I loved Cordoba from my first trip to Spain in 1998, so on my last trip to Spain, I had to go back if even for part of a day. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. I would recommend spending one night here or at least make it a day trip from Seville or Madrid as the AVE, or bullet train, services the city. It is 45 minutes from Seville and about an hour and 45 minutes from Madrid.
I suggest focusing on the Juderia area which is the area of narrow small streets around the famous La Mezquita. Make sure to wander the back streets for the best experience and to avoid the tourists.
Here are some highlights.
The Mezquita: The Mezquita is Cordoba’s famous mosque built from the 8th to 11th centuries under the rule of the emirs and caliphs of the Omayya Dynasty. After the conquest they demolished the original church and built the mosque. It is the most outstanding example of Islamic art in the Western World. You will see many orange trees in the old courtyard as you enter. The major feature, and my favorite part, are the arcades or arches that support the roof. They are painted a red and white which is really beautiful to experience. Just wander, look up and enjoy!
Make sure you see the Al Hakam II on the east end with its wonderful dome, architectural details and mosaics.
But it doesn’t stop here, after the Christian Reconquest the mosque then became a cathedral in 1236. The current cathedral was started in 1523 and sits in the middle of the famous arches. There is a huge dome, marble altar, ornate choir stalls and dozens of small chapels.
Torre de la Calahorra and Roman Bridge: From behind the Mezquita, along the river, walk across the Roman Bridge consisting of 16 arches to view the famous Torre de la Calahorra which was a gate tower built in the mid-fourteenth century to protect one of the historical entrances to the city. On the way back make sure to notice the Puerta del Puente, or gate, that was once part of the old Arab walls as well as the tower or Triumph of St. Raphael.
Alcazar de lost Reyes Cristianos: This is the famous fortress built in 1328, first as a hostel, that became a royal palace, headquarters of the Inquisition, a military prison, a wine storehouse and municipal warehouse before it was restored. Not as richly decorated as the Alcazar in Seville, it is interesting to see and has some lovely gardens dotted with pools and ponds. Water always played an important role in the Arab city’s aesthetic consciousness.
The Jewish Quarter or Juderia: This is an area of narrow streets, small squares, shops, boutique hotels, cafes and restaurants. I remember how much I enjoyed it the first time I was there. It seemed a little more touristy but it is still worth the visit. Make sure to look into the doors of the homes to see if you can catch a glimpse of their beautiful patios.
If you have more time, you might visit the Roman Temple with its Corinthian columns in the downtown area, as well as the Archaeological museum.