14 May 2010 – Cordoba, The Alcazar, and the Ave to Madrid

We had lots of time for breakfast this morning, which was good because there were many good choices.  We had breakfast with Geoffrey and Jane.  He markets beer, and she does telephone support for various businesses. Today the plan is to take our bus to Cordoba, see the sights, and take the Ave (Fast Train) to Madrid, our final tour city.

As we were leaving, we passed the Tower of Gold one more time, which has no gold any more.  As we were leaving Seville, I was kicking myself for not getting a haircut.  What better place to get a haircut than from a Barber of Seville?

Along the road.

Along the way we saw these huge metal bull silhouettes, and I haven’t yet found out why.  They look great.

We got our second history lesson on the way to Cordoba, and I couldn’t begin to keep notes fast enough, but the ebb and flow of the Visigoths, and the Moors, and the Christians was fascinating to listen to, and Patricia tells the story in a way one can relate to.  While the rest of Europe was heading for the Dark Ages, the Moors, particularly in Cordoba, had running water, toilets, paper, glass, and were pretty advanced medically.  They performed the first autopsy ever and the first cataract surgery.  For a period, Cordoba was an alternate pilgrimage site for those who could not make the Hajj to Mecca.  1492 was an important year because Columbus set out on the first of four voyages that year, and in that year, the Moors suffered their final defeat and were sent back to Africa.  The Spanish nobility struggled for power, and finally, to end the struggle, the Pope split the area into Portugal and Spain.  In the War of Succession, Spain lost a great deal of territory and influence to France and Germany.

In 1936, General Franco came to power in a coup, consolidated his power in 1939, and ruled with a heavy hand until he died in 1975, when a constutional monarchy was installed.  Today Spain is struggling economically and has about 20% unemployment.

We saw the Ave pass over a bridge, and it was really moving fast.  We’ll be on that train today.  We were fortunate to sit next to Darrell and Kathy, because they provided us with caramels and chocolate.  We were also given a tin of olive oil by Patricia, as we drove through Jaen, a big producing area.  Spain produces more olive oil than Greece, Turkey, and Italy combined.  Some of it is relabeled to show where it was packaged, instead of Spain.  Along with the oil, we were given instructions on how to use it:  Peel tomatoes by dipping them in hot water, and pureeing them.  Put oil on the bread followed by the tomatoes, and that’s all there is to it.  There over 60 varieties of olives produced in Spain.  80% is  made into oil and only 20% is used on the table.  Patricia passed around  an article about a picker that air blasts  the olives off the trees instead of shaking them, and reduces the cost of picking from 21 to 7 cents a kilo.  They have to be pressed as soon as possible to avoid acidity.  They are pressed with the pits which are crushed, and provide essential ingredients, including oleic acid.  The result is a “chocolate” paste that is layered with something else and squeezed in a press to extract the oil.  If the temperature does not go above 75 F it can be called “cold press” oil.  The second pressing requires more heat, and takes the acidity

Entering Cordoba

above 2% which is the limit for “virgin” olive oil.  When you are served fish with olive oil, the oil has been added after cooking, because olive oil does not stand heating very well.  One kilo of oil requires 5 kilos of olives, and a tree can produce about 200 pounds of olives.

Our guide for the town and the Cathedral of Cordoba was Maria Jose.  We headed into all sorts of twisty windy narrow streets.  First we visited one of the only three synagogues left

Cordoba's synagogue

in Spain, and the only one in Madrid.  This one was probably spared because it was part of a larger building, or it may have been privately owned.   We wandered through private courtyards where the decorations were primarily potted flowers.  In 1135 Maimonides was born here, and  wrote about medicine, science, and religion.  He tried to reconcile faith and reason, and wrote, “A Guide for the Perplexed”, which might be interesting reading today. It was not welcomed by the Church.  Other philosophers born here were Seneca and Aweroes.

We eventually came to the Catedral de Cordoba, subtitled Antigua Mezquita, and also known as the Alcazar, which was originally built by the Moors from the 8th to the 10th century.  It originally had three parts, the Muezzin tower, the courtyard, and

Waiting for tickets to the Cateral de Cordoba

the many-columned, double-arched prayer hall.  It is Patricia’s favorite place.  It was built on the site of the Visigoth’s St. Vincent church which was peacefully shared by the Moors and Christians for many years.

The cathedral was amazing.  It is a forest of columns with double arches, and was built in four phases, initially as a mosque by the Moors.  When it became a church, some of the spaces between the columns was closed by the

Moorish double-arched horseshoe columns

Christians.  The capitals are all different, and were taken from Roman construction.  In the 10th century, it was expanded to handle a larger Caliphate.  Another expansion caused some columns to be removed to make room for a larger arched space overhead.

Only 20% go to church.  The later columns had new capitals.  The wooden ceiling was repainted in 1920.  The 4th expansion was in 1987.  There are 856

The Cathedral Monstrance

pillars now, but in the Moorish time there were over 1000  columns.  We saw a magnificent gold monstrance, which carries a consecrated wafer symbolizing the body of Christ during the Corpus Christi feast.  (The guide called it a “remonstrance”, and I couldn’t figure that out at all.  I had to look it up.)

Today there are 1 million Prostestants, and 1million Muslims in Spain.

Patricia treated us  to a slice of tortilla and potatoes. She taught us to to say, “Yo ciero una tortilla Española”.   “I want a  Spanish tortilla.”   It was delicious.

Having a slice of Spanish tortilla

We got on a different bus with driver San Fernando for the short ride back to the train station for the Ave  to Madrid.  We had a nice wait in the VIP lounge with free juice and snacks.  The train was really comfortable, and the meal was OK, about the same as a good coach airline meal, which is no longer available these days.

We took the bus to the Westin, where our bags were waiting for us, having raced from Cordoba.

That evening we tried one of the

Tapas in Madrid

tapas places Patricia had recommended, Taberne de Diana, on Calle Duque de Medicinelli, after our first choice was totally filled.  I tried “cod and raisin pie” which I would not recommend to anyone, unless they like dry filo dough.  Teresa didn’t care for her vegetable omelet, either.

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