Córdoba: Third Time’s the Charm
A traveler only sees a slice of a city. And often, when that slice is rushed, it doesn’t resonate like it should. That is precisely how my first two visits to Córdoba, Spain panned out. For me, Córdoba was always that quick stop on the way to Sevilla, where I spent one sun-soaked semester, and felt more like a Sevillana than a traveler.
Sure, my jaw dropped instantly, in awe of the Mezquita-Catedral, the stunning mosque converted into a cathedral. The gothic cathedral at its center is grand, but a sad reminder of the destruction of the Reconquista, when Christians destroyed thousands of Córdoba’s mosques. Still, I felt disconnected from Córdoba.
On the cusp of my third trip to Andalucía, I read Spanish Recognitions, by Mary Lee Settle and grew curious of Córdoba’s rich Islamic history. At the turn of the 9th century, Córdoba’s Mezquita was the largest in the world after the mosque in Mecca. Córdoba was the cosmopolitan city of its time, with more streetlamps at its peak in the 10th century than any other city in Europe. More importantly, it was a city brimming with philosophers, scientists, doctors, and mathematicians. Here, Muslims, Christians, and Jews thrived together with knowledge and learning at its forefront.
I surely hadn’t seen the right slice of Córdoba yet.
Lucky for me, along with 37 high school students, last March I had another chance to feel something for this place. It began when I watched an 18-year-old girl marvel at the Mezquita for the first time. Just hours before, her and her clique had complained about the food at lunch, but suddenly standing amidst the endless arches, her demeanor softened and a traveler was born.
I spent the afternoon and evening stumbling upon street art on crumbling façades in the old quarter. Each phrase delighted me more than the last. Click here for more behind these Spanish sayings.
How had I missed this the first two times?
One wrongdoing revealed itself; I had never spent the night.
When darkness fell upon the whitewashed walls, some of the other chaperones and myself slipped away for one of the most Spanish customs of them all, the paseo. From our hotel in the old quarter, our stroll began as we crossed over the Guadalquivir River and from the opposite bank, I got the slice of Córdoba I had been missing.
My eyes followed the yellow light of the Roman bridge to the glowing Mezquita in the distance. And as if in perfect harmony with the Islamic history of this once Mecca of knowledge and tolerance, a crescent moon and star beamed brightly above. My steps across the ancient Roman bridge slowed to a crawl as I tried to savor this perfect paseo.
Back on the streets in the city-center, as we fell farther from the bright glow of the Mezquita, a yellow shell caught my eye on the street corner ahead. Unbeknownst to me, I had just taken my first steps on the Camino de Santiago. Although not the Camino Francés I would be walking a few months later, it was nonetheless one of the roads to Santiago. On the dimly lit cobblestone street of the Camino Mozárbe, I ended my paseo satisfied that I had finally met Córdoba.