Welcome to the sights, scents and sounds of Cordoba, a magical city where, behind almost every building façade, lies a magnificent open-air courtyard, or ‘patio’.
Before continuing to read this article about the beautiful Andalusian city of Cordoba and its most famous festival, why not check out my Andalusian Spotify playlist?
Does that set the scene?
Now, imagine some flowers, a whole load of flowers, absolutely everywhere, and of all shapes and colours!
Are you seeing it all?
If you want to experience the real thing, the time to visit is undoubtedly at the beginning of May, as the flower-full patios are proudly opened up to the public on occasion of the city’s world famous ‘Patio Festival’, listed as UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity since 2012.
Every year, thousands of people flock to Cordoba with one goal in mind: to visit as many patios as possible. Grabbing a map, leaflet, booklet or card, they plan their itinerary and set about marking off the stops one by one. The most renowned patios are quick stormed, building up long queues on pavements outside. If you’re lucky, you might only spend a half waiting to get in, and, in the meantime, you might strike up a pleasant conversation with your fellow queuers. But there are plenty of smaller patios tucked away in delightful corners of the old town, where you can spend longer admiring all the flowers and foliage around you and chatting away with the patio owners. On the other hand, if your mission is to see each and every patio, well, it’s pretty much mission impossible. Or, at least, you’ll need quite a few days to do it, since the patios are only open for a few hours a day, and are strewn right throughout the city. But you’ll have to sharpen your elbows! If you want to take a rather more leisurely pace, just stroll around, check out a few of the patios with lesser queues, get a refreshment here and there, and listen to the sound of Flamenco music that seems to permeate the narrow, cobbled streets. You could even indulge in a horse-driven cart ride around the sights of this multi-awarded UNESCO city.
Apart from the patios, you can also decide to visit the city by theme, historical period or at random, but, at least on your first visit, there are certain must-sees that you really can’t afford to miss.
What are the unmissable sights of Cordoba?
First of all, it’s pretty much sacrilege to visit Cordoba without visiting the ‘Mezquita’, its ‘Mosque-Cathedral’. In turn, this religious place has been a temple, a basilica, a mosque and a cathedral, and, by its various architectural influences, is considered one of a kind in the world. The cathedral stands today as a witness of the various settlers of the city over the centuries, including Romans, Visigoths, Arabs and Castilians.
Leaving the cathedral, you will likely step straight into the ‘Judería’, the medieval Jewish quarter, a maze of alleyways and souvenir shops. It’s a beautiful part of the city to get lost in, though its restaurants are quite the tourist trap.
Digging deeper into the history of Cordoba, you will learn that it was once the capital of Baetica, one of the three provinces of the ancient Roman Empire on the Iberian Peninsula, corresponding more or less to the size and shape of Andalusia as we know it today.
The name, Baetica, comes from the River Baetis, nowadays known as the Guadalquivir. In the city centre, you can still cross the river by its Roman bridge, restored on numerous occasions and an outstanding example of ancient Roman engineering and architecture. Heading back through the centre, on the far side of the Jewish quarter, you also will find the remains of a Roman temple, right next to the town hall.
Just a few steps from the temple is the imposing square of Plaza de la Corredera. This focal point in the Cordoba scene is the only quadrangular ‘Plaza Mayor’ in the whole of Andalusia, where the term ‘Plaza Mayor’ is used to denote a main square historically used as a marketplace, the location of the town hall and a ‘place-of-arms’, a large open space in which to gather soldiers, weapons and supplies in case of attack. It also makes for perfect place to sit down and have a bite to eat on your tour around the city.
Returning towards the banks of the Guadalquivir, you should visit the ‘Alcázar of the Catholic Monarchs’. The ‘Alcázar’, a Spanish word taken from the Arabic ‘al-qasr’ meaning ‘palace’ in Arabic, was one of the fortified residences of Queen Isabella I of Castile, the first catholic queen of Spain, and her husband, King Ferdinand II of Aragon. It also served as one of the very first courts of the Spanish Inquisition, and was one of the locations where the king and queen consulted with Christopher Columbus before his impending voyage of discovery of the Americas.
So here are the absolute must-sees for a first short visit to Cordoba:
Top tip: Visit the Alcázar by night to see an awe-inspiring show of its refreshing fountains, lit in a multitude of constantly changing colours and pumping to the sounds of Flamenco and Arabic music. All this is set to a recounting of the history of Cordoba, and of the city’s importance not only for the Catholic Monarchs, but also as a capital city of Al-Andalus, the region of Spain once ruled over by the Moors. It all makes for an extraordinary spectacle that you’ll remember in intricate detail for years to come. For more information and tickets, visit the webpage of the city’s tourist office.
The perfect Instagram spot: ‘Calleja de las Flores’, or ‘Alley of Flowers’, a flower-lined street, in the Jewish quarter, that quickly narrows towards a backdrop of the Mosque-Cathedral’s main tower.
Did you know … ?
Cordoba has been listed 6 times by UNESCO, and boasts more UNESCO Heritage sites than anywhere else in the world. These include the Mosque-Cathedral, the historic city centre, the Patio Festival, and the Medina Azahara, the Caliphate City to the western outskirts of the modern city. Added to these four listings, are two of Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity for Flamenco music and dance and the Mediterranean diet, which reference larger geographical areas that include Cordoba.
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