Córdoba is a city that featured on my bucket list post, although at the time I wasn’t really aware of what the city had to offer – I think I included it because my school did an exchange trip there that I didn’t go on! The city definitely took me by surprise and I absolutely loved it there. It was the third city visited on my trip in March, following Málaga and Granada, and one which I think surprised me the most. Despite a bit of pre-trip research telling me that there was a lot to see there, and being very excited to visit, I was surprised that it became, maybe, the highlight of my trip. I was also very relieved in hindsight that we’d planned three almost full days there, so we could relax and fully take in the atmosphere rather than rushing around.
After leaving our Granada hotel early enough that it was still dark, and getting a taxi to the station, we had another easy, direct train to Córdoba, where the weather was chilly but dry. We were relieved that we could check into the hotel (affiliate link – click here for more information) immediately, and after a Burger King breakfast (don’t feel bad about succumbing to fast food while travelling! It’s just that – fast), we set up camp and had a quick nap to salvage the day. The bed had 3 sets of pillows, and it was only on the last night that I realised each had a different filling, so you could choose your favourite! I just thought they really liked pillows. It was a sleek yet cosy hotel, ideal for those in the city on business, but it was perfect for us too. The location was just outside of the tourist centre, meaning a quiet and slightly cheaper stay, but the whole city was walkable.
Find your stay in Córdoba
(Affiliate – click here for more info)
It was a very cosy city, busy but not manic, with a really nice vibe even on the outskirts. One of the main attractions is the Roman bridge, where we spent a lot of our time watching birds swooping in and out to feed. There are also remains of a Roman temple (which now has the grand role of playground for the local cats), lots of lovely shops, various curiosities around the city and, of course, the grand Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, which might be one of my favourite examples of the mix of Arabic and Catholic architecture that I’ve ever seen. The area surrounding our hotel was lovely to find a bakery or cafe for breakfast, and we enjoyed slow mornings eating toast with tomato, or chocolate pastries, drinking coffee and just talking as we watched the street wake up. First the delivery vans bringing supplies to the businesses, then the commuters. This was a bonus of having a third night here; we could afford to slow down like this and enjoy walking around.
These slow ambles around the city lead us to find a number of fun curiosities. On the other side of the river we came across a plane. Yes, a plane. The DC-7 was donated to the city by a private owner who hoped to see it transformed into a cultural icon, with the city promising an auditorium near to the plane’s location, and seminars. In 2016, it was painted with the words “Capital of Culture”, referencing Córdoba’s bid for the European city of culture title, which instead went to Wroclaw and San Sebastian. For now, it just sits on a mound overlooking a quiet park, providing shelter for the rain and a meeting point for groups of local kids.
There was also a junk shop, called “Te acuerdas….?” (Do you remember?) filled to the brim with antique furniture, crystal light fittings, tennis raquets, cameras, comic books and more. How we managed to explore withough knocking something down is beyond me – I was on edge the whole time! The Alchemy museum was a bizarre but enchanting little visit. I’m not sure I’m any clearer on what alchemy is, but the combination of old-fashioned chemistry with witchcraft was cool for aesthetics if nothing else. Upstairs, we found a staircase to a rooftop – not sure if we were supposed to be up there, but it wasn’t blocked off. If we’d explored further I think all of the roofs in the area would have been connected, but we settled for some nice views of the street below.
Historically, Córdoba had a thriving Jewish quarter, particularly famous for its expert craftsmen. We stumbled across a coutryard in the old Jewish quarter where painters, silversmiths and leather craftsmen were busy at work in a beautiful environment, surrounded by plants and beautiful architecture. This part of the city was full of hidden away courtyards and winding streets, where each corner lead to something new.
The all-important food
There were endless food choices in the centre, but also plenty around our hotel, which was useful because our days crept later and later and we often didn’t finish sightseeing until eight in the evening. After a bit of relaxation in the hotel, I often just didn’t fancy walking back into the city that late so it suited me that we could eat very close by. In a restaurant just around the corner from the hotel we found a meat platter, perfect for sharing, and feasted on cuts of all sorts of pork and beef and sausages, with chips, salad and beer to accompany it. I think the salt level could have rivalled that of the Dead Sea, but it was delicious.
In a gorgeous little restaurant that we’d found online before the trip, and then came across on our explores, we tasted some dishes that we’re still thinking about ages later. “Saquitos”, or little bags, of cod in fried pastry with a delicious red pepper sauce. Flamenquin, the famous fried dish mentioned in previous posts, served with handmade crisps. As if we weren’t full enough, I couldn’t leave without trying pastel Cordobes, which turned out to be an incredibly sweet pie filled with jame made from pumpkin. And they topped it off with a sip of sweet wine or flavoured vodka for us, on the house.
Many traditional buildings in Córdoba are built around a courtyard, sometimes with a fountain in the middle, to provide light and ventilation to the surrounding homes. In these spaces, current residents have started to grow an abundance of colourful plants and flowers. Some of these courtyards are accessible all year round – we stumbled across one and received a lovely short talk about the courtyards – but the real attraction is the courtyards festival in May. The owners of the spectacular spaces open up their doors to the public, in conjunction with music and dance. I can only imagine how colourful they are at that time of year with all the flowers in bloom. There is information here about visiting the courtyards at other times of year – you simply can’t miss it.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos
Less grand than its Seville counterpart, the fortress at Córdoba is nonetheless worth a visit. We weren’t going to bother (after seeing so many cities, the cathedrals and castles start to add up!) but it was pretty inexpensive, so we went for it. The gardens are exquisite and are built in the traditional Moorish style. Inside, there is an exhibition hall of Roman mosaics which were discovered under a square in the city and are in impeccable condition, considering they date from the 2nd and 3rd century AD!
Close up: The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba
I had to dedicate a whole section to this wonder of an attraction. It stands on a site once thought to have originally been a Roman temple, although this is disputed, which was then a Visigothic cathedral (see this post for my brief history of the peoples of Spain). The cathedral was demolished to make way for a mosque in the 9th century, at which point Córdoba was the capital of the kingdom of Al-Andalus, with 100,000 inhabitants and hundreds of mosques. Over the years, it was a perpetual work in progress, with various subsequent rulers ordering additions to the structure, some of which caused it to double in size. The kingdom was captured by Ferdinand III in 1236 and the mosque was converted into a Catholic cathedral, with the addition of the huge nave being made in the 16th century. Again, more and more additions were made over the years, resulting in a mix of Gothic, Rennaissance and Baroque architecture, on top of the original Moorish design. Now, it is the city’s cathedral, despite calls for Muslim prayer to be allowed, and there is a daily mass. As a tourist, you can visit for 11 euros, or just the bell tower for 3. There are dozens of chapels and grand doors greet visitors on all sides.
Inside, the cathedral appears to be a huge, cavernous space, punctuated by the Arabic arches in regular rows, making it impossible to appreciate the scale of the whole structure. Roofs and alcoves are decorated ornately, with mosaic, gold and paint, and the nave imposes itself in the space. I could have spent hours in there just taking it all in. It is, according to Wikipedia, the third largest cathedral in the world!
Córdoba is a city that surprised me and I would definitely return if I could. There is so much to do there, both the major attractions and the little curiosities you find along the way, but I’d be content spending a weekend there sipping coffee and soaking up the atmosphere. I loved that it didn’t feel as busy as Sevilla, instead providing a relaxed vibe with a charming blend of old and new. A second visit might see me exploring the Jewish quarter more, and looking into this aspect of the city’s history.