Córdoba, Spain: The Soul of Andalusia
In our travels, there are some places that simply call us back for more. It’s not that they are prettier, more vibrant, or even more interesting than anywhere else . . . but we can hear that faint whisper calling out, “we’ll see you again”. Such was the case with Córdoba, Spain as she beckoned us last year for a return visit. And, as with our first visit, this one was just as enjoyable. Yes, the streets are beautiful, the gardens are lush and gorgeous, and the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral, The Alcazar de los Reyes Christianos, and the Roman Bridge are magnificent structures. But the attraction goes deeper than just what the eyes can see . . . it feels more like we have a connection, or an attunement with the underlying rich and fascinating history of the town.
The Historic Centre of Córdoba reflects thousands of years of occupation by different cultural groups – Roman, Visigoth, Islam, Judaism and Christian – and each has left an architectural and cultural mark on the city. Walking the streets of old town Córdoba, one gets the impression that it's a relatively small town - very beautiful, but small. Its history, however, has more grandeur than today's city streets. During the more than 800 years that southern Spain was under Moorish rule, Córdoba—which in medieval times also, remarkably, embraced Christianity and Judaism—was the Rome of its time. In the 10th century, Córdoba was the biggest city in Europe. Its leading intellectuals were carrying out pioneering work in philosophy, medicine, and astronomy. it had more than 80 libraries. and the Alcazar contained the most extensive library in the west with 400,000 books. This was at a time when 2% of the population was literate. Christians, Jews, and Muslims lived and worked side-by-side, most of the time without clashing. Today, it’s a town with a population of 344,000 - after dipping to a low of 20,000 in the 1700’s.
Virtually all of Córdoba’s oldest quarters are UNESCO World Heritage sites, and when combined, they form the largest old town in Spain. This combined area contains the separate neighborhoods of Judería, a maze of cobbled alleys that was once the city’s Jewish quarter; Santa Marina, nicknamed the Barrio de los Toreros because of its deep connection with bullfighting; and the more bohemian district of San Pablo. The historic centre is also home to one of the prettiest streets in Spain, the Calleja de las Flores (Alley of the Flowers).
The visual and architectural centerpiece of Córdoba is the Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral. It’s Cordoba’s most famous sight and was originally built as a Mosque in the 700's when Córdoba (as with many towns in southern Spain’s Andalusia region), was under Islamic control. After hundreds of years as an Arab capital, the Christians seized control of Córdoba and brought Christianity to the region. Over time the Mosque was eventually converted into a Cathedral. Today, the Mezquita is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a cornerstone of Córdoba’s history.
Alcazar de los Reyes Critianos
Just a few blocks away from the Mezquita is the Alcazar de los Reyes Critianos or Palace of the Christian Kings. This palace was built in the 1300's as a fortress and later used as a residence by Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand as they set out to defeat the last remaining Moorish states in southern Spain. Today, it’s one of Córdoba’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
La Juderia is the old Jewish Quarter in Córdoba, which is also home to some of the city’s most historic sites like the Mosque-Cathedral, the Palace of the Christian Kings, and the only Jewish Synagogue in all of Andalusia. The entire neighborhood is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Roman Bridge
The Roman Bridge, also known as the Old Bridge, was built in the early 1st century BC by the Romans. Much of the changes and restorations to the bridge that you see today were made by The Moors in the 8th century.
Andalusia Spain has many other wonderful cities along with Córdoba . . . Malaga, Granada, and Ronda, to name a few. And even as wonderful as they all are, Córdoba may just be my favorite. I am reminded of what the Beatle’s producer George Martin once said about Paul McCartney and John Lennon. He said that Paul was the heart of the group, and no doubt, without Paul there would be no Beatles. Martin went on to say that John was the soul of the band. His more complex inner being gave the band an edge that provided a more sophisticated and nuanced sound than some of the more popular music of the early 1960’s. It is this traveler’s opinion that Granada (with the magnificent Alhambra) is the heart of Andalusia – much like Paul was to the Beatles. But Córdoba with her rich and fascinating history more resembles John and is the soul of Andalusia.
Of course, this is just one traveler’s opinion. But why take my word for it? I’d recommend that you check it out for yourself. Go ahead . . . take a little journey to southern Spain to see for yourself and allow the beauty and wonder of Andalusia to bring a little joy to your own heart and soul.