My Cordoba

In the 1970’s actor Ricardo Montalban was not only famous for staring in the TV series “Fantasy Island” but also as Chrysler’s celebrity spokesperson for marketing the Cordoba automobile. Who can ever forget his rich voice saying “soft Corinthian leather” when describing the car’s interior? Cordoba was “my car” although I never owned one. I did have high expectations for my explorations of Cordoba, Spain, linked by name although it is uncertain if Chrysler intended it to be so. Huge by today’s standards, in the ’70’s the Cordoba automobile was actually a “junior size” Chrysler! My excursion, however, was not a junior size at all; it was huge as I experienced another aspect of the culturally rich country of Spain.

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Interior of the Grand Mosque

Through the ages Cordoba has been everything from a small Roman outpost to the seat of power during the periods of Muslim occupation. Evidence has been found of humans in the area between 42,000 and 35,000 BC! An interesting fact is that Cordoba is believed to have been the most populous city in the world in the 10th century! Today, Cordoba is a small modern metropolis of about 300,000 and is protective of its Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian heritage. That heritage loudly screams throughout the city, particularly in the area surrounding its famous UNESCO World Heritage Site mezquita (mosque) landmark as well as the Roman Bridge dating from the first century!

The city has witnessed numerous changes through the centuries which were driven by religious-based conflicts involving Christians and Muslims. In 1236 King Ferdinand III secured the city during the Spanish Reconquista. Since then numerous mosques were converted to churches including the huge one where the sanctuary was created in the middle of the existing mosque. The Christian era also brought about a dark period of the Spanish Inquisition with Cordoba at the epicenter. During this period non-Christians were treated as second class citizens with Jews and Muslims often forced to renounce their faith, leave, or die.

Peaceful Park in Cordoba

Walking through the narrow ancient streets one can celebrate the heritage where today Christians, Jews and Muslims live together in peace among the past Roman remnants of a beautiful city.

There are numerous parks throughout Cordoba like the one pictured that are quiet where you can pause, reflect and enjoy the simple sounds of water bubbling in the fountain. As in the pictured park, ancient pillars stand reminiscent of Roman times. Other parks are significantly larger and city planners appear to have gone to great lengths to incorporate them among the very wide avenues surrounding the ancient city walls.

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Roman Bridge

Most of my time during my exploration of Cordoba was inside the old city walls and remnants of them. Outdoor cafes are plentiful on the cobblestone streets among ancient buildings created mostly in the last 500 years. I was in awe walking across the preserved Roman Bridge and the cathedral where the bell tower stands among the orange trees and was constructed surrounding the original minaret.

I found the food and drink to be different from other places I have visited in Spain. There was often a blend of creations that reflected the cultures that I mentioned previously. I didn’t care for the local wine and found the famous cold, thick, tomato-based salmocejo soup to not be to my taste either. Regardless, there are plenty of different foods and drinks that more than provided very enjoyable sustenance!

Cathedral Bell Tower

Just like the Cordoba automobile of my youth, the city of Cordoba in Spain holds a special charm… one which is much longer lasting.

Cordoba is a beautiful modern city surrounding an old city with an outstanding Roman, Christian, Jewish and Muslim heritage. It is easy to see why this ancient place is preserved as a World Heritage Site for us and future generations to enjoy.

Alhambra – My Exploration in Granada, Espana

Towering over the city of Granada sits the spectacular Alhambra, a once great, self contained, red-walled city with palaces, mosques, and homes. With construction by the Moors beginning in the 9th century, the Alhambra (derived from Arabic meaning the “Red One”) overlooks the Albayzin, a World Heritage Site and the oldest part of Granada. The Alhambra has evolved through the centuries from its original Acazaba fortress (the right side of my photo) to be a seat of Iberian ruling power and authority for Muslim sultans and emirs and Spanish Christian kings and queens.

The Alhambra at Dusk

Today the Alhambra is Granada’s jewel with an average of 10,000 visitors every day. This World Heritage Site has seen numerous notables come and go as well as physical changes over the centuries. In many cases, we can only imagine the Moor’s mosques, schools, houses, baths, gardens, and government buildings. Many structures have disappeared from neglect, war, vandalism, or, as in the case of the mosque, replaced by other buildings such as the Catholic church and another Palace built by Carlos V.

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Column Inscription at Generalife Palace

Following the conclusion of the “Reconquest of Spain” from the Moors in 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand set up a residence at the Alhambra. In the same year Columbus came to the Alhambra to seek financial support for his adventures which was eventually granted as we all know. Napoleon had soldiers quartered within the Alhambra city walls during the Spanish War of Independence. As the troops withdrew in 1812 they blew up several structures thus destroying an important part of the world’s heritage.

Water Flows Naturally Through Man-made Fountains and Pools in Alhambra and Generalife

The rich Alhambra architecture combines Moorish and Renaissance Spanish with numerous water features and gardens that have been preserved and meticulously restored. The emirs even had their summer palace and rural getaway estate and gardens called “Generalife” which means “Architect’s Garden.” Generalife is adjacent to and outside the Alhambra city walls. It also is a World Heritage Site with its picturesque small park with trees, gardens and several man-made water features on the grounds of a simple-looking palace with many ornate interior wall decorations.

While walking through the grounds I could see how their construction met its objective for providing a calming place for the rulers to relax and unwind from their responsibilities. The park has several very old trees as well as newer plantings which was intended so the park would forever evolve. In the summer vegetables are grown in the Generalife.

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The Throne Room is at the Far End of this Reflective Pool Inside the Alhambra Palace

In addition to Generalife, the nature themes of plants, water features, and gardens are inside the Alhambra also. All of the water flows naturally through a system of small aqueducts that bring fresh water from the nearby mountains. Water features are everywhere and are important to the Muslims. The plants and trees inside the Alhambra are meticulously maintained. Water is always in the center of each building in courtyards except for those built by the Christians.

In 1492 when the Moors surrendered following a siege of the Alhambra, Ferdinand and Isabella moved into the Alhambra as a residence. Where the sultan once held court, the Spanish monarchs then did in the same room.

The Palace Residence Entrance is Stunning

The entrance into the residential area of the palace is very ornate. The sultan’s palace rooms are jaw-dropping beautiful as are his “first wife’s” rooms. The sultan’s “first wife” is not numerically determined by marriage date but rather the first with whom he has a male heir. A courtyard with an interesting fountain is between the sultan’s suite and the first wife’s suite. The fountain was given to the sultan 700 years ago by a local Jew and represents the tribes of Israel. The tour guide said that in past ages the relationships between Jews and Muslims were much different than today.

Queens Room
A “First Wife” Room and View

Views of nature are present from each room in the palace. There are numerous walkways through gardens and water features are everywhere. The existing grounds are quite special today and one can imagine what they were like when the Alhambra was a bustling city.

My exploration of the Alhambra was exceptional and there is so much more to see here. Things we learned in school are only a very small part of the exciting (and often sad) history of Spain and the influence that past has for us today. In my blog about the Albayzin district (click here) I describe my exploration of Granada outside of the Alhambra walls where history there also impacts our American way of life.

Here are a few additional photos that I hope you enjoy. The photos are the church built over the Muslim mosque, the ceiling in the sutan’s residence, a walkway through the Generalife retreat, the fountain given to the sultan representing the Tribes of Israel, and the entrance to the Alcazaba fortress.

My Kremser Experience

Statue (1682) to returning crusaders

Stunning medieval architecture and extraordinarily beautiful countryside is found throughout Lower Austria. Captured in photos of Aggstein, Durnstein, Rosaatz, and Melk I have shared on Facebook many of the old structures, castle ruins, monuments, stone-terraced vineyards, and the picturesque Danube River that make the World Heritage Site of the Wachau Valley unique and special.

While many find the charm of Austria to revolve about Vienna, I have opted for a more rural area in which to holiday for the past three months. My residence has centered on Krems an der Donau, maybe the oldest of communities in all of Austria. Here people are referred to as “Kremsers.”

Part of the Rathaus 1452
Part of the Rathaus 1452

Located down river at the end of the Wachau Valley, the town of 25,000 inhabitants even today remembers and celebrates ancestors from the Middle Ages and their influence in creating Krems. The town is very long on memory, pride, and tradition including personal dress, food, wine, religion, and music.

In this blog I am primarily sharing photographs. While I can tell stories, the photos speak! They shout of the history and pride that Kremsers feel for their community, their ancestors, their architecture, their food and drink, their traditions…their way of life.

As I enjoy a slice of cinnamon-sweet apple strudel at my favorite outdoor cafe, I pause to listen to the chimes of the Steiner Tor. I hear the commuter trains in the background. I see lovers holding hands and smell roasted coffee which beckons me to sip a caramel latte. I hope you enjoy my reminiscences about Krems and can envision the beauty that makes Krems a wonderful place to feel the past while in the present.

Old Testament scenes etched in 1561
Old Testament scenes etched in 1561

I have deeply absorbed Krems’ preservation. It is there for the taking by Kremsers, me, and future generations. The soul of this community is in, and its voices come from, its landmarks, traditions, and people. So gathered here is my collection of photographs that I have found particularly interesting to these ends as I explain in captions.

Medieval mural in Krems center
Medieval mural in Krems center
Bell tower in Krems Stein
Bell tower in Krems Stein
A typical Krems street
A typical Krems street
A favorite stop for coffee and strudel
A favorite stop for coffee and strudel
House built in 1210
House built in 1210
The status Simandl is about the hen-pecked husband begging for the house keys so he can stay out late with the boys
The statue “Simandl” is about the hen-pecked husband begging for the house keys so he can stay out late with the boys
Typical alley in Krems
Typical alley in Krems

“Old” is a Relative Term in Krems, Austria

So the past few days I have been out and about in Krems, Austria and there is so very much to absorb here! Yesterday alone I walked over 7 miles in awe! I am like a sponge soaking up Krems and I admit it is overwhelming! I will be writing more in the future about what I am seeing and doing as well as my reflections of this beautiful, historic town and area along the Danube River.

As I have said previously, Krems is “old” and I am so consumed with the architecture that I am rapidly filling the memory in my iPhone as I take one photo after another. But today I felt like I have to draw a line otherwise I would be taking pictures of everything! So the line I drew is this…unless it has some particular aesthetic value, I want to take photos if the structure (or whatever) came about prior to 1600! So that, for now, will be my guide for photographing and sharing “old” Krems.

FullSizeRender (4)Krems is the eastern gateway to the Wachau Valley which is a World Heritage Site. Today I want to share with you a photo of a local fountain and the story that goes with it, The fountain is near my apartment and is of a man on a knee before a woman with the inscription “SIMANDL”. I thought it was a man proposing marriage but it turns out that “simandl” means “henpecked!” The monument is about the story of the town’s men and, in this case, a man imploring his wife to give him the house key so he can participate in a man’s night out! You can read more about this very interesting fountain at this link here.

The food is terrific! I have eaten pork in many ways and there are so many cafes to grab a fragrant coffee, bold wine, or warm strudel in vanilla sauce. Even though it was cold today, I along with others ate fresh-made ice cream! Who can resist a cone for 1 Euro (about $1.10)!

More soon, my friends!