Spain: Cordoba, the Andalusian melting pot

Like Andalusia, Cordoba is Spain and much more: a melting pot of civilizations. Romans, Muslims, Jews, Catholics… all have left their mark in this city where the three great monotheistic religions coexisted in peace. Symbol of the city, the mosque-cathedral is one of the most eloquent testimonies of Andalusian-style syncretism.

But far from being frozen in history, Cordoba is quite simply a city where life is good. Behind the whitewashed, sun-drenched walls, patios bloom at every corner of the lane. The ceramic pots overflow with flowers and the fountains gurgling: an enchanting setting resembling the Garden of Eden.

The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba, a fusion of cultures

Built in the middle of the fertile fields of the Guadalquivir valley, Cordoba was from the 8th century a flourishing cultural center. She was capital of Al-Andalus, these territories of the Iberian Peninsula conquered by the Moors, then capital of Umayyad Caliphate. Under Muslim rule, innumerable palaces were born, as well as hammams (Moorish baths) and nearly a thousand mosques. It was a golden age for Cordoba. Its radiance was such that it rivaled the splendours of Constantinople, Damascus and Baghdad.

Emblematic monument of Cordoba, the Mezquita-Catedral (Mosque-Cathedral) is one of the most unusual and moving monuments in Andalusia. Built by the Umayyads, it marks the height of Islamic civilization on the Iberian Peninsula, and is one of the largest Islamic buildings in the West.

The Christian Kings transformed the Great Mosque into a church, before it was promoted to the rank of cathedral. Synthesis of cultures and styles, this monument alone sums up the entire history of Cordoba. Today, Cordovans say that it is the only mosque in the world where you can listen to the organ!

The surrounding wall opens onto the orange tree courtyard (patio of Los Naranjos), delicious preamble to the visit. This is where ablutions were performed. Between Mudejar and Baroque style latticed fountains, the patio is still planted with orange trees, palm trees and cypress trees. Among the trees still run the remains of irrigation canals inspired by Arabic techniques. The courtyard is dominated by the Renaissance bell tower, which took over the structure of the minaret.

The interior of the mosque-cathedral is a palimpsest of religions and a conservatory of architectural styles : Moorish and Umayyad, then, in the central cathedral, Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque and finally Mannerist.

Some construction elements of the original Visigoth basilica remain visible. The decorations are sprinkled with Roman and Byzantine notes. In the splendor of the caliphate (in the 8th century), the mosque adopted the Umayyad style. While it was among the largest mosques in the world, its architecture served as a model. Its minaret, in particular, inspired those of Seville and Marrakech.

And the mosque became a cathedral ...

A new turn in history: in 1236, Cordoba was taken over by the troops of Ferdinand III of Castile: one of the final stages of the Reconquista. The Christian Kings transformed the Great Mosque into cathedral. The building is converted to Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles, with respect for Islamic architecture.

Once inside, a forest of columns of marble and alabaster surrounds the central chapel. Each of the 900 or so columns is topped with a double row of two-tone arcades, striped in white and red. The horseshoe arches are a hallmark of the Umayyad Caliphate. Not having columns high enough to compete with the height of the mosques of Damascus, the builders opted for a double row of arches, which made it possible to gain height.

Behind the maqsura, a private space of the prayer room, the mirhab Byzantine style is the most sacred place of the mosque, one of its jewels. Its dome is set with mosaics, ceramics and multicolored marbles, with plant motifs: trees of life, pomegranates, palm trees, jasmines, lilies, pine cones….

Due to the imprecision of the measuring instruments at the time, the mosque is not quite oriented towards Mecca. But become a kind of Mecca in the West, it served as a reference for the orientation of other mosques on the Old Continent.

Laid out on the edge of the forest of columns, the Cathedral breaks the perspectives of the columns. The half-light gives way to the luminosity of the dome, and the two-color scheme of the columns to the whiteness of Mudejar stucco. The cathedral combines Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles.

As an anecdote, 16 columns were destroyed in the center of the mosque with a view to fitting out the first chapel of the Christian Kings. Charles Quint, who had nevertheless given his agreement for this transformation, was sorry when he discovered the place. He allegedly said: “You destroyed what was unique in the world to build what is seen everywhere. " All is relative…

The Alcázar and the legacy of the Christian Kings

In full Reconquista, it is from Cordoba that the Catholic Monarchs prepared the recovery of Granada, the last Muslim bastion fallen in 1492. In addition to the conversion of the mosque into a cathedral, the Christian Kings restored the Roman bridge and the Roman walls, and built new defensive constructions.

They built theAlcázar of the Christian Kings, the emblematic monument of Catholic Cordoba. This style palace-fortress Mudejar rises above the Guadalquivir river. It lived the heyday of the court of the Catholic Monarchs, hosted official ceremonies and receptions, before becoming the seat of the Inquisition. The fortress consists of the keep, the Inquisition tower, square and crenellated, a 17th century Baroque chapel, Mudejar baths and a plethora of patios.

- Alcázar Gardens promise a delicious walk between water and vegetation. The rectilinear pools are framed by rows of cypress trees. They are bordered by groves of orange trees, gardens of medicinal plants and squares of lobelia, recognizable by their ultramarine blue color. A haven of serenity in the city.

La Judería, the Jewish quarter of Cordoba

Return to the narrow and quirky streets of the old town. The Jewry, the old Jewish quarter, stretches all around the old mosque-cathedral. Walls surround this maze of alleys and passages. In the 10th century, the Sephardic Jewish community of Cordoba was the most important in the Iberian world. It contributed to the cultural influence and prosperity of the city.

La calleja del Pañuelo (alley of the Handkerchief) is a 75 cm wide lane at its narrowest passage. It leads to the homonymous square, one of the smallest squares in the world, very cute under a tree whose foliage tickles the walls.

A little further, the little one synagogue from the 13th century is a pearl in Mudejar style. The walls bear inscriptions in Hebrew, once coated with plaster after the expulsion of the Jews in the 15th century. It is the only synagogue still preserved in Andalusia, and one of the three remaining in Spain (the other two being in Toledo). The synagogue then served as a hospital, seat of the shoemaker's guild, and a school.

The district of Judería perpetuates a typically local craft: the guadamecí or guadamacile, originally from North Africa. The leather work is one of the oldest crafts in Andalusia, and one of the prides of Cordoba. The leather is tanned and painted, engraved with plant or geometric motifs, then adorned with gold or silver leaf.

The leatherworking techniques are inherited from those of the Umayyads, who already worked it for ornamental purposes. Let us not forget that Cordoba was famous for its shoemaking tradition. We owe him the word "shoemaker"!

Even today, the craftsmen gathered in guild continue to gild, polychromy and shoe leathers. Guadamacile is used to decorate cases, shoes, gloves, bags, chests ... The techniques and creations are to be discovered at Museo del Guadamecí Omeya.

The patios, hidden gems of Cordoba

In Cordoba, flowers are everywhere : in pots, lining the walls of houses, in planters on wrought iron balconies, in jars or in flowerbeds sheltered from patios, on fruit trees in groves ... The streets are like a foretaste of patios. The whitewashed facades are inlaid with colored earthenware. Pots of flowers are attached to the walls in more or less anarchic clusters.

To discover the patios, hidden gems of Cordoba, you have to push the porte cocheres. Jewels of Andalusian popular architecture, the Cordoba patios are renowned for being among the most beautiful in Andalusia. Their key words are freshness and tranquility, luxuriance and refinement.

Some houses have a vestibule, Muslim heritage. Under the porches, in the secret courtyards and the patios, the floors are covered with patterned stone pavements, veritable mosaics of polished stone, which act as natural air conditioning.

It is to the Romans that we owe the Mediterranean tradition of patios, then perpetuated by the Arabs. The residential buildings and the living rooms are arranged around a central open-air courtyard. Patios provide protection from the sun and heat, as well as privacy, while providing a shaded outdoor space.

The patios cover various styles (popular patio, stately, ornamental, monumental ...) and various functions. Some were used as places of rest or life, others as a work or storage space, pleasure garden, ceremonial or medicinal plants. Some patios are thus converted into an interior courtyard. Others, on the contrary, leave all latitude to plants, which gives them the air of a garden.

With their flowers in shambles, the patios play a symphony of colors and scents. The lack of space between the alleys of the old town gives rise to semi-vegetated walls, adorned with ceramic pots loaded with flowers. Between the lines of azulejos decoration, the windows closed by wrought iron grilles and the multi-storey galleries, the Majorelle blue color of the pots contrasts with the whiteness of the walls. Begonias, petunias, carnations, geraniums, wisteria, roses, bougainvillea come in palettes of blue and red, fuchsia, purple and Majorelle blue.

As early as 1918, the Cordovans began to open their patios to the public. Since 1921, every year in the beautiful month of May, the city has organized a flower patio competition. The owners adorn their courtyards and facades to win a prestigious prize offered by the town hall. The festival of patios is now on the list of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity by Unesco.

The most beautiful patios in Cordoba

Le Alcázar Viejo district (the Old Alcázar) concentrates the most beautiful patios, and we also find very beautiful old specimens in the Jewry and around the mosque-cathedral.

But the palacio de Viana is in itself an anthology of patios. Stately home and mansion, it shelters between its wings and its outbuildings no less than 12 patios, is the most beautiful collection of patios in Cordoba. They even earned it the nickname "museum of patios".

Let's go on a sensory journey, in which each patio has its own character. In the decoration first of all: belt of arcades or green walls, water lily basin or fountain, decorative earthenware or arbor, well or watering trough.

The patios deliver large fans ofplant and floral species who play the chromatic assortment card. Cypress and fruit trees - mostly orange and date palms - cast shadows on the aromatic herbs and flower beds. Placed on stone pavements, gurgling fountains. In this kingdom of delicacy and silence barely disturbed by the rustle of the water from the fountains, romanticism guaranteed!

In addition to its patios, the Palacio de Viana reflects the way of life of the nobility in the 15th century, through rooms largely furnished and decorated. The nobles and lords devoted themselves to collecting. Under Mudejar or Mannerist style coffered ceilings, the palace therefore houses collections of works of art: antique furniture, paintings, tapestries, ceramics, earthenware, porcelain ...

Madinat al-Zahra

On the outskirts of Cordoba, the city-palace of Madinat al-Zahra was built to the glory of Abd al-Rahman III. In the 10th century, this emir claimed the title of Caliph of the Umayyads of Cordoba. According to custom, any newly appointed caliph had to build a new palatial city. This is how Madinat al-Zahra, literally the “shining city” or “sparkling city”, emerged from the earth. The choice of location owes nothing to chance: at the foot of the mountain, overlooking the Guadalquivir valley, with a view of Cordoba.

Cordoba then had a vocation as a religious center, while Madinat al-Zahra served as a political center and seat of administrative power. The city welcomed up to 20 inhabitants, but its reign was only 000 decades, until the collapse of the Caliphate of Cordoba. A museum presents objects found during excavations on the site, and a computer-generated film shows reconstructions of buildings and scenes of life.

The palatial city is built in terraces: the residence of the caliph, reception rooms, administrative buildings, public places, mosque, residential houses, hammams and stud farms are interspersed with hanging gardens and ponds. The Caliph lived in the residences of theAlcázar, where the courtyard also flourished, near the administrative buildings. The medina is located on another terrace, below the Alcázar. Another special mention for the casa Ya'far, once one of the most beautiful stately homes, certainly owned by the Prime Minister. We still tread its white marble floor.

Getaway to Priego de Córdoba

If you come to Cordoba from Granada by road, Priego de Córdoba serves as a charming stopover. Perched on a cliff in the Sierra Subbética Natural Park, this typically Andalusian town preserves the customs, architecture and crafts of the region. Whitewashed houses line up in a medieval historic center. They open on heavy wooden doors with massive knockers, and the windows are closed with wrought iron grilles.

Priego de Córdoba is renowned for its stately homes, and especially for its baroque churches. In the winding streets of the “Villa” district, of Muslim origin, the small churches and hermitages draw up a panorama of the currents of the Baroque: primitive, neoclassical, flamboyant, rococo… The only constant: decorative exuberance.

This architectural marathon is well worth a break on the benches that surround the King's fountain, with mannerist, baroque and neoclassical influences. A place of life and meeting since the 16th century. No less than 139 taps spew water in several terraced pools.

With its alleys and squares, Priego de Córdoba is an open garden. Pots of pelargoniums, warm-colored flowers that look like geraniums, hang on the sparkling white walls. Coming out of the alleys, the fairón del Adarve overlooks an Andalusian landscape where the olive tree is king.


Find all the information, tips and addresses in the Routard Andaloousie.

To prepare for your stay, consult our Andalusia online guide.

Spanish Tourist Office

How to go to Cordoba?

Flights to Seville with Transavia from Paris every day of the week: twice on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, 2 times on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays; from € 3 including tax one way. Find your plane ticket

A TVG (AVE) connects Seville to Cordoba in 45 minutes.

Good addresses 

Apartamento Barroso Centro : Calle Barroso, 5. In an alley in the Judería, a 5-minute walk from the Mosque-Cathedral, a porte-cochère hides a 17th century mansion that has become an aparthotel. The apartments are spread over 2 levels around a patio. The contemporary decoration combines white, petrol blue and shades of gray. The functional apartments have well-equipped kitchenettes. Elevator and air conditioning.

Casa Palacio Bandeloro: Calle Torrijos, 6. In this 16th century palace located in the Judería, 7 lounges are distributed around 2 patios. It serves traditional Cordovan cuisine, in the taste tradition of Al-Andalus: salmorejo (Cordovan version of gazpacho made with tomatoes and bread, sprinkled with crumbled hard-boiled eggs and pieces of Iberian ham), bacalao (cod or cod), rabo de toro (bull's tail in wine sauce), pork cheek, flamenquín (fried roll made from Serrano ham and pork loin). So many dishes served with wines from the Guadalquivir valley.  As an aperitif, tastings of local wines are offered in the cellar also known as the “sacristy”, a wine cellar with stone walls dressed in barrels. 

Bail Palaceío and restaurant Arbequina : Calle Ramírez de las Casas Deza, 10-12. This former 16th century aristocratic house was built on the remains of an ancient Roman house from the 1st century AD. AD An outdoor swimming pool is set up in one of the 4 patios, delightfully planted with fruit trees (orange trees reigning supreme), and sprinkled with aromatic plants. A nice curiosity: the hotel has indoor Roman baths. For gourmets, dishes between tradition and avant-garde are served in several rooms: Mudejar lounges adorned with frescoes, patio with plexiglass floor above the remains of the ancient Roman baths ...

Taberna Puerta Sevilla : Calle Postrera, 51. The more than two-hundred-year-old house is nestled in Puerta Sevilla, on the Arab ramparts of Cordoba. The Cordovans meet in the central patio, standing around high tables, pecking at tapas while remaking the world until late at night. Small intimate lounges and charming balconies are arranged around the shaded patio. On the menu, Andalusian classics revisited and modernized: Iberian pork tenderloin, sea bass cooked over a wood fire, bacalao (cod) baked in the oven, foie gras with almonds ...

-Taberna del Río: C / Enrique Romero de Torres, 7. On the banks of the Guadalquivir river, a stone's throw from the Roman bridge, this tavern gives pride of place to seasonal products. It serves the classics of traditional Andalusian cuisine: salmorejo, fried eggplant, puchero croquettes, flamenquín, mazamorra (dessert made from corn mixed with milk and sugar)… A fine selection of wines. In fine weather, the restaurant takes over the banks of the Guadalquivir, the terrace remains full until (very) late in the evening (at night). Special mention for the roof terrace, one of the nicest rooftops in Cordoba.

 Find your hotel in Cordoba

What to do, where to go out in Cordoba?

-Equestrian show "Passion and charm of the Andalusian horse": Calle Caballerizas Reales, 1. In the Royal Stables of Cordoba, a 70-minute equestrian show features Andalusian horses, a pure Spanish breed. The acts cover several disciplines: coordination figures of Andalusian horses, dressage exercises, acrobatics, handling of the garrocha (lance used by the vaquero to sort and direct the herds of bulls), and a touch of flamenco.

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