Oh, my goodness! It’s been a few days, hasn’t it? Last time we spoke we were by the beach in Motril having a few lazy days. Since then, short version: rainy mountains, big city, one-horse town.
Still here? You want more..? Oh bloomin’ ‘eck I’ll do my best but my memory isn’t what it was you know. I just had to ask Gill for the name of the town we stayed in after Motril a whole three days ago! Apparently it was Alhama de Granada. We’d travelled directly North from the coast into the mountains, getting close to Granada before we turned off to the left into rural Spain. Here, it’s all about the olive. I read that in this part of the world there are an unbelievable 165 million olive trees in Andalucia! 165 million! They stretch from horizon to horizon as you bounce up and down along the narrow swoopy roads, swerving into the verge any time somebody comes the other way. It’s a game of nerves with both drivers holding to the centre-line until the very last second before lurching away from each other and missing a mirror clash by millimetres. It’s great fun but I do feel for Gill as it’s her side that will get mashed if I get it wrong!
Alhama de Granada allows motorhomes to park in the market square when the market is off duty. The town is built into the hill so has very steep roads going either up or down – there didn’t seem to be any flat areas other than where we were parked. The square formed a natural amphitheatre with terraces of houses stretching up on all sides. I imagine they could hear my snoring all the way to the top, given the great acoustics.
We had a little wander once the rain had stopped but to be honest there wasn’t a lot to see. A gorge, a church, and a few estate agents’ windows to browse. You can get 4 bedrooms, two bathrooms and a pool here for around £120k apparently.
An early start on Monday morning rewarded us with no traffic on the twisty country roads, and misty mountain views before we picked up the motorway to Cordoba, our next stop. We’d had so many recommendations to visit the city that we booked a couple of nights in a proper camp site so we could do a full day there using the bus service.
Cordoba was magnificent. Our tour round La Mezquita more than made up for not gaining entry to the Alhambra palace in Granada last week. La Mezquita, the mosque-cathedral was begun in 784AD under the authority of Abd ar-Rahman I and developed & extended over the years by Abd ar-Rahman II and his heir – oh what was his name again? Oh yes, Abd ar-Rahman III. By the turn of the tenth century Cordoba boasted 27 schools, 50 hospitals, 900 public baths, 60,300 noble mansions, 80,455 shops and 213,077 houses. And we think we’re civilised.
In 1523 King Carlos V acceded to demands from the Catholic Church to modify the mosque and turn it into a grand cathedral. He later regretted his decision by saying “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world.” I’m no historian, or architect either but even I could see the clash between the austere and elegant Arabic structures and the – although beautiful – over-the-top ornate and gilded Catholic adornments. Come over and judge for yourselves some time. Climbing the Bell-Tower gave us a marvellous perspective on the gardens, the Catedrale and the sheer size of the roof of the building, supported by its 1293 columns.
The Mezquita is on the edge of Cordoba’s ancient Jewish quarter and it was here that we wandered the afternoon away, stopping only for a 7-Tapas lunch deal and a walk over the Roman Bridge before catching our 6pm bus home – hot, tired, but very glad we’d made the effort.
Cordoba wasn’t finished with us yet however, as this morning we serviced the big fella with water, unplugged all 23 things which needed charging on the campsite’s lovely free electricity and sailed off to the Medina Al-Zahra on the outskirts of the town. This was a specially-built town complex and administration centre where the Caliph – that there Abd al-Rahman III again, could shock and stun emissaries and ambassadors from foreign lands with the opulence of their surroundings. Only about ten percent of the structures there still remain but an ambitious programme of excavation and renovation is taking place; there is an excellent film shown continuously in the museum auditorium, which uses CGI to show the site as it is, and as it was. A bit like Homes Under the Hammer – but in reverse!
Our final port of call – and where I’m writing away, trying to keep it brief, is Fuentes de Andalucia about half way between Cordoba and Seville. It’s a small, modern town without a lot going for it apart from a free motorhome stop. But by staying here we were able to move from 10th century technology, to bang up-to-date renewable energy sorcery. Not far from here is the Gemasolar power station, which for my money, is spectacular. Imagine a huge field of curved mirrors, all focussing the rays of the sun on the top of a tower in the centre. This tower glows so brightly that it’s hard to view without seeing spots for ages afterwards. The science bit is that this hugely magnified solar energy heats up a column of salt – yes salt – and the superheated molten salt turns water into steam which powers turbines to produce enough electricity to sustain 30,000 houses. The bizarre thing is that it works all night too making it 60% more efficient than standard solar power. I told you it was some kind of magic. They’re a bit security-conscious at the plant and a bit touchy about photographs so I’ve nicked a couple from the website for you.
I’ve saved the best nerdy fact for the end of this post. As we left the Medina Al-Zahra I checked our satnav which told me were 68km away from Fuentes de Andalucia. When we crested the hill to join the motorway, we could actually see the searing white light of the Gemasolar tower in the distance. That was 68km folks. Gobsmacked.