Seville was good, hotel right in the old quarter where the streets are too narrow even for a single car, and by chance we timed our visit for the feria, so loads of girls and some women were wandering round in dresses tight down to their thighs and then flounced, shawls and flowers in their hair, usually accompanied by males wearing jeans with holes in them and T-shirts with slogans, much to Mr H’s disgust. The only men wearing the traditional short jackets and flat hats were the drivers of the carriages for hire.
After two days we got the train to Cordoba – about an hour’s journey – much more comfortable: air conditioned, relatively spacious: you are not allowed on unless you have a specific seat booked. Again, a hotel in the pedestrian area in the old part of the City, right opposite the Mosque.
Cordoba describes itself as a foundation of European culture and is a candidate for the European City of Culture for 2016.
An important Roman City when the river was navigable, it was held by the Visigoths for 150 years and subsequently captured by the Arabs in about 720-30. By the 10th century it was the largest city in Europe (with street=lighting 700 years before London), remarkable for the cultural co-existence of Muslims, Jews and Christians, and it was in this period that the Great Mosque was built over the Visigoth church: a breathtaking building which was one of the largest mosques in the world. Of course that was too good to last. First a wave of fundamentalist Berbers displaced the Caliphate (and one of Cordoba’s most famous sons, the Jewish philosopher Maimonides fled to Egypt) and it was re-taken by the Christians in 1236 when Muslims were given a choice of expulsion or forced conversion. A cathedral was built within the confines of the Mosque. The Jews were given a choice of expulsion or forced conversion in 1391, and Cordoba was a site of the Holy (sic) Inquisition. A synagogue is listed among sites to see in Cordoba, but it is a bare shell.
Initially, my reaction on coming to Cordoba again was unfavourable. It was crammed with tourists and many of the streets round the square containing the mosque/cathedral are lined with rather tawdry souvenir shops, but once we had settled down and discovered the beautiful courtyard with its orange trees where we had breakfast every morning, a friendly tapas bar to eat in the evening and the local bakery to buy water and snacks it became much more welcoming.
While we were there the Festival of the Patios was on, which probably attracted even more tourists than usual. A lot of them were Spanish and there were also many Japanese parties, and with both these groups being rather short in stature I felt like a giant.
When I was growing up Spain was a miserable place, poverty-stricken and run by a right-wing puritan Catholic dictator. It is a very different place now. Of course, a vast amount of EU money has gone into it and it still has major economic problems, but it is a much more relaxed and prosperous country and much more open to other points of view than the narrow-minded primitive religious autocracy that it used to be.
Of course, Mr H speaks fluent Spanish so I tended to sit there like a lemon while he chatted up all the waiters, shop-keepers, etc. so perhaps the impression I got was a bit distorted but generally the locals seemed very friendly