Cordoba is a city in Andalusia, Spain. Formerly one of the world’s most populated countries, after a sharp decrease in population during the Renaissance, it is now a moderately sized city and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Human inhabitation of Córdoba can be traced back to 42 000 BCE. It was taken over by the Roman Empire and then became the capital of an Islamic Kingdom during the Middle Ages. Due to this, strong Muslim influence is clearly seen throughout the city. Córdoba became a centre of education under the Muslim rulers, who built countless libraries, schools and universities. Today, Córdoba is considered one of Europe’s Intellectual Centres.
Córdoba offers a number of attractions to fascinate first-time visitors. Popular places-of-interest include the Great Cordoba Mosque, Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, Roman Bridge, Medina Azahara, Jewish Quarter, Palacio de Viana, Museo de Bellas Artes, Julio Romero de Torres Museum, Palacio de la Merced and the Archaeological Museum.
In the middle of the 10th century, Medina Azahara – ‘The Shining City’ – was the administrative capital of Al-Andalus, as Moorish-ruled Spain was then known. Construction started in 936 on the order of the Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba, Abd-ar-Rahman III al-Nasir. Additions and alterations continued for decades, but in 1010 Azahara was looted and thereafter stood deserted for centuries. Its remains were not discovered until the beginning of the 20th century and, although they only account for about 10% of the original city, they nevertheless give you a good idea of just how magnificent Medina Azahara must have been.
Carretera Palma del Río, km 5.5, Córdoba, Spain, +34 957 10 36 37
It was not until the 1950s, when Cordoba’s town hall was being expanded, that the remains of what was probably the city’s most important Roman temple were discovered. It was built during the reign of Emperor Claudius, in the middle of the 1st century AD and was renovated in the 2nd century AD. Archaeologists have theorised from the quality of marble and workmanship used in the construction of the temple that it must have been a particularly impressive structure, perhaps even one of the most beautiful in the Roman Empire.
Calle Capitulares, s/n, Córdoba, Spain, +34 957 20 17 74
San Andres-San Pablo Neighbourhood
San Andres-San Pablo is in the centre of Cordoba’s old town and is one of the best neighbourhoods in which to take the pulse of the city’s daily life. Despite its popularity with tourists, this is also a working barrio where Córdobeses pile into the many tapas bars at lunchtime for a beer and a quick bite. Blend in amongst them, order a chilled sherry and some prawns – a great light summer snack in the searing heat of Córdoba – and try to understand the machine-gun-like conversations unfolding at deafening volume around you.
Torre de Calahorra
Dating from the late 1100s, the Cahalorra tower was constructed by the rulers of Moorish Córdoba to protect the Puente Romano – one of the city’s principal entrances – from invaders. It originally consisted of two towers separated by an iron gate but in the late 1300s a third, cylindrical tower was added by Henry II of Castile to better guard the bridge from an attack by his own brother. Nowadays it houses a small but interesting museum on the history of Al-Andalus, as Moorish-ruled Spain used to be called.
Museo Vivo de Al-Andlaus, Puente Romano, Córdoba, Spain, +34 957 29 39 29
Puerta del Puente
On the other side of the Roman bridge from the Torre de la Calahorra is the Puerta del Puente, construction of which began in 1572 in order that Córdoba might have one of the grandest entrances in southern Spain. It was rebuilt and added to several times over the centuries – most notably in 1912 on the orders of King Alfonso XIII of Spain – and today provides a suitably dramatic welcome to Córdoba for visitors approaching from the Roman bridge.
512 Avenida del Alcázar, Córdoba, Spain
Patios and Courtyards
Córdoba’s prettiest and most unique attractions arose from architectural necessity. In summer months temperatures here frequently exceed an insufferable 40°C (104°F), so it has always been essential for its inhabitants to have a cool retreat for the middle of the day. As far back as the Roman occupation of Córdoba, houses were built with an internal, open-aired atrium, which was protected from the sun on all sides by thick stone walls. Over the centuries, these havens of cool and shade were decorated with flowers, plants and fountains – a practice that was refined during the Moorish occupation of Córdoba. Since 1918 the Feria de los Patios, as it’s called, has been sponsored by Córdoba’s town hall, which offers a prize for the prettiest patio.
Palacio de Viana
Calleja de las Flores
The annual patios feria and the Palacio de Viana aren’t the only opportunities for seeing the famous flowers of Córdoba. A stroll down most streets in the old quarter will take you past several gorgeously decorated building facades, but on the Calleja de las Flores every single house looks like something out of a fairytale. Situated just north of the Mosque-Cathedral in the heart of the old town, this sweet-scented, colourful little street is the prettiest in Córdoba – and in a city where every other house is worthy of being on a postcard, that is quite a compliment.
Calleja de las Flores, Córdoba, Spain
Alcazar of the Christian Kings
As its name suggests, the construction of this royal palace was ordered by the Catholic King Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328 but – as is so often the case in Andalusia – it was built among the ruins of a vast Moorish fort. In the late 10th century, when the Islamic Kingdom was at the height of its powers, Córdoba was the kingdom’s – and indeed one of the world’s – great intellectual cities, and the Alcazar housed the largest library in the west. Alfonso used only a fraction of the remains of the original Moorish structure in building the Alcazar, but he chose a Mudejar style, so the Moorish feel of the site has been preserved.
Plaza Campo Santo de los Mártires, s/n, Córdoba, Spain, +34 957 42 01 51
San Basilio Neighbourhood
The beautiful old neighbourhood of San Basilio – also called Alcazar Viejo – is one of the most charming quarters in all of Andalusia. This area of scrunched together, whitewashed houses is home to many of the beautiful patios that open every May for the Feria de los Patios as well as the Alcazar – but it is well worth wandering around in its own right. Along with Granada’s Albaicin and Seville’s Santa Cruz, this is one of the most romantic and intriguing neighbourhoods in southern Spain.
The neighbourhood of Santa Marina is well worth setting aside a morning for, as its home to some of the most beautiful old houses in the city. It is also known as Córdoba’s bullfighting barrio and one of its key monuments, in Plaza del Conde de Priego, is a bronze statue of the city’s most famous bullfighter, Manolete (1917–1947). Manolete, said to be one of the finest matadors of all time, was fatally gored during a bullfight when he was only 30; the grandeur of his statue reminds you that, controversial as bullfighting may be, great bullfighters, are still an important part of the history and culture of many southern Spanish towns.
Plaza del Conde de Priego, Córdoba, Spain
Santa Marina Church
Occupying a 10-hectare site that stretches along the lush northern banks of the Guadalquivir are Córdoba’s botanical gardens. Opened in 1987, they showcase thousands of species of plants, flowers and trees over several separate areas: these include a hothouse with 130 species of plants from the Canary Islands, an arboretum and two fascinating museums. The Museum of Paleobotany explores the development of plants over the millennia, whilst the Museum of Ethnobotany focuses on how humans have used plants throughout the ages. The gardens are also full of shade and make a perfect escape from the ferocious heat of a Córdoba summer.
Avenida Linneo, s/n, Córdoba, Spain, +34 957 20 03 55
Museum of Fine Arts
Art lovers who visit Córdoba will want to visit the city’s Museum of Fine Arts, located in a beautiful former hospital on one of Córdoba’s most attractive squares. Opened in 1862 but extensively rebuilt in the 1930s, it showcases works by Spanish and international artists from the middle ages to the present day, specialising in the Baroque period and the 19th century.
Tips for Muslim Travelers
Córdoba is home to a fair share of Halal restaurants. Popular spots include Hammam Restaurante Teteria, El Patio Andaluz, El Sultán, Laorkebab and KebabHut. However, it is recommended that you inquire with the restaurant owners about the preparation of food and the availability of Halal menus prior to dining.
In addition to the Great Mosque of Cordoba (which has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site), Córdoba is home to a few mosques. Visitors may also go to a few of the more prominent mosques in the country that are located at the nearby towns of Seville, Granada or Malaga.