Córdoba, Spain

Córdoba, jewel of Andalucía.

A great cultural reference point in Europe, this ancient city has been declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and contains a mixture of the diverse cultures that have settled it throughout history (Visigoth, Roman, Muslim, Jewish, and Christian).

Very few places in the world can boast of having been the capital of a Roman province (Hispania Ulterior), the capital of an Arab State (Al-Andalus) and a Caliphate. The city famously houses the Mezquita, a symbol of the worldly, sophisticated culture that flourished here more than a millennium ago when Córdoba was western Europe’s biggest city. The Great Mosque of Cordoba represents a unique artistic achievement due to its size and the sheer boldness of the height of its ceilings. It is an irreplaceable testimony of the Caliphate of Cordoba and it is the most emblematic monument of Islamic religious architecture.

It was the second biggest in surface area, after the Holy Mosque in Mecca and was a very unusual type of mosque that bears witness to the presence of Islam in the West. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was also very influential on Western Islamic art since the 8th century just as in the neo-Moorish style in the 19th century.

Such splendor is palpable in the intellectual wealth of this city, that has seen the birth of figures like Séneca, Averroes and Maimonides.

Córdoba nowadays is a mid-sized city of 350,000 people and is a great place for exploring on foot or on a bicycle, staying and eating well in old buildings centered on verdant patios, diving into old wine bars, and feeling millennia of history at every turn. The narrow streets of the old Judería (Jewish quarter) and Muslim quarter stretch out from the great mosque like capillaries (to the northwest and northeast respectively), some clogged with tourist bric-a-brac, others delightfully peaceful.

The Roman tradition of the impluvium, combined with the Moorish culture in Cordoba, gave rise to the Andalusian courtyard or patio, a protected interior area that served as the focal point of people’s social and family lives. There are still many ancestral homes and traditional communal houses. Filling the central patio with plants and water features was a way of keeping local homes cool.

Thanks to human creativity and ingenuity, patio decoration ended up taking on a life all its own and at some point, someone realised that these hidden treasures were just too good to be kept tucked away behind heavy doors and iron grates. So, once a year during two weeks in May, the doors open and everyone is invited in to see the wonders of Córdoba’s patios. These patios not only offer a visual feast of colorful flowers, stone mosaics and ceramic decorations but also bring out the classic scents of Córdoba: jasmine and orange blossom which brings another dimension to both the city and the festival.

The life of the modern city focuses a little further north, around Plaza de las Tendillas, where you’ll find a more boisterous vibe with some excellent bars and restaurants. Andalucía’s major river, the Guadalquivir, flows just below the Mezquita, and the riverfront streets are home to a growing band of lively restaurants and bars making the most of the view.

Just 8 km outside of Córdoba you will find the archaeological site of Medina Azahara, a vast and fortified Muslim palace-city and de-facto capital of the Iberian Caliphate dated back to the end of the 10th century.