Cordova, Spain, a thousand years ago, was the largest city in Western Europe and one of the most advanced cities in the world. In its old town are impressive reminders of its long and fascinating history.
Once a Roman provincial capital, and later, briefly (552 to 572 A.D.), part of the Byzantine Empire, it was taken over in 711 A.D. by the Moors and flourished as a cultural, political and economic power.
Cordova’s old town, its historic center, was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1984. To visit for a few days is to wish to return for a month or a season or a year or two.
Some 300 mosques, public buildings and palaces in Cordova were constructed in the 8th Century, including the Great Mosque, which was built on the site of the the Christian Basilica of San Vicente and later expanded. The mosque contains columns that date back to Roman times. The huge structure is considered the most important Islamic monument in the West.
The mosque was captured by King Ferdinand III in 1236, during the Spanish Reconquista, and in 1526, construction began on Santa Maria Cathedral, right inside the mosque.
The incredible result is a mosaic of Islamic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture, covering an estimated 23,400 square meters. Reminders of Roman, Visigoth, Moslem and Christian cultures are visible throughout.
Another important site to see in the old town is La Sinagoga (the synagogue) 20 Calle Judios, built in 1315 and used as a synagogue until in 1492, when Jews were forcibly expelled from Spain. It was declared a national monument in 1865, and is said to be one of only three synagogues left in all of Spain.
Casa Andalusi, 12 Calle Judios near the Synagogue, is a delightful place. It’s a 12th Century Arabic-Spanish house featuring a courtyard, cellars with Roman mosaics, a Moorish room and a display of paper-making machines from some 800 years ago. Music wafting through the rooms and corridors was so pleasing, we bought a CD of it as we left — lute improvisations on Maqaman Ziryab, performed by Naseer Shamma.
The Alcazar (castle) with its extensive gardens and the Arabic baths of the Caliph’s palace are also among the dozens of sites worth visiting.
Hostal Alcazar, a charming small hotel at San Basilio 1, inside the old town and just down the street from the Grand Mosque, is a convenient, comfortable and affordable place to stay ($65 a night). Its rooms are on the second floor, up a winding staircase and along balconies that look down upon its own private courtyard.