Sephardic Spain: Part 2, Mazel Bueno

Story and photos by Bob Schulman

Cordoba's annual Sephardic Music Festival is a huge attraction.

Another superstar in the Spanish network of Jewish quarters is the one in Cordoba, capital of one of the eight provinces of the country's southern region of Andalusia.

“We say 'mazel bueno' here,” says Haim Casas, using a mix of the Jewish expression for good luck or good fortune (mazel tov) and the Spanish word for good (bueno). Casas, director of Casa de Sefarad, Cordoba's Jewish cultural center, said the facility now hosts an estimated 30,000 annual visitors, up from 20,000 a few years ago.

Various rooms of the center feature Sephardic traditions, crafts, holidays, music and the contributions of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women who enriched cultural life. The center's library has 15,000 books including a good number of rare titles handed down from generation to generation.

Tours of the Jewish quarter include stops at a 700-year-old synagogue, museums, monuments, Sephardic restaurants and old-world courtyards.

Among special events open to tourists is the city's annual International Sephardic Music Festival (www.redjuderias.org/red/agenda.php?lang=2&id=1837&org=2). This year's fest, held in late June at Cordoba's Botanical Garden, spotlighted top Jewish bands from around the world including the Israeli rock group “Red Lips.”

Besides the Jewish quarter and major attractions such as the Medina Azahara archaeological site (the ruins of a vast Muslim city) just outside town and the Alcazar Castle (once the home of King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella), the city may be best known for its ornate Cathedral-Mosque.

Painting of “The Six Senses” is displayed at Sephardic restaurant Casa Mazal. The painting, inspired by Alice in Wonderland, is by local artist Jose Luiz Munoz.Originally a pagan temple, the building was remodeled and expanded numerous times as it passed through the hands of the Romans, then the Visigoths (who adopted Christianity during their reign), then the Moors and finally by Catholic re-conquerors.

Tours of the immense structure use special light and sound effects to put visitors in the footsteps of the millions of Christians and Muslims who came here to worship over the centuries.

A bridge once linked the Muslim prayer hall to the palace of the Caliph of Cordoba, from which he ruled the western part of the Islamic world.

Getting there: It's about a two-hour ride on a high-speed AVE train from Madrid to Cordoba.

Staying there: Cordoba offers some two dozen tourist-class hotels. Among popular properties is the 64-room Las Casas de la Juderia (www.casasypalacios.com) in the Jewish quarter.

Ornate ceilings soar over the Cathedral-Mosque.A tip for travelers staying over in Madrid: If you're looking for a classy hotel that's close in but away from the hustle and bustle of the city, check out the five-star, 32-room Quinta de los Cedros (www.quintadeloscedros.com).

More info: Visit the Tourist Office of Spain (www.spain.info) and theCordoba Tourism Consortium  (http://english.turismodecordoba.org).

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