Continuing our exploration of this beautiful country we visited Granada and the magnificent Alhambra, Cordoba and its fabulous Mezquita, Cadiz and Sevilla where the Alcazar was a wonderful surprise.
We stayed in the parador in Antequera which is not the most inspiring in architectural appeal but makes up for it in the restaurant - so good we ate here almost every evening. It was great to be able to rely on it at the end of the day as we did some long journeys on this trip.
Antequera was a central place to stay but involved some quite long days to get to some of our destinations. Along the way we would break the journey with visits to any likely looking sites or villages. One of these was Zahara de la Sierra - a most beautiful white village perched on a mountainside with a castle at its peak. The lake below the village is man-made and creates a lovely setting.
The small tribal colonies in the area were followed in ancient times by Phoenicians and Carthaginians but by 200BC Granada was under Roman rule, although not regarded as particularly important. It flourished for about 200 years under the Visigoths after the Romans withdrew in the 5th century. The Arab conquest was complete by 713AD and it is during this period that the distinctive architecture appears. Ferdinand and Isabella took the town in 1492 to complete the Christian reconquest of Spain.
We went early to Granada and still had to queue for one and a half hours for tickets to the Alhambra - our entrance time was 4.30 - not a great start!
We spent the day wandering around the city - the nicest part of which is El Albaicin, a Moorish maze of alleyways and small squares. It is worth the climb to the San Nicholas mirador for the view over the canyon to the Alhambra and the Alcazaba fortress standiong high above the city.
The Alhambra was built on the hill of al Sasbika above Granada in the fourteenth century during the rule of the Nasrid Muslim dynasty. For 250 years it was a vassal state of Christian Spain but during the Nasrid reign Islamic culture flourished.
The rooms in the Nasrid Palace are the most sumptuous and include rooms for prayer, cool courtyards, royal audience chambers and living quarters, most decorated with the most beautiful tiles and fine stone tracery.
The Court of the Lions is a magnificent centrepiece. The fountain in the centre of the court is supported by stone lions and water channels run symmetrically across the courtyard.
The Royal Palace is fabulous with the most beautiful Islamic architecture decorated with colourful tiles and calligraphy.
The Pergamon Museum in Berlin has a magnificent carved wood dome ceiling from an observation tower in the Alhambra. It was brought to Germany with the permission of the Spanish authorities and installed in a private house.1
The walls and ceilings are deeply carved and there are fountains and runnels of water through the courtyards. It must have been a cool and pleasant retreat from the blazing summer sun.
After our explorations it was late and we were too tired for the gardens of Generalife - we'll just have to come back!
Founded by the Romans in 169 BC, the city still boasts a very impressive Roman bridge, though not all of it is original, built in the 1st century BC across the river Guadalqivir.
Cordoba was under Muslim rule from 711AD until it was taken by the Castilian King Ferdinand III in 1236. There are still remnants of Islamic architecture in quiet corners of the city.
Today it is busy and even though we were visiting out of season we found the parking here very difficult.
The Mezquita (Spanish for "mosque") is the obvious reason for visiting the city. The original Visigothic church was shared by Moslems and Christians after the Arab invasion but was eventually completely reworked as a mosque, taking over 200 years before its completion at the end of the tenth century when Cordoba was one of the most eminent cities in the world.
When King Ferdinand retook the city it once again became Catholic and the mosque was reconverted to a church, eventually becoming the cathedral of Cordoba. Sadly the beautiful Islamic architecture was somewhat damaged during the conversion..
The hall of pillared arches is one of the most stunning spaces we've seen anywhere.
I'm not sure what I expected of Cadiz - galleons in the harbour perhaps, pirates swashbuckling their way through the streets. Having quartered the city we really couldn't see that much to attract; apart from the glassed-in balconies on the upper floors of the mazy back streets this was a singularly uninspiring visit - maybe it's better at fiesta!
En route to Cadiz we visited the Barossa Tower on the site of Sir Thomas Graham's victory over the French on the coast. It stands high above the beach in a bit of a ruined state. It was a lovely day so we had a very pleasant picnic lunch in the sheltered sand dunes. Behind the dunes the ground was covered with wild flowers.
Sevilla was a wonderful surprise. Maybe it was because we didn't really know anything about the city but we loved it. The city itself is lovely to walk around, the river area very pleasant and the Alcazar has Islamic architecture to rival the Alhambra in Granada.
Sevilla was an important port being originally a Phoenician and Carthaginian trading colony. Its history is similar to that of other Andalucian towns being occupied first by the Visigoths, then Romans and Moors before the reconquest under Ferdinand and Isabella. It stands on the banks of the Guadalquivir - the longest river in Andalucia.
The Torre del Oro - the Golden Tower - has guarded the river approach to the city since it was built by the Almohad dynasty in the thirteenth century. It would have been one of the two anchor points for a huge chain which could be stretched across the river to try to prevent ships from approaching the city. The top circular level was only added during renovations in the eighteenth century.
The huge Gothic cathedral was built on the site of the moqsue, its famous tower - the Giralda - was its minaret. As well as being used to call Muslims to prayer the Giralda was an astronomical observatory. Nothing seems to remain of the original mosque though it is thought to have stood roughly where the Patio de Naranjas - the orange tree patio - now stands within the cathedral precincts. It's a rectangular space planted with many regularly spaced orange trees and a Visigithic fountain in its centre.
There are great views over the Alcazar, the Patio de Naranjas and the wider city from the top of the Giralda.
The original eighth century Moorish fort was extended in the fourteenth century by Pedro the Cruel of Castile and has some magnificent Mudejar (Spanish/Moorish) decoration. As the Michelin Guide points out, the exuberant adoption of the Mudejar style shows how taken the Christain city was with the Arabian architectural style.
The entrance courtyard of the Alcazar through the Lion Gate leads into the Patio de la Montera. This was the place where the Royal court met befor embarking on a hunt. Within it is the fine Mudejar facade of Don Pedro's palace.
On one side is a small walled Moorish garden in the Patio del Yeso, somewhat dilapidated, with a hedged lily pond filling most of the space.
From here there is a number of patios including the small but exquisite Patio de las Munecas (Patio of the Dolls) supposedly named because there are dolls' heads carved into one of the arches.
The much bigger and perhaps even more beautiful Patio de las Doncellas (Patio of the Maidens) is also here. This is the main courtyard of the palace. Both have the most beautiful delicately worked decoration.
Off to one side is the Salon de los Embajadores (the Ambassadors' Room) also known as Salon de Trono (the Throne Room). It has fabulously colourful and guilded wall decoration.
Fabulously ornate walls and arches, magnificently coloured ceilings.
Underground are the Baños de Doña Maria de Padilla - a beautiful but eery place and very cool! Doña Maria was pursued by Pedro the Cruel, most persistently after her husband died, until finally, to rid herself of his advances, she disfigured her face with boiling oil.