Circumnavigating La Mezquita in Cordoba

La Mezquita simply takes possession of old Cordoba: vast, sprawling, the Christian cathedral emerging from the ribs of the Moorish Mosque, its bulk and presence are unignorable.

It’s a good idea to circumnavigate before you enter: wander the surrounding streets, catch glimpses of the spire from narrow alleyways or see it from up high, from the old stone towers of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, to get a physical sense of its mass and antiquity – and then go in, to a fantasy world of pink and white columns, horseshoe arches, chapels and pulpits, tiles and paintings, silver and gold, light and shade, a timeless and yet particular blending of cultures, faiths, visions and religions.

To give you a sense (I hope) of place, of time and locality, here are some exteriors.

Small-town Andalucia

Small-town Andalucia – those slightly run-down settlements you find on the road from Granada to Cordoba, for instance, places that are not on the tourist route, that are a little hard-scrabble, impoverished – still surprise, with their Moorish keeps, their sense of history. But it is a pre-democracy Spain you sense here – the Spain of Franco, perhaps – yet to be dragged into modernity.

We passed a number of these places along the road to Cordoba, stopping in one for a coffee, in another to use the bathroom. Here are some images: the first, which I took while Rob sipped her coffee at a little open-air cafe by the side of the road, are in colour.

The black-and-white images are from a little town quite close to Cordoba – our final destination for this trip, before we climbed on board the train back to Madrid, footsore and sunburned. But happy.


Ronda – Scenes in Black & White

As with the other pueblos blancos we visited, Ronda, with its cobbled narrow streets, its whitewashed walls, its tiled roofs, its plazas and churches, its sun-soaked vistas, lends itself both to colour photography and to black and white.

Partly it’s a matter of taste and preference; more importantly, it’s a choice of expression. These images, for instance, worked just fine in colour, but in black and white have something quite different to say to us – or to me, at least.

Colour interpretations – Plaza de Toros, Ronda

Following on from my previous post, here are two colour interpretations of the Plaza de Toros in Ronda. In contrast with the drama and rawness of the black and white image, I’ve softened the tones, and emphasised the pillars and the curve and flow of the structure to give a different sense of the enclosure and what it means, or might mean, to those who come here for an afternoon’s entertainment.

Puente Nuevo, Ronda

Puente Nuevo, the ‘new’ bridge, dates to the 18th-century and spans the 100m-deep Tajo Gorge, connecting the old and new parts of Ronda.

Ronda was a surprise: approaching up a steep hill, and entering the town through drab, less-than-interesting neighbourhoods, we wondered if we had made a mistake, booking for two nights. We checked into our hotel, headed out to explore, and immediately fell in love.

Indeed, Ronda quickly became one of our favourite towns in all of Andalucia, and we would happily have stayed for several days more.

 

Zahara de la Sierra – Castles in the Sky

Between Sevilla and Ronda lies the Parque Natural Sierra de Grazalema, a rugged, mountainous country of dramatic views and towering skies, where pueblos blancos – the white villages – cling to the rock. This is Zahara de la Sierra, where we stopped for lunch.

 

Castles in the Sky, Zahara de la Sierra.jpg

La Giralda, Sevilla

Seville Cathedral stands on the site of a great mosque, built by the Almohads in the 12th century. It is the largest cathedral in Europe. Its bell-tower, La Giralda, was in its original incarnation a minaret, on top of which were erected a Christian belfry and Christian symbols.

You climb La Giralda not by stairs but via an internal ramp, built so that horses could ride to the top. As you climb, the views – of the cathedral, of Sevilla unwinding itself beneath you – are not to be missed.

The sense of the ages, the consciousness of ancient and multiple histories and cultures, the sheer drama of the spectacle, call for images in black and white. But the bright Andalucian skies, the warmth of the sun on the old stone, demanded colour. Take a look at these photos of the pigeon, looking out from a ledge: they are the same image, but how different in tone, mood, message!

 

The bells and the lattice-work, I think, because graphically so strong, work powerfully in black and white:

 

But when it comes to the view of the tower itself, I am torn, between the strong diagonals of the one view, and the warm tones of the brick and stone, in the other.