Seville and Granada get all the love, but don’t overlook history-rich Córdoba in Andalusia. Expert Cat Gaa has the scoop.
By Cat Gaa
The first time I fell in love with Córdoba was when my first year Spanish book was handed out to me. The inside cover stretched the span of two pages, lined with the red- and white-striped horseshoe arches of the mosque-cum-church.
Nine years later, I stood in awe of the 865 columns stacked high with marble and onyx ‘arcos’. The city is a smaller, laid-back alternative to its big sisters, Granada and Seville, but with all of the color and culture.
Seville may have my loyalty, but Córdoba breathes history and vibrancy into Andalusia’s heartland.
The Caliphate City
During the Muslim occupation of the Iberian Peninsula, Córdoba became one of the largest and most enlightened cities in the caliphate. Scholars roamed its narrow streets, and the city gave rise to great thinkers like Averroes and Maimonides.
When the Catholic Kings conquered the city in 1236, the city saw a decline in population and prestige. Overshadowed by other major cities in Spain, Córdoba is often overlooked despite deep-rooted Andalusian tradition like flamenco and bullfighting. What’s more, the central neighborhood, which still retains a great deal of its architectural and cultural heritage, has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site for nearly 20 years.
What to See
The ‘Mezquita’, or Mosque, is the city’s biggest draw and its symbol. Once the center of Muslim worship, the reconquest meant that the Catholic Kings demolished the central naves to construct a lavish cathedral. Visitors can visit the entire cathedral, complete with chapels and a lush inner patio, typical of mosques. Visitor hours are Monday – Saturday from 10am – 7pm and Sunday before and after mass. Adult tickets are 8€, and no student discounts are given.
Just adjacent to the mosque and crossing the Guadalquivir River, the ‘Puente Romano’, or Roman bridge, is a testament to the city’s dotted past. Alcázar de los Reyes Católicos is another must while in Córdoba. This stone palace was built a stone’s throw from the cathedral and has a wealth of green space. This palace has been used as a defensive fortress as well as a torture center during the Inquisition. The visit will cost you 4,50€ (2,25€ for students under 26), and can be visited Tuesday – Sunday from 8:30am until 8:45p.m.
Córdoba is also home to the Calleja de las Flores and Los Patios that grace the name of its famous festival. The small alleyway near the bell tower of the ‘Mezquita’ is covered in flowerpots and leads to a breezy, miniature plaza with a small fountain. Before there was central air, the Muslim and Roman inhabitants of the Caliphate City used these narrow ‘callejones’ (alleys) and interior patios to cool off from the hot Andalusian sun.
There’s also loads of other sites, museums, and the city gates. Plan to devote a day or even two to visiting Córdoba’s historic center and its plazas.
***May is the month of festivals, too, with the Cruces de Mayo (1-5 May), Patios (8-19) and the Fair (typically the last week of May or first week of June).
What to Eat
Córdoba’s cuisine is famous for two dishes: ‘salmorejo’ and ‘flamenquínes’. The first, a cold, tomato-based soup, is often served with a garnish of cured ham and boiled egg and eaten all over Spain. The ‘flamenquín’ is a fried pork speciality that is coated with boiled ham, sometimes cheese, breadcrumbs and egg before meeting the frying pan.
Locals are quick to mention Bodegas Góngora (Calle Condes de Torres Cabrera, 4), an age-old tavern that serves a limited menu, but with great prices and portion sizes. Delorean, located near Plaza de las Tendillas, has decent tapas which come free with your drink, and Café El Pisto is a Plaza de San Miguel staple that serves up charm alongside its regional dishes. For a meat fix, try El Churrasco (Calle del Romero, 38). The wine cellar and packed dining room are a testament to their popular ‘carnes a las brasa,’ or grilled meats, and other regional favorites like ‘poor man’s potatoes’. Expect to pay over 10€ a head, but leave full.
How to Get There
Córdoba is located along the high-speed train line, connecting it to both Madrid (1h45’) and Seville (45’). Buses run regularly to other capitals in Andalusia, including the nearby Madinat Azahara, the ruins of a sacked Muslim palace that is now home to a museum-interpretation center.
Cat Gaa left the skyscrapers of Chicago nearly six years ago and settled in Seville, surrounded by orange blossoms and olive trees. When not wrangling school children, she writes and tweets about life in the Andalusian capital at Sunshine and Siestas.