Cordoba, the Andalusian city steeped in history and not just one, but many cultures, has a unique character which charms its thousands of visitors. After being a patrician colony of Hispania in the Roman empire, the city later became the independent emirate of Al Andalus, when the Moors ruled over Andalucía. Their presence can still be felt within the 8th century mosque and its surrounding narrow streets and squares. However the uniqueness of the city lies in its contrasts of cultures with its Renaissance cathedral built inside the great Arabic mosque which is reached by crossing the impressive Roman bridge which spans the river Guadalquivir on the south side of the city. As well as being rich in history and culture with countless museums, churches and the Fortress built by the Reyes Católicos (the Catholic monarchs Isabel and Ferdinand), who re-conquered the city ending the caliphs’ reign, Cordoba is also a thriving city, capital of its own province, a university town and an important commercial centre.
What to see
The great mosque (La Mezquita), was built between the years 780 and 785 by Abd ar-Rahman I and was later
extended by the caliphs, Abd ar-Rahman II, al-Hakam II and finally at the end of 990 under the orders of al-Mansur to reach its now immense size of 25,000 square metres. The mosque is held up by 865 columns, all of which are different, forming a maze of red and white arches. The unusual feature of the construction of the mosque is that instead of facing Mecca, it was built facing south. Like other mosques, this one has an ablution patio, known as the Patio de los Naranjos (Orange Tree Courtyard) and a mihrab, a niche showing the direction of Mecca. Under the rule of Charles V in the sixteenth century the mosque was about to be destroyed when it was decided to build a Renaissance cathedral inside the great building itself, and the cathedral is now found at the centre of the Arab monument. The most outstanding features of this Christian construction are the choir, the pulpit and the monstrance made by the Arge family.
Cordoba is also famed for its pretty little patios decorated with plants and overflowing pots of flowers. Although some restaurants and shops are found in larger patios, the prettiest ones are those that are privately owned and can be spotted while strolling through the old part of the town. Many are open to the public in May when the Patio Festival takes place. This is the time when patio owners make a special effort in order to win the decorated patio competition and the one with the most awards is number six, Calle Albucesis with no fewer than 1,500 flower pots.
The Jewish Quarter, just to the left of the mosque, is a maze of narrow streets that looks exactly the same as it did in the days of the Moors. There you will find the Plazuela Maimónides which houses the municipal bullfighting museum and at the end of Calle de los Judíos you will find the synagogue which is one of just three ancient synagogues preserved in Spain. The Jewish quarter is mainly pedestrian, and it is easy to get lost in the winding streets. The central areas are dotted with souvenir shops and kiosks.
Cordoba is the home of many churches including the Iglesia de San Nicolas (St. Nicholas’ Church) in Calle Concepción and the Iglesia de San Miguel (St. Michael’s Church), and monuments such as the statue of El Gran Capitán who fought with the Catholic Monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella in the conquest of Granada. His head however, being lost, has now been replaced by that of the bullfighter, Lagartijo. The Plaza de la Corredera is a Castillian-style square with a seventeenth century arcade which was originally used as the city’s bullring.
The expression “castles in Spain” could have been coined to describe the area around Cordoba, which is sprinkled with them. One of the most attractive of these is the Almodóvar castle, or there is the Belalcázar fortress (right).
Cordoba, however, is not only monuments and history. Outside the central Jewish quarter, a modern, bustling city thrives, with plenty of markets and shops, and is known for its elegant inhabitants – even among the students, who dress like students everywhere, you will not see one who could be described as slovenly – however they dress, they do it with style.
The city is also known for its efforts in the field of gastronomy. There is a huge choice of bars, taverns and restaurants – visitors who are feeling fairly flush, also hungry, should not miss the well known Caballa Rojo, or El Churrasco. They are both in the Jewish quarter and therefore not easy to find, but just keep asking along the way.
How to get there
By car:Cordoba can be easily reached from Madrid by high speed train or by road from many major Spanish cities including Seville which is also the nearest airport. There are also good road and rail links with Malaga and the Costa del Sol.
When to go:
Any time, although it can be very hot in summer. Holy Week is a good time if you want to see the processions, or May for the Patios and Crosses festivals. Corpus Christi is celebrated in May or June.