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Spain: Andalusia – Córdoba
The City of Córdoba is the capital of the province of Córdoba and has a colourful history. It also has the highest temperatures in Spain and Europe, with average high temperatures around 37 °C (99 °F) in July and August. When we were there it was indeed hot, not quite to those levels, but still toasty.
The first recorded settlement on the location of Córdoba was established by the Carthaginians, who were overrun by the Romans in 206 BC, who then controlled it for another 500 years, making it a regional capital. It quickly passed hands to the Byzantine Empire followed by the Visigoths, before being captured by the Moors in 711.
It stayed under the control of the Moors until 1236 when it was captured by the armies of King Ferdinand III of Castile. After that time the city went into a decline, its population falling to 20,000 and it was not until the 20th Century when it started to rebound. Today the city has a population of 320,000. In December 1984 it was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Córdoba has the second-largest old town in Europe, but it is very compact nonetheless. Although we were only there for a day and a half, everything was easily accessible by foot. We discovered the night before during our ramble through the old town that the Mezquita, or the Mosque-Cathedral was open to the public for free in the early morning before the daily service. Karen and I (Emily preferred to remain sleeping) set-out to explore. The Mezquita is unique, originally a small Christian temple stood on the grounds, but it was later consumed by an extensive mosque when Córdoba was under the rule of the Moors. When the city returned to Christian rule in 1236 the building was converted into a Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century. Today, the building retains many of the features of a mosque with classic Arab design, such as arched roof supports and doorways, interspersed with elements of Renaissance architecture. An interesting and somewhat conflicting duality! We need to be thankful that the original mosque was not ripped down and replaced. We much prefer the Arabic designs to the European style! Having completed the tour, it was time for a quick bit of breakfast.
Another distinctive landmark is the Roman bridge of Córdoba which crosses the Guadalquivir river. Originally built in the early 1st century BC it has been reconstructed at various times since. Most of the present structure dates from the Moorish reconstruction in the 8th century. Although its primary use is crossing the river it does provide a fantastic backdrop for photos.
This was a great way to end our tour of Spain.
1. THE MEZQUITA
Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spanish Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, also called Great Mosque of Córdoba, Islamic mosque in Córdoba, Spain, which was converted into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century.
The original structure was built by the Umayyad ruler ʿAbd ar-Raḥmān I in 784–786 with extensions in the 9th and 10th centuries that doubled its size, ultimately making it one of the largest sacred buildings in the Islamic world. The ground plan of the completed building forms a vast rectangle measuring 590 by 425 feet (180 by 130 metres), or little less than St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. About one-third of this area is occupied by the Patio de los Naranjos (“Court of the Oranges”) and the cloisters that surround it on the north, east, and west. Passing through the courtyard, one enters on the south a deep sanctuary whose roof is supported by a forest of pillars made of porphyry, jasper, and many-coloured marbles. Some 850 pillars divide this interior into 19 north-to-south and 29 east-to-west aisles, with each row of pillars supporting a tier of open horseshoe arches upon which a third and similar tier is superimposed. The most exquisite decoration in the whole complex is found in the third mihrab, or prayer niche, a small octagonal recess roofed with a single block of white marble that is carved in the form of a shell and has walls inlaid with Byzantine-style mosaics and gold.
2. THE ROMAN BRIDGE
This bridge is located in the historic centre and was built in the early 1st century BC across the Guadalquivir river by the Romans. It currently, after the Islamic reconstruction, has 16 arcades, one less than the original number, and a total length of 247 metres.
The Via Augusta, which connected Rome to Cádiz, most likely passed through it. During the early Islamic rule of Córdoba, the Muslim governor Al-Samh ibn Malik al-Khawlani ordered a bridge to be built on the ruins of what was left of the old Roman construction. In the Middle Ages, the Calahorra Tower and the Puerta del Puente were built at the bridge’s southern and northern ends, respectively (the latter is now a 16th-century reconstruction). The bridge was reconstructed and expanded to its current size. The arches depict the famous Moorish architecture that dominates the city’s scenery. In the 17th century, a sculpture depicting St. Raphael was put in the mid of the bridge, executed by Bernabé Gómez del Río.
During its history, the bridge has been restored and renovated several times (in particular in the 10th century), and now only the 14th and 15th arches (counting from the Puerta del Puente) are original. It was extensively restored in 2006.
3. GATE OF THE BRIDGE
At the end of the Roman Bridge closest to the old town is the ‘Gate of the Bridge’.This gate originally formed part of the city walls, but from the Christian conquest onwards it became a gateway, known then as the Algeciras Gate, where the road leading south out of Cordoba started from. In the 14th Century, Hernán Ruiz III redesigned the gate to mark the visit of Philip II to the city, and gave it the grand, monumental style which survives to this day. It is made up of three sections, with fluted columns at each end, and the centre opening topped with a lintel and a curved pediment. At the turn of the 20th century, the surrounding buildings were cleared away and the ground was lowered to restore it to its original height.
Nowadays, The Gate of the Bridge is open to the public. The visit includes admission to the permanent Exhibition Room, illustrating the history of the Gate in words and pictures, as well as access to the balcony on the top floor, which affords excellent views of all the other monuments around.
4. TOWER OF LA CALAHORRA
The Tower of La Calahorra rises up at the south of the Roman bridge, the far end from the city centre. It is a fortified gate originally built by the Moors (Almohads) and extensively restored by King Enrique II of Castile in 1369 to defend the city from attack by his brother Pedro I the Cruel from the South. It was originally an arched gate between two towers. Enrique II added a third cylindrical shaped tower connecting the outer two.
In the 18th century it was used as a prison and in the 19th century it was a girls school. The tower was declared a national monument in 1931. the restoration of the tower and the Romain bridge and the surrounding area in 2007 was awarded the EU prize for cultural heritage “Europa Nostra” in 2014.
It currently houses the Museo Vivo de Al-Andaluz . This fascinating museum is particularly educational with audiovisual presentations which vividly depict how life was in Cordoba around the 10th Century AD when three cultures lived side by side Christianity, Muslim and Judaism. There is a scale model of the Mosque as it was ini Mooris times before the cathedral was constructed.
Visitors are also able to go on the roof for a spectacular view of the mosque and the city.
5. TEMPLO ROMANA (ROMAN TEMPLE)
One of the sites we enjoyed most (after the Mezquita) was the Roman Temple, which is in pretty good condition, at least the columns of the temple are still standing tall. It is also an opportunity for some dramatic photos is the weather allows. At night time these columns are illuminated which gives them an eery feel.
This ruined temple is located next to the town hall.
The temple was dedicated to the cult of the Emperor, and along with the Circus Maximus, formed part of the Provincial Forum. It originally stood on a raised podium and had six free-standing Corinthian columns in the entrance.
6. EXPLORING THE STREETS OF CORDOBA
Strolling the streets of Córdoba is delightful. There are cobbled streets, secret alleys and interesting discoveries on every corner. The old town is quite touristy but you can always find quieter places to hide away by going slightly off the beaten track. There are plenty of little stores to explore, quaint street cafes and cosy restaurants to enjoy.
For something higher energy then head to the Plaza de las Tendillas which is the city’s main square which is popular with tourists (hence a bit pricey and noisy). As you might expect this plaza is lined with plenty of bars and restaurants to choose from.
Planning your visit to Córdoba
There are several ways to get here and to enjoy the city. Cordoba is part of Spain’s major highway and railroad network making the city easy and fast accessible from all directions. Also, Cordoba features an airport. However, this airport is not served by commercial airlines and is exclusively used by private air traffic, as well as charter planes at this time.
Travelling by Car
The automobile is still the most popular mode of transportation in Andalusia. Entering Cordoba by car is easy. The major Andalusia highway from Madrid to Seville is tangent to the city which is accessible through several exits. Other major highways allow easy travel to neighbouring major cities and to Portugal. As anywhere, parking may be a hassle. Find some information on what matters when it comes to parking in Cordoba.
Travelling by Air
Although Cordoba’s airport is not served by commercial airlines at present, tourists entering Spain by air are able to get to Cordoba rapidly. Major airports of Madrid (by high-speed train), Malaga, and Jerez are just two hours away. The Seville airport is accessible within one hour.
Travelling by Train
This is the most convenient and most rapid way of getting to Cordoba. The city is part of the national high-speed train network allowing travel times of less than two hours to Madrid and 45 minutes to Seville. There is an hourly AVE high speed train service; each train makes a stop in Cordoba. Another highspeed rail line connects Cordoba to the coastal city of Malaga. The national rail company provides several daily passenger services on this route. Also direct highspeed rail service is offered between Cordoba and Granada.
Travellers who are in need to store their luggage in a safe place may use Consignas Ferroviarias’ service. They have baggage boxes for rent at a reasonable daily rate.
Best time to visit Córdoba
Although Córdoba can be explored all year round, spring and autumn are some of the best times to visit the city with temperatures in the low 20’s ºC (low 70’s ºF):
- In spring, the temperatures are pleasant and the days are long. Flowers are starting to bloom and it is a special time in the city, as it prepares for several festivals. However, keep in mind that spring is is also the busiest time of the year.
- In summer, it isn’t uncommon to reach 40 ºC (104 ºF) during the day. Unless you really enjoy the heat or have no other options, we would recommend you avoid visiting in the summer, especially the months of July and August.
Where to stay?
1. HOSPES PALACIO DEL BAILLO
This 5-star hotel occupies a 16th-Century palace in the heart of the ancient city of Córdoba. It has an outdoor pool set in pretty gardens.
The elegant rooms of the Hospes Palacio del Bailio fuze past and present and offers plenty of space to relax.
The hotel’s restaurant, Arbequina, offers a mix of Spanish and Asian cuisine.
2. LA LLAVE DE LA JUDERIA
The La Llave de la Juderia is located in the heart of the Jewish Quarter, amongst the narrow, cobbled streets it is also so authentically and tastefully Spanish, or should we say Andalusian. Talking about “taste” the La Llave de la Juderia started off life as a restaurant specialising in the “churrasco” (grilled pork with pepper sauce) – hence the name. Its fame expanded beyond the confines of Andalusia to become such a popular place that Rafael Rodriguez, the wonderful owner, not only expanded the restaurant but added an inn for guests to stay.
3. HOSTAL ALMANZOR
Located in Córdoba’s Old City neighbourhood, Hostal Almanzor is in the historical district and on the riverwalk. Notable landmarks in the area include Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and Roman Bridge. Calleja de las Flores and Cordoba Botanical Garden are also worth visiting.
The rooms have balconies overlooking the ancient streets of the Jewish quarter.
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