Córdoba – Christian and Moorish History Intertwined
Once the most populous city in the world, Córdoba is today a moderately-sized city in Andalusia, Southern Spain. It size, however, shouldn’t mislead you with regard to its importance and its appeal to tourists. This is the capital city of the Spanish province of Córdoba, with a fascinating history and many remarkable sites. The typical Andalusian city life can be fully enjoyed here, on intriguing narrow streets, in interesting shops, in beautiful parks, and in the historic old town.
In order to really understand why the city’s main landmarks are so important, you need to take a peek into its past. Some monuments date back to the time when Romans populated the site. Take for instance the sturdy Roman Bridge, built across the Guadalquivir River sometime in the early 1st century. The original construction had 17 arches, of which only 16 still exist today. Two of them have not been subject to restorations, which means that they are the only ones who have remained exactly the same since their inception. Measuring about 19 feet in width and 810 feet in length, the bridge is flanked by a Renaissance gate (the Puerta del Puente) at one end, and a 12th century protection tower (Calahorra Tower) at the other.
There is also a significant number of buildings and sites that evoke the Islamic Middle Ages history of the city. This was actually a very important age in the city’s evolution, because under Caliph Al Hakam II, Córdoba became a European intellectual center and a hub of education. The caliph built many universities, schools of medicine and libraries, which led to significant discoveries and developments in fields such as astronomy and mathematics. This was an era of growth and harmony, when the predominantly Muslim society was quite naturally tolerant to Jewish and Christian minorities.
There are two major landmarks that speak of the city’s Christian-Islamic history, and they are both amazing. They are the Great Mosque of Córdoba, also known as Mezquita, and the Alcazar. The first is probably the city’s most important and iconic site, and one of the most eloquent examples of Moorish and Renaissance architecture. It is a mosque/cathedral whose origins go back to the year 600, when this site held a Christian Visigothic church. Later, the kingdom went under Islamic rule, and for a period of time the building was shared by Christians and Muslims.
The catholic conquerors of the 13th century didn’t destroy the mosque, but then in 1523 an order was given for the center of the construction to be torn down, because space was needed for a Christian church. History says that after its completion, the king regretted the decision and said “You have built what you or others might have built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the world”.
Today the Mezquita is an exclusively Catholic site, with a remarkable architecture that bares testimony to its tumultuous past. The Moorish forest of columns and honeycomb patterns on the ceiling go beautifully with the Christian stained glass panes, and the Arabic arches look strikingly elegant next to the gothic windows. The result is a majestic building with ample spaces and peaceful interiors.
Also amazing is the Alcazar of the Christian Kings, which was an originally Moorish fortress, built on the site of a former Visigoth site, and then turned Christian after the 13th century Reconquista. This is where Christopher Columbus met the monarchs before his journey to the Americas, and also where Napoleon Bonaparte established a garrison in 1810. Since the 1950s, the fortress has been an official national monument and important tourist attraction. It boasts superbly manicured gardens with fish ponds, orange trees, and fountains, which makes it an excellent place for some quiet time and relaxation. After a long day of sightseeing in Córdoba, this is an excellent place for you to come to and unwind.
- If you come here in May, you will have the special privilege of seeing the famous Patios of Córdoba in bloom. The courtyards that are otherwise closed by wrought iron or wooden gates open to visitors in spring with a spectacle of flowers. You should ask for a map of the Patios from at the tourist office, but if you don’t have time to see them all, make sure that you at least visit the ones near Calle de San Basilio, which are very close to the Mezquita.
- For a little shopping, you should head towards the modern part of downtown. If you want some good souvenirs, choose some silverware, handicrafts, and leather goods.
- Plush hotels: Hotel Hospes Palacio de Bailío and AC Hotel Córdoba Palacio by Marriott.