Strolling through Cordoba I discover open doors that give entrance to large and leafy courtyards: the famous Patios de Cordoba.
One after another they follow each other along the same street. I enter and enjoy these pots hanging on the walls with their colorful flowers and leaves saturated with greens. Pots, recycled cans, glasses. Everything is perfect in order to fill the white of the walls with life.
I had read a great deal about the Patios de Cordoba and their explosion during the month of May during the Festival de los Patios de Cordoba when all the houses open their doors to invite the traveler to their personal Eden.
But all I had read was about the beauty of this “flower exhibition”, the “best route” I had to take “to see all the Patios de Cordoba in a day.” Little did I know about the real origin of this celebration, which has nothing to do with an exhibition of floral arrangements.
THE MEANING OF THE PATIOS DE CORDOBA
The construction of the Patios de Cordoba as Andalusian courtyards is directly linked to the Muslim customs of large central courtyards that provided a fresh space of shade where to spend the summer.
But I will not dwell on the architecture of the courtyard itself but on what it began to mean for all the immigrants who came to Cordoba running away from the crudeness of life in the Andalusian countryside during the nineteenth century.
When they arrived in the city, these “immigrants from their own land” arrived at these immense communal houses that they shared with perhaps 20 other families.
Each of them had their room, which was not larger than 10 square meters, where there was only room a family of four, even though they were much more.
Connecting all those houses was the patio. It was the nerve center of community life. In it, the women sat down to sew, or to wash their clothes. The younger ones put their beautiful dresses to go out. The children ran from side to side.
The Patios de Cordoba were one more member of the family, and perhaps the most important one.
It was the one who brought the sense of community, of friendship, of “I am in the same situation as you are and therefore I understand you and I help you.” Immigrants no longer felt alone. They had their family and friends, and they were surrounded by green and flowers, and the great white walls that shone all year round.
They had the patio.
Those large estates from which they came with immense tracts of land were a cave compared to the new opportunities that these patios offered them. Logically not everything was shiny as there was no privacy and they lived in very small rooms.
But the people of that time did not live with the same prejudices with which we live now and knew how to enjoy other things.
THE PATIOS DE CORDOBA DURING SPRING
When the bad weather was over and spring began, they grabbed the lime pot and painted the house walls. Then it was filled with flowers and plants (they couldn’t put the plants on the floor as there was hardly room for them? Yes, hence the origin of cans and pots on the walls).
The advent of spring marked the beginning of a holiday: that of life itself. People would come and go through the streets, enter the courtyards to dance and celebrate the beginning of beautiful days.
Left behind were the cold, gray days, and all that remained ahead were celestial skies and sun, lots of sun. The celebration had something reminiscent of their own lives so to speak; of the effort they had to make to migrate from their lands to an unknown site that received them with the opened doors of the courtyards.
And that feeling of community that took place in the patios de Cordoba and that allowed people to live better for the simple fact of not being alone was what was declared World Heritage.
THE PATIOS DE CORDOBA TODAY
Today I walk the streets of Cordoba thinking about the month of May and how beautiful it must be.
Although later I remember the phrase “Die of success,” a phrase closely linked to the massiveness of local celebrations because of tourism, and I understand the generations of the early twentieth century and their nostalgia. It is true that visitors from other places act as the best promoters of local traditions, but at the same time they transform them and in many cases manage to turn it into a celebration without origin.
That is why I say that we must remember where the now called “Festival of the Patios de Cordoba” comes from.
It is not an exhibition of flowers.
Although for most people this is a simple exhibition of flowers. Before the tourist boom, the people who visited the courtyards were local people who went at another pace, walking, quiet, drinking something. It was not a marathon.
Now the Festival of the Patios de Cordoba s is a marathon, and visitors queue to enter courtyards marked with a cross on a map. It is difficult not to lose its authenticity when tourism becomes massive. It happens in all kinds of celebrations.
But this is more dangerous because it is about small spaces.
There are still people from the previous generation who have the memory of that life, and if they have not lived it at least their parents or their grandparents had. There is the memory. But the younger generation does not have it.
INTERVIEW WITH A SPECIALIST IN PATIOS DE CORDOBA
If you are interested in knowing more about the origins of the Patios de Cordoba, do not forget to see this interview that Cristina Bendala, an architect and specialist in courtyards, who gave us the pleasure to find out more about their history, and who owns one of these beautiful patios herself.
Unfortunately, this interview is in Spanish only.
City: Córdoba, Spain.
Location of the patio / lodging of Cristina Bendala: Plaza de las Tazas, 11
There are more interesting things happening in Cordoba: have you read about the secret hidden inside the Mosque-Cathedral? Read it here: https://www.pieypata.com/en/world-heritage-or-real-estate-investment/
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