Our jet-lagged and tired eyes finally succumbed to the pressure of venturing out and we embarked on our Iberian journey in Madrid at around 7:30 p.m. Our achy legs were forcing us back to our cozy little beds but our restless minds wanted to wander in Madrid’s ever-so-famous bull-fighting rings or taste the exquisite tapas that we had heard so much about.
We took a quick bus tour on the second day of our stay, with a detailed stop at the Palacio Real or Royal Palace. The palace stands on a 9th century Moorish fort, which was converted to an Alcazar (castle) in the 16th century which got burnt and eventually got replaced by this palace was in the seventeenth century. Spain is full of such sites, where inside every great monument lies several layers of history buried deep.
Toledo was our next stop. It was a city established by Jews in the 5th century BC. The Romans made it into a hub for trade but Toledo became the capital of the Visigoths around 6th century AD. The Arab muslims took over the Visigoths by invading Toledo. Capturing Toledo was of prime importance for every ruler. Toledo finally became a Christian empire again in the 10th century and Christianity was forced into the city.
The city sits on a high gorge and entry into it was possible only through one gate. This city had co-existence of Christians, Jews and Muslim culture for centuries and is known as the “City of three cultures”. The Cathedral in Toledo, known as the magnum opus of Gothic style in Spain, was a monument that displayed Spain’s exorbitant luxury and wealth and leaves no doubt in the tourist that they were once the richest kingdom in the entire world.
Close to Toledo is the town of Consuegra, which hosts the wind mills of La Mancha. There are 12 of these but we were not lucky enough to see them clearly as they were bathed in the infamous relentless fog of central Spain for hours. The legendary Don Quixote fought these windmills, thinking they were fire-breathing dragons, against the counsel of his squire, Sancho Panza.
Further south past miles of olive trees over rolling hills, we entered Cordoba (known as Qurtuba in Arabic). Under Islamic Iberia, the city of Cordoba flourished over 700 years. Found in the region Andalusia, in the south of Spain, Cordoba was the first kingdom the Arabs, known as Moors, established in Spain. In its prime, around 800 AD, Cordoba was considered as the prettiest city in the entire world – rated higher than Paris or Vienna or any other European city. The Kingdom of Cordoba was conceived of by a Syrian prince, Abd-ar-Rahman, who miraculously fled from Syria, reaching the shores of Southern Spain, and eventually defeated the existing rulers to become the Emir of Cordoba.
The Cordoba Mezquita, mosque built under Abd-ar-Rahman’s rule, was a stunner, probably one of my favorite sights in Spain. The mosque was previously a church under the Visigoth rule, then got converted into a mosque and finally was converted into a church under Christian rule. The mosque’s red and white arches are inspired from Damascan architecture while the red color signifies the colors of Spain. The arches span over three centuries of construction over the Umayyad dynasty. The mosque initially began with arches made from red bricks, then was expanded with more arches with a different kind of brick of an inferior quality and finally the mosque was expanded furthermore with arches in which the red was just painted over, showing the decline in the power of the dynasty.