Many visitors pass on visiting Cordoba, heading instead for more touristy Andalusian towns, like Granada and Seville. Steeped in history, Cordoba has some amazing things to see. The city is famous for its impressive Moorish architecture and white washed houses with beautiful courtyard patios. Also, the adorable historic old town and great food make Cordoba well worth a visit. Here is my mini guide to Cordoba.
The quickest way to reach Cordoba is by high-speed train from either Madrid (2 hours) or Seville (45 minutes). Driving will double that time from both cities. Seriously, train travel is the way to go and it’s super easy. Besides, passing through the picturesque countryside while sipping on red wine is the best way to travel in my book!
Just a brief history lesson for you. Similar to a backstabbing season of Game of Thrones, Spain has also had it’s fair share of conquerors. The Romans, Visigoths, Muslims and Catholics each had their reign. Cordoba was an important city during Roman times, after which the Visigoths came into power.
For 700 years, the Moors (North African Muslims) ruled Spain. Cordoba was the capital of the Moorish Kingdom of El-Andalus from the 8th to the 11th centuries. During this time, Cordoba also became known as the center for education and grew to be the largest city in Europe by the 10th century. Also, Cordoba became known as the city of three cultures because Muslims, Jews and Christians lived together in religious harmony under the Moors. Imagine if today’s cities adopted that model! Of course, the Spanish Inquisition swiftly took care of that peaceful coexistence, when King Ferdinand III conquered Cordoba in 1236 and the Catholics took over. History lesson over, no final exam required!
Like many people who have traveled throughout Europe, I’ve explored my fair share of cathedrals and churches and have become somewhat jaded. However, some of them stand out as favorites like Chartres in France, the Basilica in Florence and St . Peter’s in Rome. Believe me when I say the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral IMPRESSED me! UNESCO was equally impressed, since it was declared a World Heritage Site in 1984. Just imagine a Muslim Mosque, built on the site of an ancient Christian Visigoth Basilica, and then a Catholic Chapel and Gothic Nave set right inside among all of the Arabic architecture. Mind-boggling, right? Believe me, this is one place on my guide to Cordoba you can’t miss.
Visiting the Mosque is like taking a class in architectural history: Hellenic, Roman, Islamic, Byzantine, Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque are all represented in the domes, arches, columns and artwork. From the outside, it looks like a fortress and is so massive it takes up an entire city block. Tickets cost €10 and guided tours are available or you can visit on your own. Enter through the Door of Forgiveness by the bell tower (visible throughout the city) and pass through to the Orange Tree Courtyard to the entrance.
When you enter the Mosque, view the awe inspiring forest of 850 columns of jasper, granite and marble with graceful, tiered arches. Set amongst these columns are the Mihrab (prayer niche), the Royal Chapel, Choir Stalls, the Transept and fascinating artwork and scrollwork in both Latin and Arabic. Today, the Mosque-Cathedral is a functioning Catholic Cathedral, just imagine going to Mass there!
Historic Old Town
I adore the narrow, winding streets of historic Old Town in Cordoba. Here, you’ll find the famous white washed houses with courtyard patios. In May, the city hosts a festival of the patios, where homeowners open their doors to let visitors admire the beautifully decorated patios and floral displays. Take a stroll down the narrow Callejo de las Flores (Flower Street). To avoid the crowds, go early in the morning or later in the afternoon. View the Mosque-Cathedral bell tower at the end of the street. You’ll find many cafes and restaurants in Old Town, perfect for enjoying some typical Spanish Tapas for lunch or dinner. Oh, and of course shopping. There are so many cute boutiques and art galleries all throughout Old Town, and I would never leave out shopping on a guide to Cordoba!
Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos
The “Castle of the Christian Kings”, was built in 1328 by Catholic King Alfonso XI. It was constructed amongst the ruins of a huge Moorish fort in the Mudejar style, with much of the Moorish elements preserved. During the Islamic Kingdom, the rich and powerful Caliphate of Cordoba governed here and it also held the largest library in the West. Walk along the Moorish styled gardens, check out the Mosaic Hall inside, and the Moorish bathhouse. Any guide to Cordoba should include this magnificent castle. FYI: it’s closed on Mondays.
The Roman Bridge in Cordoba was built in the 1st century A.D. by, you guessed it, the Romans. Later, the Moors rebuilt and reinforced the bridge. It offered a direct route to the Mosque-Cathedral. Amazingly, it was the only bridge available in Cordoba to cross the Guadalquivir River until the 20th century! Now, it is a pedestrian bridge and a very romantic place to walk at sunset for an amazing view of the city. Fun fact: the bridge was used in a Game of Thrones episode!
The Juderia, or Jewish Quarter, is one of the largest Jewish quarters in Europe and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It houses one of Andalusia’s synagogues that survived the expulsion of Spain’s Jews during the Spanish Inquisition in the 15th century. Stroll along the narrow alleyways and check out the gorgeous patios.
Even if it is just for the day, make a stop in Cordoba if you find yourself in the southern part of Spain, you won’t regret it. Read 5 Things to See in Seville for another fabulous city to visit in Spain.
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