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If there is a remarkable image of Córdoba in the XIXth century that would be the aerial sight of the city made and then published by Alfred Gesdon in 1853. We were lucky to have been one of the chosen cities for his beautiful stamp catalog.

The city was portraited with such astounding attention to detail that it made a lot of people wonder about the techniques and method through which it was accomplished. A lot has been written and researched on this amazing drawing. At the time the world had been taken over by a relentless wave of inventions and new ideas that could have perfectly have contributed to the making of this lithography, which is of vital importance to analyze the evolution of the urban landscape of Córdoba. The original drawing rests in the Fine Arts Museum of Nantes.

In 1853 three great inventions were extremely popular and could very well have helped the quality of Guesdon’s panoramic: aerostatic balloons, daguerreotypes and lithographic printing that allowed for high quality copies and opened the possibility of printing colors. Although there are not enough information to make a categorical assertion, the fact is that many researchers claim that Guesdon took photographs from a balloon and used the resulting material to work its wonderful and detailed drawings. It is difficult to explain the extreme and accurate detail shown in lithography otherwise. However there are no records by a single newspaper in Córdoba of a balloon flying over the city and, back then, such a phenomenon would not have gone unnoticed.

On the other hand, daguerreotypes, despite improvements, still had an exposure time of several minutes, so it is unlikely that high-quality photos could haven been taken from the balloon, given the movement. There was another newly developed photographic technique that allowed for small exposure times. It was called the “collodion process”, and required to develop the negative right after shooting the picture, in that case an entire laboratory would have been needed in the balloon. This would have accounted for a great technological achievement and, again, the press would most likely have covered the event. There are some that claim that the photographer Charles Clifford accompanied Gesdon in his flight over Córdoba, however despite Clifford taking hundreds of pictures in Spain, none of them were made from a balloon. Also, Córdoba was not communicated by train and the equipment would have had to be brought in with mules and wagons through the narrow passages of Despeñaperros, and that also seems unlikely.

There is also the theory that Guesdon, who was a gifted illustrator, constructed its aerial sights using common maps giving them the perspective of an aerial view. Once the perspective was accomplished the main architectonic features would be drawn. Guesdon could have used the map of the city that Montis made in 1951, which was actually an update of the first city map, named “de los Franceses” for it was made by the French.

Once reached this point, I would like to say that Córdoba does have a place where one can enjoy a panoramic view of the city with the Mezquita. There is a hill in the “Campo de la Verdad” that goes unnoticed by most of the people, it is known by the name of “el Cerro” (the hill) and is currently being restored as it is the only possible panoramic viewpoint of the city. I would bet everything I have that that is the exact place where Guesdon made his wonderful illustration of the city.

A last theory –the sci-fi tabloid type– states that the aerial pictures taken by Clifford were never revealed since he was working as a spy; we should not forget that in 1849 took place the first aerial bombardment attempt in history, involving Austria and the rebel Venice.

Alfred Gesdon: Córdoba seen from above, 1853. Detail.

 

Location of Viento10 in the drawing. The streets are in the exact place with milimetrical accuracy.

 

 Panoramic view from the Cerro of the Campo de la Verdad, place where Guesdon could cover every single detail to complete his drawing.

 Original front page of the folder containing the lithography of Córdoba by Alfred Guesdon.

SOME OTHER FACTS: an interesting article recently published in the "Spanish Arts Archive, vol. 91, nº 361 (2018)".
The study analyses all the data gathered around the Guesdon panoramic and attempts to clear the method he used to produce such an accurate document. (Read here)


 

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