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.
Cordoba a World Heritage Site in Southern Spain
Cordoba is a city with an impressive cultural and monumental patrimony. Its strategic position, near the River Guadalquivir, which was formerly navigable, and the legacy of the different peoples who settled on its rich farming lands meant that Cordoba was always considered a privileged place.
The UNESCO (The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation) recognized in 1994 the universal importance of Cordoba’s historic legacy and extended the title of World Heritage Site not only to the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba but also to all the streets and buildings around it.
In addition, in 2012, Cordoba was awarded a further accolade: The Festival of the Patios (Flower Courtyards)was added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity sites. Finally, in May 2018, Medina Azahara was also recognized with the title of World Heritage Site.
Therefore, Cordoba now holds several inscriptions in the World Heritage List granted by UNESCO:
- the Mosque-Cathedral (1984),
- the historical quarter surrounding it (1994)
- The Festival of the Patios (Courtyards) (2012)
- Medina Azahara (2018)
And in addition, with the rest of Spain, it shares the titles of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity awarded to Flamenco (2010) and the Mediterranean Diet (2013).
The World Heritage Site award aims to help protect, identify and conserve elements of our cultural or natural inheritance which are considered particularly valuable. Holding the title involves a set of rights and obligations, which this city has justly deserved.
The UNESCO defines the word Heritage as “the legacy we receive from the past, in which we live in the present and which we hand on to the future”. The political and cultural leaders in Cordoba, as well as each and every citizen, have been entrusted with the task of keeping watch over, conserving, protecting and encouraging interest in our History, so that we ourselves, as well as other peoples and cultures, can learn more about it and feel enriched by it.
Cordoba’s most famous monument is its great Mezquita-Catedral – Mosque-Cathedral – which, along with Granada’s Alhambra, is Andalusia’s most important Moorish monument. Between 987 and 1236, Cordoba’s Mezquita was one of the grandest and most important mosques in the Islamic kingdom; but when the city was reclaimed by Christians, the building was converted into a church. In the 16th century Charles V added a renaissance nave on top of the Moorish structure, creating the hybrid structure we see today.
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.
Córdoba’s Medina Azahara; -JvL-, flickr
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
The Roman City
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.
LEGACY OF FOUR CULTURES
The Great Mosque, the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, the Synagogue and the Roman bridge are the prime examples of Córdoba’s old quarter. The city reflects its Roman past and the coexistence of Christian, Islamic and Jewish cultures throughout its history. Recommended sights include the Jewish quarter, the Calahorra tower, the Roman theatre, Caballerizas Reales, Plaza de la Corredera… A good way to explore the city is to take a guided tour of the sights, or follow one of the themed routes suggested in the Tourist Offices, including Roman Cordoba, the Caliphate route, or the Fernandine route of medieval churches. Just 10 kilometres from the city, with direct bus routes to it, is Spain’s largest archaeological site, Medina Azahara, the ruins of the former capital of the Caliphate, a World Heritage site since 2018.
The charms of the city are not limited to its major monuments. Take a stroll to discover a tangle of narrow streets (be sure to see Callejón de la Luna and Calleja de las Flores), squares, fountains and courtyards decorated with flowers. Indeed, Córdoba’s main fiestas centre on these spaces.
The Courtyards Festival, a World Heritage event, is famous, but in May the town also celebrates the May Crosses, the Battle of Flowers, and the Railings and Balconies competition. This is when the city is full of flowers, there are outdoor flamenco shows, and a festive atmosphere in the street. The month ends with the Feria de Córdoba.
CORDOBA & THE FLOWER PATIOS
Córdoba is famous around the world for its Great Mosque. Its historic old town is a World Heritage site, full of little streets to be explored, courtyards full of flowers, inviting squares and lively taverns where you can enjoy a good flamenco performance or try the local cuisine.
It is at its best in spring, when the fragrance of jasmine and orange blossom is ever-present, especially in May, the month of many of Córdoba’s traditional fiestas.
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.
The star of Cordoba’s patios feria is the elegant 15th-century Palacio de Viana, a vast building that has been used over the centuries as a residence for Spanish royalty. For an admission price of €5, you can visit Viana’s 13 patios and gardens. Intricately designed and aromatically populated with colourful plants, flowers and trees, these are some of Córdoba’s most enjoyable and pretty public spaces. Allow a good hour to slowly wander around these scented, romantic spaces, peering in through the palace’s old windows as you go.
One of Córdoba’s beautiful courtyards; poperopop, pixabay
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, colorful 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.
One of the key attractions in the charming neighborhood of Juderia – which was the city’s Jewish quarter between the 10th and 15th centuries – is the synagogue. Dating from 1315, it is one of the finest examples of Mudejar architecture in Cordoba and, like many of the city’s key historical monuments, it has a colorful past. After the Jews were expelled from Andalusia in 1492, the synagogue was used as a hospital to treat victims of rabies, before being acquired by a shoemaker’s guild in the late 16th century.
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
The beautiful old neighborhood 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 neighborhoods in southern Spain.
The neighborhood of Santa Marina is well worth setting aside a morning for, as it’s 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
Right opposite the square is the Iglesia Santa Marina, a church dating from the second half of the 13th century. Its construction was ordered by King Ferdinand III when he captured Córdoba from its Moorish occupants in 1236, at which point the city was one of the most sophisticated and cosmopolitan in the western world. Throughout the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries this gracefully ageing church survived two earthquakes and fire, requiring extensive renovation works as a result. It is one of the most beautiful of the so-called “Ferdinand Churches” – those built by Ferdinand II to celebrate his victory over the Moors.
Córdoba’s 1960s bullring might lack the history and beauty of those in Andalusia’s other major cities, but its superb Museo Taurino, or bullfighting museum, is one of the best you’ll come across. Over several light-filled, spacious rooms it offers a fascinating insight into this controversial spectacle and some of its greatest practitioners, including the Córdoba-born phenomenon Manolete. A great starting point for anyone curious about this mysterious, little-understood tradition.
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, specializing in the Baroque period and the 19th century.
Going out for tapas, trying the traditional dishes of the local cuisine, discovering the equestrian arts, enjoying a flamenco show in a tablao or relaxing in an Arab bath are all special experiences in Córdoba.
The best-known areas for tapas are the historic quarter and the neighborhoods of San Lorenzo, San Andrés and Santa Marina. Be sure to try local specialties like salmorejo (cold tomato soup), aubergines with honey, mazamorra (cold almond soup), Iberian ham from Los Pedroches, cheese from Zuheros and wine from Montilla-Moriles.
You can enjoy the equestrian arts and the culture of the Andalusian horse all year round with shows in the Caballerizas Reales. Meanwhile, in the old town center, there are many tablaos with regular performances of flamenco music and dance.
Finally, you can relax in a modern hammam in the Arab baths in the Jewish quarter or when you book the “Andalusí Experience” in the Cordoba Tourist Office.
San Andres-San Pablo is in the center of Cordoba’s old town and is one of the best neighborhoods 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.