Cordoba was once the capital of the most powerful kingdom in Islam. This cosmopolitan city dominated Andalucia for three centuries. And today, its charms are hard to escape.
Until its fall in 1236, Cordoba was a city of half a million people, the most advanced and refined of its day.
Cordoba had the first street lighting in Europe. Its palaces and baths were renowned for their opulence. Its gardens were enormous and its patios, well, see for yourself as many still remain (and are at their finest in May during the annual festival of patios).
Merchants came in droves, as well. The luxury goods found in Cordoba’s tens of thousands of shops were coveted all over Europe. Certain items still are desired, most notably its traditional flamenco guitars and Spain’s finest olive oil, whose production techniques were perfected by the Arabs in Cordoba. It was they who gave the name aceite (the Spanish word for oil) from the Arabic al zat, juice of the olive.
As you wander down the picturesque and evocative streets in one of the largest intact medieval quarters in Europe, it is not difficult to imagine the days when its libraries boasted hundreds of thousands of volumes. Students came from all over Europe, Africa, and even Asia to study. Residents included Muslim scientist and philosopher Averroes and Jewish philosopher and physician Maimonides (a 14th century synagogue bears his name).
At its heyday, Cordoba contained thousands of mosques. Yet there is no doubt as to which was its greatest, for the pearl of Cordoba is the Mezquita (simply, the Mosque). It is one of the world’s best-known pieces of religious architecture – a vast forest of 850 delicate marble columns and elegant arches. Its mihrab (the niche which denotes the direction of Mecca) is a brilliant composition of mosaics sent by the Emperor of Byzantium.
A large cathedral was inserted within, after the Catholic Reconquest of Spain. Only inside the cathedral, which occupies only a small portion of the mosque, do you begin to understand the immensity of this mosque.
Once larger than the mosque was the 10th century palace at nearby Medina Azahara (little remains to be seen). Columns were made of crystals and walls of falling water. One famous fountain was a liquid mirror; instead of water, it held flowing mercury.
Chroniclers record a visiting ambassador being driven the eight kilometers from Cordoba to this palace, finding the whole path covered end to end in carpets and lined with maidens holding parasols and refreshments.
For you, the carpets and parasols may be metaphorical, but the opportunities we bring you may be equally inviting: face time with a master craftsman of Spain’s most-revered guitars, a scholar of Cordoba’s Jewish history, or the owner of Spain’s finest producer of olive oil.