Those of you who have followed the brouhaha over the construction of an Islamic center in lower Manhattan, erroneously referred to as the "Ground Zero Mosque" (and originally named Cordoba House, by the way), may find echoes of the current rhetoric in this account of the backlash over the proposed construction of a grand synagogue in Cordoba in the 13th Century:
"There is also proof of the construction of a great synagogue in the Jewish quarter, which provoked the criticism of both the council and a great part of the Christian population. Thus, in 1250, Pope Inocencio the Fourth issued a Bull in which the construction of this synagogue was described as a great scandal for the city. There is no confirmation of its opening or any documented evidence to back up the theory that it was located in what is now the small square of Maimonides. The ecclesiastical hierarchy and the majority of the population, having anti-Jewish attitudes, argued that the dimensions, height and architectural prominence of the synagogue should not be permitted."
That quote comes from an exhibit at the Casa de Sefarad, a 14th Century Jewish house in Cordoba that now functions as a museum of Sephardic Jewry. My visit to Cordoba, a day trip from Seville, began in the Jewish quarter, the first historic section you pass through if you're coming from the train station.
The one ancient synagogue that does survive in Cordoba is a small ruin that served a number of purposes after the expulsion of the Jews in 1492. The Moorish influence is quite apparent:
Cordoba's main tourist attraction is the Mezquita, the great mosque turned cathedral. It's an odd mix of Moorish architecture with later Catholic additions. The mosque had been built on the site of a former Christian church (a fact that raised the hateful nincompoop Newt Gingrich's hackles many centuries later), and it was converted to a cathedral after the Christian restoration.
I had a surprisingly excellent lunch at Bodegas Mezquita, right by the Mezquita itself. You wouldn't expect a place in the most coveted location for tourist traffic to have great food at reasonable prices, but a decal in the window from Guide Routard, the French backpacker's guidebook series that has been the source of solid recommendations in the past, gave me the courage to give it a try.
I ordered a 1/2 racion of surtido de Iberico, a platter of charcuterie from the prized acorn-chomping Iberico pig: ham, loin, and several kinds of chorizo and salami.
Patatas bravas (brave potatoes) is a common tapas bar item, spicy cubed fried spuds. The topping varies from place to place. Often it's mayo or aioli with smoked paprika mixed in, which I find disappointing. The best I've had was at the Las Bravas chain in Madrid, which has a secret sauce that they pump onto the potatoes. The version at Bodegas Mezquita was quite good, with a memorable, tangy sauce.
The meatballs (albondigas) with almond sauce I had was described on the menu as a Mozarabic dish; Mozarabs were Christians under Muslim rule who adopted certain aspects of Arabic culture and apparently made delicious meatballs.