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HOT Lifestyle - East-West Intersect - Córdoba

One of the most instantly recognisable and jaw-droppingly beautiful of landmarks, Córdoba's unique must-see Mezquita - the vast mosque-turned-cathedral whose forest of pillars topped with red and white striped arches stretches seemingly into infinity defines the Andalusian city that more than 1,000 years ago was Islam's third most important place of pilgrimage after Mecca and Jerusalem. A place where Islamic culture met that of the West as scholars debated matters of astronomy, philosophy, anatomy and botany while most of Europe was still in the grip of the Dark Ages...

AUNESCO World Heritage Site three times over - and a worthy candidate for European City of Culture 2016 -very few places in the world can lay claim to having been a bustling Roman metropolis, the capital of an Arab State, and a thriving Jewish settlement to boot. But then Córdoba has never done ordinary, and both the fusion and the diversity of its extraordinary cultural, intellectual, historical and spiritual legacy are reflected everywhere you look.

After all, where else in the world can you can walk across a Roman bridge, built in the early first century BC and still intact... leading to a Mosque of staggering proportions, with a Christian Cathedral - complete with Baroque altarpiece and mahogany choir stalls - at its core... and only a few steps away, a small but beautifully preserved Synagogue dating from 1315?

And that, as they say, is just for starters. Welcome to Córdoba!

Less than a 2-hour drive inland from the Costa del Sol -or just 54 minutes from Malaga on the AVE high-speed train - Córdoba lies on the banks of the Guadalquivir with the mountains of the Sierra Morena forming a dramatic backdrop. Although now silted up beyond Sevilla, during Roman times the mighty River Guadalquivir was navigable all the way from the Gulf of Cadiz on Spain's Atlantic Coast, as far inland as Córdoba, making the city a major port from which olive oil, wine and wheat were shipped back to ancient Rome.

"The Romans founded the city in 152 BC, naming it Corduba"

Previously settled by the Carthaginians, the Romans founded the city in 152 BC, naming it Corduba and making it the capital of their Hispania Baetica in the process. Seneca, the philosopher who later tutored the Emperor Nero, was born here, as was the poet Lucan.

The Romans loved Córdoba with a passion. It was, when all is said and done, the centre of their civilisation and a far cry from primitive outposts such as Londinium. They lavished it with care, and in addition to the Roman Bridge, they also built a Roman Temple, the remains of which were only discovered in the 1950s during extension work on the City Hall; a cylinder-shaped Mausoleum unearthed in 1993 during archaeological excavations; an amphitheatre and the Colonial Forum; while the remains of the Palace of the Emperor Maximian were also found at the nearby Cercadilla archaeological site.

But all things must pass. Córdoba's Roman rule was overturned by the Vandals, who were followed by the Visigoths - in power until 712 - when they were subsequently defeated by the Moors. And it was under Islamic rule that Córdoba prospered as never before. Spain became the gateway to Europe for the empire of Muhammad and by the 10th century, Córdoba was the largest and richest city in Europe, with a tradition of learning and discourse that overshadowed Baghdad - the city that had taken Damascus's place as the heart of the Islamic empire.

In fact, it's said that at the height of its splendour, not only was Córdoba one of the most advanced cities in the world, but it was also a cultural, political, financial and economic superpower, with over 500,000 citizens, more than 400 mosques, 600 public baths, 4,000 shops, numerous magnificent palaces... and the largest library on Earth.

One of the foremost thinkers of the age, Averroes, as he is known in the West - or lbn Rushd as he's known in the Middle East and also referred to as the founding father of secular thought - was born in Córdoba in 1126; while Moses Maimonides, who radically changed the direction of Jewish philosophy, was also born here just nine years later.

So let's get started on our city tour... And where else to begin but at La Mezquita. Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984, you'll need at least a couple of hours to do it justice.

Founded by the Muslim emir Abdurrahman I in 785, on the site of the ancient Visigoth basilica of San Vicente Martyr, the Great Mosque of C6rdoba is a mixture of architectural styles superimposed one on another over the nine centuries its construction and renovations lasted, and following the Christian Reconquest of Córdoba in 1236, a cathedral was constructed at its centre. The highlights of this massive architectural masterpiece include its imposing bell tower built in the 1600s to replace the original minaret. And while the exterior resembles a fortress, step through one of its doors and you'll find yourself in the beautiful Patio de los Naranjos, with its symmetrical rows of orange trees and a cooling fountain.

Large enough to accommodate tens of thousands of people at prayer, once inside the 23,000m2 Mezquita - the third largest in the world - its sheer enormity will simply take your breath away. And if that weren't enough, why not take the 'Alma de Córdoba' (Soul of Córdoba) side-trip by night and discover the hidden secrets of the Mezquita on a memorable mystical tour guided by light and accompanied by ambient sound.

But there's still much more to see. Córdoba's captivating Old Town district - awarded UNESCO World Heritage Site status in 1994 - is a labyrinth of narrow streets encircling the Mezquita, where you'll find most of the city's other famous sights, including the charismatic Jewish Quarter dating from the late Middle Ages and home to one of the only three Synagogues still remaining in Spain, as well as the Casa de Sefarad Jewish Museum. This part of town is also world-renowned for its stunning Festival of Patios celebrated each year in May, but more of that later...

The 8th century Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos is well worth a visit, too. Originally a caliphate residence, it later became the home of Ferdinand and Isabella - the Christian monarchs after whom the building is now named - as well as having been the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition. With many important artefacts on display, it is, however, best known for its exquisite gardens, which feature a statue of Genoese navigator Christopher Columbus asking Ferdinand and Isabella to pay for his first Voyage of Discovery - which of course, although maybe a little grudgingly, they eventually did.

If you're a fan of Cervantes, you're sure to make a beeline for Plaza del Potro, a charming little square where you can see the hostelry where his fictitious character Don Quijote de la Mancha spent the night during one of his famous adventures. You'll also see a pretty little fountain featuring a statue of a foal.

And talking of horses, it was in Córdoba's Royal Stables (the Caballerizas Reales, built in 1570 by King Felipe II), that the pure thoroughbred Andalusian horse was first bred. Of Arab origin, the noble and legendary Andalusian horse - a potent symbol of Imperial Spain - is one of the best known of equines. The Stables are open to the public and it's here that you can also visit the 'Pasion y Duende del Cabana Andaluz', a magical equestrian show perfect for the whole family.

Some of the many other important monuments dotted around the city include the Torre Calahorra. An imposing tower rising up at the southern end of the Roman Bridge, it was built by Enrique il of Trastamana in 1369 to defend the city from attack. Used as a prison in the 18th century and a school for girls in the 19th century, it currently houses the Institute for Dialogue between Cultures - a fascinating museum vividly depicting 10th century daily life in Córdoba. Visitors are also able to go onto its roof for a spectacular view of the Mosque and surrounding Old Town.

Please note: Every effort was made to check the accuracy of the information contained within our archived HOT Properties Magazine articles at the time of originally going to press, but may well have been superseded over the ensuing years. They are now made available as historical archival information only. The said information has not been reviewed subsequently for present day accuracy nor has it been updated and we expressly disclaim any duty or obligation to do so. VIVA cannot accept responsibility for any errors or omissions, nor for the authenticity of any claims or statements made by third parties. We therefore strongly recommend that readers of these archived articles make their own thorough checks before entering into any kind of transaction. Prices were correct at the time of publication but may now vary due to circumstances beyond our control. The views and opinions of editorial contributors do not necessarily reflect those of VIVA .

HOT Properties Magazine Issue 99 - 2014

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