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Cordoba - Travel and Tours Cordoba Spain
Cordoba: With over 3,000 hours of sunshine a year, Córdoba has an average annual temperature of 21 degrees, with mild winters and hot summers. The spring and autumn months are ideal for visiting Cordoba. Rain is usually at its heaviest towards the end of autumn and winter and during the first days of spring.
Because of its history and wealth of monuments, Córdoba is listed as a World Heritage Site. Few European cities can boast such a rich, eventful past. Although Córdoba is the fruit of many cultures, it is to the Arabian civilization that the Mosque, the symbol of the old caliph city and the most stunning monument to be found in the Western World, owes its existence. Standing against the mountain range of Sierra Morena, Córdoba looks out across the lands of La Campiña from its location on the banks of the River Guadalquivir. One of Andalusia's eight provincial capitals, it is at an altitude of 123 meters. Its districts, a collection of different villages fused into one big city, have a total population of nearly 350,000.
Córdoba is linked to Madrid and Seville by road and by rail. The A-4 (E-5) Expressway follows the path of Andalusia’s great river, splitting the province in two, while National Road 432 goes from north to south, joining the northern region of Los Pedroches to the southern regions of La Campiña and La Subbética, or Lower Baetica. The high-speed train, known as the AVE, extremely popular among travelers from the north, covers the distance between Córdoba and Madrid in just over one-and-a-half hours. Not far from the city is an airport, used in recent years to accommodate charter flights.
As far as tourism is concerned, Córdoba possesses some of the most up-to-the-minute facilities in Andalusia. In recent years, much has been done to enhance quality at hotels and restaurants. There is a state hotel in the hills of Sierra Morena, in the area known as Arruzafa, where Europe’s first palm trees were planted in the middle of the tenth century. In addition, the visitor will find a wide range of three and four-star hotels to choose from. Lower-category hotels, many of which are housed in palaces and mansions in the old quarters, are known for their picturesque charm. When it comes to dining, we find restaurants with a traditional menu alongside more venturous ones offering creative dishes of recent design. However, one indispensable ingredient is common to all: extra virgin olive oil.
Córdoba’s Mosque (mezquita), built from the eighth to the eleventh centuries under the rule of the emirs and caliphs of the Omayya Dynasty, is the most outstanding example of Islamic art in the Western World. The first Islamic temple was erected on the original Basilica of San Vicente. In 785, Emir Abd al-Rahman I bought the church from the Visigoths for 100,000 dinars. In the architects’ design, the mosque was divided into two equal spaces: the sahn, or courtyard; and the iwan, or prayer-hall. two spaces would experience a number of extensions undertaken by the heirs of the first Omayyad emir. The Mosque stands on the banks of the River Guadalquivir. Its square footing rises into four artistic facades which tell of the monument’s profuse history. Inside, in addition to the bell tower and the original sahn, looms the Christian cathedral, erected in the sixteenth century.
The north façade, overlooking the street, Calle Cardenal Herrero, is the most artistic of the four. To the left is the altar known as Virgen de los Faroles. The building’s main door is Puerta del Perdón, fitted in the times of Abd al-Rahman III. Next to it is the cathedral belfry, the highest tower in Córdoba. A total of 203 steps winding their way up the old Arab minaret take us to the top of its 54 meters. The other three facades have been restored many times in the course of the last 100 years. The biggest restoration works were carried out in 1908, when Burgos architect Ricardo Velázquez Bosco and Cordovan sculptor Mateo Inurria redecorated the doors leading inside the temple with arches, voussoirs, plasterwork and damascenes. The old courtyard is pervaded by the scent of 96 orange trees and a vast range of botanical specimens, including olive and cypress trees.
After the Reconquest, the old Andalus arcades were replaced by half-pointed arches, supported on columns finished off with leaf-shaped capitals. In the centre of the patio is the legendary baroque Fountain of Santa María, a meeting point for young lovers. The door, Puerta de las Palmas, leads into the Mosque’s interior, where we first see the space occupied by the original oratory, built on the instructions of Abd al-Rahman I in the last third of the eighth century. The darkness flooding the interior is in keeping with what was probably the original atmosphere. Of particular note among the Islamic temple’s original and most valued architectural features are the arcades supporting the roof. Nothing like them had ever been seen in the world before. The Omayyad architects projected a double set of arches supported on columns brought mostly from Roman and Visigoth temples. The upper arch is of the horseshoe-type and the lower one is half-pointed.
Another of the monument’s characteristic features is the red and white voussoirs. In accordance with the instructions of the first Omayyad emir, the Mosque of Córdoba is orientated towards Mecca, just like the great Mosque of Damascus. The original 11 naves were built perpendicularly to the south kiblah wall, to which worshippers turned in prayer. Decisions such as these would set the course of further extensions to the monument. The first of these extensions took place in the mid-ninth century, under the rule of Abd al-Rahman II; and the second, the most exquisite and lavish of all, was carried out on the suggestion of Caliph al-Hakam II in 961. While he was in power, a lantern-like structure was Córdoba.
The Mosque built in the space now known as eje de Villaviciosa. Thanks to this work of architectural genius, light was allowed to enter the ornate naves leading to the maqsura, the chamber reserved for the Caliph and his family, and the mihrab, the sacred niche showing the direction of Mecca. The mihrab is the most prepossessing part of the Mosque. Caliph al-Hakam II requested the Emperor of Byzantium to supply both materials and artists for its construction. In reply, the emperor sent him huge ships packed with 320 quintals of glass tesserae with which to cover the wall of the enclosure. The last and largest extension to the Mosque took place in the times of Almanzor. It differed from the previous extensions in that it concerned the floor. The marble laid in the Omayyad extensions was replaced by the reddish tiling which is still there today. The least suited from the aesthetic point of view, this extension was turned to political advantage by its promoter, for the bells plundered by Almanzor from Santiago de Compostela Cathedral during his razzia of July 3 997 were to be hung precisely from the ceilings of these naves.
After the Christian Reconquest in 1236, the Mosque underwent a number of alterations. Fernando III commanded the construction of an oratory, discreetly situated on one side so as to avoid spoiling the Islamic temple. Some years later, Alfonso X the Wise sponsored a royal chapel designed by Mudéjar architects and built next to the Villaviciosa lantern, where the first chancel would be constructed towards the end of the fifteenth century. The cathedral was started in 1523, when don Alonso Manrique was Bishop of Córdoba. From that time onwards, the cathedral has been a controversial issue on account of its unusual location. Its footing, in the shape of a Latin cross, occupies the centre of the original Islamic temple. The first works were born of the hands of Hernán Ruiz the Elder, to be continued by his son, Hernán Ruiz the Younger, in the mid-sixteenth century.
The marble high altarpiece is a masterpiece dating back to the early seventeenth century. Other interesting features include the tracery vault over the high altar and the ones crowning the arms of the transept; not forgetting the central, surbased barrel vault, complete with lunettes, worked by Juan de Ochoa and decorated by stuccoer Francisco Gutiérrez. There is a seventeenth-century organ on either side of the central nave. The choir, one of the most notable artistic pieces in the cathedral, is the work of Pedro Duque Cornejo. Carved in exotic woods brought from the Caribbean, its benches, seating 50 choristers, are on two levels. Scenes from the Old and New Testaments are portrayed on the backs. The wall erected at the foot of the temple is a superb, late sixteenth-century Renaissance work by Juan de Alfaro, who also designed the retrochoir in the same period. Beside the maqsura is the Chapel of Santa Teresa, familiarly known as the Chapel of the Treasure, where the monstrance designed in the early sixteenth century by German silversmith Enrique de Arfe is kept. Once a year, the monstrance is removed and carried in the Corpus Christi Procession. All four sides of the Mosque are lined with dozens of chapels, one of which houses the tomb of Cordovan poet Luis de Góngora. The Chapel of Santiago, dedicated to Sagrario, is on the south side. Its three naves are decorated with frescoes painted by artist César Arbasia in the last third of the sixteenth century. Added to all this, the Mosque boasts two museums.
At the Visigoth museum, Museo Visigodo de San Vicente, situated in the temple’s south-west corner, we find pieces salvaged from the original basilica, which was built from the sixth to the eighth centuries. At Museo de San Clemente, occupying the nave which was extended in the times of Almanzor, we may admire pieces of Arab and Christian origin recovered during restoration works carried out in the twentieth century.
Córdoba, a World Heritage Site
Opposite the sightseeing area, the tower, Torre de la Calahorra, holds sway over the River Guadalquivir. The construction of the gate leading into the district known as Campo de la Verdad was commissioned in the mid-fourteenth century for the purpose of defending one of the historical entrances to the city. Since it was first built, the tower has been put to a variety of uses. At the present time, the foundation, Fundación Roger Garaudy, holds exhibitions there, such as Córdoba, Puente entre Oriente y Occidente, interesting for the busts of men of wisdom such as Averroes, Maimonides, Ibn al’Arabi and Alfonso X, which, by means of maxims and aphorisms, re-create the co-existence of the three cultures. From the top of the tower, one of the finest panoramic views of the city may be enjoyed. With a length of 230 meters, the Roman Bridge , consisting of 16 arches, was reinforced in Arab times and redesigned in the Christian era. In its centre stands a stone sculpture of St. Raphael the Archangel, the guardian of the city. From the Roman Bridge we can see the Groves of Albolafia, a designated area of natural beauty where thousands of migratory birds build their nests. Perched on the right bank, close by the walls of the fortress, Alcázar de los Reyes Católicos, is the Albolafia Mill, which became one of Córdoba’s emblems when it was included in the city’s coat of arms in the mid-fourteenth century.
Puerta del Puente, once part of the old Arab walls, was renovated in 1571 by Hernán Ruiz III, who added something of the Renaissance style to it. When it was restored in 1928, the architects decided to decorate the inner side with motifs matching the ones on the huge portico. Nearby stands the Triumph of St. Raphael, built from 1765 to 1781 by architect Miguel Verdiguier. For the base, Verdiguier drew his inspiration from the fountains in Rome’s Piazza Navona. The road, Calle Torrijos, runs parallel to the Mosque’s west façade. Facing Córdoba’s great monument is the museum, Museo Diocesano, with an interesting art gallery and an extensive collection of ritual objects, religious images and tapestries. In 1986, Hospital de San Sebastián was converted into a congress and exhibition hall. Designed by Hernán Ruiz the Elder, the building possesses one of the city’s most exquisite Gothic frontispieces.
The street, Calle Amador de los Ríos, leads to the fortress, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, built in 1328 on the instructions of Alfonso XI the Just. Originally a hostel and then a royal palace, centuries later, it would be used as the headquarters of the Inquisition, a military prison, a wine storehouse and a municipal warehouse. During the twentieth century, the fortress was thoroughly restored. The old orchards were made into idyllic gardens, laid out in accordance with the criteria of architect Escribano Ucelay. Arranged in terraces, the gardens are dotted with pools and ponds that remind us of the importance of water in the Arab city’s aesthetic consciousness. Among the sculptures in the Pablo Yusti Collection, we are immediately drawn by the depiction of Christopher Columbus’ audience with the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos Triumph of St. Raphael and Puerta del Puente Catholic Sovereigns, where the terms and conditions of his voyage to the New World were discussed. In the fortress’s Gothic rooms, there is a permanent exhibition of Roman pieces and mosaics found on archaeological digs. Particularly noteworthy are the mosaics portraying Cupid and Venus, Polyphemus and Galatea and Medusa. Another piece not to be missed is the Roman sarcophagus, dating back to the first quarter of the third century. Just by Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos are the royal stables or Caballerizas Reales, built in 1570 by Felipe II for the purpose of rearing Spanish thoroughbred horses. All the outbuildings are arranged round a huge, rectangular courtyard. Stable 1, situated next to the main entrance, is in a better state of preservation than the rest. Caballerizas Reales now houses the offices of the Tourism Consortium and is also used for cultural and social events.
The Jewish Quarter is one of the main sights to be seen when visiting Córdoba. Narrow streets, tiny squares, ancestral homes and mansions all combine to produce a unique atmosphere which is enhanced by the events written into its history. Leaving Puerta de Almodóvar behind, we stroll down Calle Judíos to Casa Andalusí, where the Mudéjar courtyard is skirted by a paper museum. Further down, the only remaining synagogue in Andalusia awaits us. Built in 1315, when Alfonso XI the Just was on the throne, it was listed as a national monument in 1885. Visitors might be interested to know that, among its many functions, it was once used as a hospital for the hydrophobic, or people with a fear of drinking fluids. With a square footing, the building stands proud of the ornamental work on its walls, although a lot of the decoration in the lower part has been lost. Nevertheless, towards the top, it is still possible to see the filigree work of Córdoba’s Jewish masters.
Opposite the Synagogue, the Souk, opened in 1954 to accommodate the city’s craftsmen. Calle Averroes, the location of the San Bartolomé Oratory, takes us along to Plaza del Cardenal Salazar, complete with a palace of the same name. The buildings round the baroque courtyard are occupied by the Faculty of Philosophy and Letters of the University of Córdoba. On one side of Plaza de Maimonides, we might step inside the bullfighting museum, Museo Taurino; on the other, the Palace of Condes de Hornachuelos; and, to the right, in the colonnaded courtyard of a hotel, a full collection of capitals from the Roman, Visigothic and Arab eras is on display. In Plaza de Tiberiades, a bronze sculpture of Jewish philosopher Maimonides reigns supreme. Plaza Judá Leví leads us to Calle Deanes and then on to Calleja de la Hoguera, another of the Jewish Quarter’s quaintest spots. In the proximities of the Mosque, to one side of Calle Velázquez Bosco, is Calleja de las Flores, one of Córdoba’s distinctive picture-postcard scenes. From one end of this side street, with a gushing fountain close by, we can make out the cathedral’s belfry, framed by whitewashed walls bedecked with potted plants.
History of Cordoba
Córdoba was founded between 169 and 153 B.C. and was erected at the point where the Guadalquivir ceased being navigable. From the port, ships laden with minerals from Sierra Morena and farm produce from La Campiña set sail for the major cities of the Empire. From the very beginning, Córdoba was the capital of Baetica, one of the provinces of Hispania Ulterior and, in the course of time, was awarded the distinction of Patrician Colony. The city was the birthplace of philosopher Lucius Annaeus Seneca and his nephew, the poet Lucan. In the first century A.D., patrician families such as the Annaei, to which Seneca belonged, embarked on an ambitious building scheme, including the Roman Bridge, one of the key crossroads on the Via Augusta.
Córdoba built a theatre which was only six meters smaller than the one in Rome and erected the world’s largest amphitheatre. The effects of the fall of the Roman Empire became noticeable in the third century A.D., during the rule of Emperor Diocletian. As the myth of the early Christian martyrs came into being, Córdoba gradually lost the splendor it had enjoyed in the past. In the fifth century, the city was pillaged by barbaric hordes of Swabians, Alani and Vandals. One hundred years later, in the sixth century, the Visigoths would choose Córdoba as the seat of their government.
However, change was in store, for in October 711, a detachment of 400 soldiers, mostly Arabs and Berbers, set up camp at the city gates. The arrival of this army would mean the beginning of the end for Visigoth domination on peninsular soil. Córdoba was already the capital of al-Andalus when Abd al-Rahman I entered the city in 756. The first emir of the Omayya Dynasty took up residence in Arruzafa, where Europe’s first palm trees were planted. Abd al-Rahman I ordered the construction of a mosque on top of the Visigoth basilica. His descendants would continue to build onto it until well into the year 1000, making the temple into the leading Moslem monument to be erected on Western soil.
On January 16 929, Abd al-Rahman III proclaimed the constitution of the Caliphate of Córdoba. The new government declared independence from the Caliphate of Damascus and pushed the new caliphate’s peninsular borders northwards, to the Cantabrian Sea. The first Cordovan caliph was to go down in history for commanding the construction of Medina Azahara. The palatial residence was extended by his son, al-Hakam II, famous for his library of over 400,000 volumes. Hisham II, the son of al-Hakam II, placed responsibility for the government of the caliphate in the hands of the caudillo, Almanzor, who undertook over 50 successful expeditions. His death brought the caliphate’s dissolution and the division of the territory into kingdoms under Moorish rulers.
At the end of the eleventh century, the capital of al-Andalus came to form part of the Kingdom of Seville and would remain so until the Almoravid and Almohad Dynasties arrived on the peninsula. On June 29 1236, Córdoba was re-conquered by Fernando III the Holy. Christian Córdoba would experience a new period of glory during the reign of Alfonso X the Wise, who did much to encourage the peaceful co-existence of the Christian, Arab and Jewish communities. During the reign of the Catholic Sovereigns, Córdoba played a central role in the Discovery of America. When Felipe II was on the throne, the city sank into a period of crisis which would be repeated decades later under Felipe IV. Things were no better under the Bourbons. At the time of the War of Independence, the inhabitants of Córdoba became famous for their heroic resistance. Moving on to the twentieth century, the sixties witnessed the launching of the silverware industry, now the city’s main source of income. With the foundation of the university in 1971, the declaration of the city as a World Heritage Site in 1994, local environmental awareness and improved infrastructures, Córdoba has turned into one of Spain’s most flourishing and outgoing cities.
Fairs and festivals in Cordoba
Córdoba’s calendar of festivities commences early in the year with the traditional Twelfth Night Procession. In the third week of January, a mediaeval market is held in Plaza de la Corredera, where local craftsmen gather with drama groups re-enacting episodes from Córdoba’s history. February brings two important events: first, the Antique Book Fair and second, Carnival, which centers round the District of San Agustín. Meanwhile, street musicians, bands in carnival costume and comedians perform at the city’s main theatre, Gran Teatro, situated on Avenida del Gran Capitán. March kicks off with the Three Cultures Music Cycle, a contest in which a travelling panel of judges goes round the city’s main districts to assess the performance of groups in the Christian, Arab and Hebrew traditions, centered in the main round the Middle Ages.
Córdoba’s Holy Week is a designated event of National Touristic Interest. Processions are enhanced by floats of great baroque beauty, particularly the Stations of Penance in which the statue, Cristo de las Ánimas, is carried on the night of Easter Monday.
April and May are both key months on Córdoba’s calendar. First comes the Book Fair, held on the pedestrian avenue, Avenida del Gran Capitán, to be followed on the second Sunday in April by the pilgrimage in honor of Santo Domingo de Scalacoeli. The sanctuary is situated in the foothills of Sierra Morena, just 10 km from the city, in a place known as Torre de Berlanga, founded in the fifteenth century by San Álvaro. A few days later, it is time for the Battle of Flowers, a prelude to one of Córdoba’s major celebrations, Cruces de Mayo, when crosses are placed in the city’s most prized spots by societies, brotherhoods and residents’ associations. In an array of bright colours, the crosses are bedecked in all kinds of articles and contrivances.
May commences with the Pilgrimage of Virgen de Linares, whose sanctuary is only seven km from Córdoba, not far from the Badajoz Road. Tradition has it that the temple was built on the instructions of Fernando III in 1236 after the recovery of the city from the Arabs, when the monarch donated a Gothic carving of the virgin. The other chief festive event, the Festival of Courtyards, Grilles and Balconies, takes place in mid-May, when the city’s courtyards and palaces are open to the public and wine-tasting sessions are organized at inns and taverns.
May draws to a close with the Córdoba Fair, held in honour of Nuestra Señora de la Salud in Arenal, just by the Arcángeles Stadium. Celebrations include bullfights at the Califas Bullring, formerly Plaza de los Tejares. Corpus Christi is celebrated with the performance of a Eucharistic play in Patio de los Naranjos at the Mosque/Cathedral. June brings the Brazilian Music Festival and the start of the outdoor cinema season, when filmgoers have a choice of four different locations. As July is one of the hottest months of the year in Córdoba, cultural activities are held when the sun goes down.
The International Sephardic Music Festival comes just one week before the Guitar Festival, a top cultural event in Andalusia. The competition is open to up-and-coming flamenco guitarists and also to acclaimed maestros of a variety of genres who perform all over the city. One of the best venues is the fortress, Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos.
From July to September, the old quarter comes alive with a season of Flamenco Nights, staged at Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos, Casa de las Campanas and Plaza del Potro. Lasting a little bit longer (from July to October), the season of Magic Nights includes plays, guided tours and music concerts, while taverns, pavement cafés and boîtes open well into the night.
The Jewish Quarter in Cordoba has its own music cycle in August. September is the month for congresses and trade fairs promoting silverware and footwear. September 8 is earmarked for the fiesta in honor of Virgen de la Fuensanta.
October is livened up by the International Jazz Festival, with performances at Gran Teatro and various jazz halls dotted round the city. The city’s guardian, San Rafael, is fêted on October 24, when morning services are held in his honor at the church, Iglesia del Juramento, followed by a trip to the hills and a chance to enjoy el perol, a juicy rice dish washed down with Montilla-Moriles wine.
In the wake of November and All Saints’ Day comes a tight schedule in the last month of the year, when the Photography Biennial takes place.
New Year’s Eve is a particularly important day in Córdoba as this is when the clock in Plaza de las Tendillas rings in the New Year for all of Andalusia. Throughout the year, music and plays can be enjoyed at Córdoba’s Gran Teatro, where one of Andalusia’s leading orchestras, Orquesta Ciudad de Córdoba, heads the program.
As for the towns and villages in the province of Córdoba, there are countless fairs and fiestas all year round, mostly of a religious nature. In the first week of June, the people of Aguilar de la Frontera go on a pilgrimage known as La Candelaria. On the first Wednesday in October, Baena has its Royal Fair, concerned, amongst other things, with the promotion of olive oil. One of the most original Cordovan processions may be seen on the third Sunday in June at the Sanctuary of Virgen de la Sierra de Cabra, the destination of the national gypsy pilgrimage. On the first Sunday in May, the neighboring town of Lucena holds fiestas in honor of its patron saint, Nuestra Señora de Araceli. Later, on the first Sunday in September, Montilla celebrates the grape harvest by paying tribute to wine, the region’s main source of income. The people of Pozoblanco go on a pilgrimage in honor of Virgen de la Luna and, on the second Sunday in September, Priego de Córdoba is immersed in its own fiestas, known as La Aurora.
To fully grasp the glory of Moorish Spain, the land they called Al-Andalus, one has to travel up the Guadalquivir river to what was once the capital of the most powerful kingdom of Islam. In its heyday, Cordoba was a city of more than half a million people, with hundreds of mosques, a medina that pulsated with the activity of the finest craftsmen, a centre of science and learning, the most civilised capital in Europe. Its crowning jewel was the Great Mosque. Part of it was destroyed to make way for a cathedral, built over its centre, but you can still recapture the spirit of Al-Andalus as you wander through its forest of hundreds of delicate marble columns and double-tiered arches. Leaving the Mosque, today’s Cordoba greets the traveller with all the charm of a tolerant and congenial Andalusian city. Taverns beckon with offerings of tasty tapas (delicious snack-like servings) and fine wines, plazas (squares) and patios (courtyards) are alive with flowering roses, geraniums and carnations, the strains of flamenco waft from balconies and windows, beautiful examples of fine filigree jewellery, intricate leatherwork and other handcrafted goods tempt the traveller. Cordoba is a UNESCO World Heritage site.