Cordoba was once an important Roman settlement but it was during its Moorish occupation that its most splendid monument was built. Home to the fabulously beautiful Mezquita, this mosque is the largest and most beautiful built in Spain and Cordoba is worth visiting for the mosque alone.
The Mezquita was built over many centuries. The original mosque was started by Abd ar Rahman and completed by his son Hisham in 796. Over the following centuries the Moorish domination of Spain increased and with it the might of the city of Cordoba. Successive Moorish leaders added to the Mezquita which and in the 10th century when Cordoba peaked in influence as a Moorish city the Mezquita became an alternative pilgrimage for those who could not make the journey to Mecca. It was the third holiest place in the Islamic faith after Mecca and the Al Aksa mosque of Jerusalem.
As well as adding more columns to the Mezquita the interior was richly decorated including the bells of the Christian cathedral of Santiago de Compostela which Christian captives were forced to carry from Galicia. After the Reconquest this journey was made in reverse to restore the bells to their rightful home!
After the Reconquest even the Christians were stunned by the beauty of the mosque but after leaving it unharmed for almost 3 centuries the cathedral chapter finally got their way and were given permission to build a Renaissance cathedral coro inside. Even Carlos V who gave permission for this was disappointed with the result. Fortunately whilst the mosque has been consecrated and is now a cathedral not too much has been changed over the years.
The Mezquita remains one of the most beautiful buildings you will see - if you are in the South of Spain be sure to visit it.
As well as the Mezquita, which warrants many visits, the city itself with its old Jewish and moorish quarter is charming. Cordoba has the second biggest old town in Europe and the largest urban area in the World to be given UNESCO World Heritage status.
After the Mezquita, the 16-arched Roman bridge is one of the best known monuments of Cordoba. There are also various other Roman monuments including a Roman Temple and a Roman Mausoleum.
One of the best districts in Cordoba is its atmospheric Jewish quarter, the Juderia, which is a network of lanes, the buildings decorated with wrought iron, and is the place to buy lovely silver jewellery. The area is very atmospheric and has a 14th century synagogue and a Sephardic house which has been restored to look as it would have in the 14th century.
Other sights in the old town include the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos. Visit the beautiful gardens of the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos with their lovely water terraces and fountains. Hard to believe that this tranquil spot was once home to the Spanish Inquisition but they were based in the Alcazar for three centuries. For garden lovers there is also the Jardin Botanico nearby with lots of exotic shrubs and plants.
The Callejon de los Floras is probably the most photographed street in Cordoba. This narrow street is lined with delightful white buildings that are completely decked out in jewel-bright colours. From the tiny square at the end you can get a photograph of part of the Mezquita framed by the white walls and bright flowers of the street - wonderful!
Continuing the garden theme, garden-lovers should visit the Palacio del Marques de Viana, a delightful palace with elegant patios and a stunning 18th century garden.
The town is also famous for its patios and there is a 'Festival of the Patios' in May where the patios are judged for their floral decorations.
Another festival in Cordoba is the Cordoba Festival at the end of May. This is a huge festival with fireworks, flamenco a large funfair and lots more. Particularly enjoyable is the sight of many people in traditional dress, many of whom arrive on horseback.
The Plaza del Potro is an attractive square with on one side an inn once frequented by Cervantes and written about in his book 'Don Quixote'. The inn is a charming building built around a central courtyard with a balconied upper storey. This is now the 'Centro Flamenco Fosforito', a centre for the study of Flamenco.
In the centre of the square is a fountain with the statue of a young horse and opposite is an old Fransiscan hospital which is now home to the Museum of Fine Art and the Julio Romero de Torres museum - a popular painter from Cordoba.
7km out of Cordoba are the ruins of the Medina Azahara, a massive palace complex built by Caliph Abd ar-Rahman III.
Seville can be reached quite easily by train from Cordoba and is one of our favourite places in Spain.
Map of Cordoba and places to visit
See more places nearby in the Andalucia guide