Córdoba – City of Antiquities

Where else could you find Roman ruins in an underground parking garage? Digging just about anywhere in Córdoba gives a good chance of unearthing antiquities. One case in point is the discovery of a Roman amphitheater under the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Córdoba, during a planned extension of the facility. The huge, oval-shaped, sunken amphitheater dating from the first century CE had seen gladiators battling each other and spectacles involving lions (not a giant step from such games to the later bullfights popular in Spain). It seems that the amphitheater was sometimes filled with water for the purpose of staging entertaining naval battles. The Córdoba amphitheater is believed to be Europe’s largest after the Coliseum in Rome. Discovery of the amphitheater (still not available for public viewing) has elevated Corduba’s (as it was known) status within the ancient Roman world, as the capital of Baetica.

The Roman Temple, a stone’s throw away from the Art Nouveau Plaza de las Tendillas, was dedicated to the imperial cult of Caesar. The temple was constructed in the first century CE. These temple ruins were discovered in the 1950’s during the expansion of Córdoba City Hall.

There is a Roman Bridge reaching across the great Guadalquivir River. The Guadalquivir flows through the city of Sevilla, on its way to the Atlantic. At one time, the river provided a major navigable route connecting Córdoba to the Ocean, no doubt contributing to its development as a great metropolis, important from Roman times through the reign of the Moors. Today, only the stretch from Sevilla to the ocean is navigable.

A wonderful introduction to the history of Córdoba and Andalucía can be found in the Archeological and Ethnographic Museum of Córdoba. Modern humans appeared in the Iberian Peninsula at least 40,000 years ago. The Peninsula has always been a crossroads linking Europe and Africa. Evidence of an Iberian culture (south-eastern part of the peninsula) dates from the sixth century BCE. Iberians arrived in the peninsula perhaps around 1600 BCE (or even earlier) coming along the Mediterranean coast from Europe and probably Africa. The Museum contains a beautiful Iberian lion sculpture from the IV c. BCE depicted in the photo below.

After the fall of the Roman Empire, the city of Córdoba eventually submitted to Visigothic rule. The Visigoths were a people coming into the Peninsula from the north, having established a kingdom in Southern Gaul (today’s France). The Visigoths at times worked with the Romans and at times against the Romans. In the end, the Visigoths were recruited by the Romans to help them rid the Peninsula of marauding Germanic tribes and to establish order. In the 490’s CE Visigothic families began to come to live in Spain. They converted to Christianity and established the Visigothic Kingdom, which survived for a couple of centuries or so until internal strife led to the transition to Moorish rule.

The Moors from North Africa resided in the Iberian Peninsula for seven centuries! They have left magnificent architecture in Andalucía. The most iconic Moorish building to visit in Córdoba is the Mezquita, a mosque built over a Visigothic church with a Christian chapel plopped on top of it. The Moorish parts of the structure can be seen in the four photos below.

The next three photos below are from the Catholic part of La Mezquita plopped down onto the Moorish part.

The Alcázar in Córdoba is not like the Alcázar in Sevilla (apparently some people confuse the two and are severely disappointed). We did not visit it, but would have had we more time.

The Chapel of St. Bartolomé is a little gem worth touring. It is an example of Mudejar architecture, a fusion of Moorish and Christian styles.

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Córdoba was a major center of Sephardic Jewish life. There is a synagogue and a Museum of Sephardic Jews. Maimonides, an important philosopher and scholar of Jewish origin, was born in Córdoba.

The Plaza de las Tendillas is a surprising and beautiful place in Córdoba, with several Art Nouveau buildings.

Córdoba is a fortified city with city walls and gates.

When you visit Córdoba, be sure to explore the winding, narrow streets and passageways of the old town.

We were in Córdoba on precisely those days when there were no performances at the Royal Stables. We settled for a training session. The beautiful Andalusian horses were a joy to watch. What a fitting end to our stay in Córdoba.

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