Córdoba (city, Spain)

A Córdoba street under the looming Bell Tower of the Mezquita

Córdoba is a mid-sized city of 350,000 inhabitants and the capital of the province of Córdoba, situated in the center of Andalucia in Spain. A great cultural reference point in Europe, this ancient city has been declared a World Heritage Site and contains a mixture of the diverse cultures that have settled it throughout history.

Understand

Very few places in the world can boast of having been the capital of a Roman province (Hispania Ulterior), the capital of an Arab State (Al-Andalus) and a Caliphate. Such splendor is palpable in the intellectual wealth of this city, that has seen the birth of figures like Seneca, Averroes, and Maimonides. The historic quarter of Córdoba is a beautiful network of small streets, alleys, squares and whitewashed courtyards arranged around the Mezquita, which reflects the city's prominent place in the Islamic world during medieval times.

Córdoba also has much to offer in terms of art, culture and leisure, thanks to a myriad of cultural events that are organized here throughout the year: Flamenco festivals, concerts, ballet and other activities. These events are complemented by a number of museums and a good nightlife scene.

Get in

Map of Córdoba

By train

AVE, Spain's high-speed rail network, offers very fast and comfortable train service to Córdoba, but it is a bit more expensive compared to regular bus or train services. AVE trains run hourly from Madrid (1 hour 45 minutes), Seville (45 minutes) and Malaga (50 minutes). There are also two daily AVE services to Barcelona (about five hours). Additionally, there is a very cheap sleeping train option from Córdoba to Barcelona (Andalucía Express).

As an alternative to the AVE there are also cheaper RENFE trains, such as the Lanzaderas to Seville and Malaga (for around 15-20€) or the Altaria and the Alivia trains going to Granada (2 hours 30 minutes) and Madrid (2 hours 30 minutes). Schedules, prices and tickets are all available online.

By bus

By plane

Córdoba lacks an airport. The closest major airports are in Seville, Málaga and Madrid; from there a train or a bus to Córdoba takes but a few hours.

By car

Distances to/from Cordoba: Madrid 407 km. Badajoz 278 km, Granada 166 km, Malaga 175 km

Get around

Just about everything of interest in Córdoba is within easy walking distance (the one notable exception being the Medina Azahara), and the typical tourist can do with the standard tourist map which can be obtained from the tourist offices (one on the east side of the Mezquita, another between the Alcázar and the city walls, and yet another in the train station, to name a few).

The area with by far the most to see is the Old City surrounding the Mezquita. The Old City is a tangle of medieval-style streets roughly bounded by the Guadalquivir River on the south, the area surrounding Plaza de las Tendillas on the north and the tree-lined Paseo de la Victoria on the west. This area is crammed with places to stay, eat and buy souvenirs, though many visitors may find certain areas (particularly immediately surrounding the Mezquita) too touristy, with more interesting things found wandering into the tiny streets of the Jewish Quarter to the west and north of the Mezquita. Behind the Mezquita the Roman Bridge crosses the Guadalquivir River to a museum in the old gate on the opposite side.

The area immediately to the north of the Old City, roughly from the area around Plaza de las Tendillas to Avenida de America is a more modern section of town and is where the train and bus station is located as well as a major shopping area. Along Paseo de la Victoria on the west side and Avenida de America on the north are large parks that make for a pleasant stroll.

See

The Mezquita

The famous arches of the Mezquita

M-Sa 8:30-19:00, Su 8:30-10:30 and 14:00-19:00 (last entry 30 minutes before closing). €8 (free entry during 8:30-10:00 morning mass).

The biggest attraction in Córdoba and a truly must-see building, the Mezquita is a massive former mosque-turned-cathedral famed for its "forest" of columns topped with Islamic-style red and white striped arches among its other many architectural highlights and serves as a reminder of the glory and importance Córdoba held in medieval times. The building is full of history and beauty - you'll want to give yourself at least a couple of hours to do it justice.

Built in 786 as a mosque, the structure was expanded several times under Córdoba 's Muslim rule while still remaining largely true to the original design. Following the Christian Reconquista of Córdoba in 1236, work immediately went underway to convert the building to a church, and four centuries later a cathedral at the center of the building was constructed, though not without controversy as it significantly altered the space. Today, despite the presence of the cathedral, most of the original mosque structure remains remarkably well-preserved.

Approaching the Mezquita, the first thing you will notice is the massive bell tower on the building's north side which looms over the surrounding buildings. Built in the 1600s the tower replaced a minaret previously on the site. Along the outside of the building the wall takes on the appearance of a fortress, with an elaborate set of Moorish-style archway and windows spaced every so often.

Stepping through one of the doors you'll enter the Patio de los Naranjos, or Court of the Oranges, which true to its name contains a grove of orange trees, planted in symmetrical rows that replicate the forest of columns within the building. A large fountain drips pleasantly in the middle, and the views of the bell tower framed by trees are excellent. The Patio is free to enter and is open during the day as a public park - the ticket booths are located on the bell tower side of the courtyard.

Entering the interior you'll immediately be standing before the forest of columns which recede into the distance, topped with their dazzling horseshoe arches. The light in the space will play interesting tricks with the arches and varies pretty dramatically as you walk through the building, going from rather dark when you enter to very bright at the cathedral in the middle and back and forth as you continue.

Opposite the room from the entrance is the Mihrab, a spectacular archway decorated with Arabic writing which was the focus of the mosque, as it faced in the direction of Mecca and was what every Muslim faced as they knelt on the floor to pray . Once, tens of thousands of people could fit into this space to pray, the multitude knelt on their rugs before the Mihrab. In the corner of the building nearby are glass cases with artifacts excavated from beneath the Mezquita, and the walls along the side of the building are lined with chapels, each one with an intricate piece of artwork.

At the center of the building, the Cathedral towers over the rest of the building, and the transition from the impressive-but-intimate mosque structure to the overwhelming awe of the cathedral is abrupt and rather jarring, but don't let that stop you from taking in the beauty of the cathedral, with its rich decoration and well-illuminated interior, standing to suggest triumph over the Muslims who previously used this building. The presence of the cathedral also offers the unique opportunity to so easily compare the differences between Muslim and Christian architecture.

The Old City

The City Wall and Puerta de Almodóvar

A tangle of narrow medieval streets surrounding the Mezquita, the Old City sits just uphill from the muddy Guadalquivir River and contains the vast majority of Córdoba's tourist attractions. North and west of the Mezquita sits the Jewish Quarter, a neighborhood which dates from the late Middle Ages and offers an interesting stroll, some lovely patios and a few scant reminders of the Jewish population that once lived here.

Outside the Old City

Do

Roman Bridge of Córdoba

May - ¡Mayo!. The best time to visit the city. 'The Month of Córdoba'.

March-April

July

February-March

During the year

Buy

The main shopping area is around the Plaza de las Tendillas: Concepción street, Cruz Conde street, Gran Capitán boulevard, Ronda de los Tejares avenue...

One of the traditional craftwork in Córdoba is jewellery. Good value jewels, specially gold, can be found around the city. However, it is advisable to buy far from touristic sites as they are the most expensive places to buy that. One place to check it is around Jesus Rescatado avenue.

Eat

Budget

Splurge

Drink

Sleep

Guesthouses

Hostels

Hotels

Stay safe

Exercise caution when walking around the area near the Mezquita: beggars will try to sucker you for some money and they often work in teams. You may find yourself being charged 40 Euro for a palm reading, or having your money snatched by a little kid working together with the supposed palm reader. Just keep an eye on your things and don't get caught up with their scams.

Go next

Outside the city are very beautiful villages with longstanding traditions and ancient monuments. Many of them are served by the intra-province buses at Cordoba bus station. Some examples are:

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, March 07, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.