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"Short stories and travel reports from my life adventures around the globe".

Travel Report: Cordoba, Spain.

Cordoba Spain.

Cordoba Spain.

Cover photo courtesy of Toni Castillo Quero. 

March 2017. Looking back, it’s crazy to think how I did the magnificent city of Córdoba as a day trip from Malaga. The place deserved so much more of my time, but alas I had too much on my plate. In fact, I was in the middle of packing up my apartment, shipping stuff back to Scotland and sorting out a visa to China. With everything that was going on, a visit to Córdoba could have slipped through my fingers altogether.

However, I was desperate to see The Mezquita, Córdoba’s world famous mosque-cathedral. Thus one day I literally put all my projects on hold and jumped on the sixty minute bullet train. If I only had a day, I figured, it was worth paying more to avoid the plodding two hour, forty five minute bus.

Cordoba Railway Station.

Córdoba Railway Station.

Upon arrival at Córdoba Railway Station, I decided to walk to the historical centre. Mapping out a fifteen minute route on my phone, I passed through the lovely Duque de Rivas Gardens. In connection with Victoria Gardens, this long green belt sits between the western part of the city and the old town.

Featuring sculptures, fountains and ponds, the gardens were named after The Duke of Rivas, a Spanish playwright, poet, historian, painter and eventual statesman.

Duque de Rivas Gardens Cordoba.

Duque de Rivas Gardens.

Before long, I arrived at Kairouan, a gorgeous stone street running adjacent to the city walls. With its cobbled paths, iron street lamps and fish inhabited ponds, I was already falling for Córdoba’s charms.

Cordoba, Spain.

Visit Cordoba Spain.

Córdoba, Spain.

I entered the old town through this dramatic gate, originally built by The Moors in the 10th century. There were about nine such gates at one point, but this is the only survivor.

Flanked by nearby towers and containing a parapet walkway, today’s structure was rebuilt by The Christians in the 14th century.

Puerta de Almodovar Gate Cordoba Spain.

Almodóvar Gate.

Making my way through the old quarter’s winding, cobbled lanes, I wasted no time in heading for The Mezquita. I knew that I was about to see one of the world’s most impressive examples of Islamic architecture. Hence I literally had to catch my breath as I turned a corner and the outer walls came into view.

Outer walls The Mezquita in Cordoba.

The outer walls of The Mezquita.

This massive architectural wonder started life as a Christian church in around 600. Some years later the building was divided into two sections, one for Muslim prayer, one for Christian worship.

But as the region’s Muslim population grew, so did the building, with the addition of more Islamic prayer halls. Eventually, in 785, the great Arab ruler Abd al-Rahman I bought the Christian part and subsequently demolished it!

Abd al-Rahman I.

Abd al-Rahman I: “Let’s destroy this ****!”

The mosque thrived over the following centuries, until The Christians reconquered Córdoba in 1236. In 1253 King Alfonso X of Castile converted it into a Catholic cathedral, building a number of large chapels. As the centuries passed, king after king added further expansions and lavish details.   

The Gate of Forgiveness.

Gate of Forgiveness The Mezquita Cordoba.

Cordoba, Spain.

I entered The Mezquita by passing under the horseshoe shaped arches of Puerta del Perdón, the so-called Gateway of Forgiveness. Its construction came in 1377 during the time of King Henry II.

On the other side, I emerged into a vast square called Patio de los Naranjos (Courtyard of the Orange Trees).

Courtyard of the Orange Trees Cordoba Spain.

Courtyard of the Orange Trees.

During The Islamic period it served as a court of justice and, some historians suggest, a site of execution. Its beauty as a garden began in the 13th century with the planting of palms. Then orange trees in the 15th century, followed by olive and cypress trees in the mid 1700s.

In addition to the remaining orange trees, today the courtyard houses fountains, pools, immaculate flower beds and ticket booths. At one of these booths I paid the 10 Euro fee, received my ticket and strode over to the main entrance doors, full of anticipation. With a separate ticket, you can climb The Bell Tower, originally a Muslim minaret. It now stands as the highest building in the city at 54 metres.

The Mezquita Cordoba Spain.

Inside The Mezquita.

I certainly got my wow moment as I arrived into Hypostle Hall, a dimly lit forest of ancient stone columns. This is the oldest part of The Mezquita, with many of the columns sourced from ancient Roman sites across the Iberian Peninsula.

There are 856 in total, topped with red and white striped horseshoe arches. In the day of Abd al Rahman, it was a prayer hall and lecture space, and also hosted high profile cases of Sharia Law. 

The Mezquita Arches.

The Mezquita Arches Cordoba Spain.

The Mezquita Arches.

Curiously, the columns stem from all kinds of materials, including marble, granite and onyx. Moreover, there are varying shades of orange and white among the arches. Apparently, the inspiration for this colour scheme came from the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem.

The Mezquita in Spain.

The Mezquita Arches.

Set in a low almost sinister lighting, and with tourists flurrying around in all directions, I found it incredibly challenging to get decent photographs. These were pre iPhone Max days, folks.

Mezquita Cordoba Spain.

Cordoba, Spain.

Just as I was starting to get a feel for the place, the arches melted away into The Mezquita’s Christian section. In what is quite possibly the most dramatic change of architectural tone I have ever seen, I felt quite unprepared for what came next.

The Great Mosque Cathedral of Cordoba.

The Great Mosque Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain.

Suddenly, I was in the main chapel (La Capilla Mayor) of Córdoba Cathedral, a dizzying mash of Gothic, Renaissance and Mannerism.

It was Bishop Alonso de Manrique who decided to build a Christian cathedral right in the middle of the Islamic column forest. He hired the noted architect Hernán Ruiz I to oversee the project, which began in 1523.

La Capilla Mayor.

Capilla Mayor Cordoba Spain.

La Capilla Mayor.

Whether or not one agrees with the appropriateness of building a cathedral within a mosque, there is no denying its beauty and scale.

Take the cathedral organ for example, a humongous creation built by the famed Valencian brothers Miguel and Barnabas Llop. Made of tin, lead and walnut, it features over three thousand pipes and is among the largest organs in Spain.

The Cathedral of Cordoba.

The Cathedral of Córdoba.

A solemn organist sat in the choir that afternoon playing an absolute dirge of a tune. It was real fire and brimstone stuff, his diminutive frame almost shrinking into a backdrop of giant mahogany chairs.

Choir Cordoba Cathedral Spain.

The cathedral choir.

Over sixty vaulted chambers line the interior walls all the way round the building. While you can’t enter most of them, it is possible to peek behind the bars and see each vault’s collection of historical art.

Vault 40, for example, is Chapel of the Holy Men, home to gold plated candlesticks and a grisly carving of Christ being carried away from the cross.

Vault 40 Cordoba Cathedral.

Vault 40.

All in all, I thought The Mezquita was a fascinating and highly unique sight. No wonder it became a national monument in 1882, while UNESCO later added it to their list of World Heritage sites.

Cordoba, Spain.

I’d spent a solid couple of hours inside The Mezquita. Now, back out in the sunshine, I was keen to explore a bit more of the historical centre. Firstly though, lunch was on the agenda! Not wanting to waste too much on restaurant searching, I took a chance on Cafe Magerit, a popular eatery on Calle Eduardo Lucena.

Cafe Magerit Cordoba.

Cafe Magerit.

I was similarly quick on deciding on what to order. All it took was one look at the waitress serving a mushroom and mutton paella and I thought, yep, that’ll do me. I later found out Cafe Magerit has one of the best reputations in town for traditional, homemade Spanish dishes.

Mushroom and mutton Paella Cordoba.

Cordoba, Spain.

Like most Andalusian cities, Córdoba offers square after stunning, café-lined square. Plaza De Las Tendillas is the main plaza. Right in its centre stands a large fountain and statue of Gran Capitán by the sculptor Mateo Inurria.

The great captain’s real name was Gonzalo Fernández de Córdoba, a Spanish army general who fought in the Conquest of Granada and the Italian Wars.

Plaza de Las Tendillas.

Plaza de Las Tendillas Cordoba.

Plaza de Las Tendillas.

There were a number of sweet stores on the square that caught my eye. As I passed through, a magnetic force pulled me inside one of them. Before I knew what had happened, I’d bought a stick of nougat for later.

I’d had no idea that nougat was a thing in Córdoba. They had shelves of them in just about every flavour imaginable. Sadly, I can’t recall the name of the store I was in, but there are loads of nougat shops around. One of the most recommended is Sabor a Espana (Taste of Spain).

Nougat store Cordoba Spain.

Cordoba, Spain.

From Plaza de Las Tendillas I made a determined path towards the city’s Roman Bridge. I approached through the dramatic Renaissance gate, Puerta del Puente.

Córdoba mayor Alonso Gonzalez de Arteaga announced its construction in 1572 in order to mark an upcoming visit by King Philip II.

What to see and do Cordoba.

Puerta del Puente.

Today you can usually find an artist or two showing off their talents inside the gate. As I walked through, a local girl was keeping onlookers entertained with a stirring rendition of The Beatles’ Yesterday on the cello.

Celloist in Cordoba Spain.

Cordoba, Spain.

The Roman Bridge.

Although reconstructed a zillion times over, The Roman Bridge dates all the way back to the 1st century BC. Straddling The Guadalquivir River, it has sixteen arches, two of which are said to be originals!

If you’re coming from Puerta del Puente, they are arches fourteen and fifteen. The bridge is 247 metres long and ends directly in front of Calahorra Tower.

The Roman Bridge in Cordoba.

The Roman Bridge.

The tower was built by The Moors and extensively restored in 1369 especially to protect the bridge. It later served as both a prison and an all-girls school.

Today, it houses The Museum of Andalusian Life, which has exhibits on the region’s clothing, philosophers, musical instruments and scientific progress.

Visit Andalusia Roman Bridge Cordoba.

The view from Calahorra Tower.

Furthermore, there are sweeping rooftop views across the city. It’s a simply wonderful panoramic, particularly the birds eye view of The Roman Bridge and the green waters of The Guadalquivir.

Calahorra Tower Cordoba.

Calahorra Tower, Cordoba.

With about an hour left until my return train to Malaga, I had just about enough time for a quick drink on my way back to the station. I opted for the highly atmospheric Bar La Luna, where tables and chairs spill out onto a pretty square with a stone pool.

Cordoba, Spain.

Bar La Luna Cordoba.

Bar La Luna.

Ordering a fruit cocktail, it was the perfect spot from which to reflect on a triumphant, albeit way too short day. As the waiter scurried away, I spontaneously whipped out my nougat bar for a cheeky bite.

Where to drink Cordoba Spain.

Cordoba, Spain.

Late afternoon was starting to melt into early evening. The air was cool and the cocktail already going to my head. Nearby, children played by the pool while their well-dressed, sunglass-wearing mothers gossiped in quick fire Spanish. Across the square, in a small park, an elderly man began playing his violin.

Violinist in Cordoba Spain.

A touching end to a day in Cordoba.

It was a sad tune and he had a weathered, sorrowful face to match it. I couldn’t help but get the camera out and zoom in on him for a shot. Despite my attempts at discretion, he spotted me straight away. Nevertheless, he didn’t miss a beat and indeed fixed his gaze right at me as he played. I’m guessing he’s seen it all before.

Leighton Travels travel reports short stories.

Like this? Why not check out my other pieces from around Andalusia.

To delve further afield, I’ve also written a bunch of articles from all over Spain.

I’ve been living, working and traveling all over the world since 2001. So why not check out my huge library of travel reports from over 30 countries.

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20 Comments

  • salsaworldtraveler

    Another amazing post. I love the photos of the architecture.

    December 9, 2020 - 10:28 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks John! Took me a while to get those old grainy photos up to a reasonable quality.

      December 9, 2020 - 10:47 am Reply
  • Monkey's Tale

    The architecture is amazing. What a fascinating place. I can see why you wanted to visit.

    December 9, 2020 - 4:53 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks guys!

      December 9, 2020 - 4:53 pm Reply
  • Memo

    I’m impressed. All of that in a day trip and still you managed to avoid hordes of tourists in your key shots. The city certainly demonstrates the repurposing of architectural gems by alternating cultures as illustrated by the Calahorra Tower serving as a prison and then a girls’ school although the difference may be subtle to some. I doubt that I could keep up with you on one of these visits.

    December 9, 2020 - 7:08 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      It was certainly a full day, but hey if you’ve only got one, gotta make it count!

      December 9, 2020 - 7:55 pm Reply
  • Little Miss Traveller

    Lovely, we visited there too and thoroughly enjoyed the city.

    December 9, 2020 - 10:25 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading!

      December 9, 2020 - 10:26 pm Reply
  • rkrontheroad

    The striped arches are stunning, and how nice to visit the cathedral to the background of organ music. Great post!

    December 9, 2020 - 10:32 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks a lot! Really appreciate you reading and taking the time to comment.

      December 9, 2020 - 10:34 pm Reply
  • Rebecca

    I visited Córdoba as part of my Andalusian trip in December 2016. I likewise visited the sights you checked out, and I was blown away by the attention to details of the Mezquita, inside and out. I didn’t, however, try the mushroom and mutton paella, which looks mouth-watering; I’ve only ever had the chicken and seafood versions, so I’d be very keen on trying out the mutton variety should I return to Spain someday!

    December 10, 2020 - 5:24 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Looks like my trip was just three months after yours! I haven’t seen mushroom and mutton paella anywhere else!

      December 10, 2020 - 8:47 am Reply
  • Lookoom

    I made the same mistake of underestimating Cordoba on my trip to Andalusia. It’s true that the competition is tough. I remember the same wow moment when I entered the mosque, this forest of columns in the calm and darkness after the blinding light of the outside. Your article confirms that I will have to go back there.

    December 10, 2020 - 5:24 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks my friend, I also feel I have unfinished business in Spain.

      December 10, 2020 - 8:44 am Reply
  • travelling_han

    Lovely photos – I also found Cordoba to be a massive treat I wasn’t expecting, especially the mosque, it was incredible! Thank you for bringing back some lovely memories 🙂

    December 10, 2020 - 2:45 pm Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks Han, it’s nice to put out some articles on locations that so many WP readers have also been to. Haven’t yet met someone who wasn’t impressed with Córdoba.

      December 10, 2020 - 2:49 pm Reply
  • Eromonsele Emmanuel

    Intriguing writeup as usual Sir Leighton. I’ll call this one the battle of the religions. Haha. I like how tall and detailed each arch is and I like that each structure’s got it’s own talents.

    By the way, having an eventful meal was the best way to end the day. That dish does look like Nigerian Jollof Rice. LoL!

    December 13, 2020 - 8:18 am Reply
    • Leighton

      Thanks for reading dude. It’s funny you should mention that dish, as it often pops up in the books of the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. Sladja is literally bursting through her novels these days and is currently reading ‘Half of The Yellow Sun’.

      December 13, 2020 - 9:35 am Reply
      • Eromonsele Emmanuel

        I’m so happy to hear that. It does look like the dish to be sincere. Google it you’ll see. Oh Chimamanda is a great gem to our nation. She could watch the movie as well and read other books like Americanah and Purple Hibiscus.

        December 13, 2020 - 11:26 am
  • Leighton

    She has read the other two books and loved them. Thanks for movie recommendation. We’ll watch it together.

    December 13, 2020 - 11:58 am Reply

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