The cities in question were the four we visited last month when in Spain. But first a little digression. I always smile when filling in my address on an online form. Usually there is space for two address lines and then the next one says ‘city’ – so I ‘promote’ Rothesay to city status. Then I feel I should apologise to my fellow residents because we all chose to live here and not in a ‘city’!
Our trip to Spain was a concentrated sight seeing feast of Andalusia but we started with a short visit to Barcelona. This was very specifically to see again the wondrous Sagrada Familia. We last viewed it about 16 years ago and knew that much more of the building has been completed since then.
When we were last there it was even more of a building site, with really only the eight giants towers in place. This time the main sanctuary is almost complete. It has been consecrated (in 2010 by His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI) and is already used occasionally for worship.
To stand inside this amazing space is to make you feel at the same time very, very small, and also in awe of the immensity of the human brain able to design and build such an incredible building.
Antoni Gaudi who designed the Sagrada Familia was in charge from 1883 until his death in 1926 but others have continued to bring his visions to reality. Gaudi was very influenced by nature and passionate about conveying the teachings of the Gospels and the Christian Church so every detail whether large or small has meaning.
The sun streaming through the glass simply filled the sanctuary with multi coloured light – it felt like standing inside a rainbow. I loved the stained glass – no depictions of saints, the Holy Family or Bible stories – all abstract, but a very carefully planned movement of colours.
In most ways it has the form and shape of a traditional cathedral but just on an awesome scale. Modern building technology and new materials allow for the heights both inside and outside to be greater – very clever geometry means that the supporting pillars appear slim and elegant.
I used my binoculars frequently to look at the details and the sculptures on the two main facades – the Nativity and the Passion. Sagrada Familia is now estimated to be completed by 2026. I pray that I will still be fit enough to return then.
Whilst in Barcelona we made a quick return visit to another of Gaudi’s masterpieces – La Pedrera with its iconic chimneys.
The other three cities we visited were all new to us. In Cordoba we were introduced to another building ,equally as awesome as the Sagrada Familia but from a different era – La Mezquita, a mosque begun in AD786 which was frequently extended during the next six centuries until it had over a thousand pillars.
The 10th century Mihrab in an octagonal chamber has some of the finest Byzantine mosaics in existence.
In 1523 about 60 pillars were removed from the centre of the mosque at the behest of Emperor Carlos V and a huge Christian cathedral built inside and to this day it has been a place of Christian worship. My guide book says “La Mezquita’s identity as a mosque is inescapable – notwithstanding the cathedral insensitively placed in its centre like a huge spider in its web.”
The next photograph shows how refurbishment work has been done in places on the outside to show how glorious it must once have looked.
I loved the narrow streets of Cordoba – sometimes only a few feet wide, and sometimes just enough space for a car to squeeze along with its wing mirrors folded in.
It was hot in Spain so we were very grateful for our cool hotel, housed in a series of very old buildings with a number of inviting little courtyards to relax in.
Not sure how authentic the ‘ancient broken Roman pillar’ was but the oranges were real and were virtually falling off the trees as we watched. As well as the ‘formal’ sightseeing at La Mezquita and other places we had the huge privilege of being in the right place at the right time.
Cordoba was holding its version of Gardens Open Day – La Fiesta d Los Patios d Cordoba, and we discovered the most beautiful garden gems normally hidden from sight behind the whitewashed house walls with their lace covered, ornately barred windows and solid wooden doors. We had a sketch map outlining a route around the neighbourhood and like many local people we popped in and out of the riotously coloured and lovingly cared for private patios.
That is two of my four Spanish cities – Seville and Granada will follow soon.