Cordoba, Spain. Its fascinating past has left an indelible mark on its superbly preserved old quarter, which displays Muslim, Jewish and Christian remains.
The Andalusian city of Cordoba stands on the banks of a river with a name that has been maintained since Spain’s Moorish period: Guadalquivir.
Vibrant cultures have risen and fallen here, leaving this multicultural city with a rich diversity of historical influences. In the 2nd century BCE, the Roman official Claudio Marcelo founded a city that would go on to become the capital of the ancient Roman province of Hispania Baetica. After the fall of the Western Roman Empire the city came under the control of the Byzantine Empire until Visigoth king Liuvigild conquered it in 572. The Muslims arrived on the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and by 717 Cordoba had already become the capital of Al-Andalus. In 756, Abd al-Rahman I, of the Umayyad dynasty, founded the independent Emirate of Cordoba. Nearly 200 years later, his successor Abd-ar-Rhaman III proclaimed the Caliphate of Cordoba, bringing the city a period of great splendor. Cordoba was now the center of the western world, with renowned universities, medical advances, and philosophical forums. Later, in 1236, Cordoba fell to the control of the kingdom of Castile.
The city’s fascinating past has left an indelible mark on its wonderfully preserved old quarter, which displays Muslim, Jewish, and Christian remains. The Romans erected the city walls, the Muslims reinforced them, and the Christians rebuilt them; today these walls still stand around a large part of Cordoba’s old quarter, one of the biggest in Europe’s. UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1994.
You can enter the old quarter through the Calahorra Tower on the left bank of the Guadalquivir River. Although this was originally a defense tower, it now houses an informative museum that offers visitors special insight into the city’s intriguing history.
Beside this fortified tower sits the spectacular Roman Bridge, which extends over 300 meters in length. Crossing this enormous construction leaves us directly opposite the Gate of Trajan (Puerta de Trajano), a monument left over from the time of the Roman emperor Trajan.
Just beyond this gate we encounter Cordoba’s impressive cathedral-mosque, which earned World Heritage accreditation in 1984. This temple, which the Muslims originally constructed over a Visigoth basilica, would remain for an extensive period as the world’s second largest mosque after Mecca. Today, a renaissance-age cathedral occupies a central area within the mosque’s forest of arches.
Just across from the mosque sits the Palacio Episcopal. Originally a caliphal fortress-palace, later the building hosted the Spanish inquisition.
Heading west from here along the river, we encounter the Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs. This mudéjar structure served as one of the first meeting points for Christopher Columbus and the Christian monarchs when the navigator was looking for investors to fund his Atlantic adventure. The building itself is beautiful, and in its interior we may observe a collection of Roman mosaics discovered in the 1950’s near the city’s Plaza de la Corredera.
This plaza has the distinction of being Andalusia’s only rectangular plaza mayor (although this shape is common in the northern-central region of the peninsula). Spending enjoyable afternoons hanging out in the Plaza de la Corredera’s terrazas (bars and restaurants with outdoor seating) is a ritual for Cordoba’s residents and visitors.
Nearby is the Plaza del Potro and the Museum of Julio Romero Torres, one of Spanish art’s greatest portrait painters.
There are surprises waiting around every corner in this old town’s network of old cobbled lanes and narrow alleys. Venture into the Jewish quarter and the old Arab quarter and try to find the statues of historical figures: Maimónides, rabbi, doctor, and theologian who sits in front of the synagogue, Averroes, a Muslim doctor and philosopher, and Seneca, a philosopher and teacher of Caligula.
Exploring Cordoba’s historic center is a unique experience. Keep in mind that after a busy day of taking in the city’s stunning attractions, now it’s time to head to a traditional tavern to try a cold glass of Montilla wine and rabo de toro, or a flamenquín, or a cool bowl of salmorejo.