CORDOBA - MUST SEES
Cordoba is a city with an impressive cultural and monumental patrimony. UNESCO recognized in 1994 the universal importance of Cordoba`s historic legacy, and extended the title of World Heritage Site not only to the Mosque-Cathedral, but also to all the streets and buildings around it. In addition, in December 2012, Cordoba was awarded a further accolade: The Festival of the Patios (Courtyards) was added to the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity sites.
La Mezquita (The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba)
The Mezquita (World Heritage Site since 1984) is arguably the most significant monument in the whole of the western Moslem World and one of the most amazing buildings in the world in its own right. The complete evolution of the Omeyan style in Spain can be seen in its different sections, as well as the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of the Christian part. The site which the Mosque-Cathedral occupies has been used for the worship of different divinities since ancient times. Under the rule of the Visigoths, the Basilica of San Vicente occupied this very site, and later, after the Moslems bought part of the plot of land, a primitive Mosque was built. The basilica was rectangular in shape, and for a while was shared by Christians and Moslems. As the Moslem population increased, the ruler Abderraman I acquired the whole site and demolished the basilica to make way for the first Alhama (main) Mosque in the city. Some of the original building materials from the Visigothic basilica can still be seen in the first section of the Mosque built by Abderraman I.
The great Mosque is made up of two distinct areas, the courtyard or sahn, with its porticos (the only part built by Abd al- Rahman III), where the minaret stands - nowadays, encased in the Renaissance tower - and the prayer hall, or haram. The area inside is made up of a forest of columns with a harmonious color scheme of red and white arches. The five separate areas of the Mosque correspond to each of the five extensions carried out.
Juderia (The Jewish Quarter)
Jews were among the most dynamic and prominent citizens of Islamic Córdoba. The medieval judería, extending northwest from the Mezquita almost to Avenida del Gran Capitán, is today a maze of narrow streets and whitewashed buildings with flowery window boxes. Going back to the time of the Romans and Goths, it was always an important cultural and intellectual center. Monuments around feature the most important sons of Cordoba: Roman philosopher Séneca, Arabian philosopher Averroes and Jewish philosopher Maimonides .
In the heart of the judería, and once connected by an underground tunnel to the Sinagoga, is the 14th-century Casa de Sefarad , this small, beautiful museum is devoted to reviving interest in the Sephardic-Judaic-Spanish tradition. There is a refreshing focus on music, domestic traditions and on the women intellectuals (poets, singers and thinkers) of Al-Andalus. A specialist library of Sephardic history is housed here, and there`s also a well-stocked shop. A program of live music recitals and storytelling events runs most of the year. The Casa Andalusí is a 12th-century house furnished with objects from Córdoba`s medieval Islamic culture and a Roman mosaic.
The Synagogue, situated in the heart of the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba, is unique in Andalusia and one of the three best preserved Medieval synagogues in the whole of Spain. According to the inscriptions found in the building, it was built between the years 1314 and 1315, and was in constant use right up until the Jews were finally expelled from Spain. A small courtyard leads to a narrow entrance hall. On the right, a staircase leads to the women`s area and in front lies the main hall, which is rectangular in shape and decorated with Mudejar-style plant motifs. The wall supporting the women`s tribune has three arches with exquisite decorative plasterwork. The Jews were expelled in 1492, and afterwards, the building was used first as a hospital, then as the Hermitage of San Crispin and finally, an infants` school. It was declared a National Monument at the end of the 19th century.
The Alcazar (The Castle of the Christian Monarchs)
The Alcázar (castle) of Cordoba, with its thick defensive walls, served both as a fortress and a palace, and is a perfect illustration of the development of Cordoban architecture through the ages. Roman and Visigoth ruins lie side by side with Arabic remains in this magnificent building, which was once the favorite residence of the different rulers of the city. However, when Cordoba was taken by Fernando III (known as the Saint) in 1236, the former Caliphal Palace was in a pitiful, ruinous state. Alfonso X (known as the Wise) began the restoration work, which was finished off during the reign of Alfonso XI. It has fulfilled many different functions over the years, such as Headquarters of the Inquisition, or a prison (first half of the 20th century). At first sight, one of the most surprising features of the fortress is its almost rectangular shape with its long walls made of solid blocks of stone (ashlars) and four corner towers (the tower of the Lions, the main keep, the tower of the Inquisition and the tower of the Doves). Inside, the different halls are distributed around courtyards with an exotic array of flowers, aromatic herbs and mature trees. Both rooms and corridors are covered by stone cupolas in Gothic style. In one of the galleries leading to the halls, there is a Roman sarcophagus on display, a pagan work dating from the early 3rd Century, on the front of which there is a sculpture in relief depicting the journey of the dead to the underworld through a half-opened door. The most interesting hall is the small Baroque chapel, the Hall of the Mosaics, where a series of Roman mosaics, discovered underneath the Corredera, are displayed around the walls. Below this hall are the baths, built in Arabic style, which are divided into three rooms with vaulted ceilings containing the familiar star-shaped openings. The boiler which provided water for the baths was situated below the Main Keep.
There are two courtyards, but the one in Mudejar style is by far the most attractive. The cool marble floors and the murmur of water, running down the channels and into the ponds, refresh the hot summer air and soothe the weary visitor`s spirits. The spacious gardens, stretching out to the west, give this Alcázar, or castle, an air of monumental grandeur. The Castle of the Christian Monarchs.
Patio de los Naranjos & Minaret
Outside the Mezquita, the leafy, walled courtyard and its fountain were the site of ritual ablutions before prayer. The crowning glory of the whole complex was the minaret, which at its peak towered 157 feet (only 72 feet of the minaret still survives). Now encased in its 16th-century shell, the original minaret would have looked something like the Giralda in Seville, which was practically a copy. Córdoba`s minaret influenced all the minarets built thereafter throughout the western Islamic world.
Puente Romano (Roman Bridge)
The view over the Mosque-Cathedral, with the river, the Gate of the Bridge and the Roman Bridge of Cordoba itself, is one of the most wonderful sights of Cordoba, especially at dusk, when the last rays of the sun linger on and make the stone surfaces glow a deep golden red. The bridge was first built in the 1st century A.D., but has been rebuilt many times since then, and in its present form dates mainly from the Medieval period, with the latest changes being made in 1876. There are sixteen arches, four of which are pointed and the rest semi-circular. Halfway along the railing on one side is a 16th century statue of San Rafael by Bernabé Gómez del Río.
The history of Medina Azahara, the magnificent, enigmatic city palace which was built for Abd-al Rahman III at the foot of the Sierra Morena mountains five miles from the city, is shrouded in myths and legends. The city was built on three terraces, surrounded by a city wall, with the Royal Castle situated on the highest and the middle levels. The lower level was reserved for living quarters and the Mosque, which was built outside the walls. Rich marbles of violet and red, gold and precious stones, as well as the skilled work of artisans from the best quarries and the now legendary Byzantine contributions, helped to make the palace take on its full glory. The site was completely destroyed by the succession of Civil Wars which ravaged al-Andalus at the turn of the 11th century, and Madinat al-Zahra is now in ruins. The immense effort taken to create this fantasy city was smashed to pieces after only seventy years, too short a life for what was the first Caliph`s favorite.
In 1903, remains of Arabic baths were unearthed by accident in the area known as Campo de los Santos Mártires, but they were covered over again soon after. However, between 1961 and 1964, a group of Cordoban archaeologists started digging the site again and revealed the sheer size and importance of the find. These baths were called hammam, and were situated next to what used to be the Omeyan Castle, which it was most likely attached to, and were one the biggest baths of their kind in the city. Ritual washing and personal hygiene played a fundamental part in the lives of Moslems. Washing was carried out before prayer, and was considered an important social ritual. The baths were built during the reign of the Caliph Alhakem II, and are made up of a series of rooms with walls made of solid stone blocks. The ceilings were vaulted (with their characteristic star-shaped openings), and supported by semi-circular arches with marble pillars and capitals.
Arabic Baths of Santa María
The Arabic Baths whose remains survive in calle Velázquez Bosco, very near the Mosque, were possibly built in the Mudejar period on the site of a 10th century washing room connected to the Great Mosque of Cordoba. They are now part of private house, and are open to the public for a small entrance fee. These baths are rather small, but are a perfect example of this type of Hispano-Moslem building. The present-day hallway was originally the changing room or rest room, bait al-máslaj, and led to the cold water room. The al bait al-bárid (cold room) has undergone several alterations, and is now an open courtyard. The vaulted ceilings and the pool are lost, but the original galleries still remain with horseshoe arches and capitals from the Caliphal period. The hot room, al bait al-sajín, is rectangular with a barrel-vault ceiling, and the recesses in the wall which contained the hot and cold water baths still remain. Just next to this room, at a depth of 30 feet, is an elliptical-shaped water cistern.
Calleja de Flores
Calleja de las Flores, right beside the mosque, is a whitewashed alley hung with geraniums and tumbling bougainvillea which ends in a cul-de-sac formed by a tiny square with a lemon tree and a house, now a souvenir shop, where the owners will take you down to the basement to see their medieval Arab well, 72 feet deep. As you turn to walk back down the alley, the Great Mosque`s tower is neatly framed between flowered balconies.
Plaza del Potro
The Plaza del Potro was once a low-life neighborhood whose famous inn was mentioned by Cervantes as somewhere to stay clear of if you valued your wallet. Although thronging with visitors it is still a pretty square, with a plashing fountain in the middle and a view across the river to the vineyards. Here on the plaza are two galleries: the Museo de Bellas Artes and, alongside it, the Museo Julio Romero de Torres.
The Old Town
Plaza Corredera is a galleried square with tables spilling across it from a multitude of bars and cafés. The cobbled streets twist and turn, open out suddenly into little squares with tinkling fountains. Andalucian monochrome - whitewashed walls with a sandy-colored ochre (known as `albero`) - is everywhere, picking out window frames and friezes. Around every corner is a fine house, a church or a sprawling, shuttered convent. Secret patios decked with ferns and geraniums, and sometimes a fountain, lie behind ornamental iron gates. Roman columns hold up street corners, and lengths of medieval wall.