A Cordoba street under the looming Bell Tower of the Mezquita
Cordoba is a mid-sized city of 350,000 inhabitants and the capital of the province of Cordoba, situated in the center of Andalucia in Spain. A great cultural reference point in Europe, this ancient city has been declared a World Heritage Site and contains a mixture of the diverse cultures that have settled it throughout history.
Very few places in the world can boast of having been the capital of a Roman province (Hispania Ulterior), the capital of an Arab State (Al-Andalus) and a Caliphate. Such splendor is palpable in the intellectual wealth of this city, that has seen the birth of figures like Seneca, Averroes, and Maimonides. The historic quarter of Cordoba is a beautiful network of small streets, alleys, squares and whitewashed courtyards arranged around the Mezquita, which reflects the city's prominent place in the Islamic world during medieval times.
Cordoba also has much to offer in terms of art, culture and leisure, thanks to a myriad of cultural events that are organized here throughout the year: Flamenco festivals, concerts, ballet and other activities. These events are complemented by a number of museums and a good nightlife scene.
Cordoba's modern train station is location in Avenida de America, at the northern end of the central district. To get to the old town and the Mezquita, you can catch a taxi (about 6€) or just walk about 25 minutes (head along Avenida de America and turn right on Avenida del Gran Capitan).
AVE , Spain's high-speed rail network, offers very fast and comfortable train service to Cordoba, but it is a bit more expensive compared to regular bus or train services. AVE trains run hourly from Madrid (1 hour 45 minutes), Seville (45 minutes) and Malaga (50 minutes). There are also two daily AVE services to Barcelona (about five hours). Additionally, there is a very cheap sleeping train option from Cordoba to Barcelona (Andalucía Express).
As an alternative to the AVE there are also cheaper RENFE trains, such us the Lanzaderas to Seville and Malaga (for around 15-20€) or the Altaria and the Alivia trains going to Granada (2 hours 30 minutes) and Madrid (2 hours 30 minutes). For schedules, prices and tickets, check the Renfe website .
Cordoba's bus station is just across the street from the train station. Regular bus service is available from almost every town in Andalucia as well as from Madrid departing from the "Estación Sur" (around 6 buses per day). For bus info try these sites: , .
Cordoba lacks an airport. The closest major airports are in Seville, Málaga and Madrid; from there a train or a bus to Cordoba takes but a few hours.
Just about everything of interest in Cordoba is within easy walking distance (the one notable exception being the Medina Azahara), and the typical tourist can do with the standard tourist map which can be obtained from the tourist offices (one on the east side of the Mezquita and the other between the Alcázar and the city walls).
The area with by far the most to see is the Old City surrounding the Mezquita. The Old City is a tangle of medieval-style streets roughly bounded by the Guadalquivir River on the south, the area surrounding Plaza de las Tendillas on the north and the tree-lined Paseo de la Victoria on the west. This area is crammed with places to stay, eat and buy souvenirs, though many visitors may find certain areas (particularly immediately surrounding the Mezquita) too touristy, with more interesting things found wandering into the tiny streets of the Jewish Quarter to the west and north of the Mezquita. Behind the Mezquita the Roman Bridge crosses the Guadalquivir River to a museum in the old gate on the opposite side.
The area immediately to the north of the Old City, roughly from the area around Plaza de las Tendillas to Avenida de America is a more modern section of town and is where the train and bus station is located as well as a major shopping area. Along Paseo de la Victoria on the west side and Avenida de America on the north are large parks that make for a pleasant stroll.
The famous arches of the Mezquita
M-Sa 8:30-19:00, Su 8:30-10:30 and 14:00-19:00 (last entry 30 minutes before closing). €8 (free entry during 8:30-10:00 morning mass).
The biggest attraction in Cordoba and a truly must-see building, the Mezquita is a massive former mosque-turned-cathedral famed for its "forest" of columns topped with Islamic-style red and white striped arches among its other many architectural highlights and serves as a reminder of the glory and importance Cordoba held in medieval times. The building is full of history and beauty - you'll want to give yourself at least a couple of hours to do it justice.
Built in 786 as a mosque, the structure was expanded several times under Cordoba's Muslim rule while still remaining largely true to the original design. Following the Christian Reconquista of Cordoba in 1236, work immediately went underway to convert the building to a church, and four centuries later a cathedral at the center of the building was constructed, though not without controversy as it significantly altered the space. Today, despite the presence of the cathedral, most of the original mosque structure remains remarkably well-preserved.
Approaching the Mezquita, the first thing you will notice is the massive bell tower on the building's north side which looms over the surrounding buildings. Built in the 1600s the tower replaced a minaret previously on the site. Along the outside of the building the wall takes on the appearance of a fortress, with an elaborate set of Moorish-style archway and windows spaced every so often.
Stepping through one of the doors you'll enter the Patio de los Naranjos, or Court of the Oranges, which true to its name contains a grove of orange trees, planted in symmetrical rows that replicate the forest of columns within the building. A large fountain drips pleasantly in the middle, and the views of the bell tower framed by trees are excellent. The Patio is free to enter and is open during the day as a public park - the ticket booths are located on the bell tower side of the courtyard.
Entering the interior you'll immediately be standing before the forest of columns which recede into the distance, topped with their dazzling horseshoe arches. The light in the space will play interesting tricks with the arches and varies pretty dramatically as you walk through the building, going from rather dark when you enter to very bright at the cathedral in the middle and back and forth as you continue.
Opposite the room from the entrance is the Mihrab, a spectacular archway decorated with Arabic writing which was the focus of the mosque, as it faced in the direction of Mecca and was what every Muslim faced as they knelt on the floor to pray . Once, tens of thousands of people could fit into this space to pray, the multitude knelt on their rugs before the Mihrab. In the corner of the building nearby are glass cases with artifacts excavated from beneath the Mezquita, and the walls along the side of the building are lined with chapels, each one with an intricate piece of artwork.
At the center of the building, the Cathedral towers over the rest of the building, and the transition from the impressive-but-intimate mosque structure to the overwhelming awe of the cathedral is abrupt and rather jarring, but don't let that stop you from taking in the beauty of the cathedral, with its rich decoration and well-illuminated interior, standing to suggest triumph over the Muslims who previously used this building. The presence of the cathedral also offers the unique opportunity to so easily compare the differences between Muslim and Christian architecture.
The Old City
The City Wall and Puerta de Almodóvar
A tangle of narrow medieval streets surrounding the Mezquita, the Old City sits just uphill from the muddy Guadalquivir River and contains the vast majority of Cordoba's tourist attractions. North and west of the Mezquita sits the Jewish Quarter, a neighborhood which dates from the late Middle Ages and offers an interesting stroll, some lovely patios and a few scant reminders of the Jewish population that once lived here.
- Roman Bridge (Puente Romano). A Roman-style bridge over the shallow Guadalquivir River that was once the main crossing over the river, securing Cordoba's importance to the region. The entrance to the bridge is marked by a triumphal arch and an adjacent single-column monument and it crosses to an old fortified gate (now a museum, described below) on the other side.
- Museum of Al-Andalus Life (Museo Vivo de Al-Andalus), C/ Puente Romano (at the opposite end of the Roman Bridge), ☎ +34 957 293 929, . October-April 10:00-18:00, May-September, 10:00-14:00 and 16:30-20:30. A history museum located in the Torre de la Calahorra, which once served as the old fortified gate to the city. Upon entering the museum the greeters (who speak good English) have you don a headset which will explain the exhibits and artifacts on Muslim Andalusia you will view as you walk from room to room. The narrators take a very philosophical take on the whole thing and their descriptions of Islam may come off as rather flowery, but the artifacts are worth a look and the balcony on the top of the tower offers an excellent view of the river and the city. €4.50, €3 children.
- Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, C/ Caballerizas Reales. Tu-F 8:30-19:30, Sa 9:30-16:30, Su 9:30-14:30. Built in the 8th century as a caliphate residence on the site of a Visigoth fortress, the Alcazar was used as the residence and fortress of Ferdinand and Isabella (the "Christian Monarchs" for whom the building is now named) as well as a headquarters for the Spanish Inquisition. The fortress, with its artifacts (including a series of Roman mosaics and a Roman sarcophagus) and two towers is now open for touring, but the main attraction here is the lush and beautiful gardens on the site. €4, free on Wednesdays.
- Calle de las Flores, (near the Mezquita, on the tower side). A beautiful narrow street, full of flowers with a wonderful tiny square at the end and excellent views of the Mezquita's Tower framed by the buildings lining the street.
- Synagogue (La Sinagoga), C/ Judíos (in the Jewish Quarter). Tu-Sa 10:00-14:00 and 15:30-17:30, Su and holidays 10:00-14:00. A small but beautifully preserved synagogue - one of only three remaining in Spain - the structure was built in 1315 and consists of a single small, square room with high ceilings and gorgeous Mudejar decorative plaster on the walls. Technically €0.30, but you may find no one staffing the door, in which case it's free.
- Casa de Sefarad.
- City Wall.
- Plaza del Potro - A small old square where Don Quijote de la Macha stayed in one of his adventures. You can find there a nice fountain with a small horse and a 'Triunfo de San Rafael'. Julio Romero de Torres local painter Museum and Fine Arts Museum are also located in this place.
- Plaza de la Corredera - The only 'Plaza Mayor cerrada' (closed main square) in Andalucía.
Outside the Old City
- Plaza del Cristo de los Faroles Cuesta del Bailio (Close to Alfaros street). The most impressive square, the best time to go there is the sunset or night (see picture). A Christ in the Cross statue adorned with lot of old lanterns, candles and flowers in a very quiet atmosphere.
- Plaza de las Tendillas.
- Viana Palace - former residence of the Marquise of Viana, is an impressive museum featuring furniture, tapestries, porcelain, tiles, paintings, leatherwork, muskets, a 7000-volume library and extensive gardens spread out over 14 patios.
- Medina Azahara - Carretera de Palma del Rio. Ruins of the capital of the Western Caliphate, built beginning in 940. Huge archeological interest, a beautiful and very special walk. Approximately 5km west of town. (Free entrance for EU-citizens, very cheap for non-EU. The tourism office currently runs a bus at 10:15AM / 5PM for 7 Euro. )
May - ¡Mayo!. The best time to visit the city. 'The Month of Córdoba'.
- Feria de Córdoba - Last week in May, a huge fair of drinking, dancing, eating, and not working. Flamenco and salsa music. A great time!
- Cruces de Mayo - 1st week of May. Very fun, a lot of public squares in the city center, the old city, with big crosses flower-made, with music and drinks full of people having fun!
- Cata de Vino-Montilla Moriles Cordovan Wine tasting fair. Very good wine selection and music in a huge tent in the city center.
- Festival de Patios - About 2 weeks during May. People living in the ancient districts of Cordoba are proud to open their courtyards to visitors and participate in a contest in which colourful plants and different elements invite to contemplate the beauty of traditional style houses.
- Semana Santa (The Week Before Easter) - Processions throughout town involving scenes from the life of Christ, bands, and penitents. Very nice exhibition of the city's culture. Approximately six processions each night from 6 p.m. to midnight.
- Festival Internacional de la Guitarra  - The city become the world Guitar Capital during two weeks full of concerts featuring the top world guitar players and bands ranging from Jazz/Blues, Classical, and of course, Flamenco. Excellent music and dance seminars, music courses, and conferences about guitar.
- Carnaval A typical Andalusian carnival (not as huge as Cadiz's festival, but a great time neverthless). The city center is full of people in costumes during the weekend, funny songs are sang throughout city squares.
During the year
- Hammam - Arabic baths  - Just 5 minutes walking distance west of the mosque there is a modern Arabic bath that recreates the ones used during the Moorish era. During the golden times of the western caliphate Cordoba was said to have more than 400 hundreds baths. The site offers a session of two hours (including a massage).
- Drive an electric car  to discover one of the largest historical downtowns in Europe. The electric car is equipped with a GPS touristic assistant which gives audio tours on the monuments within 100 meter. Descriptions available in Spanish, English, and French. Besides, there are 10 exclusive parking spots to park the electric car. From 14.5€ per hour 2 seats and 4 seats cars available.
- Take a Segway Tour  in Cordoba, passing by places which are normally missed by the visitor. English spoken tours. From 15€ per person.
- Vision Walking Tours - An excellent walking tour of the old city, Alcázar, Synagogue, and Mezquita. The set price is steep - €27- but worth it. (The price includes entry to buildings).
The main shopping area is around the Plaza de las Tendillas: Concepción street, Cruz Conde street, Gran Capitán boulevard, Ronda de los Tejares avenue...
- Sukia - cocktail shop, Cuesta Luján 4. (between Plaza de las Tendillas and San Fernado), 95749051, Really cool shop. Its sells Kitch, be it in clothes, music, decorations form, if its Kitch from the 50's 60's or 70's its here.
- Blas s - Artisanal Ceramics, Calle Martinez Rücker. (The street leading to the Mezquita with a Moroccan restaurant.) This store is one of Córdoba's hidden gems. The owners sell beautiful ceramics of various different styles from their patio, so not only do you get to take a look at lovely handmade ceramics, but you also get a feel for the traditional Cordoba patio. If you're not lucky enough to visit Cordoba during the weeks of the patio competition, this store offers you a great opportunity. The ceramics are also of a higher quality than those of most of the stores around the Mezquita, since the store is dedicated to ceramics and isn't tourist-oriented. They are currently displaying the works of Carlos Durán, a Toledo surrealist with a flare for color.
One of the traditional craftwork in Cordoba is jewellery. Good value jewels, specially gold, can be found around the city. However, it is advisable to buy far from touristic sites as they are the most expensive places to buy that. One place to check it is around Jesus Rescatado avenue.
- Casa Rubio Located in the heart of the Juderia, this place offers decent tapas for the price. A bit more expensive version of it is next to the mosque, called Casa Pepe de la Juderia, which serves the same food at a slight markup for location. Excellent bravas. Worth checking out.
- Caballo Rojo Located around the mosque, locals claim it has the best "rabo de toro" in town.
- Bodegas Campos, Los Lineros, 32 San Pedro, 14002 Cordoba . Open traditional Spanish hours. Classic Cordoba place to eat. Historical building and famous for people who have visited. Food is fantastic, very recommended!
- Casa Mazal, Tomás Conde, 3, 14004 Cordoba . This restaurant, situated between the mosque-cathedral and the synagogue, offers customers a chance to sample traditional Sephardic Jewish cuisine. Kosher guests will be pleased to note that, although the meat is not kosher certified, none of the dishes mix meat and dairy. The restaurant is run by a Sephardic family. The food is, truly, divine.
- Castillo de la Albaida A refurbish Castle settled in the Córdoba sierra's slope, 10 minutes from city center by car. Very good Cordoban food with splendid city sights.
- El Churrasco Romero 16, 14003 Cordoba +34-957 290 819. With amazing meat dishes and much more. Very close to the Mezquita.
- Taberna San Miguel "El Pisto" Plaza San Miguel, 1, Cordoba, 14002. Great place to try some typical Tapas. The best 'Pisto' in the world!
- La Gusa, C/ Diario de Córdoba, 18 (Near ruins of the Roman temple), 957491123 ([email protected]), . Every Day 2PM-1AM. A refreshing twist on traditional Spanish cooking. Relaxed cool atmosphere and unusual flavours.
- Amore Bona Pasta, C/ Reyes Catolicos, 17, 14001 Cordoba, +34 957484848 . Fantastic pizza and pasta at $-$$ prices. Try the Pasta Carbonara, very nice. Pizza was great as well.
- La Fragua Cja. Los Arcos, 2 (off C/Tomás Conde) Phone: (+34) 957 48 45 72. Delicious home made food and traditional cooking with a modern and personal style. Enjoyable meals in an authentic 16th century charming courtyard accompanied by flamenco ambient music. It is also possible to try tapas and drinks for a very reasonable price. Relaxed atmosphere.
- Taberna La Lechuga C/Tomás Conde, 12 +34 204 311. Cordoban Traditional style food. Try their brand name tasty specialty, seasoned "lettuce sprouts", served with garlic. They serve a wide range of traditional dishes. Don't forget their "Croquetas", but to be sure about their daily recommendations just try and ask their friendly staff.
- Plaza de la Corredera Plaza de la Corredera. A lot of bars in this beautiful place, nice enviroment and nice people.
- Vial Norte (Paseo de Córdoba) Paseo de Córdoba (aka Vial Norte). A lot of modern bars in the newest part of the city. Cute people and fancy pubs.
- El Brillante, el Tablero Avenida del Brillante. For summertime, fancy bars, fancy people in those rich neighborhoods. From June to September.
- Chinales, polígono industrial Polígono industrial de Chinales (Chinales, industrial park). Very close to the city center (5-10 min. by car,4€ by taxi). Clubs/Discos: Maná, Silos, Kenia, Go...
- Ciudad Jardín neighborhood Alderetes street, Julio Pellicer street. A lot of small but very fun places to dance, drink....to have fun! From October to May.
- Hotel Maciá Alfaros, . Great hotel with old town central location. Walking distance to central plaza, shopping, archeology sites, drinks. Reasonable rates, excellent for business travel.
- Hotel AC Córdoba Excellent hotel in a modern environment set a block from the bus and train stations, very close to the city center.
- Hotel Córdoba Center The newest hotel in the city, 5 minutes walking distance from Train/Bus station and city center.
- Hotel Hospes Palacio del Bailío, the first and only 5 star hotel in town. Centrally located. Recently inaugurated. Incredible old city palace from the 16th Century. Respecting both Roman and Moorish architectural influences. 53 rooms, restaurant and Spa. The new essence of Hospes Palacio del Bailío tells an old story, its architecture speaks of history in the old quarter of the city, next to the Cristo de ls Faroles square and 10 minutes from the Mosque.
- Hotel NH Amistad  Plaza de Maimónides, 3, 14004, E-mail: [email protected] Tel: +34 95 7420335 Fax: +34 95 7420365. In the heart of the old town, 5 minutes walking from the Mezquita. Settled in the old city walls, inside a beautiful palace. There is another NH hotel right next door- the NH Califa .
- Hostal Lineros 38 A very nice place to relax. Beautiful Andalusí (Islamic from souther Spain) architecture.
- Hostal el Triunfo Cheap and quite nice hostel in from of the Mezquita.
- The Terrace Backpackers (also known as Pension Pilar del Potro or Funky Cordoba), Calle del Conde y Luque, 7, ☎ +34 957 492966, . Good location. Clean affordable privates and dorms. Air-conditioning. Strangely has three separate names.
- Senses & Colours Seneca, Calle Lucano, 12, ☎ +34 957 47 32 34, . Kitchen, wi-fi
- Senses & Colours Añil, Calle Barroso 4, ☎ +34 957 49 15 44, . Wi-fi, luggage storage, great location
Exercise caution when walking around the area near the Mezquita: beggers will try to sucker you for some money and they often work in teams. You may find yourself being charged 40 Euro for a palm reading, or having your money snatched by a little kid working together with the supposed palm reader. Just keep an eye on your things and don't get caught up with their scams.
- Outside the city are very beautiful villages like Priego de Córdoba, an example of Spanish baroque; Zuheros, the typical white Andalusian village with an impressive castle built on a rock; and Montilla.
- Parque Nacional de la Sierra de Hornachuelos in Hornachuelos and Parque Natural de las Sierras Subbéticas in Cardeña are interesting nature reserves.
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