Viva Espana: Day 12 – From the Alcázar to the Hammam

You can buy a ticket to the Alcazar online. In fact, I would prefer to but being asked for my passport number, plus a lengthy form to complete (without an English translation) seemed a little over the top for a ticket that would cost €4.81 to see some gardens. It wasn’t like I was travelling internationally.

So I joined the unbelievably slow-moving queue at the kiosk to buy a ticket. With two staff members on the tills but only one working, plus a translator/queue greeter/host having a chat with one of the staff, it took a while to buy the now €5 ticket. A bizarre experience, but at least they just wanted my money, not my data.

I was there for the gardens. The Alcazar itself has an unpleasant history.

Abd ar-Rahman I and his successors, who eventually created the independent Caliphate of Córdoba, were responsible for the construction of the Alcázar which became the official residence and seat of power of Al-Andalus. The city subsequently flourished as a key political and cultural centre, and the Alcázar was expanded into a very large and widely used area with baths, gardens, and the largest library in the West. Watermills on the nearby Guadalquivir powered water lifting to irrigate the extensive gardens. 

In 1236, Christian forces took Córdoba during the Reconquista. In 1328, Alfonso XI of Castile began building the present-day structure on part of the site for the old fortress.

Brief pause for a short look at Córdoba’s 14th Century history:

And as for the gardens:

The gardens are an incredible place to visit. Groves of lemon trees and lines of orange trees perfume the air. The flower beds must be tended continuously, there being no signs of weeds.

Popular with school trips (inevitably) and cheap to enter (surprisingly), I was surprised at how peaceful the gardens were.

My next traditional activity of the day was a trip to a hammam. There seem to be two in Córdoba – one is part of a small chain, and I visited the Granada branch a few years ago.

It’s currently closed until Friday for maintenance. I leave on Thursday. Strangely, they didn’t mention the alternative option: Banos Arabes de Córdoba.

A hammam is a type of steam bath or a place of public bathing associated with the Islamic world and is a prominent feature in the culture. The hammam was inherited from the model of the Roman thermae.

Muslim bathhouses or hammams were historically found across the Middle East, North Africa, al-Andalus (Islamic Spain and Portugal),  Central Asia, the Indian subcontinent, and in Southeastern Europe under Ottoman rule. They are absolutely wonderful.

This one started with a warm saltwater pool, followed by a fresh-water warm pool, the steam room and then the hot bath. I’m more used to starting with a cold water plunge pool, but it’s been cold for months in the UK, so I was quite happy to give that a miss on this occasion.

I’m also more used to taking a hot bath before hitting the steam room, so that’s what I did.

I generally try to seek out a bathing experience when I’m travelling. I’ve been to a hammam in Marrakesh, one of the thermal baths in Budapest, a sauna in the forest in Finland and a banya in Moscow (and Siberia).

The Finns and the Russians both seem to be fans of jumping from ice water to hot in their bathing experiences. The Russians are more hardcore with the heat – I couldn’t tolerate the temperatures that the banya attendants cranked the furnace to. And I definitely wasn’t a fan of the beatings with the birch twig brushes either – in Siberia the birch brooms are soft whereas Moscow seemed to go for dried, spiky birches. No thank you.

I can’t remember whether cold water featured in Budapest because my memory of the luxury massage was mostly Olga doing what was apparently a sports massage in time to banging techno. By the time I came out of that experience, I was straight back into the thermal pools to soothe my aching arms and legs.

And as for the scrubbing brush at the hammam in Marrakesh… well, let’s just say today’s experience was far less vigorous and much more relaxing.

And as the sun set… another wander by the river. It’s not only the tourists visiting the old town who spend time here. A dance class was taking place in the park that runs alongside the water on the opposite bank. A group of old men had gathered by the Calhorra Tower evidently putting the world to rights.

Meanwhile, humans, who thought they were merely taking their pets for a walk, were actually enabling the complex cannine communication infrastructure known as the twilight bark. Those dogs had a lot of news to share tonight.

P.S. One advantage of hostels over hotels… dependent on the hostel… there are rarely teeny toddlers throwing tantrums at check-in. Pol-Potty arrived in a room along the corridor and has been going their little ends for the last twenty minutes.

Parents are trying to placate, but we’re at the ear-piercing shriek of temper stage now… we’ve gone past all possibility of being calmed by external forces now. The other riad guests will just have to wait until the tantrum reaches the ‘making myself cough and choke’ stage… and here it is… all is peaceful.

PP.S. Ten minutes later… giggling and chit-chat. Whatever caused the meltdown is clearly forgotten.

Categories: Córdoba, Spain, Travel, Viva EspanaTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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