Friday, 18 March 2011

Córdoba - the heart of the city

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A view of Plaza San Martín, the cathedral and the cabildo in Córdoba. Photo by Roberto Bowyer.
For quite some time now I've been wanting to show you around my hometown in Argentina: Córdoba. It has taken me this long because I couldn't really make up my mind as to where to start - there is so much to see, so many stories to tell about it! I finally decided that I would start by showing you the very heart of the city - the kilómetro 0 or starting point from where the Spanish colonists started to build the city after its foundation in 1573.

The kilómetro 0 is the very heart of a city that perfectly combines modernity with history and tradition. While walking around the historic city centre, you will discover - among noisy avenues and crowded pedestrian streets - the founders' chessboard design of perfect squares with the Plaza Mayor (today Plaza San Martín), the cathedral and the Cabildo or City Hall in the middle.
First city plan of Córdoba as designed by the Spanish founders in 1577.
Photo credit: Wikipedia

Today's Plaza San Martín (dating from 1577) was first conceived as a dry square where military parades and official ceremonies (religious and secular) were held. Much later, in the XIX century, the landscaping of the plaza took place and in the centre, a statue of General José de San Martín -one of the main figures of the South American independence movement- was erected.

Another angle of Plaza San Martín.
Official ceremonies and popular festivals are still held at the plaza to this day. Every 24 May in the evening, for example, the Town Hall organises a festival with popular or folk music as a prelude to the new day, the veinticinco de mayo or 25th May when we commemorate the establishment of the first local governement back in 1810. At the strike of midnight fireworks are set off and the people gathered in the plaza welcome el veinticinco at the cry of Viva la Patria! (long live the Fatherland!)
The sculpture of General San Martin was built and donated by sculptors Fontana and Locatti in 1946. The fountain is made of Carrara marble by José Allio.
La catedral (the cathedral) was erected on the west side of the plaza.This imposing building merges different architectural styles - neoclassical vault and portico, romanesque dome, baroque towers, even some mudéjar details - since though works started back in 1580, the church was not finished until 1784.

A night view of the Cathedral as seen from the Plaza San Martín.
In my opinion, one of the most interesting details in the façade of the cathedral are the musical angels sculpted in the towers. These were built by the local indians (or should I better say, indigenous people) and on closer inspection one can see that the angel sculptures bear the faces of the people that actually built them.
A cast iron sculputre of Christ the Redeemer was erected on top of the portico at the beginning of the 20th century.

A frontal view of the cathedral. Notice the indian angels on the towers by clicking on the photo to enlarge.
Sculpture of Christ the Redeemer - Photo by Claudia Gibson.
If from the outside la catedral (the cathedral) looks imposing, its interior is lavish and dazzling. The vault of the cathedral's nave is decorated with frescos and murals painted at the beginning of the 20th century by Argentinean artists Emilio Caraffa, Carlos Camilloni and Manuel Cardeñosa. Also noteworthy is the main altar, of embossed sterling silver built in Alto Perú.
The cathedral also has a very vast and rich collection of votive offerings donated by religious parishoners or wealthy citizens along the centuries. These offerings include many gifts of gold and silver, jewels, crowns of pearls and other precious stones to "dress" the image of the Virgin Mary as well as silk and brocade garments.

The beautiful and lavish interior of the cathedral - Photo by Roberto Bowyer
Another angle of the interior of the cathedral - Photo by Gustavo Alterio

The Cabildo, that is the historical Town Hall, is also located opposite the main square or plaza. Originally, the cabildo was a rather humble construction made of adobe (sand, clay and water) and with a thatched roof, but in 1783 the then governor of Córdoba, the Marquis of Sobremonte, set to finish the job.
The Cabildo's mains features are the archway of fifteen columns  and the covered arcade on the second floor along the façade - a combination of colonial and classic architecture.
The Cabildo in Córdoba, viewed from the Plaza San Martín. Photo by Roberto Bowyer

The archway of the Cabildo - Photo by Claudia Gibson
Inside the Cabildo - Photo by Gustavo Alterio.

Inside the building, you can visit the patios, the undergroud cells and a number of rooms that exhibit archeological finds and relics from various historical periods as well as temporal arts exhibitions. You can also visit el Salón Rojo (the Red Room)where the city's mayor receives important visitors or you can attend one of the many concerts that are held in this historic building.

To the north of the Plaza San Martín, a bit lost between rather not too pleasant looking shops, you will find the Bishop Mercadillo's Chapel or oratorio. The former chapel is just a small part of the once important colonial residence that the bishop of Córdoba had built in the late 18th century after the consecration of the cathedal and the establishment of the diocese of Córdoba.
The most outstanding feature in this building is the intricate wrought-iron balcony on the second floor of the chapel. The Centro Obispo Mercadillo behind the oratorio is a modern structure with red brick steps that form a sort of pyramid. In this centre the Town Hall usually organises exhibitions and other cultural activities.

Oratorio Obispo Mercadillo in Córdoba.
The kilómetro cero is the very heart of the city, but not just because this is where the first Spanish settlers started to plan and build Córdoba and where you can find some of the most important historic buildings but also, because it is the place where locals -the cordobeses- bustle about during the week, either on the way to the many banks that are located on the east side of the plaza, to or from work and school, or the shopping pedestrian area that spreads mostly to the north. Simply take a break between visits to the catedral or the cabildo, sit down on one of the benches and watch them move around, interact and go about their daily business only then  will you be able to say that you have seen Córdoba.

Thanks to Claudia Gibson, Roberto Bowyer and Gustavo Alterio for letting me share their photos here.


Japra said...

Oh... stunning! I want to hop on plane and be there right now. When is the best non-touristy time to visit?

Aledys Ver said...

Well, I would recomment either the autumn (March to May) or the spring (end of August to November). In the summer it can be quite warm! But look who I'm talking to, a Texan girl! :D

Presépio said...

Japra, wait for me, I want to go there too ;-) Shall we meet in the airport? ;-))
The photos are stunning!
Aledys will be our tour guide! ;-)
How beautiful is the Cathedral!!

Aledys Ver said...

In that case, you can join me next time I head that way - I'd be happy to show you around.

Anonymous said...

Hermoso post, Aledys!!! :)
Homenaje a La Docta, gracias!!! Fotazas las tuyas y las de Gus y Rober, qué maestros!! Sacá las mías, por Dior!! Jajajaja!
Un beso


Aledys Ver said...

Gracias, Claudia! Y de ninguna manera, cómo voy a sacar tus fotos! Están preciosas y me van a seguir haciendo falta, así que a ir siempre con la cámara lista. :D

aggieLap said...

Very nice article and thank you for being our guide and showing us around your city, Aledys! It really draws us to fly there right now. I love those photos as well.

Aledys Ver said...

Hi, Aggie!
I'm glad you liked it - it's just a small part of the city centre, around the main plaza... but it's a start! :D

Anita said...

I think it is quite revolutionary in architectural terms that the city was planned like a chess board. Remember it was 1577 and Europe was just emerging from the Middle Ages with its unplannend cities full of dead end streets and labirynthic ways. But yeah, many cities in the New World were actually planned and develop like that.

Invader_Stu said...

It looks like an amazing place and your description makes it sound amazing too.

Katie said...

Yes, I second Sandra's idea of hiring Aledys to be our tour guide! ;) I would love to visit Córdoba some day, and in a way, through your post, I feel as if I've already been there.

The chessboard design for the city is interesting, as well. I don't think I've ever seen anything quite like that (although it's similar to the grid system used in the heart of my hometown of Philadelphia.)

Aledys Ver said...

Thanks, Stu! :D

Katie said...

By the way, I noticed that you ditched Disqus for commenting. Care to share why?

Aledys Ver said...

Well, you should all try to go there when I'm in town, then! :D It'd be great to show you all around.
The chessboard design is typical of all the colonial cities in South America. The Spaniards divided the plots of land among the settlers and then assigned some to the various religious orders as well.
... and you've just answered my question in the previous post! :D

Aledys Ver said...

About Disqus: three different people told me that they had tried to leave comments and couldn't log in with an open ID or sth. like that, so I removed it to see if it'd work - and it did.

Katie said...

That's a shame. I really like Disqus, but if your commenters can't comment, then it sort of defeats the purpose, now doesn't it?!

Aledys Ver said...

Yes, I like it too and I'm not sure what really happened... I might go back to it next time and see what happens...

BLOGitse said...

No more Disqus here, snif! It was a great way to be connected - now it's gone....

What a beautiful and heavy post, lots of info.

I'm back in this world, my hand is not vegetable anymore. Huh, what a start it's been...

See you!

VagaMundos said...

We need to return to Argentina and discover Cordoba. It really looks pretty and with character. Thanks for showing us your home town.

Anonymous said...

I noticed the Cabildo in the very first photo you posted. It's such a beautiful building! Of course, I love colonnaded buildings like that. The interior of the catedral is stunning! Lovely and informative post, beautifully illustrated!

Aledys Ver said...

No Disqus in this post, no - hopefully, it'll work for the next one.
I hope you are by now recovered and on the way to getting finally settled!

Aledys Ver said...

Next time you go to Argentina, do go to Córdoba - you won't regret it!

Aledys Ver said...

I thought this post might be of some interest to you, with all the architectural details ;)
Thanks for stopping by!