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Cordoba | The Palacio de Viana

About an hour and a half away from Seville by train, Cordoba is one of Spain’s great old cities, once the capital of Moorish al-Andalus and regarded as one of the most enlightened, sophisticated cities of the European Middle Ages. It was a place where Moslems, Jews and Christians lived for the most part harmoniously, creating a cultured, intellectual life that was not to be equalled again for many centuries. It’s famous above all for the Mezquita, the Grand Mosque of the Caliphs of Cordoba, but away from the monumental area it is also a city for people, and one of its most captivating aspects is that it is a city of flowers.

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This is best shown by the festival of the Patios of Cordoba, which is held every May, when the private patios of many buildings, with their plants and fountains, are opened to the public, but streets adorned with the typical blue flower pots of the city are common all year round. In the spring and summer months they are alive with flowers and I love to visit the city at this time of year to enjoy its colours and smells.

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Not surprising, then, that one of my favourite places to go in Cordoba is the Palacio Viana, also known as the patio museum. Now about 500 years old, it originally belonged to the Marqueses de Villaseca, and acquired its modern name when it was bought by the Marquis of Viana in the late 19th century. It was eventually sold to the CajaSur foundation in 1982, and turned into a museum. From relatively small beginnings it has grown over the centuries by buying up surrounding properties, and now boasts no fewer than 12 patios, as well as the main garden.

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The modern grand entrance into the Patio de Recibo was built to impress visitors with the wealth and power of the owners, and features a colonnade around the perimeter. To one side is the carriage house, where you can see the Marquis’s carriage and (a personal favourite) a sedan chair, which looks really heavy for four men to carry! From here you go into the older parts of the palace. The little Patio de Los Gatos, or courtyard of the cats, will certainly charm you as it always charms me. In mediaeval times it was a Patio de Vecinos (neighbours), where the common people lived, and to one side is the palace kitchen of the early 20th century.

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Beyond that are the Patio of the Oranges (a Moorish style garden), the Patio de las Rejas, which means bars or gratings, which gets its name from the bars that separate it from the street, and allowed those outside to look enviously at those inside, and the Patio de La Madama (the lady of the house), perhaps the most picturesque of all the courtyards.

The two largest spaces come next. The Courtyard of the Columns is a modern addition, but its fountains blend harmoniously with the older elements. It is used for events such as concerts and theatre. Alongside is the garden, with a formal area of low, square hedges around a central fountain and a grand oak tree. The two interior patios, the Courtyard of the Chapel and the Courtyard of the Archives, are the quietest and most tranquil. Finally, you come to the courtyards where the gardeners worked, and stored their tools. These include the Courtyard of the Well, which was fed from an underground stream, and provided enough water for all the patios.

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You can also take a guided tour of the inside of the palace, though admission is extra, and see the living quarters of the aristocratic owners and their collections of art and books, and other historical items.

Although it’s outside the main monumental area, I always try to make time to come here when I’m in Cordoba, and I think you should, too. I don’t know anywhere else that’s quite like it.

Palacio Museo de Viana
Plaza de don Gome, 2
Tel: 957 496 741
Tues-Sat 10.00 am to 7.00 pm Sundays 10.00am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
July and August 9.00 am to 3.00 pm Closed Mon
Price 5 euros to the patios, 8 euros with entrance to the palace.
Website

Cordoba | Day Trip from Seville

After Seville and Granada, Cordoba is probably the most famous of the romantic Andalucian cities of southern Spain. More than a thousand years ago it was the capital of the caliphate of Spain and one of the most important cultural centres in Europe, with a complex heritage of art and learning derived from the Moors, Jews and Christians, who lived here with a degree of religious tolerance remarkable for its time. You can still see this heritage in Cordoba today.

At this time of year especially, many of the city’s patios and alleys are filled with a myriad of flowers in brightly coloured pots. No visit to Cordoba would be complete without a visit to the symbol of the city, the Mezquita (the Grand Mosque, which is now a cathedral), with its vistas of horseshoe arches that entrance the eye, and an atmosphere of tranquillity despite the number of visitors. Also nearby are the Alcázar of the Christian kings and the Roman bridge across the river, which is still in use.

Between the cathedral and the remaining stretch of the western wall is the old Jewish quarter, a neighbourhood of narrow winding streets and courtyards full of mementoes of the Jewish presence here. You can visit the old synagogue, the Sephardi house and the zoco, or market, where you can find some of the traditional artesan shops selling the silver jewellery and leather goods for which Cordoba is famous.

Take time out to enjoy some of the traditional food, too. Cordoba is the home of salmorejo, the thick tomato soup often served with a garnish of jamon, of the flamenquin (rolled pork and cheese fried in a coating of breadcrumbs), and of fried eggplant with a sweet cane syrup sauce.

You can take a day trip from Seville to Cordoba by bus, with an Andalsur tour guide to take you to the Mezquita, and through the historic centre of Córdoba. Included: transfer by bus, entrance tickets and tour guide. Day trips from Seville are available every day and you can book a Cordoba city tour together with your Seville veoapartment.

Fiestas, Ferias and Festivals of Andalucia

Andalucía is justly famous for its fiestas (a word that means both party and holiday), which cover the full range from the solemn (often passionately so), to the riotous and celebratory, especially in spring. So, if you’re planning a holiday in the South of Spain this year, and are thinking of experiencing one of the traditional fairs or some religious processions, now’s the time to be getting out your diaries and making a note of the dates.

The first fiesta of the year (after the Magic Kings on January 5) is definitely the party kind. The Cadiz Carnival, which this year takes place from February 27 to March 9, is the largest on mainland Spain, a ten-day spree of processions, concerts, children’s shows, street theatre and the like, many of them with a satirical edge, the highlight being a singing competition for satirical and humorous songs. Oh, and there’s lots of eating and drinking, too.

semana santa 2012the Macarena procession in Seville

In April it’s the turn of Spain’s biggest religious festival, Semana Santa (Easter Holy Week), which this year is from April 13-20. There will be processions in every city, but the biggest and best (and the most) are in Seville. The atmosphere, with the distinctive brass band music, the elaborate floats, the hooded penitents and all the little rituals, is absolutely unique, but if you’re coming to Seville to see it bear in mind that hotels and apartments can double in price and fill up quickly.

Other religious festivals include Corpus Christi (June 19) and the El Rocio pilgrimage (June 4-9). It’s worth being in town for the departure of the pilgrims in their wild-west style covered wagons drawn by oxen.

rociothe Seville brotherhood leaving for El Rocio

In the meantime it’s the turn of the traditional spring fairs. The biggest is Seville’s April Fair (which this year, because Easter falls so late, is actually in May, from the 5th to the 11th), which is immediately followed by the Jerez Fair (May 11 to 18), and a little later by the Cordoba Fair (May 24 to 31). Both of these are easily reached by train or car from Seville. Typical of all the fairs are the little marquees, or casetas, where people gather to eat and drink rebujitos, the traditional sherry and 7-Up cocktails, horses and carriages, and fairground rides and fast food stalls. They also coincide with the local bullfighting season too. The Seville casetas are mostly private, so if you don’t know anyone who is a member of one the Jerez and Cordoba fairs will be more fun and friendlier. The Malaga Fair is a bit later, running from August 16-25, and has more daytime activities away from the Fairground itself, including a re-enactment of the fall of Moorish Malaga to the Christians.

cordoba patiosthe Patios of Cordoba

Two other festivals that are worth seeing are the Patio Festival, or Festival of the Flowers, in Cordoba (May 8-19), which takes the form of a competition for the best patios and balconies in the city, and the city is full of the colours and scents of the spring flowers, and the Fiesta del Carmen in Malaga on July 16, which celebrates the patron saint of fishermen with an unusual water-borne procession.

Veoapartment has holiday rental apartments in both Seville and Malaga, that make a perfect base for experiencing these fabulous Andalusian festivals. For a complete listing of upcoming events in 2014 check out our city information pages for: Seville and Malaga.

Seville | Other Spring Fairs

Seville’s famous Feria de Abril has come and gone for another year but in case you missed it here are three more upcoming fairs that you can visit from Seville.

jerez feria

Puerto de Santa Maria
Puerto de Santa Maria’s Spring Fair and Festival of Fine Wine got under way yesterday (24 April) and finishes on Monday.  This cosy coastal town is at one corner of Andalucia’s “Sherry Triangle”, and although this is a relatively small and local fair, it incorporates  a festival to celebrate the first fruits of the new year, as well as the usual horses and carriages, casetas and a funfair.

Jerez
The Jerez Horse Fair (Feria del Caballo) takes place in the Parque González Hontoria between 6 May and 12 May 2013. Of all the fairs, Jerez has maintained most closely the atmosphere of a “horse fair”, so if you’re really into horses this is the one for you. It’s also a very open fair – almost all the casetas are public, rather than private as they are in Seville, and because it’s in a park, rather than a “fairground”, it’s also surprisingly pretty. There’s a short bullfighting festival from the 9th to 11th, horse shows, a funfair for the kids, and as you would expect, plenty of sherry for the grown-ups.

cordoba feriaCórdoba
The Feria de Córdoba runs from May 25 to June 1 on the municipal fairground, near the river to the east of the Mezquita. There is all the usual things to do, with horses and carriages by day, a funfair and impromptu Sevillanas. Although most of the casetas are privately owned the public are allowed in, so it’s less cliquey and exclusive than the Seville fair, and so more fun for visitors. And the larger casetas even have air-conditioning!

 

All three fairs are easy and comfortable to get to as a day trip by train, but if you want to watch the opening and closing firework displays, or sample the night life into the wee hours of the morning, you’ll need an overnight stay.

 

Seville | Day Trip to Córdoba

Roman Bridge on Guadalquivir River

Córdoba is a must see city that can be easily reached from Seville by train, bus or car. It is situated at the highest navigable point of the Rio Guadalquivir, and alongside the main route across the mountains to central Spain. Córdoba first became important under the Romans, whose bridge still remains in use today, and reached its peak between the 8th and 10th centuries under the Moors when it was the capital of most of Spain.

It was in this period that Córdoba’s most famous landmark, the Mezquita, or Great Mosque was constructed. Standing on a low rise above the northern end of the Roman bridge it dominates the skyline and is still the city’s focal point. After the Christian conquest it was converted into a cathedral, and a central altarpiece was added. Fortunately, the new rulers chose to preserve the main body of the building, whose double archways on pillars of jasper, onyx, marble and granite, create a stunning visual perspective, and the outer patio with its orange trees.

The Mezquita of Córdoba

To the west of the Mezquita is the 14th century Alcázar palace and gardens, and a substantial section of the medieval city walls enclosing the old Jewish quarter, a picturesque area of small, winding streets around the Mezquita, where you can also find the 14th century synagogue. Other places of interest include the 16th century Puerta del Puente at the city end of the Roman bridge, the Calahorra Tower across the river, and the early medieval water mill, the Molino de Albolafia.

Córdoba is also famous for its flower filled patios, and if you are there in May for the spring festival, these are open to the public. If you miss the festival the newly refurbished “patio museum” Palacio de Viana is a great alternative.

Also in May you can see the Feria de Córdoba which is like a true country fair with large (air conditioned!) marquees set up offering a variety of music and different atmospheres, with plenty of good food and drink. The parade of horses and carriages in the afternoon is one of the highlights.

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