Wednesday, July 10: We head straight for Córdoba this morning and into the pretty Barrio San Basilio. Barry tells us about the annual May patio competition in the city and we pop in to see one of the typical patios that Cordoba is famous for. Barry says that the Battle of the Patios sells over a million tickets annually for entrance to 28 patios. Most Spanish houses look plain from the street, but have internal patios which are often decked out lavishly in plants and flowers.
He also points out the iron bars that we see on windows all over Spain, called rejas, which were put on windows by the Moors to keep their women safe inside and to keep rogue males out. Says Barry, “These are the guys who had eunuchs to guard their women.” The bars continue to be used today for security purposes and for decoration. Barry says most Spaniards continue to use them so they can leave their windows open during their afternoon siesta without having to worry about being robbed.
Every spring Córdoba has special festivities for the month of May. Starting off with a parade known as the “Battle of the Flowers,” the city officially launches into its spring celebrations with the May Crosses festival, usually taking place during the first week of the month, followed by the Patio Contests that can easily continue well past the middle of the month.
The Patio Contests is sponsored by the Córdoba City Hall and began in 1918.
Due to a hot, dry climate, homes in Córdoba were built with a central patio even back in the days of the Romans. This tradition was continued by the Moors and persists in many homes even today. Filling the central patio with plants and water features has always been a way to keep local homes cool. But, thanks to human creativity and ingenuity, patio decoration ended up taking on a life all its own and at some point, someone realized that these hidden treasures were just too good to be kept tucked away behind heavy doors and iron grates. So, once a year, the doors open and everyone is invited in to see the wonders of Córdoba’s patios.
The first examples of courtyard houses date from 3200 BC with the creation of the first walled city-states in Mesopotamia. With the Greco-Roman culture, the courtyard became the most prominent feature of the house.
In Greek times, buildings had a courtyard surrounded by a columned portico, situated far from the entrance and used for recreational and social purposes. When the Arabs came to Spain, water in the courtyard took on a new importance.
After the Reconquest, Christian and Muslim style converged in the Mudejar style. During this time, the upper parts of the courtyard houses were occupied by nobles and the lower part by servants.
In the 16th century, a concern for beautifying facades evolved, especially in palaces with inner courtyards. In the 17th century, the Baroque style came into play, which called for enhanced facades and wider doors. Finally, in the 19th and 20th centuries, Neoclassicism was adopted for facades and interiors and wooden doors were replaced by wrought iron bars or gates.
The Alcazar Viejo neighborhood, where this courtyard is located, emerged in the 14th century after the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos was constructed. This 16th century courtyard house was used by servants and workers for the Alcazar. Each family occupied one room. The upper floors and those closer to the street were for wealthier and higher social status tenants, while the remote rooms were used by those who were economically disadvantaged. All the doors and windows face the courtyard, a typical feature of this collective housing.
The courtyard was the central part of the house where daily life took place. The kitchen is to the left of the staircase and the washing area, the well for drinking water, and the toilets are there so they can be used by all the neighbors.
Residents decorated with flower pots and ornamental trees, bringing color and freshness to the hot climate of Cordoba. Jasmine, Queen of the Night (night-blooming cestrum) and Bougainvillea flank the arches on the right. Blue pots with geraniums and pelargonium are on the walls.
Aspidistra, ferns, violas, Dianthus, Schefflera and Hydrangea are also on the floor and in the flower beds. Cinnamon Laurel, Lemon Verbena, Cyclamen, Surfinia Petunia, Fuchsias and other aromatic plants add flavor and color.
Besides the plants, other decorative elements include posters of bullfights, photos of Cordoba characters, details of paintings by Julio Romero de Torres, tiles of San Rafael, custodian of Cordoba, and the Virgin de los Dolores, and old domestic tools and pottery.
We’re offered a glass of Spanish wine for a 1 euro donation. It’s a little early to be drinking, but Carole and I both have a small glass.
These patios not only offer a visual feast of colorful flowers, stone mosaics and ceramic decorations, but also bring out the classic scents of Córdoba: jasmine and orange blossom mixed with a myriad of scents from the many other flowers and plants that bring the city – and this festival – alive (andalucia.com: Cordoba City patios).
We walk through the street of Córdoba, marveling at the beautiful windows and the whitewashed buildings. Spanish towns seem so pristine and clean.
We find one house that has numerous plaques showing it has won the patio contest many times. Sadly, the patio is closed so we can’t see what is so wondrous about it.
We make our way to the Royal Stables, which showcases some of the famous Andalucían horses in a lovely set of buildings. Sadly today we can’t see them up close because they’re doing some work on the stables and watering down the dirt courtyard.
The Royal Stables were built by order of Philip II in 1570 on part of the site of the city’s Alcázar fortress. In fact, it shares a distinct military character with the royal fortification.
With these facilities the King intended to create purebred Spanish horses. This was the place where the Spanish –or Andalusian– horse was first bred from Arab stock. The main section, with a roof in the form of a cross vault supported on sandstone columns, is divided into small stables or boxes (spain.info: Cordoba Royal Stables).
Since I can only see the rump of a horse, and the backside of another horse in the distance, I focus on the flowers instead.
Then we head to the Cordoba Alcazar.