All Ways Spain – Córdoba Mosque Cathedral

The Ornament of the World

Cór­do­ba — city of Roman gov­er­nors and Mus­lim emirs and caliphs — is undoubt­ed­ly one of the most impres­sive in all Europe in terms of the length and impor­tance of its his­to­ry. Poets and philoso­phers such as Seneca and Lucan adorned the seat of pow­er of Roman “Cor­du­ba” from where the lands of Baet­i­ca were admin­is­tered and the city enjoyed a pres­tige like few oth­ers in the Empire. The Roman bridge over the Guadalquivir, the 1st cen­tu­ry AD Roman tem­ple of Clau­dio Marce­lo, and oth­er archae­o­log­i­cal sites dot­ted around the city are the vis­i­ble remains left to us in the 21st cen­tu­ry, but a keen eye and enquir­ing mind will find many more traces dot­ted around the his­toric quar­ters, from the exquis­ite street mosaics dis­played in the Alcázar to frag­ments of Roman walls and aque­ducts. The same is true to an even greater extent with the ves­tiges of the Islam­ic city, since this was the cap­i­tal of al-Andalus between 716 and 1031 and ranked as one of the great­est cities of the West­ern world, Chris­t­ian or Mus­lim, when it reached its height in the 10th cen­tu­ry. The mirac­u­lous sur­vival from those times of the Great Mosque allows us a rare clar­i­ty in envis­ag­ing how the city must have looked, aid­ed by the fact that the basic lay­out of the sur­round­ing Med­i­na is still large­ly unchanged.

There real­ly is no bet­ter place than here to under­stand the indeli­ble imprint that Roman and Moor­ish civ­i­liza­tion left on Spain, and of which Cór­do­ba was such a shin­ing exam­ple. Indeed, the city was referred to as “the Orna­ment of the World” on account of its unpar­al­leled sophis­ti­ca­tion, order and opu­lence, in the writ­ings of a Sax­on nun, who heard of its glo­ries from an emis­sary of the Caliph Abd-al Rah­man III sent to the court of her ruler in 955. A pop­u­la­tion of 600,000 includ­ed not just great mon­e­tary wealth but also immense human tal­ent, sci­en­tif­ic and cul­tur­al, promi­nent among which are the names of philoso­phers Mai­monides and Aver­roes, both sons of ear­ly medieval Cór­do­ba. The libraries served a key role in pre­serv­ing and chan­nel­ing the knowl­edge of the Clas­si­cal world; the civic infra­struc­ture was way ahead of its time with street light­ing and run­ning water through­out; the tech­niques of surgery and the study of med­i­cine were the bedrock of much of our cur­rent-day med­ical prac­tice; and the city’s mil­i­tary prowess was unri­valed through­out Europe.

Per­haps our great for­tune as vis­i­tors today is that Córdoba’s decline was longer-lived than this peri­od of great­ness, acci­den­tal­ly pro­tect­ing much that, in wealth­i­er places, would have been removed in the name of “progress”. The new wing of the Archae­o­log­i­cal Muse­um is a good start­ing point for a vis­it to Cór­do­ba, built on top of ruins of a Roman amphithe­atre and dis­play­ing the best of the impres­sive hoard of Roman and Mus­lim arte­facts in the museum’s pos­ses­sion. Indeed the whole Med­i­na area, includ­ing in it the medieval Jew­ish quar­ter (“la Jud­ería”), is an open his­to­ry book and is a delight to stroll through, with its white­washed hous­es adorned with gera­ni­ums – a tra­di­tion which is cel­e­brat­ed in the flo­ral Patios Fes­ti­val every May. The city also has a fine rep­u­ta­tion for its cui­sine – which owes much to its fusion of Moor­ish, Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions — and so any such stroll can hap­pi­ly be inter­spersed with drinks, tapas and meals in its many fine cafés, bars and restau­rants. Sev­er­al of our Sam­ple Itin­er­aries, fea­tur­ing Cul­ture and Gourmet among their themes, will intro­duce you to all these aspects and more of this fas­ci­nat­ing and ven­er­a­ble city.