If people ask me what are my favourite destinations in the world, Andalusia could easily fill the top two spots – I reckon the same goes for a large number of other fellow travellers. Andalusia is undoubtedly one of the most visited regions in Spain and comprises eight different provinces namely Almeria, Cadiz, Cordoba, Granada, Huelva, Jaen, Malaga and its capital city, Seville.
Throughout the centuries, Andalusia has been receiving influences from the Greeks, Romans, Vandals, Visigoths, Byzantines, Muslims and Christians, resulting in a complex yet vibrant culture that can be witnessed today. Interestingly, a vast number of internationally recognised Spanish traditions and customs are actually Andalusian in origin, flamenco and bullfighting included. Thanks to Spain Tourism Board and Turkish Airlines, Gaya Travel managed to experience three of its magical cities last winter.
Read Part 1: Valencia & Malaga
No matter how you spend your days, the calm and tranquility of Cordoba will have a lasting effect on you. Once a medieval city with the most glorious period between 756 and 1031, the city is famed for the prosperous coexistence of three main religious cultures: Muslim, Jewish and Christian. It is located in the centre-northern area of Andalusia, on the banks of the Guadalquivir River and at the foot of the Sierra Morena mountains. It also borders with Malaga, Seville, Badajoz, Ciudad Real, Jaen and Granada. The city’s excellent location boasts a special continental Mediterranean micro climate that creates pleasant year-round temperature with very little rain. Since the overall size of the city is rather small, travellers may only take approximately 40 minutes to walk from the city’s end to another.
Medina Azahara is the impressive palatine city that the Caliph Abd Al-Rahman III ordered to be built at the feet of the Sierra Morena to serve as both political and ideological propaganda for the new caliphate. Over 10,000 men worked on its construction, using the best materials such as marbles, precious metals, tiles and polychrome stones. The most notable room is the Throne Room, covered in expensive materials with exquisite details. In 1010, seven decades after it was first built, Medina Azahara was sacked and destroyed by the Berbers who razed most of the city to the ground. Today, there is a bus service that take travellers to this archaeological site from Glorieta de la Cruz Roja and Paseo de la Victoria, in front of the Mercado Victoria every Tuesday to Sunday. The ticket price for the bus service is €8.50 per adult and €4.25 per child.
Mosque-Cathedral (Great Mosque of Cordoba)
Declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO since 1984, this Mosque-Cathedral is one of the most significant monuments of Islamic religious architecture due to its size and elaborate, intricate designs, testifying to the strong presence of Islam in the West. The building was initially built in 785 by Abd Al-Rahman I over the remains of the Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente, which was then developed further by Abd Al-Rahman II and III, Al-Hakam II and Almanzor. As a result, the structure bears the evolution of the Caliphate’s influences. It covers an area of 24,000 square metres with an outstanding forest of dichromatic horseshoe columns and a resplendent Mihrab adorned with gilded Quranic inscriptions and rich mosaics. However, after the Reconquest period, a Christian Cathedral was built within the mosque, featuring a combination of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles that still stand until today.
Synagogue and Jewish Quarter
Built in the first quarter of the 14th century, the Synogogue was in use until 1492 when the Jews were expelled from Spain. It is the only testimony of Jewish heritage in the whole of Andalusia. The building still preserves its original structures despite constant renovation. The Jewish Quarter, on the other hand, was declared as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1994, comprising the area from the Puerta de Almodovar entrance gate reaching to as far as the Mosque-Cathedral. The quarter features a maze of narrow streets with many hidden squares in the countless nooks and crannies that often fascinate travellers. Today, one can also find various artisan shops selling beautiful handmade crafts along the streets such as the Joaquín Espaliú Silver Jewellery that creates one-of-a-kind silver crafts.
Equestrian Show: Passion and Spirit of the Andalusian Horse
Held at the Royal Stables of Cordoba, the Equestrian Association of Cordoba, in cooperation with the Cordoba Consortium for Tourism, presents visitors with a unique and purely entertaining equestrian show well-suited for the whole family, while highlighting the beauty, intelligence and nobleness of the Andalusian horse (bred in Cordoba) and the sharp prowess of the horsemen. The performance highlights several horse riding disciplines including the Caballo en Vaquera, La Garrocha, Horses with Long Reins and Hand Work, and Horse Drawn Carriages.
The Courtyards (Patios) Festival
Since 1918, the Town Hall has been organising a competition called Courtyards and Crosses in the first week of May, whereby owners will decorate their house with colourful flowers to win the prestigious award by the City Council. Much singing and dancing is involved accompanied by free flow of local wine and delicious tapas, so revellers should take note!
Also see: San Pedro, Calleja de las Flores and Roman Temple of Cordoba
Refuel: Bodegas Campos Restaurant, Bandolero Restaurant and Gastronomical Market (Mercado Victoria)
Sleep: Eurostars Hotel Palace
Easily accessible from Granada or Seville, the small town of Baeza – claimed to be the first Christian city in Spain – is popular with its trademark landscape comprising olive trees and traditional whitewashed houses, including the best-preserved examples of Renaissance architecture in the country. It is also one of the main producers of olive oil in the world and the industry strongly defines local culture, explaining why almost all of the people here own olive trees for their own consumption or commercial purpose. We suggest that travellers visit the town in late October to watch the annual harvest season to enjoy the highest quality of olive oil produced in the area.
Built in the late 16th century, the University of Baeza was once one of Spain’s main universities from 1542 to 1825 offering the fields of liberal arts, medicine and theology. It also served as a training centre for future priests, instructed in the art of preaching. However, due to unfavourable judgement by the Inquisition, the institution went into decline and its Master was denounced and arrested for suspicious practices and preaching. Today, the university is revived as a ‘summer university’, also known as Antonio Machado Summer University, named after the famous Spanish poet who lived here. Visitors are invited to take in the charming Renaissance flair as shown on the design of its patio, besides visiting the classroom where Antonio Machado once taught.
Museo de la Cultura del Olivo (Olive Museum)
Year-round, travellers would be able to learn all about olive varieties and even join a tasting session (by appointment) at the Museo de la Cultura del Olivo (Olive Museum), housed in its own antique mill. Here, we learned that the quality of an olive oil is greatly determined by the time it is harvested and how it is produced, stored and conserved. The polyphenol content in each golden liquid also plays a part in its longevity. Polyphenols contain antioxidants that make olive oil more stable. Oil that comes from olives that are harvested earlier tends to have higher level of antioxidants, so it tends to be kept longer. Moreover, since there are over 1,700 different varieties of olive oil in the word, one should know that each variety fits a different purpose, for example the Picual variety is good for cooking, while the Arbequina variety is best consumed raw.
Also see: The Cathedral
Refuel: Tendal Restaurant
Sleep: Puerta De La Luna Hotel
Situated in the geographical centre of Jaen province, west of the forested mountains of Cazorla, Segura and Las Villas, Ubeda city is listed as a World Heritage Site since 3 July 2003 together with its sister city, Baeza. Despite having uncanny resemblance to the Italian Renaissance cities, Ubeda has an intimate and deep Andalusian identity especially through its traditional fiestas, ancient crafts, rich gastronomy and idiosyncratic people. Due to its strategic location, defence wall was built to protect the city.
Plaza Vasquez de Molina
Located in the far south of the city, Plaza Vasquez de Molina might just be one of the most beautiful town squares I have ever set my eyes upon. It comprises several impressive monuments from the Renaissance period such as the sacred chapel of El Savador, the palace of Dean Ortega, the palace of the Marquis of Mancera, the Santa Maria de los Reales Alcazares church, a Renaissance fountain and the Vazquez de Molina palace, which now functions as the current town hall.
Paco Tito Pottery Museum
Ubeda has historically been considered as Andalusia’s centre of pottery manufacturing. Up until the 1970’s, practically the entire Valencia Street in Barrio de los Alfareros (Potters Neighbourhood) was devoted to pottery due to the abundance of natural water sources and the accessibility of smoky chimneys located at the outskirts. The interesting part about pottery making here would be the traditional method that is still being used today since the times of the Arabs. There is no significant change in both production and design – the potteries are still fired in the traditional Moorish kilns and then glazed into brown or green colour. The firing or baking process is the most crucial stage of all because it determines the quality of the final product; each firing process typically lasts for 24 to 36 hours. At Paco Tito Pottery Museum, travellers can find exquisite pieces as well as learn about the entire process since it has a mini galleria on pottery-making on the second floor.
Hospital de Santiago
Andres de Vandelvira was an influential Renaissance architect. His works throughout Andalusia are highly appreciated by many, including the Hospital de Santiago in Ubeda, designed in a variation on the traditional hospital of the Catholic Kings. The staircase is decorated with a painted mural the same as in the sacristy. The main chapel presents an original floor design, lavish decoration and shiny gratings. Now, the hospital is converted into an Exhibition and Congress Hall.
Also see: Plaza Primero de Mayo and Muralla Arabe
Refuel: Zeitum Restaurant
Sleep: Palacio de Ubeda
William Shakespeare once said, “Every inquisitive traveller keeps Granada in his heart, without having even visited it” – that somehow explains it all. It is hard to resist the city’s charm when you can find almost everything (yes, everything) here. There are not that many cities in the world where a traveller can swim in the warm sea in the morning and then spend the afternoon on the same day skiing at Sierra Nevada, Europe’s southernmost ski resort. For cultural buffs, Granada offers infinite heritage, history and culture.
Legado Andalusi (The Andalusian Legacy)
As the name suggests, the Legado Andalusi is a foundation that promotes the Andalusian heritage to the world. It is a state-of-the-art museum that helps to disseminate information through a number of thematic exhibitions encompassing traditions, economy, art, science, architecture, history and important figures in history. At times, the foundation organises road tours in Spain, France, Germany, Morocco, Tunisia and even Pakistan to further educate people about the splendour of Andalusia.
When in Granada, one should not skip the visit to the Alhambra, which is the greatest architecture in Andalusia dating back to the Muslim era. The construction began in 1238 and was ordered by Ibn Yusof Ibn Nasr al-Jazrayu al-Ansari, Sultan of Andalus and emir of Granada, who desired an impenetrable, fortified castle on the hill known as al-Sabika. The castle’s name was later derived from the colour of the lands from which it stands upon, al-kalat al-hamra (the castle made of red earth). For centuries it was a palace, a citadel and a fortress, as well as the residence of the Nasrid sultans and their senior officials.
Successive generations of the prosperous Nasrid dynasty continued to decorate the Red Castle, turning the building we see today into a majestic work of art, perhaps the most beautiful Moorish legacy in history. One particular key feature that fascinates travellers is the beautiful poetry inscriptions by the greatest poets of the Court of Granada, including Ibn al-Yayyab, Ibn al-Jatib and Ibn Zamrak on the very palace walls, its alcoves, arches and fountains. It is said that the beauty of Alhambra Palace inspired many musicians, artists and authors, one in particular was Washington Irvin who took up residence in the Alhambra and wrote ‘Tales of the Alhambra’.
The parts of the Alhambra that are open to the public are the Alcazaba (military zone), the Nasrid Palaces, the Partal and the Generalife. Travellers should take note of the allocated access time printed specifically on each visitor’s admission ticket to visit the Nasrid Palaces since only a limited number of people are allowed into the area at any one time. For a vantage viewpoint of the entire Alhambra, head to San Nicolas, which offers the breathtaking view of the grand castle during sunset.
Also see: Realejo, Castellon Alto (Galera), Cathedral of Granada and Castril Village
Refuel: Alhambra Palace Hotel
Sleep: Carmen Granada Hotel
This article is included in Gaya Travel Magazine Issue 11.2. Read the magazine for free HERE.