Carthaginian Kartuba, Roman Corduba, Islamic Qurṭubah
Time to return to Andalusia, and in this occasion just after a month that we went on visiting the cities of Tarifa, Cadiz and Jerez. As for this trip, it was well overdue to come and visit one of the most spectacular and historical cities in Spain, world renown for its architecture. But before continuing and in order to understand why such importance, let me tell you some of the facts that will clear your view in this subject.
It was the capital of Hispania Ulterior Baetica in Roman times, then the Capital of the Islamic Emirate and then Caliphate of Cordoba. By the 10th century it was the most populated city in the world, and currently holds the title as being the largest urban area in the world declared by the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site. As you can imagine with that large amount of monuments and sites you will need to calculate well your time to fully enjoy the city. A weekend is, in fact, quite short and rushy as I can tell you from experience, but as a first glimpse that’s totally worth it.
After larger Seville and Granada, expect to see in Cordoba a mix of both. Elegance and history where Roman remains blend with the former mosques and glorious palaces from the Islamic era; baroque, neo-classical and traditional regionalist Andalusian architecture with the typical white houses with iron balconies, patios fully covered with beautiful hand painted tiles in the walls, and orange trees and flowers in almost any street.
Even though the city is not that big, it has so much to see and do that is literally impossible to visit in a weekend alone. We, after all, had only little over 24 hours in the city as our point of arrival and departure was Malaga airport, some 2 hours drive away. Sadly this is the nearest convenient airport to the city. I cannot recall where and when was the last time I felt the rush of not being able to stop taking pictures on every turn, to the point of being overloaded and even stressed for wanting to go everywhere and not knowing what best way to follow next. I would say that’s probably Rome, no matter how many times I return to that city anyway. In Cordoba there are just too many sights; the entire old town has retained every building almost intact through the centuries, and even the 20th century city expansion is as beautiful and elegant that it’s much worth to walk up and down the streets and wide boulevards no doubt.
Why Cordoba has become world renown is mainly for one of the most iconic architectural masterpieces ever created in Spain: the former Great Mosque, now the Mosque-Cathedral. An impressive beautiful building created during the Islamic rule of this part of Spain over 1200 years ago, and how well the later conversion into a Catholic cathedral 800 years ago kept most of the original details and blended it in harmony with the new construction being literally inserted within the old. The most shocking feast to the eyes are the 856 columns that form the hypostyle hall. The mosque was modelled on that built only some years before in Damascus.
Yet nevertheless, wherever you are walking the streets there is something to look and admire. Like a vast open-air museum, a feast of architecture like no other place. A city where at the turn of a corner you will be back to the Roman period, the next corner dreaming awake over the feelings of a Thousand and One Nights where merely meters ahead you are reliving the Reconquest and Golden Age of Spain and so forth.
When thinking about food, the choice of restaurants in the city is vast, with quality really good and so the prices. Although I cannot remember or recall the name of the ones we went, that is an easy task anyway. Simply compare few on their menu prices which is always on display, and judge by the clientele too. Those places where there are only tourist might not be the best, like anywhere in the world, but not the norm. While if a good mix of locals and tourist, or just locals, then you cannot be wrong.
For more information about Cordoba check Wikipedia and Wikitravel sites. Spain’s currency is the Euro (EUR). Please note that any price reference is true as from when this guide was created, therefore check prices in advance as with the time they change.
What to see and do in Cordoba
- Roman remains Scattered around the city are a remnant of one of the largest and most important Roman cities back then in the Iberian peninsula.
-Roman Walls and later fortifications Some parts of it are still standing around the old town.
-Almodovar and Seville gates The most noticeable and most complete.
-Malmuerta Tower Built in 1408 in octagonal shape.
-Roman Bridge Built in the 1st century across the Guadalquivir River, it is one of the best known landmarks in the city. The current shape is an Islamic reconstruction atop the remains of the former Roman one.
–Gate of the Bridge Is the Renaissance gate at one of the sides.
-Calahorra Tower Is the Islamic gate at the other side of the bridge.
-Roman Temple Built in the 1st century upon order of Emperor Claudius. Today part of the foundations and come columns remain.
-Mausoleum Also from the 1st century is part of a group of funerary monuments.
- Historic Centre Is the largest urban area inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Site list, and second largest old town in Europe. Without doubt, one of the most impressive collection of architectural sights from all eras.
-Moorish architecture Clearly present at almost any turn in the streets, with some of the finest and most monumental constructions ever built during the Islamic occupation.
-Great Mosque-Cathedral Symbol number one in the city, one of the finest examples of Islamic architecture in Spain greatly preserved and converted into a Catholic church. Originally built between 784 and 987 was the Great Mosque until the Reconquest in 1236, time from where some Christian chapels were constructed and later the whole Renaissance cathedral body inserted in the middle of the former structure, resulting in a perfect blend that thankfully kept most of the original Islamic structural features.
-Arcaded Hypostyle Hall Compose of 856 columns is the most characteristic image and impressive work of art.
-Mihrab Consider another masterpiece work of art. Facing the direction of Mecca.
-Doors 20 in total, most of them in their original Islamic form.
-Court of the Oranges With a central fountain and orange trees planted in symmetrical rows.
-Alcazar of the Christian Monarchs Is the former Palace-Fortress from where the Caliphate of Cordoba was ruled. With origins in early Medieval times, it was then rebuilt and upgraded since 1236 when the Christians took back the city from the Moors in the Reconquest. From 1482 it become one of the first tribunals of the Spanish Inquisition.
-Royal Stables Built within a plot in the Alcazar in 1570 to breed and house the best stallions and mares of the royal stud breed Andalusian Horse, also known as the Pure Spanish Horse.
-Caliphate Baths Adjacent to the Alcazar, were built in the 10th century, are the best preserved example in Spain from this era.
-Mills of the Guadalquivir Of medieval Islamic origin, there are 11 in total, in different states of preservation along the river through the city center area.
-Calle de las Flores You cannot get more traditional in Andalusia than this. A narrow street with white painted traditional buildings at both sides and full with flower pots. The views of the Cathedral Bell tower is a popular picture from here.
-Jewish Quarter Known is Spanish as Juderia is a compound of narrow and bending streets near the Alcazar.
-Synagogue Built in 1315 in Moorish style is one of the best examples preserved in Spain from the 14th century. Located near Almodovar Gate and Victory Gardens.
-Casa de Sefarad Once connected via an underground tunnel to the synagogue, is now a small museum about the Sephardic-Judaic tradition in Spain.
-Plaza del Potro Small square with a fountain where Don Quixote de la Macha stayed in one of his adventures.
-Plaza de la Corredera Is the only enclosed main square in the whole of Andalusia.
-Squares and churches The city is filled with dozens of squares everywhere, having most of them a church which in almost all the cases, was constructed over a former mosque. To name a few: San Francisco, San Cayetano, San Pablo or San Agustin.
-Plaza del Cristo de los Faroles Cute Little square where the main attraction is an sculpture of a Christ in a cross adorned with beautiful old lamps.
-City Hall Located near the Roman Temple, is a nice building on a beautiful square.
-Marquises of Viana Palace Built in Renaissance style, once a private home is now a museum depicting furniture and day to day utensils, though its main highlight is the architecture itself and the succession of the many courtyards, 17 in total.
- Outside the City Center While there are plenty of sites, idyllic villages and towns, there is plenty to see and do to keep anyone busy for few days. However some you can easily combine with your visit to the city are these:
-Victory Gardens The Jardines de la Victoria are a nice stroll right outside the former city walls limiting with the old city center. It goes all the way north towards the elegant Avenida de America.
-Medina Azahara 13km west of Cordoba are the ruins of the vast Muslim medieval palace-city, built from 936. It was the de facto capital of al-Andalus or Muslim Spain; residence of the Caliphs. It was a grandeous city, built using luxurious materials and of extreme beauty. Today, just a small percentage has been excavated and refurbished.
If planning to arrive to Cordoba by plane, then you should know it is almost impossible. Although there is an airport just 6 km from the city center, the flights offered are very limited and are mostly seasonal and within Spain. Worth to check if by the time you plan to travel there are any scheduled flights. The nearest international airports are either Malaga or Seville, being Malaga the most convenient bet with the most international connections through most of Europe. From both Seville or Malaga airports you can get a bus direct to Cordoba, or go to the respective train/bus stations in the city centers from where you can connect with much more bus frequencies or fast trains.
From anywhere in Spain buses can be a lengthy journey depending from where you plan your departure, whilst train are much faster with great connections to Malaga, Seville and Madrid where further connections are possible, or all the way through Madrid to the north and east of Spain.
Within the city the best way to explore and go from one place to another is by all means walking. With so much to see and so many historical buildings, squares and beautiful streets on the way, it’s the most pleasurable way to visit the whole city. The chances you will need to take any public transportation might be none and will be probably limited to if the hotel or place where you will be staying is located on the outskirts. Saying this, do not underestimate the size of the city, it will involve long walks for sure.
There are plenty of hotels in Cordoba, from large to small, every hotel chain is represented in the city. It is after all one of the major tourist destinations in Spain, specially for weekend trips. For this reason hotels can get booked out soon, or the remaining rooms quoting higher prices. Check out for deals and would be wise to book in advance coming closer to high season months. A good and reasonable point to start your search is by checking some of our preferred affiliate hotel search engine such as Hotels.com, Booking.com, Expedia, Otel.com, Agoda, Opodo, LateRooms or Ebookers.
We stayed at the Cordoba Center Hotel, in Avenida de la Libertad 4, 14006. A 4* property located to the north of the city near the main train station and on the northern edge of the old town. Very convenient location to access all the sights within walking distance while enjoying a more quieter area of the city with all the transport links nearby. It was extremely nice in every sense. From comfort to decor, to people, care and food quality. The room was unusually large, with huge comfortable bed and huge bath tub. And even though we did not get to enjoy it because we went in winter time, there is a splendid swimming pool on the roof top!. I will definitely not hesitate in returning back next time.