Córdoba, in the Andalusia region of southern Spain, is best known for its Great Mosque—”Mezquita” in Spanish—that also happens to be a Great Cathedral. Or more accurately, a mosque that turned into a cathedral. Tourists would probably flock here even without the Mezquita. They’d come to walk the streets of the Old Town and they’d probably get lost in the maze of white-walls dotted with pots of coloured flowers and get turned around in the hidden courtyards. In fact the whole of the Old Town is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The various occupiers were incurably ambitious, starting with the Romans who founded Córdoba as a port city and built such a grand and sturdy bridge over the Guadalquivir River that it was recently featured on the HBO television series Game of Thrones. You enter the bridge through a triumphal arch and at the opposite end there is an old gate and museum.
The Moorish Muslims from Northern Africa arrived in the 8th century and built great mosques and palaces and Córdoba became one of the most prosperous cities in all of Europe. At that time Muslims, Jews and Christians lived rather peaceably side by side.
When the Christians conquered the city in 1236 under Ferdinand III, they were very impressed by the Great Mosque the Moors had left. It had been built to be one of the largest in all of Islam. So instead of destroying it, they built a cathedral within it, creating the church-mosque that is there today, an architectural hybrid.
What makes the Mezquita particularly impressive is its size and incredibly high ceilings supported by hundreds of red and white striped columns that seem to glow in the subdued lighting.
For Muslims, the mosque’s greatest treasure is the mihrab, the niche in the wall that indicates the direction they should face when praying.
The Christians added a church alter, choir and several small chapels.
The Christian monarchy built a royal castle not far from the Mezquita called the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and that is where they met with Christopher Columbus to discuss his expedition to the New World. Today you can visit the castle’s lovely gardens.
The Moors introduced the notion of courtyard gardens to the area and there are many of them in Córdoba. The Viana Palace, a stately home that over 5 centuries belonged to 18 noble families, has 12 of them that you can visit.
Between the Mezquita and the Viana Palace is the Jewish Quarter. The Synagogue on Calle de los Judios is one of only three original synagogues that still exit in Spain, dating back to 1315. During the Spanish Inquisition when Jews and Muslims had to convert to Christianity, the synagogue became a church and later a shoemaker’s guild. The streets around the synagogue are very narrow and twisting and the white walls so high that you’ll probably need to ask for help to find it.
There are many shops and cafes to stop at in the Old Town and churches at every turn. Balconies and walls are decked out with pots of colourful flowers and the town holds a ‘best courtyard’ contest every year.
I took the high-speed train to Córdoba from Madrid and stayed in a tiny but perfect (and inexpensive) room in a B&B that is right across from the Mezquita. Make time for the nearby flamenco show, a traditional folk dance of the Andalusia region.
Travel in southern Spain is surprisingly easy and so rewarding
1st stop Madrid
Alhambra, Granada’s palace-city
Seville, the capital of Andalucía
The drama that is Ronda
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2015