To answer the question we need to go back in time, to the ancient civilizations that settled in the past, such as the Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks or Romans. Back then, houses were already arranged, as in this case, around a central courtyard, where the family carried out their activities. Some of these civilizations brought their culture, their language… and, obviously, their architecture to the West. This is how this kind of building arrived in Córdoba, as well as in other corners of the Iberian Peninsula.
The courtyard in Córdoba comes from the courtyards of the Roman houses, that is, the typical Mediterranean house, with a simple outside, without steps (or at least, not many), which could be accessed through a courtyard, with marble flooring and central fountain. The Arabs kept this type of building, although they added the “riat” (flower beds) with flowers and water, coming from the well or fountain. In the Middle Ages, the courtyard is still one of the most important elements in all the buildings, even in religious ones.
However, what we know today as “Neighbours’ house” has its origin, already in modern times, in the need to increase the number of houses due to the demand after the migration from the countryside to the city. These houses had to be, first of all, affordable; therefore a kind of building similar to the old inns was created. Many of these houses were old houses that belonged to the aristocracy, which were modified by erecting stairways to get to the higher floor and building rooms for all the neighbours.
The popular courtyard in Córdoba, as we know it today, consists of a modest entrance in a hallway that leads to the courtyard, where the communal places of the house are: washing room, kitchens, and toilets, which also lead to the neighbours’ houses. The walls of the courtyard are usually whitewashed and full of flower pots with geraniums, jasmines, tuberose, roses and carnations, which give it a unique colour and scent. Besides, the typical well usually stands out, in the centre or on one side of the courtyard, and the stairway leading to the higher rooms. In some cases, we can even see orange and lemon trees.
In 1918, the City Council of Córdoba started the Festival of the Courtyards in Córdoba we are talking about, although there has always been speculation with the fact that it was created around 1933, since it was at this time when they started to become popular. The contests stopped during the Spanish Civil War, but they were resumed in the 1950s, especially thanks to the promotion by Mayor Antonio Cruz Conde, and some of the houses damaged during the conflict were even restored. Besides, in the last third of the 20th century, there has been a new boost to the festival with the creation of the Association of Friends of the Courtyards in Córdoba, whose aim is to prevent the loss of this tradition, as the population of the old centre of the city is gradually decreasing and becoming old. It is true that most courtyards are located in the oldest neighbourhoods in the city: San Agustín, Santa Marina, San Lorenzo, the Jewish Quarter and San Basilio.
Finally, we would like to mention the great effort and considerable investment it means for the residents in these neighbourhoods, who spend a long time caring for their courtyards in order for visitors and tourists to fully enjoy them in May.