Mezquita of Cordoba
Cordoba’s number one is without a doubt the Mezquita, a most peculiar religious building. This Moorish mosque actually encompasses the city’s cathedral. When the Visigoths took over Spain, they replaced the existing Roman temple present on the site with a Christian church. The Moors then demolished the church and built their mosque, which became the second largest after that of Masjid al-Haram in Mecca. After the Reconquista, the building was converted, both religiously and architecturally, and an altar was built at its heart. In the 16th century, the initial gothic inset was extended and given a Renaissance appearance. The result is the very special hybrid that you can visit today.
It is essentially a forest of columns supporting enormous arches. The columns were made of different kinds of stone and many of them were sourced directly from the previous Roman temple and Visigoth church. They were too low to support a high ceiling so the architects used a clever double arch system to elevate the ceiling in the central parts of the mosque. Because of its special beauty, Cordoba’s Mezquita is the only church-converted mosque that was spared from demolition during the Spanish Baroque period. Even today, the Christians of Cordoba still say they go to mass “at the Mosque”.
You should also wander around the tiny streets of the old Jewish quarter, known as the Judería, which holds one of the last three remaining synagoguesin Spain – the others two being in Toledo. A characteristic feature of the Judería is the visibility of its historical urban structure. Roman houses used to be built around patios. Although these patios were shared by several houses, they were more communal than public. The Moors perpetuated this architectural tradition and nowadays, Andalucian cities still have many of these patios. But unlike other Andalucian cities, Cordoba has a concurso de patios, a competition held during the first half of May, during which you are invited to view the patios in their full bloom.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
Close to the Mezquita stands the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and its beautiful gardens. This ‘Castle of the Christian Monarchs’ is largely inspired by Moorish architecture, although most of it was built under Christian rule. The site had seen construction and destruction of many fortresses and the Moors had extended the Alcázar to a large composition of water gardens, irrigated by the use of watermills on the nearby Guadalquivir River. After the Reconquista, Alfonso XI of Castile began building the present day structure. His Alcázar retained some parts of the Moorish ruins and used the Mudéjar style. The Catholic Monarchs, Isabel of Castile and Fernando of Aragon, used the Alcázar as a permanent tribunal of the Spanish Inquisition and as a headquarters for their military campaign against Granada.
In the Alcázar, make sure that you climb up the two towers, the Torre de Homenaje and the Torre de los Leones, from which you get good panoramic view over the whole city, including the nearby Mezquita and the Puente Romano. Cordoba’s river, river Guadalquivir was traditionally crossed via an old roman bridge, the Puente Romano, which still stands today. On the south side of the bridge stands the Torre de la Calahorra, a 14th century tower that hosts a museum that celebrates the religious tolerance of 10th century Islamic Cordoba.
Find out more about the Alcázar here.