Cordoba, like much of Spain, has a rough history. The city spent centuries flipping back and forth between Christian and Muslim rule, and within just a few years innumerable battles piled up, each with a body count in the tens of thousands. Twas a hard time to be alive, and wandering through Cordoba’s ever-photographed Mezquita-Cathedral there is a definite sense of a place being torn in two.
A Christian church prior to Muslims conquering in 711, the structure was bifurcated into Muslim and Christian halves, before the entire church was demolished decades later, a grand Mosque left in its place. Then, in 1236 the region turned back to Christian rule and a cathedral was installed within the Mosque — to this day Spanish Muslims are not permitted to pray here. Proving that as far we’ve come since the sixth century we still have years to go.
Nearly 900 marble and granite columns weave through the Mosque’s halls, topped with arches striped in red and white, worn down to terra cotta and ecru over time. Chandeliers hang between each row of columns, casting a dim light.
This contrasts sharply with the Cathedral where natural light pours in through innumerable windows. There’s definitely a tug of war happening here — I crush your church so you build a Catholic nave in the center of my Islamic temple. Come at me bro, I’m ready for you.
The nearby Alcazar was a palace for the Caliphate before Christians took the city back centuries later, leaving Isabella and Ferdinand in charge to convert the palace into Spanish Inquisition headquarters. A time when the Jews and Muslims had a choice: convert to Christianity or leave the country. Those that stayed and practiced their religion had a chance of winding up here.
It’s hard to imagine the place, now so serene with its pristine gardens being used as a torture chamber, but indeed it was. Chris Columbus even visited during that time — I wonder if he heard the muffled screams.
During the day, its primarily tourist attractions and World Heritage Sites, and it’s hard not to get swept up in the past. Night is a different story though. Downtown Cordoba is a labyrinth of twisting alleys, all seemingly lit with a single lantern before curving off into darkness. It’s like the moment preceding a battle in 90’s video games. Having all the makings of being ominous, it’s mostly just absorbing.
Winding around we passed a house party (on a weekday) with students spilling onto the street clutching beer bottles and gesticulating wildly. Hit dead ends to go back the way we came, just to run into another wall. Walked over the bridge to look back upon the Alcazar illuminated in the night. Watched men on mopeds light cigarettes stationed in front of the Mezquita.
I’m vibrating with every step. Feeling caffeinated though I haven’t had a cortado in hours. And as Carl’s tucking into bed I do an all-time first: I venture alone into a foreign country. Really I leave the hotel and walk 10 meters to the cafe next door but still, it’s a pretty big deal for me.
I feel alive and amped. Un Campari por favor I say to the bartender. In my mind, at this moment, I look like a brunette Catherine Deneuve. I may as well have oversized sunglasses on. Then he answers me in English (immediately taken down a notch) We don’t have Campari (two notches then). I’ll have an Amaro then. Sorry, I don’t have that either, only what you see. I no longer feel like Deneuve. I now imagine myself to look like a cartoon deer, big eyed I gasp out I’ll have an Amaretto then! (it was the first recognizable bottle I saw and just wanted the exchange to be over.)
Seriously though, as someone with anxiety issues and semi-low self esteem it took everything in me not to throw some euros on the bar and run. Everything worked out fine though — the bartender gabbed me up for a bit over a cigarette asking the usual, like where I was from, and even became super animated when I mentioned I lived in Seattle. He pulled up the Instagram account of a friend who moved to the area recently. Have you been here? What about here? Eaten that? I hear it’s good!
I’m not going to #solotravel anytime soon, but I made it through 40 minutes on my own. Maybe next time I’ll be brave and try on my own for a few hours. The world is my anxiety ridden oyster!
Getting bogged down on the horrors of what’s passed and the fears of what’s to come is easy (Hello Trump!). And though it’s true that travel doesn’t allow you to run away from what’s out there, it does give you a new perspective and a borrowed set of eyes. So even though the bar doesn’t have Campari, at least I’m not being tortured next to the room Columbus is in.