managed to arrive in Córdoba and have Sunday there - just about everything shuts on a Monday.
We headed for the Juderia, the old Jewish precinct, a maze of tiny lanes and streets barely a car wide. The area has been revived and is full of well kept white houses, flowerpots full of geraniums, little squares and cobbled paving. A 14th century synagogue surprised us with its small size but the (restored!) carvings and wall decorations with quotes from the Psalms in Hebrew were very fine.
The Christian Alcazar held some surprises. A light-filled room was dedicated to some virtually complete Roman mosaic floors from the 2nd century CE now attached to walls. Although this was a building built in the 13th century, it included some Arab Baths in the foundations. The gardens around the building are amongst the most beautiful in all Spain (so the guide book says), but they are indeed magnificent with pools and water-fountains, topiary, statues, roses and the reddest, most prolific geraniums I have ever seen.
And of course Córdoba has its very own 'biggie': the Mezquita. This gigantic mosque (the 3rd largest in the Moslem world) was built in the late 700s. Inside is plonked a 16th century cathedral. This is an amazing hybrid where one style blends into another. The red striped arches and columns that are typical of a mosque stretch into the distance. At the sides, Christian chapels have been incorporated into the spaces between the columns. In one chapel the arches have been repainted from their stripes to an intricate design of Christian motifs. In the centre a huge basilica rises up high above the original roof. Light pours in through a dome to the transept and onto the most intricately carved choir stalls where every panel, every figure, every armrest, every seatback is a different scene, pattern or face. The original mihrab portal, the prayer niche that faces Mecca, is surrounded by mosaics, many of them gold cubes giving it the aura of a Byzantine church. It sparkles.
Despite its disparate styles and origins and unique melding, it is a truly extraordinary building.