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Cordoba travel guide

History of Cordoba

Cordoba's history can be traced back to prehistoric times, up to Neanderthal activity, but the first historical reference is probably the Carthaginian settlement of 'Kart-uba', literally meaning "the City of Juba", from the name of a commander who died in a battle nearby.

The town was then conquered by the Romans, and from then on, it remained a major place of power in southern Spain, whether it was under the rule of the Byzantine Empire, the Visigoths or the Moors. Under the Moors particularly, it was first a provincial capital, before becoming the capital of the independent Muslim emirate of Al-Andalus, the name given to the people living in the southern part of medieval Spain. The city finally became a caliphate, the highest status in Muslim hierarchy.

During this period, at around 1000 AD, Cordoba entered its golden age. It was the biggest city in Europe. The only European city that could have rivalled it, was the Byzantine Constantinople. Cordoba was therefore a powerful economic and cultural city. It had many mosques, libraries, observatories, aqueducts, patios, universities and all the architectural features that a major city of the period was to have. Not least was its great mosque, the Mezquita, whose size grew with that of the city.

Cordoba became a place of pilgrimage for Muslims.  At its peak, the caliphate controlled most of the Iberian Peninsula below Valladolid and a good part of North Africa. The great general Al-Mansour even managed to raid Santiago de Compostela, the rallying symbol of the Christian Reconquista, to steal the bells of the cathedral and to bring them all the way to the Mezquita on the backs of Christian slaves. Nonetheless, Cordoba was one of the few places in Europe where free Muslims, Jews and Christian people could live more or less happily together, and the city produced many scholars from the three religions.

After a period of instability, Cordoba lost its Al-Andalus capital status to Seville. In 1236, it was finally captured by King Fernando of Castile, during the Reconquista led by the Catholic Monarchs. A long and slow decline then followed, particularly after Renaissance times, though Cordoba's intellectual influence was still felt for centuries throughout Europe.  In the 18th century the city was reduced to 20,000 inhabitants, which was 20 times smaller than it had been in the 11th century. It is only in the late 19th century that Cordoba resumed its growth.