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The center of Cordoba and its layers of History

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The center of Cordoba and its layers of History

Did you know that historians consider a city “historic” if it exceeds 1,000 years of existence? Well, Córdoba is a Historic City in its own right. A heavyweight with its 2,200 years of existence as an inhabited site. Its streets mix Roman and Visigothic columns, Mudejar decorations, mosques, churches, a Roman temple and one of the few remaining medieval synagogues in our country. It is worth not missing any detail and trying to understand it while you walk between its walls and patios. Let’s take a walk through the center of Córdoba and its History, a lot of history?

The Roman Bridge, or a good excuse to start understanding the center of Córdoba

The Roman Bridge of Córdoba already has very little Roman , it is one of the first things that our guide told us. This is so because there is only one original Roman arch (the one that is not pointed, look for it when you go), but it serves as an excuse to learn and understand how the existence of Córdoba began. 

The Romans settled in Córdoba between 169 and 152 BC, commanded by General Claudio Marcelo. It was called Corduba . They chose this enclave between the Betis River and the Sierra Morena because it is a well-defended place in a natural way, precisely because of these two landmarks.  

The sierra was, and continued to be for centuries, a good source of raw materials such as iron and other minerals. They also had the stone, essential for building. A stone that is sandstone and therefore not very durable or more fragile than others, but a stone after all.

The Betis river (today Guadalquivir), on the other hand, was navigable for medium-sized vessels, not large, but sufficient to transport goods with Seville. 

And there is still more, because it turns out that in the soils of Córdoba there is a water table that ensured the drinking water extracted through wells. An ideal place, go. 

In the Plaza de las Tendillas (“small shops” according to the denomination of the Muslims since they installed the souk here) the center of the Roman city was located. From there the Via Augusta, today Avenida Gondomar, the Forum, and beyond the Roman temple, the theater and the circus started. The subsoil of Córdoba is full of Roman vestiges that, every time there is a work, emerge before our eyes. 

Before saying goodbye to the Roman Bridge, we take a look at the Torre de la Calahorra , which means “lonely tower” because in its day it was outside the wall. The original tower was much smaller, built in the Almanzor era , and it was the customs office through which those who came from outside had to pass. Paying, that was customs for that.

The version we see today is that of a clearly defensive tower , with its moat and everything, which was erected after the Battle of Truth in the time of Peter the Cruel. Yes, we have already gotten quite far from the origins of Córdoba, but it is that each corner has I don’t know how many layers of history , and I try to follow an itinerary 🙂 

The 10th century was the “golden century” of Córdoba thanks to the Muslims

The Romans inhabited Córdoba for more than 7 centuries, until their Empire fell. Then the Visigoths arrive , of whom there is little, perhaps because their stay was only two centuries, and back in the 8th century the Muslims conquer it. And they stay 400 years. It was they who left an indelible mark on what is now beautiful Córdoba. 

The responsible? Abderramán III , who proclaimed himself Caliph (a direct descendant of Muhammad) in order to demonstrate his power before the Christian hosts and the caliphs of North Africa. 

Go ahead, Muslims were not beings from another galaxy , or from other corners of the world. They were the inhabitants of Al Ándalus , and we are their descendants. Regardless. And thanks to them, the Iberian Peninsula lived an era of intellectual knowledge that overshadowed the great Constantinople (Istanbul). 

Because Córdoba was a great cultural and intellectual center around the tenth century, and I am going to show you with a few strokes: 

  • Córdoba was one of the few cities in the world where paper was produced (not parchments, paper), and books, many books. The chroniclers say that there was a library with more than 150,000 volumes. 
  • Then there was no printing press, so there had to be people copying the books. Page by page, letter by letter. In the Umayyad caliphate the best copyists were WOMEN. And these women traveled to Damascus, Cairo or Baghdad to copy the great works that were preserved there. 
  • Philosophists, astronomers, doctors, writers, poets, and countless people who wanted to study and learn came here.
  • For all this we can assume that in its streets, what is now the center of Córdoba, there was a most cosmopolitan atmosphere, and all were part of its 800,000 inhabitants (almost a million!). 

Why this rebirth? 

Well, because the Umayyads, the dynasty to which Abderramán III belonged, were more political and intellectual than religious . And yes, I bet what you want that this is the reason that thought and culture could be cultivated as it was done. With freedom. 

How did all that knowledge disappear? 

Because of a political movement that was expensive, very expensive .  

It all started when the Christians conquered Toledo . So the Spanish Muslims decided to reinforce their troops with soldiers from North Africa. Thus, they invited the Almoravids, who were Berber soldier-monks from North Africa. These were successful and they stayed with the power.

The years went by, the Christians kept pressing, and the Almoravids grew weaker. Then came the Almohads , who were another group also from the Maghreb, and much more radical when it comes to Islam. These are responsible for shooting down Medina Azahara . Think of ISIS and you will understand, because the thing was going there.

They persecuted and imprisoned, executed, anyone considered “heretic” for thinking differently . For not bowing to his narrow vision of things. Anyway, that’s the way everything was at that time anyway. The Christians came to a city like Toledo and expelled, when they did not kill, all those who did not believe in their God.

A story that is repeating itself . When you read in the media that radical extremists live in the twelfth century, although they move with the help of today, you know where such a statement comes from.

If you want to enjoy these stories live , and in much more detail, I recommend that you book the Cordoba Mosque and Jewish Quarter tour here . And the Arteencordoba freetour here . I have done both and they are totally recommended.

Gate of the Bridge

We jump a lot in time, but this door presides over the passage to the Roman bridge.

The Puerta del Puente, imaginative name where they exist (irony mode “on”), was built in the 16th century on the remains of the Muslim door that followed the Roman one. The location was obvious so why change it? 

In a neoclassical style, the door that we are looking at today was made to receive King Felipe II. Later it was renovated by order of Alfonso XIII in 1912. It was then that the walls that defended the city, considered useless, were thrown down. 

It has a viewpoint and you can go up to it for € 1. You can buy the ticket at the Córdoba tourist information office which is next door, in a very modern building. 

Triumph of San Rafael Monument

Next to the Puerta del Puente there is a monument that you will see yes or yes. It is next to the Puerta del Puente and next to the Mosque, I already tell you that you are not going to overlook it even if you want to, heh heh. It draws a lot of attention, for its baroque style, for its height, for its contrast with the Mosque, because it is in a small viewpoint to which I recommend that you look … 

And it is dedicated to San Rafael, who although he is not the main saint of Córdoba, turns out to be the most revered. And it is not for less, because the chronicles affirm that San Rafael appeared in a dream to Father Andrés de las Roelas, who was seriously ill during a plague epidemic that devastated the city in the 16th century. The saint told him that he would save Córdoba, and indeed a few days later the people stopped dying from the plague.  

Saint Raphael is the custodian of the city , not the saint. In fact, the saints of Córdoba are San Acisclo (what a name!) And Santa Victoria .

What did Acisclo do for Córdoba? Ask the Church, I don’t get involved with this anymore, heh, heh.

The Mill or Noria de la Albolafia … 

We started walking along the banks of the Guadalquivir to the nearby Noria de la Albolafia.

On the banks of the Guadalquivir there have been 13 mills from the Islamic period , and this is the example that is closest to the center of Córdoba. It is somewhat abandoned, but they told me that there is a restoration and lighting project for the year 2021. 

These mills produced flour, the necessary ingredient for bread, and indeed this was one of the main products to be exported to Seville, beyond their own consumption.

In this case the mill is in front of what were the dependencies of the Alcázar de Abderramán III (his residence), providing water to the palace. 

On the banks of the Guadalquivir the trees, brush, mud and garbage (what dirty people we are) are today hovering, although a cleaning plan for 2020 has been announced. Many species of birds also roam freely, and in fact I could distinguish one beautiful heron perched on the stones next to the bridge. Surely if you walk along the path that starts from the Torre de la Calahorra you can see many more 🙂

The Barrio de San Basilio, or rather, the Barrio del Alcázar Viejo

The residents say that their neighborhood is the Alcázar Viejo, and that no matter how hard they try, its name is not Barrio de San Basilio. But it is true that in many indications and brochures it bears the name of the saint, so I write it down here so you don’t get confused. 

This neighborhood is where some of the Patios de Córdoba are located, which have brought so much fame to the city with the May contest, which is why it is a must. But even if it was not, a walk full of tranquility and quiet (except in May) does not hurt anyone, and that is what you find in the three streets that make it up.  

Crossing the arch of the old wall that is next to the door of the Royal Stables, today plastered and painted in ocher, you enter the neighborhood accessing a square dominated by the sculpture of Luis Navas, a poet from Cordoba, wearing the typical cape of the Cordovan gentlemen. 

From there you can abandon the steps and gaze at the well-painted facades. And I don’t roll up again because I want to talk to you about the patios another day 😉

The walls of Córdoba

From the monument to the Patios, a path goes up that takes you next to the walls. Follow it until you come across the Averroes statue on Cairuán Street , the namesake of the Tunisian city famous for its Islamic university. In fact these cities are twinned.

Attention: this is a beautiful walk to do at night 🙂 

Averroes was philosopher, physician, theologian and so long as he studied many disciplines, like other men of his time. She is one of the people who had to flee when the intolerant arrived in the city. The same thing that happened to the one they say was his student, Maimonides.

One of Averroes’ most famous recipes is so modern that it gives you chills just thinking about it: drink 1.5 liters of water and walk for an hour every day . Does it sound familiar?

The Middle Ages in Córdoba, with the Umayyads, was incredible, but the best thing was that scientific knowledge was transferred to the day-to-day lives of its inhabitants. The streets had pipelines for running water and fecal waters, Medicine was developed by specialties, such as Ophthalmology …  

Everything was destroyed and annihilated, as I have already told, and when the Christians arrived it did not improve. An example: in the Christian era plague epidemics were suffered every 20 years . I leave it there. 

The walk around the exterior of the walls ends at the Puerta de Almodóvar , which leads to the streets of the Jewish quarter. There is another statue there, that of Seneca , perhaps the most famous from Cordoba. 

The Jewish Quarter of Córdoba

It is known that the Jews came with the Romans, and that the first conflict with them was in the time of the Byzantines, who also had their fair share of orthodoxy.

The fact is that when the Muslims arrived, the Jews could breathe easier, because the Umayyads respected “the people of the Book . ” It was not that they lived on equal terms, but at least they were not persecuted. 

It was from the year 711 when the three religions began to coexist peacefully. 

The Jews did not speak Hebrew , but they did speak Latin and other languages, so they became reputable translators , a more than convenient job in Córdoba visited time and again by people from all over the world. 

The Calle de los Judíos (also very original name) is the main street of the Jewish quarter. Once you start walking you will immediately arrive at the statue of the rabbi, doctor and philosopher Maimonides .

Maimonides was born in Córdoba, but had to flee at the age of 13, when the expulsion of the Jews. After a few trips he settled in Cairo, already 30 years old, and there he continued to live until his death. 

Warning: this place is small and fills up quickly. As it is an obligatory step of tours and groups of tourists, you will have to be patient, but being alone even for a minute with this wise man is worth it.

By the way, here is a popular rite . People touch the statue’s slippers because they say that makes you wiser. Surely good old Maimonides would tell you not to do stupid things.

To achieve wisdom, from your point of view (and I will not be the one to contradict this), it is best to read a lot and open your mind to what is different. 

Synagogue of Córdoba 

The Córdoba synagogue is one of the three medieval synagogues that are preserved in Spain . The rest were destroyed, despite the fact that this town remained 1,500 years on the Peninsula. 

When the Jews were expelled from Córdoba, the synagogue was covered with plaster, covering its original decoration. In 1884 they began to uncover it and brought to light the decoration of Mudejar plasterwork. From the almost priceless remains that are preserved, it is known that the plasterwork was polychrome, and the lower part of the wall was covered with colored tiles. 

It is a short visit but as recommended as everything else.

Very close there is a community of neighbors with a patio that today is a craft market . Not only will you be able to buy beautiful souvenirs (and very well made), but you will also be able to observe the craftsmen working in their workshops. For a moment I was transported to the souks of Sidon or Tripoli , in Lebanon 🙂 

Church of San Juan

A little further on you arrive at the Plaza de San Juan de Córdoba . There is the only original minaret or minaret, converted into a bell tower, yes. 

With the arrival of the Christians, commanded by Fernando III, Córdoba was left with only 6,000 inhabitants. The Christians did not want to live in the Jewish and Muslim neighborhoods , which were left empty, so the king ordered the construction of churches. In this way, parishes or communities would be created around them, and the city’s neighborhoods would be repopulated.

14 churches were built, eight of them on mosques, and only in this case the original minaret was respected to build the bell tower.

The Calleja de las Flores

Jewry is still said to these streets, but it is not so strictly speaking. In any case, in front of the altar of the Virgin of the Lanterns , which is attached to the walls of the Mosque, a narrow street starts. Immediately, to the right, you will reach one of the most famous tourist spots. It is the Calleja de las Flores, which is nothing more than an alley full of flowerpots that leads to a patio and another dead end.

From there, next to its fountain, you can take one of the most iconic photos of the center of Córdoba, since the Bell Tower of the Mosque is perfectly framed between the walls of the alley. 

Axarquía neighborhood

We go off the beaten track of Córdoba, without leaving its historic center, but abandoning the hubbub of tourists with their souvenir shops and typical taverns. 

You will immediately notice that you have left the most monumental area. The streets seem less well-kept, they show off some graffiti, and yet they have a more genuine flavor. People entering the door of the wineries drinking beers, more everyday shops …

And although getting lost is always the best, I recommend that you look for Calleja del Pañuelo (officially Pedro Jiménez street). It is another narrow alley that ends in a tiny courtyard with a small stone fountain. All small, narrow, and at the same time very cute. It is much less frequented than that of Las Flores so enjoy it!

alley of the handkerchief all white with some windows with bars and some climbing plants

At this point, or at any other in the center of Córdoba, you can admire the “Chinese soil” , made of pebbles from the river. An inexpensive way to make mosaic-type paving, which also brings freshness in summer . 

Don’t pay much attention to me, but I think that “Chinese soil” is a joking name that sums up the hard work it requires when doing it.

The Axarquía neighborhood was an expansion that was made in the Muslim era, and is where the economic engine of medieval Cordoba was established : the butchers and fishmongers, the blacksmiths, and the merchants made this their kingdom. Travelers also concentrated in this area of ​​the city, and hence a good number of taverns and lodgings of all kinds and conditions were opened .  

Potro Square

Thus we arrived at this square, which was the old food market and which concentrates a couple of places of great interest. 

On one side you have the Posada del Potro . This was a “mancebía”, or in Christian words: a brothel. When I said before “accommodations of all types and conditions” I was referring to this as well. Wherever there was money and movement of people from different places, there was pillage and prostitution. 

Today it is a museum dedicated to flamenco singing and admission is free. 

On the other side is the Provincial Museum of Fine Arts , an old hospital mentioned by Cervantes in El Quijote , and today the museum of the painter Julio Romero de Torres. 

Corredera Square

Walking next to the Museum of Fine Arts, entering the narrow streets that zigzag, you will immediately arrive at the Plaza de la Corredera . This square is the only one in the Castilian style that you will find in all of Andalusia! At least that’s what they say … Of course he paints Castilian yes he does.

It was Plaza de Toros, then the food market was set up here, and in the 60s it was demolished and when doing works to make an underground market, they found three Roman houses with the best mosaics in the city. You can see these mosaics in the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. 

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