Córdoba was founded as a major city by the Romans who recognised not only its strategic importance but also its convenient location as an inland river port, which was ideal for shipping precious olive oil, wine and wheat back to Rome.
Under the Romans, the city grew to become their largest settlement in Spain and its success was later enhanced by the Moors, who made it the capital and spiritual centre of ‘Al-Andalus’ – the jewel of their great medieval kingdom – for over three hundred years. It is even said to have once been the most densely populated city in the world!
Modern visitors can still witness the spectacle and grandeur of the city’s rich history, filled as it is with many striking reminders of times gone by. Most people who have been to Cordoba would say that their main reason for visiting was the Mezquita, revered by architects and archaeologists alike as the finest mosque ever to have been built during the long rule of the Moors.
And, set right in the centre of the oldest part of the city, it is a building of remarkable power and elegance, which seldom fails to inspire those seeing it for the first time. In an age where the three main religions worshipped alongside one another, the Moors took an already impressive Baroque cathedral and built their mosque over and around it, without damaging the original fabric in any material way. The Mezquita is comprised of hundreds of marble columns – each with its distinctive red and white ‘candy cane’ stripes – supporting the typical arches of the Moorish style of architecture that together form a magnificent vaulted roof. It somehow surrounds and devours the huge Christian cathedral and the result is two magnificent places of worship that still manage to co-exist in one awesome shell.
UNESCO Word Heritage site
Cordoba has been declared a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the largest complete urban area to have received such recognition. Many Roman buildings can still be seen and remain in surprisingly good condition. The Roman ‘tour’ includes the bridge over the wide River Guadalquivir – still passable on foot or bicycle – various temples, the amphitheatre and the city walls, while just outside the city you can find the expansive ruins of the palace of Emperor Maximian.
Close to the Mezquita site is the famous ‘Juderia’ – the city’s old Jewish quarter – which is a fascinating maze of narrow lanes and streets where you can find a tiny synagogue, one of only three in Spain to have survived when the Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain in 1492. The area has lots of quiet, shady squares and private courtyards filled with colourful flowers and shrubs, so it’s best to take your time here as there are plenty of good stopping places where a cold beer and some tapas are particularly welcome during a hot day’s sightseeing!
Don’t miss the Alcazar del los Reyes Cristianos, which was formerly a royal summer place and an important centre for the Spanish Inquisition! The royal stables adjacent to the palace are also where the original Andalucian horses were bred.
More Moorish architecture can be seen from the riverbanks where no fewer than eleven ancient mills used the power of the huge river to grind their flour. On the outskirts of Cordoba lies the archaeological site of Medina Azahara, which sits alongside Granada’s more famous Alhambra Palace as one of Spain’s most important examples of Muslim architectures.
Festival de los Patios Cordobeses
Perhaps the best month in which to visit Cordoba is May, because not only is the spring weather ideal for wandering through the city but you can also witness the riot of colour that is the renowned ‘Festival de los patios cordobeses’ – the annual flower festival.
The ‘patios’ are an important part of the city’s old houses, and are where family and friends will gather to take advantage of some cool shade while tending to the many colourful tubs and baskets of plants and shrubs on display throughout the festival. Homeowners take great pride in their patios all year round so as to make sure that they can proudly show their beautiful courtyards to the judges and the public during the contest.
What’s not to love about this wonderfully friendly and spectacularly historical town?
Cordoba patio picture credit: SergioG_C