The Viana Palace in Cordoba is a stately home that over 5 centuries belonged to 18 noble families. Through extensions and renovations, it became a property with 12 courtyards and a garden that reflect this long period of history. In 1981 the palace was acquired by the town’s savings bank and opened to the public; shortly afterwards it became a National Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest.
Muslims introduced the idea of having a garden into the Iberian Peninsula and an important component of a garden was the courtyard, one that was open to the sky but hidden from public view. Courtyards provided ventilation and light and were a meeting point where friends and family could gather. Over time, courtyards in Cordoba were used for agriculture and to convey status, with open gates so that people could see the wealth of the families that lived inside.
Courtyards continue to be important in Córdoba and since 1933 there has been an annual courtyard competition. The goal is to keep the courtyard green in all four seasons with splashes of colour.
I purchased the excellent publication Courtyards of Viana: Visual Guide at the Palace’s gift shop and it is the source for this article.
12 Courtyards and 1 Garden
This courtyard was the main entrance to the palace, visible from the square and designed to be “well-dressed” to impress those that pass by.
A two-story building with classic blue window frames and a portico of 16 Tuscan columns surround it. Plants include plumbago, date palm, night blooming jasmine and bougainvillea.
Courtyard of the Cats
This was once part of a rental property, cut off from the palace. When it was connected it was used as a service courtyard and at one time was known as the Courtyard of the Kitchens.
The presence of cats is what gave it its current name. Plants include pink trumpet vine, geranium, carnation and purple carpet.
Courtyard of the Orange Trees
In the 15th century this was the entrance to the palace. At that time it was closed and intimate. It is still a peaceful refuge with flowers and fruit trees. The pool with jets reflects the Arabic influence.
Many of the bitter orange trees are a century old. Other plants include white waterlily, calla lily, plumbago and China wisteria.
Courtyard of the Bars
This courtyard was built in the 17th century when courtyards started being open so the public could see in. Three windows with bars (called Mannerist bars) permit that.
The courtyard is designed to shine, with citrus trees trained to grow vertically up the walls and pots of centaurea dominating the center.
Courtyard of La Madama
This courtyard in intimate, meant to be seen only from inside the palace. There is a fountain surrounded by sculpted cypress trees. Inside the fountain is a nymph starring into the Admiral’s Bedroom. Using statues of divinities was very popular with the Romans.
Plants include bougainvillea, jasmine and calla lily.
Courtyard of the Columns
This is the most modern and largest courtyard in the palace, built in the 1980s as a space for hosting events.
Plants include jasmine, bougainvillea and geranium.
Courtyard of the Pool
This courtyard is the working centre of the palace. It was once called Courtyard of the Greenhouse (for an obvious reason) and before that Courtyard of the Deer (an indication of how rural this area once was). The pool that dominates it today dates back to the 1980s.
Today the courtyard is a gardening workspace. Plants include white lantana, corals, carnations and geraniums.
Courtyard of the Well
This courtyard is centered around an historic well that supplies enough water from an underground stream for all the gardens. The well is simple and ancient and there is also a decorative sink.
Plants include bougainvillea, jasmine, petunia and white lantana.
Courtyard of the Gardeners
This courtyard is where the gardeners store their tools. It is a vertical garden, with plumbago covering the walls. It was previously called Courtyard of the Dogs.
There are beautiful tiles in this courtyard and a grey marble fountain surrounded by pots of centaurea. There are also pots of petunia and geranium.
Courtyard of the Chapel
This courtyard dates back to 17th century and the chapel that adjoins it is now a small museum. There are two simple columned verandas and the high walls prevent direct sunlight from coming in. The citrus trees grow upward to seek the sun and provide a plant canopy.
The environment is cool and semi-shaded. There is a plant here called ‘mind your own business’.
Courtyard of the Archive
This innermost courtyard was built in the 18th century to give the rooms light and tranquility. It is austere and today the mezzanine that surrounds it houses the palace’s historical archives. The whitewashed walls are left exposed and it is only the blue trim on the windows and the tiles on the fountain to give the space colour.
The mandarin trees are a hundred years old. Plants include ivy leaf geranium, night blooming jasmine, calla lily and common box.
This was the former entrance and the large iron gate was once the entrance for carriages. The architecture is different from the other courtyards with exposed brick walls and balconies.
A pillar has been converted into a flowerpot and one of the walls covered with Lady banks’ rose.
The garden was created at the beginning of the 19th century although the white oak that dominates it is more than 4 centuries old. The garden is structured into 16 flower beds of common box, inside which grow rose trees, date palms, citrus fruits, etc. The box is kept surprisingly high.
Two of the walls surrounding the garden are landscaped with different varieties of citrus trees grown on trellises.
The Viana Palace is located just outside Old Córdoba, a pleasant walk from the cathedral.
See also: Travel in southern Spain is surprisingly easy and so rewarding
By Sylvia Fanjoy
Photo credits Sylvia Fanjoy
© Riding the buses™ 2015