25 – the patios of Córdoba – April 18, 2013

Córdoba has welcomed me.  There are almost too many things to see, monuments, museums, parks, historical neighbourhoods, local specialities in the restaurants, artisans, special attractions.  My hotel is in the ancient barrio of narrow lanes, a warren of walkways, occasionally interrupted by a vehicle that has been allowed through, and lined with walls of the houses and shops.  Along any of these quieter ones, closed doorways do not betray what is hidden behind them, some very old and almost forbidding, others more contemporary but alluding to the past.

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That is definitely a Moorish horseshoe arch and the fine woodworking detail reflects the ancient Islamic art seen in the many doors of the Alhambra and in many a Christian church.  If the family is in residence, the doors are opened in the morning to reveal an entrance hall and a tantalizing glimpse of what is behind the wrought iron gate.

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A traditional Cordoban inner sanctuary, un patio, around which the rooms of the home radiate. LIke the homes and villas of the Romans, Moors and other peoples around the Mediterranean. The exteriors of the home are simply white walls which reveal nothing of the life within.  Absolute privacy and tranquility in the midst of a congested barrio.

I took advantage of an organized tour of some patios the other evening. I joined my guide, Rafael, and two couples, one from Barcelona, the other from Zaragoza, both favourite cities of mine.  We were in a neighbourhood beyond the pale, beyond the concentration of Cordoba’s most ancient streets with its many monuments. I always like getting into the other neighbourhoods of a city, to see some glimpses of how the residents live.  The first one we visited had been built in the 19th century by immigrants from rural areas.  It is now gussied up, partly as a result of competitions for the most beautiful courtyard, like those for England’s most charming villages.

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Yes, it’s me, in my sandals.  Too many geraniums and petunias for my taste.  Behind me is the well for the use of this household.

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What genuinely surprised and pleased me was that within the confines of this small space four families lived.  Their living quarters would have been small, primarily for sleeping.  The four families, one would have been upstairs, a second on the ground floor, the other two in other corners of the courtyard,  cooked communally in the patio. The intense blue is an Arab influence and is also quite common framing windows and doors in southern Portugal.

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A third living quarters towards the rear.  Interesting to imagine this patio without all the potted plants, with four families from the impoverished countryside living together trying to get a foothold in the city and provide for their children.  The trunk in the middle is that of a lofty palm.

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I couldn’t resist this photo, not only the enormous lemons but the shadow of that palm tree. With the door to the street closed, this is a world unto itself.  And for those more prosperous, those who pass by would have had no idea of what’s within, another characteristic of Roman and Muslim domestic architecture.

A second house, located in a centuries old building that might have housed up to twenty families at a time has five patios; the one we visited was difficult to capture because of its intimate dimensions, but here is some of the resident canary’s welcome and some of our constant conversation.

The better video, showing the two levels, unfortunately was taken vertically by my camera and ended up on its side in the blog.  One more skill still to learn.

The third patio turned out to be the home of our guide, Rafael.  What is interesting is that it was constructed only about ten years ago, lovingly faithful to the ancient traditions.

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I am just inside the outer door looking down the hallway, the walls lined with some of his collection of 18th and 19th century pottery and other artefacts.

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What a life?  Daily tours, two hours of interesting conversation, a wonderful way to make a living and contribute to his community.  In the busy months ahead, he will take up to 30 persons at a time and I am sure that he gets the crowds.  Good for him!

Our final one (I am leaving one out), once again in a street of walls and closed doors was built originally in the 15th century as a military barracks, and was at various times, a hospital, a convent, and then privately owned. Over the last 100 years, it has been the birthplace of a well known artist, Anna Lopez and of a much honoured poet, Pablo Garcia Baena.

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To the right is the top of the well which is still used for the daily task of watering all the blossoms.

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One final picture instead of a thousand words.  A wonderful memory from this week in Cordoba which is daily providing me with a treasury of memories.  Rafael was passionate and very knowledgeable about the history of the tradition and of his neighbourhood. The other members of the group contributed well, each in their own way.

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