Where to find magic in Cordoba

[words and photograph © Mark Eveleigh]

Over the centuries Spain has made “prisoners” of many foreign writers who have come to travel here, to call it home and in several cases to fight for it. Previous posts in this series have looked at Granada, which Laurie Lee described as “probably the most beautiful and haunting of all Spanish cities; an African paradise set under the Sierras like a rose preserved in snow”, and Barcelona, where George Orwell arrived in the early days of the civil war. Today, Gerald Brenan’s Cordoba.

Spain: a romantic prison for foreign writers, part III

Gerald Brenan was driven from his home in the Alpujarras region by the civil war and it was not until after WWII that he was able to return to travel in the country that he loved and to research The Face of Spain.

He found Cordoba particularly powerful and his descriptions of its beauty – “the water was a dim glassy blue, the line of houses low and white…opened like a flower in the sunlight” – are interspersed with particularly harrowing insights into privation and hunger in a poor Andalusian town. “One sees children of ten with wizened faces, women of thirty who are already hags, wearing that frown of anxiety which perpetual hunger and uncertainty about the future give.”

Inexplicably it seems that the famous patios of Cordoba were not allowed to fall into disrepair even in the working-class quarters at this time: “…every house has its interior court or patio, and I was struck by the fact that these patios of the popular districts, with their flower pots and lemon trees and thick coats of whitewash, are more beautiful than those of the Baroque palaces with their azulejo wainscots and marble columns.”

The writer who was probably the most widely travelled and well-studied “literary immigrant” of his era described the Mosque of Cordoba as “the first building in Spain – the most original and the most beautiful”. There is certainly a hypnotic fascination about the Mezquita – “the forest of columns…double-horseshoe arches, striped buff-white and brick-rose…the great court planted with orange trees…the great marble cistern for ablutions” – that never dims no matter how many times you see it.

As Brenan said, “One has to visit the building several times to allow the magic to sink in.”

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