Córdoba, the capital of the province of the same name, lies in the southern foothills of the Morena mountains, on the banks of the Rio Guadalquivir, about 130 kilometres upstream from Seville.
By Nick Nutter | Updated 3 Oct 2022 | Córdoba | Cities | Login to add to YOUR Favourites or Read Later
Plaza de Corredera Cordoba
Córdoba is a city best explored on foot; parking can be difficult. It is a typically Muslim city with narrow, winding streets, especially in the older quarter of the centre and, farther west, the Judería (Jewish quarter). The historic centre of Córdoba is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site and it is impossible to see everything in one day. It can take the best part of a day to walk around the walls from the west gate to the south gate particularly if you wander off into the gardens and examine the bathhouses, the stately buildings and towers that seem to spring up every few metres and occasionally stop to take in the views across the river or spend time partaking of refreshments at some of the many charming courtyard cafés you will encounter.
Arab Baths Cordoba
Córdoba's period of greatest glory began in the 8th century after the Moorish conquest, when some 300 mosques and innumerable palaces and public buildings were built to rival the splendours of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad. In the 13th century, under Ferdinand III, the Saint, Córdoba's Great Mosque was turned into a cathedral and new defensive structures, particularly the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Torre Fortaleza de la Calahorra, were erected.
Roman Gate and Cemetery
There is little left of the Roman period in Córdoba, however, the discerning will find some traces. For instance, near to the Hotel Tryp Gallos at the junction of Paseo de la Victoria and Calle de Concepcion is situated what was the Roman west gate into the city. On the Paseo side is a Roman cemetery.
Roman Temple, Cordoba
In the centre of the city itself is a temple but do not be fooled. This is a reconstruction. Only two columns are original. However, the renovations are using the original foundations and floor plans.
Puente Romana Cordoba
Leaving the old city through the south gate, you will then cross the 250 metre long Puente Romano. This 1st century BC bridge has 16 arches spanning the Guadalquivir river. It is worth stopping halfway across and looking up and down the river. You will notice islands and channels that appear man-made. You will also see the remains of, and in one case, a whole, huge, waterwheel. The wheel is part of the extensive system, started by the Romans and perfected by the Arabs, that allowed the surrounding land to be irrigated and then used to grow olives, grapes and wheat that was then shipped back to Rome and later, during the Moorish occupation, throughout the Islamic empire.
Calahorra Fort Cordoba
The Calahorra Fort at the south end of the bridge is an Arab construction from the Almohad period that now houses an interesting Islamic museum. For a particular view of how integrated, politically and religiously, the Arabs were with the native population, and how advanced scientifically they were, then the fort is worth as much attention as the Mezquita. It is here that there is a wonderful collection of original Arabic navigational instruments including an ancient astrolabe that predates the invasion of 711 AD.
Bridge Gate, Cordoba
The bridge gate is as its name suggests is located just opposite the Roman bridge of Córdoba. You will pass beneath it when you return from the Calahorra Fort. It was built in the 16th century on the site of ancient Roman and Moorish gates.
Most visitors make a beeline for the Mezquita, and little wonder. It is the third-largest mosque ever built. The original structure, dedicated in 786 AD, was extended and enlarged over the entire period of Arab rule, each king trying to outdo his predecessors. It is now a ‘forest’ of 856 columns supporting red and white coloured arches. The earliest section contains original but re-used Roman and Visigothic pillars and, in the north-west corner a free-standing Visigothic altar. The Mezquita is unique in Spain because it not only survived the re-conquest, it was considered so magnificent that between 1523 and 1607 a Renaissance style church was built within the structure. The church is now the repository for the ecclesiastical treasures which is worth a trip in itself.
La Juderia Cordoba
For those who prefer strolling then the medieval quarter called La Juderia, (The Jewry) is a labyrinth of winding streets, small squares and courtyards. In May there is a competition. The patios are decorated with flowers and opened to the public. One lucky household will be chosen for owning the ‘most beautiful courtyard’. It is in this area that you will find small bars, restaurants and cafés and innumerable shops. You will also find silver. For hundreds of years, La Juderia housed the silver merchants and craftsmen who produced the jewellery for which Córdoba is famous.
The Synagogue of Córdoba is in the Jewish quarter and is the only existing, original, synagogue in Andalucia. It is worth a visit for the beautiful stucco work in the main hall. After the Jews were expelled from Cordoba, the synagogue became a temple, then was converted into a hospital and school. It was recognised as a National Monument in the 19th century.
The Chapel of San Bartolomé is a great example of Mudejar architecture. It was built during the 14th century, soon after the reconquest.
Whilst you are in the Juderia take a look in the Galeria de la Tortura where you will find grim reminders of how Inquisitors extracted confessions from the hapless souls brought before them during the Spanish Inquisition.
For a more tranquil experience, there is the Casa Museo Arte Sobre Piel. Córdoba is famous for its leatherwork, in particular, the technique known as guadameci, intricate embossed designs with gold, silver and coloured paint. The leather, alumed hair sheepskin, was uniquely soft, and white. This was then dyed a beautiful red colour using madder, producing the unique red leather of Córdoba. The practice, introduced in the 10th century, died out after 1610 when the practitioners of the art, the Moriscos, were expelled from Spain. Modern craftsmen are re-introducing the craft, and their work is displayed in the museum.
Between the river and the Mezquita is a rather sombre looking ensemble of buildings. This is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos. The uninspired exterior hides a splendid interior. Built on the orders of Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328, the fortress contains magnificent gardens and courtyards, a mosaic salon, royal baths and a Moorish patio. The Alcázar of Córdoba is so beautiful that it became the favourite residence of Isabell I of Castile and Ferdinand II of Aragon after the reconquest in 1492. It was also the headquarter of the Holy Office during the Inquisition, during which time it was converted into a prison.
From the top of one of its four towers, connected by ramparts, you will have the finest view of the city.
Despite what you may have been told at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez de la Frontera, the famous species, the Andalusian horse, was created here. The stables were built in 1570 next to the Alcázar by Phillip II, a noted horse lover. He charged the royal horse master, Diego Lopez de Haro, to purchase 1,200 mares and stallions necessary to create a new breed of horse that would match the perfect vision. It is such a fascinating story that it forms a separate article here.
Only a short walk from Plaza de la Corredera, the Viana Palace contains the largest collection of patios in Cordoba and features high in the list of places to visit during the Patio Festival in May. The Palacio de Viana is not a typical museum, it is an authentic and lived-in house, in which the inherited objects including tapestries and paintings are exhibited in their surroundings and context, reflecting the personality and tastes of the families that inhabited it between 1425 and 1980. Relax in one of its 12 patios and gardens.
To round off your visit to Córdoba, you could partake of the Arab baths. There are a few such establishments in the old part the city, some retaining use of the original structure. You will be plied with mint tea while you languish in the warm bath. Fragrant candles illuminate the cold and hot bathrooms, and sumptuous oils will be massaged into your body by experienced masseurs. It is just a small taste of how a minority of the population lived in luxury in this noble city.
One of the reasons I love this city is because some of the best places to eat are in the two emblematic squares in the city where there is always something going on. There is the Plaza de las Tendillas with its water jets and fountains, illuminated at night. The huge square is surrounded by monumental buildings. Then there is Plaza de la Corredera, probably the more famous of the two squares because of its colonnaded arcades around all four sides, unique in Andalucia. This was and is the social hub of Córdoba where in days gone by you may have enjoyed a bullfight, a party or even, during the Inquisition, a public execution.
In 2006 the city had a population of almost 300,000. The city is noted for its textile manufacturers, leather crafts, traditional medieval handicrafts, and its manufacture of gold and silver ornaments and products in copper, bronze, and aluminum. Many of the small shops in the old part of the city sell locally made products. Córdoba’s other significant industries are brewing, distilling, and the processing of olives and again, small specialist shops are a treasure trove of Cordoban wines, spirits and oil.
Córdoba is one of the five hottest cities in Spain during July and August. The other four are Seville and Granada, both in Andalucia, Badajoz in Extremadura and Murcia. The best times to visit Córdoba are from October through until June. May, during the patio festival is particularly nice.