A lovely family that stayed with us recently remarked upon how much they had enjoyed their day trip to Córdoba, so we thought it might be helpful to write a one-day walking guide to this ancient city. Córdoba is such a diverse city, where east truly meets west: the typical Spanish narrow streets, lined with white houses decorated with colourful flower pots, are surrounded by exquisite gems of Islamic architecture, remnants of a time when Muslims, Christians and Jews once lived peacefully side-by-side.
Córdoba was conquered by the Romans in 206 BC, but the city's story goes much further back than that, making it a history lover's dream. Architecture enthusiasts, photographers and artists will also be awed by the incredible Great Mosque of Córdoba (Spanish: Mezquita de Córdoba), built by the Moors in 784.
Córdoba is a 2.5 hour drive from La Cazalla de Ronda and you can choose the more direct route on the A-451 & A-351 via Osuna, or take a breathtaking drive through the mountains to Teba, Antequera (with its formidable history spanning 5,000 years beginning in the Bronze Age) and Montilla - a village world-famous for its wine. There is plenty of parking close to the Mezquita and the Roman bridge, enabling an easy walking tour of the highlights of this ancient city in Andalusia.
A brief history of Córdoba
The first historical mention of a settlement at Córdoba dates back to the Carthaginian expansion across the Guadalquivir river, when general Hamilcar Barca renamed it Kartuba ('the City of Juba' - 'Juba' being a Numidian commander who had died in a battle nearby).
The Romans took the city in 206 BC and during the time of Julius Caesar, Córdoba was the capital of the Roman province of Hispania Ulterior/Baetica. Great Roman philosophers such as Lucius Annaeus Seneca the Younger, and renowned orators and poets (including Seneca the Elder and Lucan) are all documented to have come from Roman Cordoba. Roman rule lasted until the year 711, but their 1st century BC bridge across the Guadalquivir remains (although it has been reconstructed at various times since). In fact, most of the present structure dates from the Moorish reconstruction during the 8th century.
In 711 a Moorish army captured Córdoba and in May 766 it was chosen as the capital of the independent Muslim emirate of al-Andalus (now Andalusia). In the 10th and 11th centuries, Córdoba was known as one of the most advanced cities in the world, as well as a great cultural, political, financial and economic centre, and the Great Mosque of Córdoba dates back to this time. The mosque is now a Catholic cathedral (the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption), as the city was returned to Christianity when it was recaptured by the Spanish in 1236, and this amazing building has to be at the top of your list for your day of exploration.
The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
It's a good idea to plan your visit to the Mezquita as early in the morning as possible (it opens at 8.30 am), as it can become very busy with tourists. The entrance is via the delightful Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of Orange Trees), with its fountains, orange (naturally!), palm and cypress trees. The courtyard was formerly the site of ritual ablutions before prayer in the mosque. Its most impressive entrance is the Puerta del Perdón: a 14th-century Mudéjar archway in the base of the bell tower. The ticket office is just inside there.
The Great Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba is an incredibly beautiful building, and demonstrates a certain tolerance of other religions and beliefs. Originally the site is believed to have been home to small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, which was later divided and shared by Muslims and Christians after the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic kingdom. This sharing arrangement lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir 'Abd al-Rahman I, who then proceeded to demolish the original structure and build the Grand Mosque of Córdoba on its ground.
In 1236, Córdoba was recaptured by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the mosque was converted into a Catholic church at its centre. Although further alterations continued to be made, such as the chapel in the 14th century, the conversion of the minaret into a bell tower and the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave, the stunning Islamic decorations remain intact and glorious.
The building is most notable for its arcaded 'hypostyle' (a roof supported by pillars) hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. Yup. You read that correctly: 856 columns (and originally there were 1,293... incredible!). These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The main hall of the mosque was used for a variety of purposes, serving as a central prayer hall for personal devotion, the five daily Muslim prayers and the special Friday prayers.
The edifice also has a richly gilded prayer niche (a 'mihrab'). The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. Traditionally, the mihrab (or apse) of a mosque faces in the direction of Mecca, but Mecca is to the east-southeast and the mihrab of this mosque unusually points south.
The opening hours of the Great Mosque-Cathedral vary during low and high season as follows:
- November-February: Monday to Saturday, 8.30-18.00 h. Sundays and religious feasts, 8.30-11.30 h. and 15.00-18.00 h.
- March-October: Monday to Saturday, 10.00-19.00 h. Sundays and religious feasts, 8.30-11.30 h. and 15.00-19.00 h.
Entrance is 10 € per adult, 5 € for children between 10 and 14 years old, and free for children under 10. You can purchase your tickets at the office within the Patio de los Naranjos upon arrival.
The Roman Bridge and Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
A nine-minute walk will take you from the Mezquita to the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Kings): an Historical Monument and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Simply head towards the Roman Bridge and then turn right to walk beside the Guadalquivir river to the Alcázar.
Whilst the interior of the castle is interesting, with its museum containing various artifacts of Roman, Moorish and Catholic origin, and the mosaic-tiled ceremony hall, the beautiful gardens of the Alcázar just have to be seen during your one day visit.
The Alcazar has always been an important building in Córdoba because of its location right next to the Guadalquivir river. It used to be the residence of Roman governors and Moorish caliphs, and in 1328 it became the home of the Spanish kings whenever they were in town. The building was donated to the church by Fernando and Isabella, who made it the site of the Courts of the Holy Offices (the dreaded Inquisition). In the centuries after that, the castle was used as a civil prison, and later as a military one.
The castle is closed on Mondays, but open Tuesday to Saturday from 8.30 am to 3 pm, and on Sundays and public holidays from 8.30 am to 2.30 pm. Entry is 4.50 € or free from children under 13.
The Hidden Patios of Córdoba
By now you'll probably be feeling in the need of a little refreshment and a rest, so why not stroll aimlessly through the streets of the Old Town and the Jewish Quarter, heading in the general direction of the Synagogue. There are plenty of cafés, restaurants and souvenir shops, and the picturesque cobbled streets lined with whitewashed houses festooned with colourful potted plants make for the perfect peaceful interlude.
Whilst the three colourful patios in the photographs above are mostly 'hidden' (i.e. closed), if you will be staying at La Cazalla during the first two weeks of May, you simply must visit Córdoba for the Patio Festival, when none of them will be 'hidden'! Both private, single-family homes and larger, low-built, apartment-style buildings open their doors to the public and display their stunning flowers, mosaics and ceramic decorations. Entrance is entirely free, although there is usually somewhere for you to put a gratuity if you have enjoyed your visit. You'll need to plan your day a little differently though, as the majority of the patios are closed during siesta time, from 2-6 pm.
For the last part of your day in Córdoba, our personal recommendation would be to relax in the tranquility that is Casa Andalusí. There are a wealth of wonderful museums and galleries within the city, plus the Puerta de Almodóvar (the main gate into the old Jewish quarter) and the synagogue, but after a busy day, you can't beat winding down within the walls of Casa Andalusí.
This beautifully furnished 12th-century house is located between the synagogue and the Puerta de Almodóvar and houses objects from Córdoba’s medieval Islamic culture and Roman mosaics. There's also an interesting exhibit of 10th century Arab printing, which is one of the oldest forms of printmaking in the world. Your visit is accompanied by the sound of water and Arab/Spanish music, and there's a lush, peaceful courtyard in the centre.
Casa Andalusí is open every day from 10 am to 7.30 pm (which is why it's so perfect for the end of your day) and entry is 4 € per person.
When to visit Córdoba
Visiting Córdoba in July as our guests did means that there are usually less tourists to share the city with, but it is generally very hot during July and August. Temperatures are much more comfortable between October to June, and don't forget the Patio Festival at the beginning of May!
We hope that the above guide provides you with some good information for a one-day visit to Córdoba, but if you have any questions about Córdoba or staying at La Cazalla de Ronda, please don't hesitate to ask - we're always happy to help.