Tuesday, 17 January 2017

A Short visit to Madrid and Barcelona.

16 October 2016

In October 2016, my husband and I flew into Madrid to begin our 5 week holiday in Spain and the Mediterranean.

It has been challenging to make this selection of photos of our 1st week - Madrid [2days] and Barcelona [4 days].

My initial and continuing impression of all the Spanish cities we visited, was of the beauty of the narrow balconies with their cast iron balustrades, that were found on almost every apartment building, lining  narrow and often cobbled streets. 

Plaza Mayor - Madrid's central plaza dating back to 1598. It has a ring of old and traditional shops under its porticoes and has seen markets, bull fights, football games and executions.

Panorama of Plaza

A late afternoon walk beside the Manzanares River with lovely views back to the old city, cathedral and palace.

After our visit to the Prado Museum - Spanish National Art Gallery - and being blown away by pieces like:-
 Raphaels - The Cardinal', Velazquez's -  Mirror on the Wall, Rubin's - Three Graces and Tintorettos - Christ Washing the Feet of the Disciples,
we walked through El Retiro Park, which once belonged to the Spanish Monarchy.

So much to see and looking up was a must do.

Every entrance boasted an impressive wooden door. This was repeated throughout the towns we visited in Spain.

The magnificent Royal Palace.


An 8 hour coach journey took us east to Barcelona. An unexpected highlight was crossing 0 longitude.

During our first morning in Barcelona, we were taken on a guided tour of the city.
After lunch, our coach took just over an hour to drive us to the base of the multi- peaked, rocky range of Montserrat. Here we  boarded a gondola for the spectacular ride up to the Benedictine abbey, Santa Maria de Montserrat. [1025 AD]

The abbey and its position on the side of the Montserrat Range.

Inside the cathedral. 
Bottom right is the 12th C Black Madona, attributed to many miracles.

I spent a lot of time appreciating this awe inspiring, side chapel in the abbey.

It was in Barcelona, that my excitement for exploring the narrow alleyways of Spanish towns grew.

Christopher Columbus Column.

La Rambla

The markets were amazing.

Arche de Triumphe, built for the Barcelona World Fair in 1888.

Placa Catalunya.

The old bullring, now a shopping centre.

Placa Espanya and Avenue de la Reina Maria Cristina.

Venetian Towers [ornamental] and the National Palace built for the International Exhibition of 1929.

Looking down from, and up to, the National Palace and its Magic Fountain. [Both built at the same time] Each evening the fountain performs a unique display of music, water acrobatics and light. Alas, our timing was poor and we missed the show. 

View across Barcelona, from the National Museum to the Church of the Sacred Heart of Jesus [seen on the horizon] atop the Tibidabo, the highest point in the range behind Barcelona.

Our hotel was towards the base of the Tibidabo and on our last morning we walked to a funicular, that took us to the base of the church and an amusement park. We skipped the park, visited the church and climbed the stairs to the base of the statue of Christ - impressive position, impressive building and sculptures, and impressive 360 views.

The Cathedral of Barcelona is often confused with the Basilica Sagrada Familia, designed by Antoni Gaudi. The Cathedral sits in the centre of the old city streets, in the Gothic Quarter. Its beauty is overlooked because of the renown of the Basilica.
In this photo, it's spires rise above the surrounding buildings. 

We were able to take a lift up to its roof top, walk along some narrow, grated walkway and take in the roof top vistas of Barcelona.

The Basilica Sagrada Familia, as seen from the rooftop of the Cathedral, 3 kms away.

Gaudi took over the designing of the Basilica in 1887 and worked on it for 40 years, until his death after a tragic accident with a tram. 

On our first quite brief visit, we only walked around the outside. I could appreciate the craftsmanship, but for me, it was too overdone for it to be a place of worship.

At the end of our holiday, we had to return to Barcelona for our flight home. We paid for an audio tour. Its commentary of both the external and internal building, totally changed my feelings. Once we stepped inside, we couldn't help but be moved by the stunning natural light, vibrant stained glass and simplicity. One's spirit rapidly soared to Gaudi's tree tops.
I won't even begin to explain his thoughts behind the design, but if you are interested, this link does quite a good job.

The entrance door has The Lord's Prayer written in Spanish, in its centre. In the background is the same prayer in many other languages.

The expectation is that the Sagrada Familia will be completed in another 10 years. Work commenced 133 years ago!

Walking back to our hotel on our last evening, we walked past this beautifully lit, city wall.  It was difficult to say goodbye to this captivating city.

This post has barely scratched the surface of what makes Madrid and Barcelona. I hope you too get to visit and see it all for yourself.
Thank you for visiting and I would love to read your comment.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Cordoba - Part B

Tuesday 8 November

Our first chilly day of the holiday. The temperature supposedly ranged from 8 to 17 C, but unless one was in sunshine, one felt quite frozen.

At 10.30 am, our lovely and  exceptional guide Pakita, met us at the Alcazar Fortress of the Christian Monarchs - a Moslem Alcazar once stood here.

I've been getting quite confused reading different articles about the naming of this fortress. The terms castle, fortress, palace, castle, alcazar, have all been used in different contexts.
I googled the definition of alcazar - 'a Spanish palace or fortress of Moorish origin' and it seems they all refer to the same thing.

Below is a map of the gardens and the Alcazar of Cordoba, taken from google maps with my laptop. The arrow is the Lion Tower and our entrance point. The red circle shows the quadrangular buildings of the Alcazar.

Immediately we stepped through the entrance archway, we were in the palace gardens, where the Moorish influence of creating with water, perfume and texture was obvious.

The gardens were on 3 distinct terraces.
We passed through the Lion Tower to, 2 large pools - water fed from the mountains. Large fish were swimming in the clear water.

Terrace 2 - The water, collected in the ponds, is channeled down to 3 consecutive, rectangular pools. The first two were bordered by different colours of plants and boxwoods. Unfortunately the fountains
in the pools weren't working.

The third pool was bordered by tall hedged cypress, interspersed by statues of noted figures of the time.
King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, governed Spain from here, for 8 years, in the 15th C. It was here that Columbus asked Queen Isabella for backing for his historic journey to the Americas, hence their statue below.

End view.

The third area is boxwood, planted in a grid pattern and creating wonderful rose gardens.

Looking back to the Alcazar.

All too soon, Pakita ushered us into the Alcazar complex, built in the 13th / 14th C on the remains of its Moorish predecessor.
One hall displays some remarkable Roman mosaics dug up from the Plaza de la Corredera in the 1950's.

There are 2 courtyards. The one below is of the Mudejar style. Its cool marble floors, the murmur of water running down channels and into ponds, is very soothing, especially I imagine, on an extremely hot summer's day.

This Roman sarcophagus, dating back to the 3rd C, is a pagan work depicting the journey of the dead to the underworld via a half opened door.

The Mosaic Hall is a former chapel of the Inquisitions, but now it displays a collection of Roman mosaic art of the 2nd and 3rd C.

This room adjacent to the Mosaic Hall is supposedly set up ready for an inquisition.

View from the Mosaic Hall.

At the completion of our tour through the Alcazar of Cordoba, Pakita took us through the Jewish Quarter streets and on to the Mosque Cathedral.

The outside wall of the Mosque Cathedral as seen from our street - Calle del Meson del Sol.

The mosque, begun in 785 by Emir And al-Rahman, grew over a long period of Moorish rule to its size - 180 m by 130m. Inside are 850 coloured, granite, jasper, onyx or marble columns, supporting red and white striped double, horseshoe shaped arches. When the Christians ousted the Moors, they recognised the craftsmanship and beauty of the mosque and made the decision to build the Cathedral within its arches, but rising above the mosque. The result is extraordinary.

The cathedral was consecrated in 1236 and like the mosque, grew and changed over many years.
Apparently locals are heard to say, 'I'm going to the Mosque to hear mass.'

Left is the Bell Tower entrance to the Mosque Cathedral and on the right, the entrance from our street.

We climbed the Bell Tower later in the afternoon, but it dominates the old city skyline no matter where you are.

The view from the tower takes in the Patio del los Naranjos or the ablution courtyard of the Mosque.

Beside the fountain was this incredibly old, olive tree. Initially we thought it was dead, with the leaves coming from a younger tree behind the thick, old trunk. My 2nd photo gives a clearer view of the younger branches at the top of the trunk.

This photo gives a clear view of how the Christians built their Cathedral within the Mosque building.

Originally the mosque minaret stood where the the Bell Tower now is. Fortunately it was preserved within the tower. 

The top of the Bell Tower gave us 360 degree views of Cordoba.

It was impossible to capture the vastness of the mosque. Its beauty is just astounding.
View through the arches.

The view between and along the arches.

At the end of each corridor, were latticed windows allowing the entry of soft light.

The magnificent Mihrad, indicates the direction of Mecca and amplifies the prayers given by the Imam, throughout the mosque.

Another view of the double arches.

A view into the cathedral. The altar is just to the right.

Gothic ceilings above the altar.

Other views.

Gothic ceiling of the Capilla Real, with its silver tabernacle and 9 statues of the saints.

Tour of the Jewish quarter and their 'hidden' synagogue.

Maimonides - Jewish philosopher, astronomer and physician, was born in Cordoba.

Indentations into the walls of narrow allies was supposedly to allow passage of the laden carts. 

In 1570, King Phillip II, built the Royal Stables to breed thoroughbred Spanish horses. We were able to watch the morning training session. I didn't want to leave.

Photos from our last day of wandering.

Another courtyard I wanted to see more of.

Cordoba's major festival, The Patios Competition, is held in May. [patios - courtyard].
There are at least 50 flower filled courtyards, festooned with the colour of flowering pot plants, to be visited.

 Our visit to Cordoba has been equally as thrilling as that of our visit to Granada, but it is a more natural and relaxed city. I felt more comfortable wandering through its windy, narrow cobbled streets, with their lowset, white homes and peering into their hidden courtyards. So glad to have spent time in both. 

I would love to read your comment.