Friday, May 28, 2004

SPAIN Day03//01.May.04 - Of Mezquita, Muslim Motifs & Mudejar-ism: Cordoba & Granada

This day presented another day of traveling for us. Our destinations were Cordoba for the first half of the day and Granada for the later part of the day. While covering two major Andalucian cities in one day may seem a tad ambitious, it really wasn't. I learnt that most olden cities are only about 100 - 200 km away from one another. The reason for this is because that typically will be the distance that a horse can travel from dawn to dusk in a single day. Camps were established that way, and from camps grew communities, communities to civilisations. Therefore it was a less than 2 hours of traversing through undulating fields of wheat before arriving at Cordoba.

The main attraction in this UNESCO World Heritage Site was the Mezquita-Catedral de Cordoba. A former mosque turned cathedral, it epitomises the Mudejar (pronounced mu-they-har) influence that is prevalent in this part of the world. The Mudejar style is the symbiosis of Christian and Muslim elements, and its happy (and sometimes confused!) existence can be seen in Andalucian arts, crafts and architecture.

The Mezquita is famously known for its pink-and-white-stripped arches and its collection of columns. The arches and the columns are made from marble, sourced from different parts of the world depending on its colour. Throughout the ages, the Mezquita has had three extensions to accomodate the growing population of worshippers. The ancients themselves were not shamelessly indulgent in this grandiose expansion as some of its 850++ columns dates older than the Mezquita itself and procured from lands as far as Egypt. We walked through this maze of columns and came upon another point of interest, the mihrab, a Byzantine-styled gold-coloured mosaic-ed dome shrine that used to house the Koran. Similar to the Santa Maria cathedral in Seville, the Mezquita has an elaborate (Baroque) mahogany carved choir stalls; and it also has a tree-shaded "Courtyard of the Orange Trees".

The lot of us exited the Mezquita and explored the nearby Jewish quarter, known as the Juderia. Along with the requisite maze-like narrow streets and quaint souvenir shops, it was the white-washed walls splashed with colourful blossoms and iron-wrought balconies overflowing with flowers that took my breath away. Locals themselves are not
immune to this vision of loveliness as paintings depicting this scenery abound and marketed to the fullest in souvenir shops. I was particularly impressed with an ingenious shop owner who got tourists to market his shop in all languages possible. There was even a hilarious Singlish signage contributed, no doubt, by a Singaporean tourist. His marketing gimmick worked as we patronised his shop out of curiosity. There were many more shops, selling a myriad of local arts and craft and souvenir items. Tourists leisurely thronged in and out of these shops, we didn't have this luxury as we had a lunch appointment at a local tavern before we leave for Granada.

Granada derives its name from the term "granada" which is Spanish for pomegranate, apparently abundant locally and also found on the city's coat of arms. We were here to visit the famous Alhambra. My expectations were high as the Travel Channel frequently air snippets featuring the palace within. The palace compound is vast and elevated, providing a panaromic view of the city below. The palace itself consists of many buildings connected by courtyards and gardens. The facade of these buildings is intricate with Islamic inscription that translates to "Allah is victor". Water is also featured prominently and its importance, three-pronged, that of irrigation, ablution, and decoration. While Islamic elements dominate, there are also Christian influences due to Charles V honeymoon inhabitation, and Jewish influences as seen by the fountain in the Court of Lions. There was also evidence of Turkish influence as seen by the baths or hamam that were found there. Separate quarters were built for the men and women and I marveled at the builders' ingenuity in using round glass sheets, located on the top of the dome-d hamam, to control the temperature and humidity of the steaming rooms. This was done by sliding the adjustable glass pieces in or out, and thus controling the heat and steam that is allowed to escape through the gaps.

What struck me the most was the gardens of Generalife (pronounced Hay-nay-rahl-ee-fay). Lush with greenery and perfumed by flowers, it was a sensory treat. Then, being springtime, the flowers were in full bloom and splendor. Neatly trimmed hedges make for an intriguing maze and provided organisation to the riot of colours. With gardens so
magnificent, the courtyard held its ground with its long rectangular tranquil body of water framed by shooting jets of water. Quite a sight!

The long walk around Alhambra and back to the bus was enough to work up our appetite. Opportune timing as next was our final destination of the day, a Chinese restaurant in the heart of Granada city before heading back to our hotel for a good night's sleep.


Post a Comment

<< Home