City of flowers
Cordoba is only 90 minutes drive from Cortijo Valverde. The completion of a brand new Motorway in 2009 reduced the journey time considerably. Once a wealthy glittering capital city, and a centre of arts and knowledge, Cordoba is a mere shadow of its former self. Now famous for the Mezquita, the Ruins of Medina Azahara, Patio Competition (Flower Festival in May), Olive Oil, Red Wine and Cordoba Flamenco, which is a lively women only dance dressed in brightly coloured Cordoba style riding outfits.
Established by the Romans in 152 BC by the shores of Guadalquivir it was known as Corduba. The river was a major trading route between the region and the trading posts as far away as Carthaginian ports on the Eastern Mediterranean. Cordoba was chosen the capital of Hispania by the Romans, although it did back the losing side on the war between the Caesar and Pompey for which it paid a terrible price with over 30,000 dead citizens when the Caesar sacked the city. Its misfortunes continued with the arrival of the Vandals and then Visigoths.
Cordoba’s fortunes changed with the arrival of the Moors in 756 AD when it was renamed Cordova. With the Moorish empire breaking away from the Baghdad led Islamic empire, Cordoba was to become the capital of the Umayyad Dynasty. The tolerance and the freethinking Umayyads established Cordoba as a major centre of learning, arts, and philosophy. By the orders of the Umayyads the old Roman books were translated into Arabic, which preserved the ancient knowledge of the Greeks and Romans for the mankind in the libraries of Cordoba. Without this intervention these books would have been lost in the chaos that engulfed Europe following the collapse of the Roman Empire. After Reconquista these books were later translated back into Latin, which enabled their transition to all modern European languages.
The Umayyads were not content with merely preserving the Roman knowledge, but they went on to develop Universities and Libraries in their newly created Empire. Encouraged by the Imperial Court, Andalucia and in particular Cordoba became rich in culture with poets, artisans, philosophers, alchemists and men of medicine all contributing to the renaissances of Western Islamic Empire or Al Andalus. Today we can still visit some of the magnificent buildings and reminders of this golden age.
MezquitaThe building work on the Mezquita, which in its time was the largest mosque in the world, started at 756 AD by Abdr al-Rahman I and with successive caliphs expanding on the original concept. The final phase of expansion was completed by the Moorish warier al-Mansur. Al-Mansur (977-1002) was famed for his daring attack on Galicia and Astoria which were the final territory still under Christian rule. During this famous raid, he captured the Bells of Santiago de Compostela, brining them back to Cordoba where he ordered them to be melted and reused in the Mezquita. The materials from the bells were finally recovered after the Reconquista, repatriated to the North, and made into Church Bells once again. The Mezquita is a magnificent building. Its simplicity and striking architectural modesty are tribute to the concept of simple and pious worship, created to solely celebrate worshipping of god and not for the glory of men who built it. The ostentatious Cathedral built within the Mezquita is not only an abhorrent architectural vandalism, but also a clear demonstration of philosophical differences between the Catholic Church and the Umayyads caliphates. Visit this fascinating place and make up your own mind, but whilst doing so remember the words of advice from Al-Hakam II to his son the Crowned Prince “Do not let yourself be dazzled by vanity".
Arabian BathsA short walk from the Mezquita, on the northern side of Plaza Campo de Los Martires, you will find Banos Califates, the only remaining ruins of the hundreds of Arabian Baths once in existence in Cordoba. Arabic Baths had a very similar design and technology for heating water and production of steam as the Roman baths. Cities wealth and civility were judged by the number of baths and mosques it possessed and Cordoba had over 300. These baths were the centre of social and political intrigue, alliances and assassinations.
Medina AzaharaA little further out to the west of the city centre, you will find the ruins of Medina Azahara, built by Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III and dedicated to his wife az-Zahra. Built with a workforce of 10,000 men using 1500 mules and camels the Medina was a symbol of the Umayyads wealthy and powerful empire. It boasted 400 houses, two Imperial barracks, Royal House, Viziers House, Baths, Mosques, and armament production facilities. Sadly the Medina was destroyed by the Berber rebels during the civil war that engulfed the Moorish Empire after the death of Al-Mansur.
Cordoba is still a beautiful, romantic, and serene city if relatively subdued compared to its glory days of Cordoba Caliphate. The message of religious tolerance has faded, the fountain of universal knowledge running a little dry, but the whisper of its golden age can still be heard. Cordoba has to be on your list of places to visit when you make your journey to Andalucia.