The City of Cordoba

Covering an area of approximately 13,718 km2 and boasting 75 municipalities, the province of Cordoba is characterised by its rich and varied landscape, its architectural and cultural wealth and a warmth that is typical of the peoples of Andalusia. 

The capital bequeaths its name to a province that is divided into two large areas, which, despite their similar size, present totally different and, for the most part, antagonistic features: the Sierra lies to north, separated from the Campiña [flat rural croplands] in the south by the River Guadalquivir.

To the right of the river, the landscape of the Sierra Morena is rough and rugged, where woods of pine and ilex cover entire hills and scattered villages nestle on steep mountain slopes: this area stretches from the north of the province to the very banks of the River Guadalquivir. 

However, to the left, on the other side of the river, we find rounded hillocks and extensive plains dedicated t! o the cultivation of cereals, vines and olive trees, with white-washed and hospitable towns and villages. Nevertheless, within this dualism, the Province of Cordoba presents geographical contradictions and, therefore, we find vast plains amidst the Sierra (Valle de los Pedroches) and mountain ranges, such as the Sierra de Cabra or the Sierra de Rute, in the middle of the Campiña.  

The City of Cordoba stands on either bank of the Guadalquivir and the first settlers can be traced back to the Palaeolithic. 

Under the Turdetani, the municipality later became the capital of Tartessus. Subsequently, the settlement fell to the Carthaginian general Hamilicar Barca, before being conquered by the Romans in 206 BC, although it was not founded as a city until 169 BC, when the praetor Cladius Marcellus granted it the title of Colonia Patricia and named it capital of Hispania Ulterior.

Cordoba clearly reflects the protagonism it enjoyed in past ages. All of the cultures!  that have inhabited the city, including Romans, Moors, Jews and Christians, have left their trace, laying the foundations of a highly singular artistic and historical heritage.  

 

Roman Cordoba

Roman legions first arrived in Cordoba in 206 BC Prior to this point the city has existed as an Iberian settlement. 

Thirty-seven years later, in 169 BC, the settlement became an extremely important urban centre when it was converted into a city and granted the title of Colonia Patricia by the praetor Cladius Marcellus.

The city was modelled in the fashion of the typical Roman urbis, with strong stone walls that enclosed the praetorian palace, senate house, residences of the patricians, a circus for chariot races, a theatre, an amphitheatre and the temples of the gods.

The remains of a temple were discovered on calle Claudio Marcelo, next to the current City Hall, and are in the process of being reconstructed.  

The bridge over the Guadalquivir, which was constructed during the reign of the emperor Augustus, is the city's most famous Roman monument and now represents a symbol of the union between three major religions or cultures: Moors, Jews and Ch! ristians.

Cordoba contains numerous timeless vestiges of its Roman past in the form of a series of magnificent archaeological exhibits made up of mosaics that once decorated the imperial amphitheatre, which were discovered in and extracted from the subsoil in the area that is now occupied by the Plaza de la Corredera: the series includes extremely important pieces such as those that represent the ocean, the exhibit with plant motifs, the representation of a mime, “Cupid and Psyche” and the particularly noteworthy depiction of  Polyphemus and Galatea.

The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos [Fortress of the Christian Kings] contains a Roman sarcophagus dating from the first half of the 3rd century AD and the Archaeological Museum houses several important collections dating from the Roman period, which are displayed in patios and two exhibitions halls.

 

Moorish Cordoba

Following the Roman period, the city was sacked by barbarian tribes, came under the control of the Byzantine Empire and suffered further damage during the civil wars of the Gothic kings, before emerging into the dawn of a new historical period at the beginning of the 8th century when the Umayyad Abd ar-Rahman designated Cordoba as the capital of al-Andalus [Moorish Spain].

Construction of the Great Mosque of Cordoba also began during this period, more specifically in 785, on a site that was formerly occupied by a Gothic church dedicated to San Vicente.

The Great Mosque was made up of eleven naves, running in a north/south direction, and twelve arcades of arches, running in an east/west direction.  

  • The extension carried out at the behest of Abd ar-Rahman II (821-852)

During the reign of Abd ar-Rahman II the Great Mosque was extended and the city entered a period of peace and prosperity.

In response to the significant demographic growth of the city, in 833 eight additional arcades of arches were added, running in a southern direction, and, in order to maintain the unity of the complex, the qibla (the main wall of all mosques) was moved and the original Mihrab was demolished.   

This extension proved extremely innovative as column bases were removed and magnificent capitals were added.

Certain column shafts bear special mention, particularly the two shafts resting on the columns marking the Mihrab  

  • Al-Hakam II (961-976) and the Mihrab

In 961, the caliph Al-Hakam II further extended the Great Mosque with an additional eleven arcades of arches that run up to the new qibla and Mihrab.

In this case, the shafts were positioned in accordance with their colour scheme, whilst the columns, which do not possess bases, support capitals that alternate in the following manner: Corinthian capitals on blue marble shafts and capitals of an eclectic nature on pink marble shafts. 

This section also presents an extremely beautiful coffered ceiling, and therefore, we can affirm that the area constructed at the behest of Al-Hakam II represents the highlight of the complex.

The portico to this section takes the form of an enclosure referred to as the Capilla de Villaviciosa [Chapel of Villaviciosa]: it boasts lobed arches with foils and a cupola with splendid stone ribs that form small vaults. 

The Mihrab stands at the end of the extension ordered by Al-Hakam II, in the central pavilion.

The cupola of the great hall o! f the Mihrab is an impressive octagonal structure with double columns in the angles supporting eight arches, which, as they cross, create the marvellous vault that is decorated with mosaics prodigious mosaics that display a rare perfection. 

The harmonious façade of the Mihrab boasts a plinth of marble slabs, resting on four beautiful columns. All of the voussoirs, which decorate the spandrels of the arches, shine with Byzantine mosaics.

Further beauty is added as the double mouldings of the arch panels extend into seven lobed arches that are supported on fine columns, transformed into the stylised plant motifs of the mosaic. 

The interior of the Mihrab has an octagonal ground plan and maintains its original paving. The cupola of this holy area takes the form of a highly decorative stonework shell. 

  • The extension carried out at the behest of Almanzor

In 987, during the reign of Hisham II, the prime minister, Almansor, ordered an extension to the Great Mosque, which involved the addition of almost a third of the entire complex.

Eight naves were augmented, wherein Corinthian and eclectic capitals are supported by marble columns with shafts that are alternately blue or violet.

Subsequent to Almanzor, the Great Mosque was not subject to further modifications by Moorish hands. 

 

Other traces of the Moors

Alcázar de los Califas [Palace of the Caliphs]

This building once occupied the site that is now given over to the Bishop’s Palace. Very few traces of the caliphal period remain, except on the exterior, where we find a series of arabic elements on the western façade that faces the Great Mosque. 

Minarets and Baths 

Other vestiges of the Moorish past are present in the form of the minarets of San Juan and Santa Clara, Christian denominations that are the result of subsequent religious installations. These towers date back to the reign of Abd ar-Rahman II.  

Public baths (hammam) have occupied an important position within Islamic society since the period of the Umayyads.

The purpose of Hammams was twofold: they involved a religious element, as they were used to perform the preceptive ritual of ablution, and also a social aspect, representing a meeting point and area for recreation. 

The most important hammam that has been conserved is located in the Plaza del Campo Santo de los Mártires, which formed part of the Alcázar [palace] during the period of al-Andalus. These were royal baths for the exclusive use of the monarch and his family and friends.  

The city conserves other important baths, such as the Baños de San Pedro and the Baños de la Pescadería. The former is located in the area known as La Axerquía, whilst the latter is located in the Medina (present-day c/ Cara).    

Medina Azahara

Medina Azahara was a residential city constructed close to Cordoba (5km) at the behest of the caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.

Construction began in 936, but the city stood for only 74 years as it was sacked by the Berbers in 1010. Medina Azahara is currently the object of a slow process of restoration that is producing extremely beautiful results. 

Remnants of Moorish Occupation

The Archaeological Museum houses the greatest collection of objects dating from the period of Moorish occupation: the bronze fawn of Medina Azahara; a series of well parapets; a white marble caliphal fountain basin; capitals; shafts; ceramics, etc.  

 

Jewish Cordoba

The heart of Jewish Cordoba was located in a medieval area that began at the north-western corner of the Great Mosque.

Characterised by a popular style, traces of the buildings remain, although in the dim and distant past such buildings once stretched as far as Puerta del Hierro.  

The city contained other population centres, such as the area next to the Plaza de San Andrés and the Calle del Realejo. Current remnants centre around the narrow and winding calle de "los Judios" [Jews].

Where the street widens, coming from the Great Mosque or the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos [Fortress of the Christian Monarchs], the serenity of a small plaza named “Tiberiades” reinforces the Hebraic character of this small urban thoroughfare as it contains a statue of Maimonides sculpted by Amadeo Ruiz Oleos.

A little further on, visitors will find the Sinagoga [synagogue], the Jewish temple of Córdoba.

This is a small building with a façade ! that completely blends in with the surrounding street, to such an extent that it may pass unnoticed.  

 

Christian Córdoba

Ferdinand III, the Saint, reconquered Córdoba on the 29th of June 1236 and organised the city into fourteen parishes, centred around churches that were erected between the end of the 13th century and the beginning of the 14th century.

  • These temples, with clear Mudejar influence, belong to a transitional period between the Romanesque and Gothic styles. The existence of these Gothic churches in Córdoba demonstrates that Andalusia possessed what was truly a school of ogival architecture. The most important churches of this type are listed below:
  • La Magdalena, which, despite its Gothic influences, harks back to a more distant period.
  • San Andrés, which was built on a site formerly occupied by a Mozarabic basilica.
  • San Lorenzo, which boasts a splayed doorway that is preceded by a 14th century portico.
  • Santa Marina, now the parish church in one of the city’s most popular areas.
  • San Pedro, a Mozarabic cathedral during the period of Moorish occupation.
  • Santiago, which was built on a site formerly occupied by a mosque.
  • San Miguel, which boasts a beautiful baptistry chapel, a magnificent rosette on the main façade and a particularly noteworthy lateral façade.
  • San Nicolás de la Villa, with squared apses and a magnificent octagonal tower with a Mudejar frieze and battlements. All of these temples were decorated with Baroque motifs between the 17th and 18th centuries.  

 

Modern Córdoba

Modern Córdoba possesses long, straight avenues with imposing contemporary buildings, embellished with a plethora of trees and flowers, as befits a modern city.

Points of interest within the urban layout include the building of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, a neo-Mudejar work by Domínguez Espúñez; the modernist house on the corner of Gran Capitán / Reyes Católicos, which is the current domicile of the Association of Architects and the façade of the church of Santa Victoria, which was constructed under the guidance of Ventura Rodríguez.  

The city boasts a splendid open-air theatre: the Teatro de la Axerquía. 

The extraordinary Botanical Gardens, a cultural and scientific focal point, have gained international renown.  

  • Popular Streets- Visitors can not fail to fall under the spell of the of the Calleja de la Flores, located close to the Great Mosque; the calle de San Fernando, formerly known as the calle de la Feria, which is lined with orange trees and contains  the Arco del Portillo, which was opened in the intersecting wall in the 14th century; the calle Cabezas, adorned with seven small arches in reference to the legend of death of the seven infantes de Lara, and various other streets that hold a particular attraction.  
  • The PlazasCórdoba’s numerous plazas display a great deal of diversity.   Amongst others, attention should be drawn to the Plaza de la Corredera, the only Baroque plaza in Andalusia that possesses colonnades; the Plaza de los Dolores, which houses the Cristo de los Faroles and the Plaza del Potro, which is mentioned in the Cervantes’ Don Quixote. 
  • Palaces, Stately Houses and Ancestral Homes
  • Palacio del Marqués de Viana: a former residence of the nobility belonging to the Vilaseca family and a fine example of a stately home dating from the 18th century.
  • Palacio de la Merced: a former convent of the Mercedary monks, the building currently houses the headquarters of the Provincial Council.
  • Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones [Congress and Exhibition Hall]: this building formerly housed the installations of the Hospital Mayor de San Sebastián. 
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Near The City of Cordoba