We took the “slow” train from Seville to Córdoba for under €14 and a less than ninety-minute journey through flat, mostly rural countryside, lushly green from the recent rains. We’re not sure why Córdoba hadn’t popped up on our radar well before our last trip to Spain but once we started reading about the city and its history, it rapidly rose to the top of our places-to-go list. Not to say that we don’t usually do a little preparation before traveling to a new place but this time we were unusually prepared with a two-page list of things to see, including a place we’d run across only in passing; described as a “hidden treasure.” Located next to the Alcázar of Córdoba, we could see the Royal Stables (aka the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba ) from vantage points atop the Alcázar’s walkways along the old walls as well as a lone horse and rider practicing a series of moves in a small arena.
The Caballerizas Reales date from 1570 when King Felipe II, described in many accounts as “a great lover of horses,” commissioned Diego López de Haro y Sotomayor to build the royal stables where he hoped to breed thoroughbred Spanish horses. Not that we’ve visited many stables but we can safely say that these will be among the grandest we’ll ever see and why these stables deserve a place as one of Córdoba’s historic monuments. The stable area is massive, almost cathedral-like in atmosphere, with a long center hallway and horse stalls on either side. Sandstone columns support a cross-vaulted ceiling and numerous, small windows light the space in addition to suspended lanterns. A new stable houses the royal horses while the old stable contains many elegant coaches and conveyances once used by the royals and other elites.
And here in the royal stables, according to a decree by King Felipe II which laid out formalized standards, the pure Spanish thoroughbred, known as the Andalusian horse, was officially documented as a breed. From the very beginning, the horse was incredibly popular among European royalty and became a symbol of the Spanish empire. The horse carried the conquistadores to the New World and its reputation as a prized war horses almost led to the demise of the breed in the Iberian Peninsula when Napoleon invaded Spain in the 1800’s and seized them for his own invasion. Luckily a small herd was sequestered at a monastery in Cartuja near Granada and the breed recovered. Today the Andalusian horses number over 185,000.
Quite by serendipity and even before we visited the stables, the Hostal La Fuente where we stayed told us about the equestrian show, “The Passion and Spirit of the Andalusian Horse.” Purchasing the tickets (a great value at €15 for an hour’s performance) also allowed us to visit the arena during a rehearsal.
The program was a terrific chance to see these magnificent creatures display their intelligence and beauty. Far from knowledgeable about horses in general, we didn’t have to be die-hard horse lovers to be completely captivated by the graceful and magical performance.
For those who wanted to get more show for their money, there were several dances featuring a flamenco dancer and some wonderful Spanish guitar in the background which added to the ambience. For us, the flamenco dancer was extraneous and rather a distraction from the real stars of the show.
We were captivated with the intricate footwork, stylized gaits and beauty of the whole performance. At times, it was almost as though as invisible string could be seen between the rider and horse as they seemed to communicate intuitively. Obviously, the training involves hundreds of hours with a very skilled trainer and/or rider and an incredibly intelligent horse.
Information: The show is every Wednesday, Friday and Saturdays at 20:00 and Sundays beginning at 12:00. Entrance to The Caballerizas Reales is free for visiting, from Tuesday to Saturday during the morning hours from 11:00 to 13:30 and afternoon hours from 16:00 to 20:00.
Special thanks to our friend, Kiki Bridges, who generously shared her photos for our post.
By Anita Oliver and Richard Nash