During the 10th century Cordoba was the cultural center of Spain. Several cities in this ancient country might now claim that title. But, many sights in this Andalucian town show why Cordoba was – and still is – one of the leaders.
The Mezquita of Cordoba is one that would easily make the list. Built in 785 AD by the local ruler of the time, it remains one of the city’s most outstanding tourist attractions. Original mosaics still cover the walls and floors. Its red and white arches beckon visitors to enter and see them. The large horseshoe shapes were constructed from onyx, marble and granite and would be considered works of art anywhere.
Once inside, even older parts are visible, including the remains of the Visigothic church on which Moors built the mosque. ‘New’ features are just as prominent, including the 13th century nave built after the Moorish rulers were driven out during the long Reconquest period. Walking among the dozens of columns it’s easy to imagine living in those days.
Next door is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, a fortress built by and for the conquerers. Today, that war is an item in history books that won’t intrude on the peaceful atmosphere created by the numerous gardens and fountains in the interior. Watermills on the nearby Guadalquivir River supply the water that irrigates the plants.
Begun in 1328 AD, it was the site at which Queen Isabella received Christopher Columbus before he set sail. It also served as one seat of the Holy Inquisition, begun by her in 1492. Walking past the gardens one finds many ancient Arab-style baths covered with Roman mosaics. This is typical of the cosmopolitan city that is Cordoba.
Behind the mosque is La Juderia, the ancient Jewish quarter. This warren of narrow passageways holds many of Cordoba’s finest restaurants, some of which date back to the Middle Ages. There are also souvenir shops, bars and sidewalk cafes.
Along one of the streets is a synagogue built in the 14th century. Among other delightful sights, it holds a monument to the famed philosopher Maimonides, who lived in the city during the 12th century.
An excellent view of these sights, and many others, can be gained from atop the Torre de la Calahorra. Built in 1369 to serve as a defensive tower, it now supplies one of Cordoba’s most spectacular tourist thrills.
Located next to the ancient Roman Bridge, the tower was used as a prison in the 18th century and later, in the 19th, as a school for women. Today it houses the Living Museum of Al-Andalus, which contains many interesting bits of information about this Andalucian city.
One of the sights visible from the tower is the Palacio Museo de Viana, one of the few royal palaces accessible to visitors here. Just past the entrance is the carriage house where one can see many examples of this fine mode of transport used by its former residents.
Visitors can enjoy any of twelve different courtyards, each with a distinctive air. Some of that air is scented with jasmine, bougainvillea and wisteria. The sights are equally lovely, thanks to the orange and lemon trees, along with an ancient Holm oak.
Be sure to leave time to visit the Museo de Bellas Artes in Plaza del Potro. It offers many works by Spanish masters, including Goya, Murillo and Zurbaran. The museum houses paintings and sculpture from the 14th through the 20th centuries. Outside is an outstanding sculpture of a stallion in a fountain created in 1557.