Walking out of the train station in Cordoba immediately gives the impression that the city is nondescript. Worse than that, it is downright unappealing. But I wouldn’t be writing about it if it were.
After pushing through the grey, unwelcoming surroundings of the station, the path to the older part of the city opens up into a long stretch of greenery. Walking to the central old part of the city felt like miles. It was only until we were walking back that I realised it was not very long at all, but when you are sceptical of what awaits you at the other end, a short walk can feel like it goes on forever. Reaching the older part of the city felt like stepping into another world. Cordoba, like Seville, is made up of a network of narrow winding streets, most of which have no cars. There is a long walk along the wide river with a Roman bridge recently reconstructed linking the old town to the other side of the river. You can walk along the Roman walls which remain in very good condition and there is a pretty manmade canal that runs alongside part of them. Cordoba also has its own Alcazar though I do not know how it compares to the Alcazar in Seville. All in all, it is clear why Cordoba has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
However, the real draw is the Mezquita. Unlike any cathedral in the world, it feels more like a palace than a cathedral. The original basilica was torn down in the eighth century and replaced by a mosque. What makes the building so unique is that in the thirteenth century when Catholics regained control of Cordoba, the mosque was converted to a cathedral rather than torn down. The result is incredibly interesting. Eclectic is the wrong word. Mismatched might serve better but gives the impression of a building patched together into a chaotic monstrosity. Instead, you have a combination of two cultures and architectural styles joined into one truly beautiful monument. The bell tower overlooking the courtyard filled with orange trees is enough to make you want to spend all day there. And that is before walking inside. The forest of columns joined by arches surrounding the nave is instantly astonishing. The scene feels as though it were taken straight out of a Game of Thrones episode, no CGI needed. The nave is traditionally Catholic, an elaborate renaissance masterpiece. The contrast between the darkness and closeness of the outer columns and the light of the heart of the cathedral is striking. Interestingly, when the Catholics remodelled the building they not only left the columns, but also the mihrab. With its intricate deigns this is arguably the most beautiful part of the cathedral and certainly the most unique. I do not think there is any other cathedral in the world that has anything quite like it.
Cordoba is a wonderful city. I am still faithful in my preference to Seville, but Cordoba definitely merits a visit. It is considerably smaller than Seville so there is not as much to do. But, a visit to the Mezquita alone would be well worth it.
Top: Mezquita Courtyard
Photography by Savannah Hayes