Home Travel BlogEurope Travel BlogSpain Travel Blog A day in Cordoba: A mosque, Don Quixote and a water garden

A day in Cordoba: A mosque, Don Quixote and a water garden

by Silke Elzner

I have to admit that I have a weakness for the city of Cordoba. It may not be the most beautiful city in Andalusia but the way it welcomes you with its ancient Roman Bridge, the Renaissance Gate and the stunning Mezquita, all in quick succession, just makes me fall in love with this city over and over again.

Maybe it’s also the fact that Cordoba has a long history of being one of the brightest, most prosperous and most advanced cities in the world. The exotic mix of cultures is evident everywhere – it’s in the horse-shoe arches of the old mansions and the maze-like cobblestone streets of the Judería. The glaring white houses and the sunbaked squares, where people are cooling off under the shades of wide umbrellas, sipping cold beers and sweet wines.

It may not be as metropolitan as Seville or as pretty as Cadiz, but Cordoba has a medieval flair with an irresistible hint of orient. I cannot help but return here over and over again.

The Roman Bridge that crosses the Gualdalquivir

The Judería

The old Jewish quarter is a part of Cordoba that is hard to ignore. Since it is right next to the Mezquita, the uncontested tourist magnet of the city, it is easy to just give in and let yourself pull into the confusing maze of narrow roads and tiny squares.

The closeness of the Jewish Quarter to the Mezquita, the religious, spiritual and juridical centre of medieval Cordoba, is no coincidence. Under Moorish rule, the Jews enjoyed a time of peaceful tolerance. This allowed the community to prosper and develop a strong cultural influence within the worldwide Jewish community.

Today, it’s a different story, of course. The old Jewish quarter is now home to dozens of restaurants, cafes and bars. It’s a real pleasure to just lose yourself in the quarter. To enjoy the colourful vibe in the simple quest of finding those hidden pockets that are reserved to only those with an attentive eye.

This is Andalusia at its finest. A mix of white-washed houses – mansions converted to hotels, museums dedicated to bull fighting or the history of the Jewish community, and in between a crazy mix of tacky souvenir shops and tasteful artisan work.

White houses - a typical street scene in CordobaHorse carriage for touristsBusy street in the old Jewish QuarterColourful house fronts in CordobaA street with white-washed houses

The Zoco

Speaking of which, it is by accident that we come across a narrow passageway that leads us into a pretty Moorish style courtyard. There is an old well here and broad stairs leading to an upper colonnade with shops. This is the Zoco – an old souq.

Souqs – these are market places in the Arab world. And this one here in particular is a proud survivor of the centuries. It is now lovingly restored and used to house shops that sell local artisan products. Mind you, these are not the usual art and craft as you would find in the tourist shops. These are modern pieces made of modern materials – wire, leather, cloth, bottle glass. Even if you have no intention to buy, this place is still worth checking out.

Cordoba is, after all, a stylish city. And if you are after an unique souvenir, then this is the best place to look.

El Zoco Artisan Market

La Calleja de las Flores

The Calleja de las Flores is a tiny alley that must have become an Instagram favourite, because people all around us seemed to enjoy taking selfies with the happy blue flower pots that line both sides of the laneway. It is so narrow that people have to walk in two rows, shoulder rubbing against shoulder. Any attempt to take a picture will inadvertently result in a traffic jam.

To be honest, the hype is a bit over the top for what it is. This is Spain. There are many beautiful places with colourful potted plants along the walls. But maybe it is indeed the narrowness and the pretty little arch, or maybe the fact that you can see the bell tower in the far distance (if you find the right spot) why people love this place so much.

The Calleja doesn’t lead anywhere, it is a cul-de-sac. But there is an excellent, if somewhat expensive, leather shop. Have a look around, maybe you will fall in love with some of the mazing handmade pieces big and small such as wallets, wall decorations and handbags.

Calleja de las Flores

The Mezquita-Cathedral

My personal highlight of Cordoba, however, remains the Mezquita-Cathedral. It is in my view one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. Its presence inside and out is absolutely stunning. The delicate ornaments on the exterior, the feminine forms, the golden double-winged doors – all of this is delightfully exotic and just a joy to look at.

Even if you don’t want to buy a ticket to go inside (which would be such as a shame, as you can read here in my earlier post), there is still the Court of Oranges that you need to see. Just walk through one of the open doors to enter the courtyard and enjoy the view of the pretty orange trees and the fountains. This, of course, used to be the courtyard of a mosque, and this is still clearly visible.

Just walk around the arcades and look at the beautiful buildings. Imagine that all of this has been around for more than a thousand years. Inspect each single gate, find the elaborately decorated domed ceiling inside it.

One of the golden doors of the MezquitaInside the Mesquita's courtyard you can see many elaborate structuresOrnamental dome decoration inside the gateThe Court of Oranges

Plaza del Potro

From the Mezquita follow the road that goes parallel to the river until you reach a tiny square. In its middle there is a fountain topped by a horse. The horse is in fact a colt, and it is this that gives the square its name.

You will find two museums here, the Museum of Fine Arts and the Museum of Julio Remero de Torres. However, most people will want to visit this little corner of Cordoba because of the blue-white tiles that have been attached to one of the buildings – it mentions the famous novel about Don Quixote by Cervantes.

Don Quixote was famously the foolish knight who fought against windmills. It’s a nice little anecdote that is worth looking into before you take a seat in one of the cosy cafes that have their tables and chairs out on the square.

Plaza del Potre was also mentioned in Cervantes' Don Quixote

Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos

The second most popular attraction in Cordoba is the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, or the Royal Palace. It is located just a couple of steps next to the Mezquita and the Juderia, so it’s very easy to combine a visit of these attractions in one go. A nice break from the hectic crowds in the old quarter of the city, but not the same as the Alcazar in Seville.

Don’t expect a set of beautiful buildings, one more elaborately decorated than the next. This is not what you will find here. Instead, the Alcazar is similar to a castle in the military sense, complete with turrets and battlements. At least from here you can enjoy fabulous views of the city and the gardens. And it is the gardens that should receive your full attention.

On a hot Spanish summer’s day, take a stroll in the level gardens. Spot the fishes in the ponds, take in the views of the lush green conifers and the pretty little flowers. Explore the buildings that have been placed here purely for pleasure, take a picture of the palace from across the ponds.

After a day out in the city, we take our time under the shady lemon and orange trees. The trickle of water, the humming of insects and the sweet fragrance of flowers are the perfect way to end our discovery of the ancient city.

Cordoba, always a pleasure to visit. One of our all-time favourites in Andalusia.

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Outside the AlcazarViews from the Alcazar to the city and the MezquitaA courtyard in the AlcazarA thistleA statue of the Catholic KingsWater features inside the gardensThe Garden of the Alcazar de los Reyes in Cordoba