Today Córdoba is a provincial capital with a population of 325,000. However in Roman times it was the capital of a large area of what is now Spain. The height of its importance was from the eighth to the twelfth centuries, when it was the capital of Moorish Spain with a population estimated to be between 0.5 and 1 million, rivalling Cairo and Baghdad as a centre of Muslim art and learning. For centuries it appears that the Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities lived together peacefully. After the Reconquista in 1236 Córdoba, entered a long period of decline, only emerging as a modern city in the last forty years.
The city sits on the north bank of the River Guadalquivir, which is crossed by the Puente Romano (Roman bridge), built in the 1st century BCE, and the only bridge for two thousand years until 1953. At the north end of the bridge is the city’s main sight, the huge mezquita catedral (mosque / cathedral) surrounded by the old city and the remains of the city walls. To the north is the modern city centre, stretching from Plaza Tendillas to the Plaza de Colón, and a line of parkland which marks the former route of the main Sevilla – Madrid railway line. The railway now tunnels beneath these avenues and the modern railway and bus stations are adjacent to one another, north-west of the city centre. The drawing at the end of this page gives a rough idea of the layout.
The Puente Romano, on our first visit to Córdoba in 1989, when it was still used by traffic.
Getting to Córdoba
From Málaga there are frequent AVANT and AVE high speed trains, which take about 1 hour. The fare by AVANT is €27.50 single, €44.00 return, by AVE €41.60 single, €66.60 return. Cheaper advance fares for AVE trains are available online at www.renfe.com.
From Sevilla there are frequent AVANT and AVE train which take about 45 minutes and about 6 daily regional trains which take twice as long for half the price. Madrid is linked by regular AVE trains which take 1hr 45 mins. Until the railway line to Granada reopens (sometime in late 2018?) the best option is by coach – Alsa operate 6 fast coaches daily taking 2hrs 40mins.
Getting around Córdoba
The modern city is laid out with wide main avenues, streets and squares and it is not difficult to find ones way to Plaza Tendillas. The old city has narrow, winding lanes, mainly pedestrianised, which are easy (and good fun) to get lost in. There is a fairly direct route from the south-west corner of Plaza Tendillas to the Mezquita along a series of streets – Jesús y María, Ángel de Savedra, Blanco Belmonte and Céspedes, each one narrower than the last. While walking is the most interesting, and often the quickest, way to get around, some of the distances are considerable – it takes at least 30 minutes to walk from the railway and bus stations to the Mezquita. The Tourist Information kiosks in the railway station and in Plaza Tendillas can provide good walking maps of the city centre – in the old city Google Maps can be difficult to follow on a phone. The The photo is the bell tower of the cathedral.
Buses cannot penetrate the old city and are therefore unlikely to be used by visitors. Anyone arriving (particularly with luggage) and staying in a hotel in the old city (where almost all are located), is best to take a taxi.
The Patio de los Naranjos, the entrance to the mosque.
Buses cost €1.30 per journey. The only route which may be use is the No. 3, which stops outside the bus/rail station (west side) and runs via the city centre (Avda Gran Capitán, outside El Corte Inglés) to a stop on the riverside (El Potro-Ribera) a few minutes walk from the Mezquita. The return journey is from the Puerta del Puente stop at the north end of the Roman Bridge to the city centre (Av. Cervantes) and the rail and bus stations (Renfe – Est. Autobuses). The No. 3 runs every 12-15 minutes Monday to Friday and every 15-20 minutes at weekends.
The double deck hop-on hop-off City Sightseeing bus also cannot penetrate the old city, though the hour-long circuit can give an initial impression of the layout of the city. At 18 euros for a day ticket it is expensive but the day ticket also allows one to use the City Sightseeing minibus which reaches some of the old city. There are stops at the railway station, and close to both ends of the Puente Romano – the latter are interchange points with the minibus tour.
Places to visit
The Mezquita is the most famous sight in Córdoba, and is the magnet for tourists. The building is magnificent and should not be missed – even at the busiest periods it cannot fail to impress. The Mezquita was built on the site of a Roman temple and Visigothic cathedral. Construction commenced in 756CE and the mosque was extended at various stages until the 11th century. The cathedral was added some time after the Reconquest. On the North side is the Patio de los Naranjos (orange trees), where Muslim worshippers performed their ablutions before entry to the main building – today the ticket office is located here. From the patio the main building is entered by a door at the corner. To gain the best impression, once inside walk around the building in an anti-clockwise direction This way you start in the oldest part of the building and follow the development of the mosque The mosque and cathedral through the ages.
The mosque becomes the cathedral
The Mezquita is open 1000-1800 Mon-Sat, 0830-1130 and 1500-1800 Sun. In summer the opening hours extend to 1900. Admission is €10. There is no advance or online booking, and queues can be lengthy at the ticket office.
The Puente Romano today
Close to the Mezquita is the Puente Romano (Roman Bridge) across the Rio Guadalquivir. After 2000 years an insensitive restoration in 2007 removed much of the original stonework and replaced the road surface with concrete and modern lighting. However, it is very much worth a walk across for views back to the Mezquita and of the islands in the river and the old water-mills by the bank.
To the west of the Mezquita is La Judería, the former Jewish quarter, a warren of narrow streets and patios excellent to explore. In the midst of the area is the tiny sinagoga (synagogue), one of only three which survived the expulsion of the Jewish community from Spain in 1492. Between the JuderÍa and the river is the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos palace and its extensive Moorish-style gardens. Close to the North-east corner of the Mezquita is Callejón de las Flores, (pictured), a small alley and flower-filled square with
views back to the Mezquita belfry.
The synagogue is currently closed for renovations and should reopen by October 2018. The opening hours prior to closure were 0900-2000 Tues-Sat, 0900-1500 Sun, closed Mon. Free to EU citizens, €0.30 others. From mid September to mid June the Alcázar is open 0830-2045 Tues-Fri, 0830-1630 Sat, 0830-1500 Sun. From mid June to mid September it is open 0830-1430 Tues-Sat and 0930-1430 Sun. Closed Mon. Admission €4.50.
To the east of the Mezquita lies the remainder of the old city. This is another warren of streets with pleasant little squares such as the Plaza del Potro and Plaza Jerónimo Páez. This area is less touristy (tour groups tend to confine their visit to the Mezquita and the Judería) and very atmospheric to wander around – particularly after dark when the lanes are largely deserted. In this area is the Plaza de la Corredera (above), a seventeenth century square which has been excellently refurbished and is reminiscent of the Plaza Mayor In Madrid, full of cafes and bars with outdoor terraces. Nearby, close to the Plaza Tendillas, are the remains of a Roman temple.
Plaza Tendillas is the centre of the modern town, a pleasant square with fountains, and this part of town has other green squares such as the Plaza de Colón, and, for those interested, many churches which are reputedly worth a visit.
Places to drink and eat
This is arranged roughly from North to South, starting in the newer town near the Plaza Tendillas.
Almost all bars will sell the local Montilla-Moriles wine, reminiscent of a mellow, dry sherry and often served straight from barrels behind the bar. The fino is particularly good with tapas. Bear in mind that many places, particularly those that are less geared to tourists, close between 1600 and about 2000.
- Taberna San Miguel (Casa El Pisto), Pl San Miguel 1, old bar, unchanged for a century or so. The food looks good.
- El Gallo, c/Maria Cristina 6, near the Templo Romano. Fine old bar, with old men drinking Montilla wine, in this case their own Amargoso. Good tapas – I had the huevas (fish roe).
- Casa la Paloma, Pl. Corredera 5, one of series of small bars, with outside tables in this fine square (theirs are the red seats). Good tapas – I had tortilla and
- Mercado Victoria, Paseo de la Victoria, outside the old town in the middle of the boulevard which marks its west side. Restored building, now a trendy gourmet market, with lots of interesting food and drink stalls – pricey but good.
- Casa Bravo, Puerta de Almodóvar, a fine local bar by city walls on the west side of the Judería.
- Bar Correo, C/Jesús y María, just off Pl Tendillas, tiny, most people drink in the street, no fancy frills such as mixed drinks or ice here. Excellent.
- Cervezas Califa, c/Juan Valera 3. A small brewpub with four of their own beers on tap and plenty of interesting bottles from all over Spain. Quality snacks.
- El Picateo de Gallo, c/Ángel de Savedra – another tiny bar, with outside tables on the street. Good montaditos (rolls), tostas (toasts) and tapas.
- Bar La Cavea, Pl Jerónimo Páez, with tables in a pleasant and quiet square, tapas look tasty.
- Bar Santos, c/Magistral Gonzalez Francés, Right beside the mezquita. Tiny bar, famed for its tortilla, (there were Spanish tourists taking photos of it) and serving other good tapas – I had the butifarra
- Bar Miguelito, Acera Pintada 8, across the Roman Bridge. A good neighbourhood bar, with excellent fried fish.
The tortillas in Bar Santos
The shopping streets are in the modern city, from Plaza Tendillas north to Ronda de los Tejores – the main streets being Avda. del Gran Capitán and the parallel c/Cruz Conde. The principal department store, El Corte Ingles, is at the corner of Tejores and Gran Capitán.
Around the mezquita and the Judería are plenty of souvenir and gift shops, from the cheap and tacky to the expensive, as well as some more quirky specialist shops and places selling local produce.
There is a market hall in the Plaza de la Corredera, and the Mercado Victoria (Paseo de la Victoria) sells gourmet and specialist food.
Some Roman remains left lying around
Places to stay
Two hotels that myself and friends have used (there are plenty of other options) :-
NH Córdoba Guadalquivir (formerly the NH Hesperia Córdoba), ****, Avda. Fray Albino 1, across the river, near the Roman Bridge, looking back to the mezquita. Modern, very comfortable, with some superb online deals in the quieter months.
Hotel Marisa, ** c/ Cardenal Herrero 6, right next to the mezquita, in an old building. Cheaper, perfectly comfortable and characterful option.
Other info – When to go
For ten days in May many of the traditional Cordobes patios, full of flowers, tiles and fountains are opened to the public in the Fiesta de los Patios. Later in the month the annual Feria de Mayo takes place. This means that May is the busiest month for tourists. June, September and October are also very busy. July and August are quieter, as Córdoba can be very hot in summer and many sights have limited hours, closing during the hot afternoons.
V2.0 August 2018. This guide was prepared following visits to Córdoba in January and July 2017. Opening times and prices were updated from websites in August 2018.
Text and photos © Copyright Steve Gillon, 2017, 2018.