Incomparable Cordoba — a cultural crossroads with unique history

Cordoba’s historic center is architecturally unique as it preserves, side by side, its complex Islamic, Christian, and Jewish past. (Supplied)
Cordoba’s historic center is architecturally unique as it preserves, side by side, its complex Islamic, Christian, and Jewish past. (Supplied)
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Updated 28 October 2021

Incomparable Cordoba — a cultural crossroads with unique history

Cordoba’s historic center is architecturally unique as it preserves, side by side, its complex Islamic, Christian, and Jewish past. (Supplied)

CORDOBA: At a time when religious differences continue to divide, a visit to the Andalusian city of Cordoba is a refreshing history lesson, reminding us of what it means to live together in multicultural harmony. 

Cordoba’s historic center is architecturally unique as it preserves, side by side, its complex Islamic, Christian, and Jewish past. “Convivencia,” or coexistence in Spanish, is a term you’ll often hear in reference to medieval Spain, where Arabs ruled between 711 and 1492 CE. 




The Jewish Quarter. (Shutterstock)

Cordoba is a city that celebrates tolerance and knowledge. With its yellow buildings, narrow cobblestoned streets, and white walls clad with blue flowerpots, Cordoba’s historic center is a wonderful place for a holiday. 

The Hotel Maimonides — named after the Cordoba-born 12th-century Jewish philosopher — is a stone’s throw away from the city’s most-iconic monument, the Mosque-Cathedral. There will be hordes of tourists and street vendors attempting to sell you rosemary twigs, but it is worth the hassle. Built in the 8th century, this UNESCO World Heritage Site was first erected by Abd al-Rahman I, whose successors kept expanding it to accommodate the area’s growing population. At one point, it could fit in around 40,000 worshippers. Its concrete jungle of red and white, arching columns command attention, as does its sumptuous mihrab, decorated with golden mosaics.    




A statue of Maimonides. (Shutterstock)

When Catholic forces took over the city in 1236, they eventually built a gothic cathedral — also elegant in its own way — in the middle of the mosque. Nowhere else in the world does such a disorienting structure exist, which is why some believe the Mosque-Cathedral’s interior lacks visual harmony. While it’s free to enter the building’s spacious orange-tree courtyard, to enter the Mosque-Cathedral itself you’ll have to pay, but concessions apply for students, seniors and the disabled. The nighttime “Soul of Cordoba” tour is a great time to visit the Mosque-Cathedral. It is much quieter and breathtakingly beautiful with dimmed lighting. 




The nighttime “Soul of Cordoba” tour is a great time to visit the Mosque-Cathedral. (Shutterstock)

The Jewish Quarter, or ‘Juderia,’ is another historical point to explore. As you walk up Calle de los Judíos (Jewish Street), you will not only come across a well-known statue of Maimonides but one of just three remaining synagogues in all of Spain. Inside this 14th-century synagogue, which has a women’s gallery in the upper section, Hebrew inscriptions and geometric patterns cover the walls. In the past, the synagogue was also a hospital and kindergarten. 

The city is full of statues of luminaries associated with it, including the philosopher Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and oculist Al-Gafequi. If you have time, stop by the underground Baños del Alcazar Califal — an Arab bath house used by caliphs for socializing, pampering, and cleansing. 




Baños del Alcazar Califal. (Shutterstock)

Cordoba also has plenty of dining options. Casa Qurtubah is a lovely restaurant that cooks up Moroccan and Levantine dishes. For upbeat ambiance, go for La Chiquita de Quini. For cozy, try El Rincon de Carmen or Casa Palacio Bandolero for a quiet dinner. The restaurants’ popular patio spaces tend to get busy, so it’s wise to book in advance. Wherever you decide to go, the city’s simple and delicious staple of salmorejo, a thicker version of gazpacho soup, is a must-try.

A number of small and affordable museums are peppered around the city center. The Archaeology Museum, founded in the 19th century, sits on the site of an old Roman Theatre, the remains of which can still be found in the museum’s basement. The Museo Julio Romero de Torres is especially intimate with its deep red walls and sensual paintings of Spanish women. De Torres was born in Cordoba in 1874. He lived and died there, and his namesake museum was set up right next to his home. 

Elsewhere, over 20 years ago, Salma Al-Farouki founded Casa Andalusi, which educates visitors about Arabs’ long history of cultural contributions to Andalusia. Casa de Las Cabezas (House of Heads), meanwhile, is a charming museum — despite the gory myth of seven heads found hanging here — that demonstrates how an upper-class family would once have lived in this house and its multifunctional rooms. 

Finally, Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus recounts Cordoban histories through detailed miniature displays. The latter museum is connected to the Mosque-Cathedral area by the city’s long Roman Bridge. Crossing it, preferably around sunset, is an ideal way of ending the day, above the Guadalquivir River.


US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi
The artist will perform live on Dec. 3. File/AFP
Updated 10 sec ago

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

US singer Nick Jonas to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi

DUBAI: US singer Nick Jonas is set to hit the stage at VidCon Abu Dhabi for a live performance on Dec. 3.

He will join a lineup including R&B singer Kehlani, who will perform at the three-day event taking place at the Abu Dhabi National Exhibitions Company (ADNEC) on Dec. 4.

The 29-year-old, who gained prominence as a member of the Jonas Brothers with his two older siblings, also has a fruitful solo career, giving us hits like “Jealous” and “Levels.”

VidCon Abu Dhabi was originally set to be held in March 2020, but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Other big names set to appear include Egyptian TV show host and comedian Bassem Youssef, Emirati influencers Khalid Al-Ameri and Salama Mohamed, Saudi YouTuber Naz and travel blogger Iknani, among others.


UNHCR ambassador Karen Wazen meets with victims of Beirut blast in Lebanon

UNHCR ambassador Karen Wazen meets with victims of Beirut blast in Lebanon
Updated 27 November 2021

UNHCR ambassador Karen Wazen meets with victims of Beirut blast in Lebanon

UNHCR ambassador Karen Wazen meets with victims of Beirut blast in Lebanon

DUBAI: Karen Wazen Bakhazi has joined hands with the UN refugee agency, UNCHR, to support her native Lebanon.

The Dubai-based social media influencer was named as a High Profile Supporter of UNHCR last year for her dedication and commitment to raising awareness of the plight of refugees and displaced populations across the region over the past three years. The title was officially given to Wazen at a signing ceremony held at the UNHCR offices in International Humanitarian City, Dubai.

The style icon and entrepreneur, who launched her successful eyewear company in 2018,  has been on numerous field missions in support of the refugee cause over the past three years. Most recently, the humanitarian visited Beirut to meet with families who have been affected by the devastating Aug. 4 explosion.

“It is always a honor to work closely with the UNHCR and see first-hand the effort and work that is done towards vulnerable families in our communities,” wrote Wazen on Instagram, alongside a carousel of images.

“Yesterday I visited and engaged with a Lebanese family that was deeply affected by the Beirut blast and economic situation and it is so heartbreaking to hear of all the injustices that unfortunately are very present in our world,” she added.

“Many people think that the @unhcr_arabic only helps refugees. But in fact, UNHCR also provides a lot of support to host communities in Lebanon and to Lebanese families directly.

“It’s so painful to face the reality of some of the families suffering in Lebanon and in our region. I wish the world would come together to make a difference by raising awareness, listening out for each other and donating whenever possible.”

On Aug. 4, 2020, a massive explosion ripped through the port area of Beirut, killing at least 73 people and injuring thousands. The giant blast, which was felt 264 km away in Cyprus, sent shockwaves throughout the city, shattering windows and blowing off balconies on apartment buildings. The mushroom-like explosion caused widespread damage, destroying much of the capital.

Following the horrific blast, the Lebanese social media icon donated $10,000 via her eyewear company, Karen Wazen Eyewear, to the Beirut Eye & ENT Spec Hospital (BESH) to help the thousands of people who were injured during the explosion.


Italian label Loro Piana collaborates with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej for UAE National Day

Italian label Loro Piana collaborates with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej for UAE National Day
Updated 26 November 2021

Italian label Loro Piana collaborates with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej for UAE National Day

Italian label Loro Piana collaborates with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej for UAE National Day

DUBAI: Italian brand Loro Piana has unveiled an artistic collaboration with Emirati artist Mattar Bin Lahej in celebration of the UAE’s 50th National Day.

The partnership features 50 limited-edition Loro Piana cashmere plaids, each signed and numbered by the painter.

The brand hosted a gala dinner on Tuesday at Dubai’s Etihad Museum. (Supplied)

For the collaboration, Bin Lahej reimagined the UAE National Anthem using his own Arabic font, Mattar.

He also created a 5.5-meter-tall, stainless-steel sculpture, “Constitution,” that was unveiled during a gala dinner on Tuesday at Dubai’s Etihad Museum.

Bin Lahej created a 5.5-meter-tall, stainless-steel sculpture. (Supplied)

Speaking at the event, Loro Piana’s chief executive officer, Damien Bertrand, said: “The plaid is, for Loro Piana, very precious and unique. It perfectly embodies the memorable touch of Loro Piana, which is at the core of the brand. A unique touch which is a result of a unique craftsmanship.”

Bertrand also announced that the fashion label was partnering with the Emirates Red Crescent to supply winter clothing for Syrian refugees in the charity’s Jordan camp.

The event featured performances by Laura Marzadori, first violinist of the Teatro alla Scala, joined by the string section of the National Symphony Orchestra. (Supplied)

In her address to dinner guests, Emirates Red Crescent marketing director, Reef Al-Khajeh, said: “The UAE has been known as a generous and caring nation. This collaboration is a demonstration of how deep rooted the culture of giving is embedded.

“The Emirates Red Crescent is constantly acting and reacting to the urgent needs of people affected by misfortune all around the world, and our partnership with Loro Piana will complement the efforts we make to provide relief to those forced into shelters and facing extreme conditions due to disasters and emergencies,” she added. 

The event featured performances by Laura Marzadori, first violinist of the Teatro alla Scala, joined by the string section of the National Symphony Orchestra. The dinner was made by Italian Michelin-starred chef Niko Romito, who joined forces with Emirati pastry chef Sahar Parham Al-Awadhi to serve a culinary ode to Italy and the seven Emirates.


Alicia Keys to perform at Dubai’s Expo 2020

Alicia Keys to perform at Dubai’s Expo 2020
Updated 26 November 2021

Alicia Keys to perform at Dubai’s Expo 2020

Alicia Keys to perform at Dubai’s Expo 2020

DUBAI: US hitmaker Alicia Keys will be the first international artist to perform as part of Expo 2020 Dubai’s Infinite Nights series on Dec. 10, organizers announced on Friday.

The 15-time Grammy Award-winner will give fans a glimpse of her new double album, “Keys.”

“Performing in Expo 2020 Dubai’s Infinite Nights series is going to be such an incredible experience,” said Keys in a released statement. “I’m so excited to share such a beautifully unique and special performance on the eve of the release of my new album ‘Keys’ with the world.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys)

“‘Keys’ is all about letting go of anything that holds you back and breaking through the invisible ceilings above us! It perfectly reflects Expo’s values. I cannot wait to unlock this new universe with you,” she said.

The show will be live-streamed for supporters around the world on www.virtualexpodubai.com, and available to watch across multiple channels, including Expo TV on YouTube and Facebook.

Lubna Haroun, vice president of Expo 2020’s headline talent guest group owner Moment-Makers, said in a statement: “After the incredible success of our Arab artists in October and November, we are excited to bring Alicia Keys to Expo 2020 to headline our Infinite Nights series.”

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys)

“Expo 2020 and Alicia share the belief that people’s creativity and diversity should be celebrated, that everyone has the opportunity to fulfill their dreams and shine. We are looking forward to a show that inspires and delights our audiences,” she added.

Infinite Nights is a series of events taking place until March 31, welcoming visitors to celebrate human creativity, innovation, progress and culture.

Arab celebrities that performed so far include Iraqi singer Kadim Al-Saher and Lebanese stars Nancy Ajram and Ragheb Alama.


Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world
Updated 26 November 2021

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world

Ignition time: ‘The Fastest’ introduces regional racers to the world
  • The new Netflix reality show represents a huge opportunity for some of the best drivers in the Middle East

DUBAI: All Syrian racecar driver Bushra Nasr knew, as she drove her beloved car far into the Abu Dhabi desert, was that she would be taking part in a race. She knew there would be cameras, and that whatever happened there might end up airing somewhere in the region.

It wasn’t until later that Nasr, along with the nine other racers from across the region that had gathered there on an abandoned airstrip, learned they were secretly participating in Netflix’s first Arabic-language unscripted reality series entitled “The Fastest.” It was an opportunity that could potentially change each of their lives.

“Honestly, the whole thing was a complete surprise. I thought we might participate in just one race. Then, every day they would come and tell us where we would go next, and without any warning we would take off to different races and different challenges, all unique and different and unlike anything we’d done before,” Nasr tells Arab News. “The entire experience was very exotic.”

Bushra Nasr is a Syrian racecar driver. (Supplied)

For years, Nasr has been pursuing her love of cars and racing in her every spare moment, spending weekends steadily building her profile on the track, winning competitions and earning respect of the region’s drivers one by one — even the men who never imagined a young woman would be able to surpass them.

But her dreams were not just about winning races. They went much further. Nasr harbored the secret hope that fate might one day allow her to become the next Jeremy Clarkson, the erstwhile host of the famed show “Top Gear,” someday.

With “The Fastest,” she and her fellow contestants may finally have a way to achieve their goals, and the worlds of possibility that the show’s potential success could open to them are now on each of their minds. Nasr is not focused solely on herself, however. Her focus is on all the young women that she hopes can be inspired by her success in the show, as well as her fellow female contestants.

The contestants say they have forged real friendships with each other since the competition concluded. (Supplied)

“The whole experience was amazing for us as women, and it will show the world how many women feel passionate about this sport and hopefully help others feel motivated too. I hope the whole thing can act as an inspiration for young women to be more and more involved in racing,” says Nasr.

While competition was fierce throughout the first season of “The Fastest,” Nasr’s success in the series was a joy to watch for her competitors, including seasoned Saudi driver Abzulaziz Al-Ya’eesh — a fellow finalist.

“The most memorable part of this show, to be honest, was seeing Bushra (succeed) with her unique and challenging spirit. The show proved that racing not only depends on the car, it depends on the driver’s skills and expertise. By having such varied men and women competing on a level playing field shows how much the sport is expanding in very different circles. (We are) people who came from across the Middle East to share our passion for cars,” says Al- Ya’eesh.

For Saudi contestant Abzulaziz Fudhili, what excited him most when he found out “The Fastest” would be available in 190 countries on the world’s biggest streaming platform was that it could show the world the true passion for racing in the region. (Supplied)

While the Middle East’s reputation as a global hub for car culture grows by the year, it is more than just a home to some of the most impressive collections of supercars past and present. There are enthusiasts from all backgrounds, who have all come to the track from a very different, and often bumpy, path.

For Saudi contestant Abzulaziz Fudhili, what excited him most when he found out “The Fastest” would be available in 190 countries on the world’s biggest streaming platform was that it could show the world the true passion for racing in the region. Fudhili is a prime example of that. He borrowed money from almost everyone he knew to buy his car, and his achievements on the track are allowing him to pay them back.

“I couldn't believe that we would be seen all over. Not only were we going to race, we could show the world that the Middle East motorsport scene is a force to be reckoned with,” Fudhili says. “The world knows we love cars like no one else, but they have never seen the heart we bring behind the wheel.”

Nasr’s success in the series was a joy to watch for her competitors, including seasoned Saudi driver Abzulaziz Al-Ya’eesh — a fellow finalist. (Supplied)

“The Fastest” is no amateur competition though. It involved some of the best racers in the region, such as second-generation Kuwaiti racer Ali Makhseed, who only agreed to join the show once he was certain the competition would equal anything he’s found in the region’s premiere races.

“I had second thoughts about joining the show,” says Makhseed. “I’m a professional driver, and I thought it was going to be just a bunch of enthusiasts and fans, not people who really knew street racing. But when I saw some racers I had known for years on that track, I was relieved, and the competition they brought struck a fire in me.”

The show’s six-episode first season is hosted by Saudi YouTube star Tareq Al-Harbi, (aka 6ar8o), whose comedic stylings have gained him more than one million subscribers and almost 10 million Instagram followers.

For Al-Harbi, even though he did not race, hosting the show was a life-long aspiration fulfilled. He could finally be a part of a show that he felt was as good as anything any other country had made, and that never felt like an imitation — a show that was truly the region’s own.

Kuwaiti racer Ali Makhseed only agreed to join the show once he was certain the competition would equal anything he’s found in the region’s premiere races. (Supplied)

“Having an Arabic-language show that is so well made and suspenseful is a fantasy for Arab viewers,” Al-Harbi says. “You won’t be able to predict the winner until the last minute. I think people aren’t going to be able to stop watching this show, and that makes me incredibly proud.”

Despite his enormous success, Al-Harbi considers “The Fastest” perhaps his greatest personal achievement.

“It has been an incredible journey for me,” he says. “I still remember how hard it was when I started off. I am thrilled to reach this level. I also think of it as a big responsibility for me.”

The contestants say they have forged real friendships with each other since the competition concluded — trading racing tips, helping each other with their cars, and reliving some of their favorite moments on the track against each other and the lessons they learned about themselves.

“The experience overall was an education to me, and I’d be happy to be part of this again,” says Al-Ya’eesh. “I will make sure to be prepared with my car and learn more about each driver, so that no one can beat me next time.”