The 5 architectural works in Cordoba not to be missed between ancient and new

Hi everyone! I want to inaugurate the new year telling you about the last trip I took at the end of 2017, once again, in Spain. The two cities I visited in this mini tour were Cordoba and Madrid, so I will start from the first city I stayed in and I will take you to the discovery of the 5 architectural works I found most interesting, both from an architectural and historical point of view.

I must confess, however, that it is not the first time I landed in the andalusian land, as many years ago, as a fifth superior voyage, I was with my class in Seville, Huelba, Cordoba and Granada. I admit that in Cordoba I did not remember anything, because we went to visit a nearby village and we were not in the historic center. I have to say that I did not expect to find so many architectural artifacts so well preserved and maintained, but above all to find a city so full in ancient charm.


View of the Mezquita from my hotel room

La Mezquita:

As a first architectural work I I would like to mention the famous Mezquita, an ancient mosque of 785 which later became a cathedral. During my short stay in the city, it was the first thing I could admire as soon as I arrived. Although it was evening, I was immediately impressed by the majesty and charm that emanates, as if I had been catapulted back into the past at the time of Muslim domination. In front of an orange garden, this mosque stands on the ancient ruins of the Visigothic church dedicated to San Vincenzo. It has the shape of a quadrilateral with 19 naves and 856 columns mostly deriving from Roman temples. A double order of arches in two-colored stone, white and red, overhangs these columns giving a graceful appearance to the whole, creating an effect that resembles an expanse of palm trees.

Mezquita Cordoba

The double order of arches was suggested by the reduced dimensions of the columns. The first order of arches is horseshoe, taken from the Visigoth tradition, the second order is round toe according to the Roman tradition. Due to a construction error, the mihrab, niche where the Koran is kept, is positioned to the south instead of to the southeast.

In 1236 Ferdinand III of Castile transformed the Mosque into the Cathedral, building the Royal Chapel. In 1500 the Cordoba clergy decided to build the current cathedral by breaking down several columns and giving rise to the current church that mixes Renaissance and Baroque Gothic styles. The same Charles V did not approve of this architectural upheaval which proved, however, to protect the building over time.

View towards the altar of the Cathedral

Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos:

Another contemporary work of the Mezquita is the Alcazar, which I did not have the pleasure of visiting due to the lack of time and the constant constant kilometer at the entrance. However, the building deserves a visit due to the historical importance it has had. Born in the late Middle Ages as a Visigothic residence, it later became a Caliphate palace. Later it became the lodging of the royals passing through Cordoba. Fun fact, Cristoforo Colombo asked for funding for his future American company in Isabella di Castiglia. The Inquisition found its space here and even during the most recent war of Spain (1936-39) this palace became a prison.

External view from the Roman bridge towards the Alcazar and the old mill.

Palacio Viana:

This palace was a real revelation, because I never expected to find a riot of “patios”, typical of Andalusian architecture. In fact, even if you walk through the historic center, these patios can be seen from the streets frequently. Whether you go to a restaurant, a bar, a hotel, a shop or a private home, the patio will surprise you, for the light it offers to the whole house. But where does this architectural element derive from? It seems that it derives from the Roman house. Its use offers at the same time natural light and coolness in the hot summer hours. In the center is often placed a fountain, small or large and the flow of water helps to give a feeling of relaxation in combination with the floral and arboreal elements present.

A noble residence for 500 years, it has seen 18 owners of noble families, who have preserved and improved the size of this house and its gardens. Currently it covers an area of 6500 square meters, including gardens.

Palazzo Viana with its 12 patios, each one different from the other, is one of the most elegant and sensational examples of this ancient architectural element. All the Mediterranean vegetation and aromatic essences are present in these gardens. Despite the period of my winter visit the citrus trees were full of fruits and many flowering plants. I try to imagine what could be in the spring. In fact, just in spring in Cordoba the Fesival de los patios takes place, with the final award for the best patio.

Madinat al-Zahra Museum:

This museum and its archaeological site, which is 8 kilometers from Cordoba, is a fundamental place to understand the origins of the city. You can reach it easily by taxi in 20 minutes at most. The advice I give is to first visit the museum (free) and then the archaeological site by a shuttle (for a fee). The museum was inaugurated in 2009 by Reina Sofia and greatly enhanced this archaeological site. The ticket is free because it enjoys the patronage of the European economic community, without which the museum would not have arisen.

Medinat al zahara
View towards the entrance of the museum

The site expresses the remains of an ancient Caliphate city dating back to 936. The organization of the city is articulated on 3 terraces that communicate with each other through ramps. This seems to have been conceived to allow the horses to pass through to the palace of the Caliph which is on the lower terrace. There are still decorated arches of the caliphate palace and the mosque.

Centro de Creacìon Contemporànea de Andalucia:

Before leaving for Cordoba I had documented on possible contemporary architectural works and I found this brand new Center of contemporary art inaugurated in 2013. Designed by the architectural firm of Nieto Sobejano Arquitectos was conceived as a large open space where the hexagonal pattern is often repeated also in vertical walls and collects works by Andalusian and international artists. It also contains a media library and an audiovisual room.

Aerial view of the Center of Contemporary Art, credit:órdoba-l-arte-ha-una-nuova-casa_33060_3.html

Centro Arte Contemporanea Cordoba

If from the outside this museum seems very closed and essential, the impression that comes from inside is an environment in which light is directed only in certain areas, through these three-dimensional skylights that invade the exhibition space. The contrast between exterior and interior is also highlighted by the choice of construction materials. For the exteriors, prefabricated GRC (fiberglass reinforced concrete) panels in white were used, while the internal walls are made of concrete, left in its original color, like the continuous paving.

The perforations we find outside also contribute to illuminating the interiors and giving particular effects of light during the day. The choice of this hexagonal motif that we find continuously is due to the influence of Islamic architecture, typical of all of Andalusia.

Artwork by Yoko Ono

I hope you enjoyed this rundown of images that I have taken and that has been inspired by my impressions and descriptions. Keep in mind that in the next article I will talk about Madrid.


1 thought on “The 5 architectural works in Cordoba not to be missed between ancient and new

  1. Giulia,

    This is a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable walk through some amazing destinations. The descriptions are in depth and captivating allowing me to really feel what it would be like to actually be there. The subjects themselves are unique and I find the history shared fascinating. The historic architecture is so beautiful, I especially liked the arches and columns though all are impressive.
    Thank you so much for sharing your entertaining and personal view of these treasures, I look forward to your next adventure!


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