First Stop – Post 1: Córdoba Tower


First, a little background part of the prequel. On the 12th September 2020, after transiting the Strait of Gibraltar in the company of four trusty trainee yacht masters, I helmed our craft along the upper reaches of the only navigable river in Spain: the River Guadalquivir. It is a River that has seen many sieges, incredible conquests have been fought along its waters, brave feats and daring crossings have been forged from its banks. Well now it was my turn. After stepping ashore, and dropping off my kitbag at my accommodation, I stood before the Giralda Tower 104.1 m (342 ft) in height. On many previous visits to the city I shied away from making the ascent. This is one of the most important symbols of the city, and has been since the Middle Ages. For middle aged me, it became one of the most important symbols of a new life, a new vigour. Yes… I did it, right to the top. From the highest casemate under the great bells I could look back down on the river I had just navigated with my fellow crew members. Now I had reached the pinnacle of my personal best tower climbs.

Ascent of the Giralda, the beautiful, and previously inaccessible to me, bell tower of Seville Cathedral 

Now let’s fast forward to this year’s tower climb challenge. In just over thirty years living on the Iberian Peninsula, I had not been able to visit Córdoba… whenever we passed that way, as we did when we migrated south the first time in 1993, and several other years toing and froing from the UK, we were in a hurry. Also, in Summer time the heat there is prohibitive. So now traveling solo, and before the highest temperatures, and even better, in the late afternoon after driving up from Gibraltar, it was my turn to visit the Mezquita! Having parked up and while following the blue dotted line on my map app, I made my way along the ancient narrow city streets. On turning a final corner into the mosque-cathedral square I was surprised to see a tall tower! No one had mentioned a tower! But well, d’uhh! Of course a Mezquita would have a minaret!

My second tower challenge since regaining my fitness in 2020, Torre Campanario, Cordoba

I stood in the Patio De Los Naranjos, the cathedral courtyard of the UNESCO world heritage listed building, and gazed up over the tops of the orange trees, at my next tower challenge! At ‘only’ 54 meters high it should not have presented as great a trial, but remember we are almost two years on from my time of ‘peak fitness’. With the best will in the world I had not kept up the regime I had embraced back then, as Covid paralysed so many people, and I rebelled, refusing to be locked down. I signed up for virtual keep fit classes three times a week, and as soon as we were released, launched on three months of diet and nutrition training. I knew what it was to sit by the bedside of a person on a ventilator, and I was not going to go there. However now I looked at this half size tower, and the signposted warnings that only the able bodied should attempt to climb the narrow staircase with even more trepidation than I had viewed its Sevillana counterpart.

“How many steps to the top?” I asked the guide. “191” he answered. But mercifully there were three levels where one could walk out and survey the countryside, and the merciful administrators had decreed these should be mandatory stops! I don’t remember getting to pause on the way up the Giralda, no steps there of course, only a sloping cobbled spiral built for a king to ride to the top on horseback. So while I was certainly out of breath at the first level, with a short ‘breather’ and now warmed up to my task, I was able to sail up to the second level.
“How many times a day do you go up?” I asked the slim guide as we rested in the calm evening air. “Eleven or twelve.” he answered. I looked at his shoes, well-worn soft black loafers. As we continued our climb I wondered why eleven or twelve… surely it would be a hard day, especially in the summer, shepherding visitors up to the top, keeping a wary eye on how his flock were bearing up.
Even when we reached stage three, where the bells were installed, there was only one corner of the building that caught any sort of a breeze, and I stationed myself there to recover while gazing out over the roofs of the city. In particular, I studied the roof of the ‘Cathedral – mosque’ from my high vantage point.

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