The city of Cordoba, located on the Guadalquivir river, has been a significant part of the history of Spain since Roman times, but reached its zenith during the Islamic era when the city was the capital of the Cordoba Emirate of Al-Andalus.
No single word or phrase is adequate to describe Cordoba, her comlexity is obvious even from a first glance, with numerous architectural periods, and the stark contrast between the Casco Historico and the modern city which live side by side and never seem to meet. In the old town, streets are narrow and windy with small houses tucked into every available space, whilst in the modern city wide avenues and large apartment buildings stand at attention.
Cordoba’s Mezquita cathedral is of course the primary reason many people visit the city, and it is worth seeing, even now it is still considered by many to have been the third largest Mosque in the world. The ground on which the cathedral is located has alternated from visigothic Christian church, to grand Mosque, and then in stages to Christian Cathedral.
In the year 785, construction started under the caliph Ab’d Al-Rahman I, on the site of the former Basilica de San Vicente, though what happened to the visigothic kings and nobels buried in the basilica is not known. The Ummayad’s had been expelled from Damascus and were keen to establish their authority over the Western Caliphate, so the Mezquita was always intended to be large.
Its eventual area of 24,000sqm containing hundreds of marble columns, horseshoe arches made with red and white bricks, and the spectacular ornate gold ceilings of the Mirhab with its Koranic inscriptions are awe-inspiring. Even more so when you consider that a full sized Catholic cathedral fits inside the Mezquita with plenty of room to spare.
Near to the Mezquita one finds the Puerta del Puente at the northern end of the most complete of Cordoba’s Roman buildings, the Puente Romano, a 330 metre long bridge made entirely of stone and sitting on 16 arches embedded into the river bed. The bridge is now pedestrianised, but until recently it had been one of the main traffic bridges in Cordoba for nearly 2,000 years. The southern end is where you’ll find the Calahorra Tower and museum.
Views of the Mezquita and Cordoba’s old town, as well as the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos are spectacular from the Puente Romano, and in the early morning as the sun rises you can expect to take some truly wonderful photos. The sun kisses the rough stone walls of the older buildings giving them a tone not seen up close.
The Alcazar is now a museum, but was built on the site of a Roman fortress that had been placed there to defend the city which was located 1km inland. The Moors also used the Alcazar, but it’s current design and gardens come directly from the Christian monarchs who made Cordoba their southern palace. In fact whilst Ferdinand was off fighting Granada, Isabella transferred her court to Cordoba to be close to him.
Interestingly, many of the Roman frescoes discovered in Cordoba have been relocated to the walls of the chapel in the Alcazar, as have several bust of Roman Gods and important Emperors, allowing visitors to see them without risk of damaging what little remains of Cordoba’s Roman past.
Within the Alcazar, and under the main palace with the chapel, you’ll find the Royal Baths that are open to the public, though sadly in need of renovations since they are really nothing more than a series of tiny domed rooms. The highlight of your visit to the Alcazar will be climbing to the top of the keep and getting a birds eye view of Cordoba, from where you can also see the magnificent gardens.
Strolling around Cordoba’s old town you will no doubt enter the Jewish Quarter, it is impossible to miss since it is so close to the Mezquita and quite central to the city. Many of Cordoba’s greatest scientests were Jewish people during the Islamic period, and this is hardly surprising since Cordoba did at one time have the largest Jewish population in the world.
Very little of the Jewish heritage of Cordoba exists, except for a very small temple rediscovered in the 20th century that had been built after the reconquest, and was finally closed when the Jews were expelled from Spain. Many of the Hebrew frescoes have been renovated, and the temple is now open to the public, and can be quite the emotional place for visiting Jews.
If impressive chapels, mosques and temples are your thing, then don’t forget to stop at the Capilla Mudejar, a very small chapel with gorgeous mudejar decorations on the walls and ceiling.
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