The city of Córdoba, capital of the province of the same name, dates back to Roman times, although there are traces of even older settlements in the area.
Moors, Christians and Jews fought over the site but also lived in harmony, each civilisation helping to shape this ancient city, where history still lives in its buildings, churches, mosques and bridges.
The name Cordoba has been said to derive from the Hebrew kortz or the Phoenician kord meaning ‘the place of gold’. Others say the name comes from car or cor meaning height or a river. The name then means ‘the high place by the river’, a fitting name for this city on the banks of the Guadalquivir.
When you arrive you will find yourself faced with a number of bridges, which you may find yourself crossing several times in an attempt to find a parking space near the centrepiece of the city - its mosque or mezquita.
This famous mosque-cathedral is unique in the world, and if you are interested in history and want to take more away with you than mental snapshots then a guided tour is a must. Building was begun in 756 AD, but continued through the centuries and covers four separate architectural periods. Approach the mosque down any of the spotlessly clean, gently sloping side streets from the centre of the city. After passing though an enormous courtyard, full of decorative trees and fountains you will find yourself in a twilight world that many a tourist has remarked resembles a forest of stone trees. In the warm half light you will start to make out the juxtaposition of Christian and Arab symbolism, the never ending corridors of arches, carved and painted with Arab script and designs, face to face with the tortured faces of Christian saints and virgins in the naves around the building.
After the city was captured from the Moors by Fernando II in 1236 the mosque was converted into a cathedral and dedicated to the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The conversion was carried out with great care and sensitivity, resulting in the seemingly impossible architectural transition from Arab mosque to Christian cathedral. The sumptuous carved choir and transept of the Cathedral could not be more disparate in style from the surrounding mosque. There is even a Jewish synagogue inside the building and much treasure to be admired.
Beyond the mosque
Outside the mosque, life goes on in the busy streets of Córdoba. The city was already surrounded by ramparts at the time of the Romans, but later the Arabs built new walls and incorporated many palaces. Still standing is the Alcazar – the palace fortess of the Catholic monarchs. Standing in a beautiful garden that stretches in a green sweep right down to the banks of the Guadalquivir, the palace has watch-towers at each corner. Guided visits are available.
Although there are many other historical buildings and museums open to the public such as a synagogue dating back to 1314, the Julio Romero de Torres museum and many beautiful churches, the main attraction for many is the Jewish quarter.
If you enter through the Puerta de Almodóvar, the ancient gate of the Jews, you will find yourself in the Street of the Jews, a main artery that zig-zags its way through tiny secret courtyards with tinkling fountains, a labyrinth of lanes and passageways which form a long narrow rectangular area, most of them leading into an unusual little square. Making your way through this exciting maze, it is dificult to resist peering through the doorways to enjoy the beautiful patios characteristic of the city and the whole of Andalucía.
One street you must not miss is the Callejón de las Flores, also known as ‘the handkerchief street’, as it is so narrow you can touch both sides if you stretch a handkerchief out in front of you. The whitewashed walls are covered with pots of geraniums, daisies and climbing plants. The scent of flowers fills the air and the famous view of the cathedral tower with its great bells begs to be photographed. Everything is immaculately clean.
If you want a souvenir you won’t have to go too far. Córdoba’s craftsmen are famous for leather and silverwork as well as ceramics. Don’t miss the silver jewellery in the Jewish quarter.
Of the many traditional events taking place in Córdoba during the year, among the most spectacular and colourful are the Festival of the Patios of Córdoba during the first fortnight in May, and the May fair which starts on the 25th and carries on until June.
The autumn fairs are equally popular.
The spring festivals are very important to the city. Parties in the patios flow out into the streets and all the squares are decorated with beautiful crosses of flowers. The wine flows and feet start tapping to the rhythm of flamenco and the soulful sound of soleá.
Food and drink
The cuisine of Andalucía is based on the local ingredients – fresh vegetables, tender succulent pork, olive oil and of course, wine.
Try the local carrasco, a fillet of pork cooked over charcoal, salmorejo, a thick gazpacho-like sauce. Marinated meat and fish, tender flavoursome mountain hams and strong cheese are essential.
By night the streets are full of locals, tourists and university students who fill the bars and restaurants with music and fun. Spend an evening in this city and join in for a night to remember.