It was the seat of military, political and religious power for over 1500 years. The Romans, the Vandals, the Moors, the Jews, the Muslims and the Inquisition all elevated Cordoba to great heights during their reign. The influence of each can be seen throughout the streets, plazas and architecture throughout the city that was for a time, the largest city in all of southern Europe.
This amalgamation of influences from various cultures reaches a crescendo at Cordoba’s crown jewel. Built on the remains of Roman and Visigoth temples, the great mosque known as the Mezquita was originally a Catholic Christian church before the exiled Prince Abd al-Rahman I built a mosque within the church. Sitting only a stones throw from the river, the massive structure grew and grew as future Islamic rulers governed the city. The mosque was extended three more times by al-Rahman I’s successors. Finally, in 1523 under the instructions of King Charles V, construction began on the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption located in the direct middle of the grand mosque. It was said that upon seeing the finished cathedral Charles V lamented, “…they have taken something unique in the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city.”
Before it was taken over by the Christians, the Mezquita had a total of 900 pillars, with the oldest known pillar having been imported from Egypt. Walking through this magnificent building one notices that the arches that span from pillar to pillar seem to change. This is because each extension was influenced by the designs and economic status of the times. The Mezquita holds the distinction of being the only mosque in the Islamic world that does not directly point to Mecca, the holy place for all Muslims. It is thought that this is because Prince Abd al-Rahman I used the plans for the mosque in Damascus to build the Mezquita. Not only is Damascus the place of his birth but it also has a different geographic orientation than Cordoba.
Directly, south of the Mezquita is the Roman Bridge (Puente Romano de Cordoba) which spans the Guadalquivir River. The middle ages saw the bridge used as the main entrance into the city. Kings, legions and merchants all crossed this iconic bridge. Today it serves as a great vantage point to have a panoramic view of the Mezquita, Alcazar and skyline of the old town. Walking the bridge at night is a must to view Cordoba’s spectacles illuminated by floodlights.
A couple blocks southwest of the Mezquita and Roman Bridge is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Kings). A Moorish castle that served as the primary residence for Queen Isabella I and King Ferdinand II in the early 1400’s. The Alcazar also has a dark history as it served as a bastion of the Inquisition in 1482 where some truly horrible acts took place. In 1492, an explorer and merchant by the name of Christopher Columbus met with the King and Queen within the Alcazar to ask for both permission and money for his westward voyage to India. Nowadays, the Alcazar walls display mosaics and tapestries from bygone eras, and is highly sought after for its dramatic gardens. Pools of fish, great hedges, statues and fountains draw the eye to every corner of the garden. At night, for some additional Euros, you can enjoy a fountain and lights show in the garden.
Feeling hungry after all that walking? Proceed to the northern corner of the Mezquita. On the corner of Calle Cardinal Herrero and Calle de la Grada Redondo sits Bar Santos. Even though it only has two tables inside this hole in the wall bar usually has lineups ten to fifteen people deep. Patrons usually sit by the steps of the Mezquita to enjoy their tapas and bebidas. And, while they do have an extensive list of tapas and other tasty morsels, you will notice that almost everyone walks out of its doors carrying a plate of tortilla de patatas. This Spanish potato omelet is Santos’ specialty and is sought after by both tourists and locals alike.
Written by Norman Dacanay