Spain is in the wrong time zone. And in summer, it’s even more off. It didn’t bug me until I had to wait 45 minutes for a taxi at Cordoba station, as most drivers were enjoying their siesta. I’m convinced that one of the reasons for the siesta tradition continuing to this modern day is the artificially longer day.
Spanish time is two hours ahead of what it should be (geographically speaking). Actual midday is at about 2pm during summer. The later sunset means less night time sleep resulting in lower productivity (or so proponents for having the time corrected say). It all started in the 1940s when the Spanish dictator followed his fascist allies and set Spain’s clocks to German time. And the clocks haven’t changed back since. Interestingly, there are many more countries that simply have their times wrong, mostly for political reasons. (There’s an interesting article here, with the map reproduced below, showing how wrong the time is.)
But I digress. When I eventually did catch a taxi into Cordoba, it was a sleepy town. The intense afternoon heat sent most people indoors. It was unlike the bustle of Granada. And unlike the great capital Cordoba that once was. During the reign of Al-Hakm II in the 10th century, Cordoba was one of the most advanced cities of the world, and home to great minds like Averroes and Maimonides. Cordoba was a thriving community of Muslims, Jews and Christians. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was enlarged during his reign, having started as a shared space between Muslims and Christians some 200 years earlier during Caliph Abdur Rahman’s reign. The Christian portion was sold to the Muslims, in exchange for churches built elsewhere in the city. The Mezquita, as it became known, was eventually taken over during the Spanish Reconquista, and Islam was effectively suppressed for the next 500 years. Today, the massive Mezquita-Cathedral retains much of the original architecture as well as the dazzling mihrab (prayer niche). Its distinctive red and white, candy stripe arches still stand, but the large prayer hall is interrupted by the almost walled up cathedral nave that was built during King Charles V reign, who later regretted the addition.
The other notable sight in Cordoba is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. Built in the Mudejar style (a Moorish style) on top of the ruins of the Moorish fort palace, the complex occupies a spot close to the Guadalquivir River. The view from the turret gives a great view of the city and the palace gardens. Large water features are the central focus of the sculptured gardens. The solitude of the palace did not give a glimpse of the Alcazar’s history during Ferdinand’s reign in the 15th century. The Alcazar was not only the residence of the king, but headquartered Spanish Inquisition tribunals that were put in place to enforce the conversion of Jews and Muslims. Later I found out that some of the rooms were converted into torture chambers and prison cells, which may explain the eerie quietness. In the heat of the afternoon, the palace was mostly deserted. We too retreated to the shade, sipping on freshly squeezed orange juice.
But even before the arrival of Ferdinand, the capital of Al-Andalus was shifted to the purpose built city, Medina Al-Zahara (“the shining city”), on the outskirts of Cordoba in the year 936. Built by Caliph Abdur Rahman III, it was a sprawling city, built to showcase the superiority and power of the Caliph. The terraced landscape allowed for the separation of the royal palace, grand reception halls, administrative buildings and the residential quarters. After the demise of the successive ruler, the city’s downfall began, and all that remains today is a field of ruins. We visited the museum at the site, which had informative displays and an interesting video that brought the ruins to life.
Our hotel, the Conquistador, was across the road from the Mezquita. It was in the heart of the old town which made it easy to meander aimlessly (in other words, not being bothered about getting “lost” in the maze of alleyways). Cobble stones lead past quaint Arabic tea rooms, lively tapas bars, and colourful souvenir shops. The sweet scents of honey and roasted almonds lingered from the turrón (Spanish nougat) shop. In the late afternoon, Cordoba returned to life, especially along the Guadalquivir River. When the sun eventually began to set past 9:30pm, locals were only starting to get ready for dinner. Cordoba was the last leg of my Spain trip after Seville and Granada (and a brief encounter with Madrid). After a week in Spain, my body clock adjusted to the late sunsets, but quickly returned back to winter time in Cape Town.