#2, Spain, May 26, 1990

Dear Everybody,

Exploring the Alcazar revealed that, while fortifications were started on the site in Roman times, the castle was rebuilt in the 13th and 14th centuries, only to have it all burn down in 1862. It was again reconstructed, so what we saw was really quite new. The Sala de las Pinas with its 392 ‘pineapple’ outcroppings, and the Sala de Reyes (Kings’ Room) with its three-dimensional frieze of 52 kings were the highlights.

The Iglesia de la Vera Cruz (Church of the True Cross) was an interesting 12-sided church built by the Knights Templar in the 13th century, based on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. It supposedly housed a piece of the True Cross, which is now housed nearby in the village of Zamarramala.

We drove on to Coca, a town nearby, with a beautiful all-brick castle, built in 1453. From there we went to Avila, where we stayed in the Bellas Hostel and had good paella for dinner at Las Rostras Restaurant. Avila had a wonderful city wall from the 11th and 12th centuries, with eight gates and 88 towers. Claire and I enjoyed the long walk on top of the wall and the views that this provided.

The next morning we drove to Cacares and spent a couple of hours in this wonderful medieval city. It had many intact medieval mansions of which one, now a museum, had an 8th century Arab cistern in the basement. The weather had been beautiful but unfortunately a little too sunny and windy so that the areas around my eyes became burned. We drove on to Sevilla, noticing that the scenery reminded us more of deserty Mexico than of Europe. The town of Sevilla was wall-to-wall with tourists, but very beautiful. That evening we had traditional Spanish sangria, gaspacho and fish casserole for dinner.

Sevilla had a lot to see! We visited the Cathedral with Christopher Columbus’ tomb,





another Alcazar (the word comes from the Arabic al-qasr, meaning castle), which was 1100 years old and had been modified, added to, and redone many times. There were numerous wonderful patios (Patio del Leon, Patio de la Monteria, Patio de la Doncellas, and more). We looked in at the Archivo de Indias, with its 80 million pages of documents relating to Spain’s conquest in the New World, and at the beautiful



Parque de Maria Luisa, with its fountains, minicanals, museums and 3500 trees! We had dinner in the Santa Cruz barrio, which is the old Jewish section. We tried to see the Belles Artes, which was closed for repair, and the bullring, which wasn’t open either.








At 9:00 we went to see a wonderful flamenco show at Los Gallos which really left us toe-tappin,’ and finished off the evening with tea and a sweet at the spiffy and atmospheric 1928 Hotel Alfonso XIII.







For breakfast the next morning, we had what has been served uniformly—a croissant or similar pastry with café con leche. Today we had freshly squeezed orange juice, too, after which we left for Carmona. We visited a graveyard from Roman times with tombs, and crematoria, along with a museum. Then we drove on to Cordoba, a city I was really looking forward to visiting.

When we got to Cordoba, we drove to our hotel, the Hotel Marissa, across the street from La Mezquita, the 7th to 9th century mosque that is one of the highlights of Cordoba that we were eager to see. The street in front of the hotel was a narrow one-way street, and Claire stopped the car so we could get our luggage out of the trunk. We hurried and did so, as there were several cars behind us who could not proceed until we moved our car. In the hurry, Claire inadvertently dropped the car keys in the trunk, and slammed down the lid before she realized it. Now, how to move the car to let the other cars pass? There was another lane but it had been blocked off by regularly placed posts so it could not be driven on. Claire reported our problem to the drivers of the cars behind us. Luckily about four people in the cars were young men and Claire was wearing a short skirt! They immediately rallied ‘round her to try to help. They hit upon the solution—they simply lifted up our tiny car and moved it to a space alongside between two of the posts, so the cars could pass. I told Claire that I would take the luggage into the hotel and check us in—the problem of the car keys in the trunk was hers to solve!

I had only been in our hotel room about 15 minutes when Claire appeared. She, being very resourceful, had walked down the street, found a police station, and explained her problem to them (she speaks fluent Spanish). Two of them accompanied her back to the car with a special hook-like tool that is used for unlocking a car door without a key. This they easily did, and once in the car, removed the back seat rest, from where they could reach into the trunk and fetch the keys. Problem solved! Claire managed to successfully extricate the car from between the posts by forthing and backing quite a few times and so returned to the hotel, parking the car in a legitimate place!

Cordoba was having a noisy and lively fair and we saw that there would be bullfights that afternoon. We immediately went to the bullring where we saw three matadors fight six bulls in succession. I had seen bullfights several times previously in Mexico, and had read several books on the finer points of bullfighting. But I had never seen the ‘poetry’ of it as described by aficionados. Well, this time was different. Apparently these were very skilled matadors. They made the bullfight almost into a ballet; the control of that big bull with the cape was magical.






Two of the fights merited cutting one ear from the bull. The matador paraded around the ring to much applause and the admiring patrons threw down flowers, chocolates, and hats, and joyously waved lots of white handkerchiefs. The matador picked up the hats and threw them back. Unfortunately one of the matadors was badly gored during the last fight. I guess this goes with the ‘poetry’ but was hard to watch. The next day when Claire and I visited the Bullfight Museum, we spoke to the museum person, who told us that the gored bullfighter was not critically hurt and that he was expected to recover.







La Mezquita, the next day, was astounding. It is a huge Mosque building full of beautiful columned red and white arches that go on forever! It was founded in 785 AD and in subsequent centuries was expanded until it had 1293 columns of which 856 remain today. In the 16th century a large Christian cathedral was built inside this mosque, certainly changing the character and the rhythm of this building. But there you have it as it is today, an amazing place.

Cordoba is a truly beautiful city.




We finished the day by touring the Fine Arts Museum and then walked on a Roman bridge across the Guadalquivir River to the 14th century Torre de la Calahorra with its museum of things Islamic.




We did a little shopping and I bought a pitcher, a pin, and an earthenware covered dish. And we, once again, feasted on paella.

We’ll be moving on to Granada tomorrow.


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