Cordova, like Seville and Granada, is a memorial of the Moors. It is a
city that sleeps, living in the memory of its past.
Its history since the last of the sultans in Spain is comparatively
uneventful, its glorious days were before the expulsion of the Morisco
inhabitants, when the city was a seat of learning, a great centre of art
and industry, and the place of residence of illustrious caliphs.
The somnolence of Cordova is like an eternal siesta. You wander in
ancient streets, with houses guarded from the ardent rays of the sun,
and marvel how the people live, for there is no outward sign, as in
Seville, of commercial activity.
Yet the inhabitants who saunter in the Paseo del Gran Capitan, under the
orange-trees, and flock to the bullfights, do not appear so “dull and
ill-provided,” as O’Shea found them in 1868. There is even an air of
prosperity among the residents, despite the long centuries of slumber.
Nor does the aspect of the city convey an impression of neglect. The
houses are white and clean, the streets brighter than the thoroughfares
of sombre Toledo, and the charming courtyards inviting and pleasant,
with clustering roses and spreading palms. There is colour everywhere,
Cordova is a painter’s paradise.
In summer the heat is extreme. The glare of the whitened houses reflects
the brilliant sapphire of the sky, and becomes painful to the eyes; the
city is in a plain, exposed to every ray of the Andalusian sun. To
escape the enervating heat of summer, the wealthier inhabitants migrate
to the uplands and the beautiful sierras, at whose base the city lies.
The country around Cordova is fertile. Olives, vines, and many
fruit-trees flourished in the valley of the Guadalquivir, and on the
foothills, and there are large tracts of pasture-land. Vegetables are
grown in profusion. Before the time of the Moors, Cordova had repute for
its succulent artichokes. On the grassy plains the Moorish settlers led
great flocks of cattle, and here grazed the splendid horses of Arab
breed, which were long famous throughout Spain.
But the immediate surroundings of the city are almost treeless. Here
and there a slope is clothed with olive-trees, and the broad _paseos_
are shaded by young trees, newly planted; but the Spanish peasant,
dreading the harbourage that woods afford to birds, ruthlessly fells and
stubs up trees. For league upon league stretches a monotonous tract of
grass, watered by sluggish yellow streams, upon whose banks grows the
cold grey cactus.
Most English travellers reach Cordova by rail from Madrid or Seville.
The journey from Madrid is by way of Alcazar and Linares, passing the
wine-growing districts of Manzanares and Valdepeña, and crossing the
waste territory of La Mancha, in which Don Quixote roamed in quest of
knightly adventure. From Seville the rail journey occupies about four
hours, and the line runs through a fairly cultivated track of Andalusia,
following the Guadalquivir for the greater part of its course.
To the north of Cordova, some leagues away, stretch the grey-blue
heights of the Sierra Morena, whence wild winds sweep the plain in
winter. Between this range and the Sierra Nevada there are fertile
districts, watered by the Genil and other streams. At Cordova the
Guadalquivir is a wide, somewhat turgid stream, washing the southern
side of the town, around which it sweeps in a mighty circle. The rushing
water is spanned by a great bridge of many arches, whose gateway, the
_Puerta del Puente_, a Doric triumphal arch, erected by Philip II. on
the site of the Moorish _Bâb al-Kantara_, gives entrance to the city.
The bridge, with its sixteen arches, is Moorish, and stands on Roman
foundations. This is one of the best points from which to view the city.
The great mosque is seen well from here, and the city stretching away
from the water’s edge, white-gleaming in the blaze of the sun, is
beautiful and strangely suggestive. The rugged heights of the Sierra de
Cordoba rise in the far distance; the water of the river tumbles and
eddies in its wide bed. A little way up the stream are the Moorish mills
that have stood unchanged through the centuries. This is the spot to
learn the peace of sleeping Cordova. The history of Cordova dates back
to the pre-Christian era: Corduba was the most important of the ancient
Iberian cities. It was made a Roman settlement about 200 B.C., and later
the city was extended, and under the name of Colonia Patricia was made
the capital of Southern Spain. Always the history of the city has been a
record of struggle and the shedding of blood. There was a great
massacre of the people in the time of Cæsar, through their allegiance to
Cordova has been ruled by many masters. After the Romans, the city came
into the possession of Goths, and from them it was captured by the
Moors. Roderick the Goth was defeated by Tarik in 711, on the Guadelete
River, and the valiant Mughith, one of Tarik’s commanders, was sent to
Cordova with a force of horsemen. In a heavy hail shower, Mughith rode
into Cordova, taking the natives by surprise, and capturing the town
Ruled later by the caliphs of Damascus, Cordova became the centre of the
Moorish dominion in Spain. In the tenth century, the city was in the
height of its splendour and renown. For three centuries the Omeyyads
held sway, and these rulers, descendants of the sovereign family of
Damascus, vied with one another in enlarging and adorning the city. The
three caliphs of the name of Abderahman were distinguished for their
courage in their administrative capacity, and their love of the arts,
and of learning. The last of the trio of great rulers, though brave, was
described as “the mildest and most enlightened sovereign that ever
ruled a country.” Abderahman III. was, in every sense, a potent
monarch. None of the caliphs who succeeded him equalled this wise and
tactful Moor. Intrigues, factions, and treachery marked the reigns of
For a time Almanzor, the unconquerable minister, saved Cordova. The
career of this man is witness to the romance which meets us so often in
Spain; beginning his life as a professional letter-writer, he ended as
sole ruler of an empire. Almanzor died in 1002, and from this time
Cordova’s history is a monotonous record of revolt and disorder. Hisham
III. was imprisoned in the great vault of the mosque, and the rule of
the Omeyyads was at an end. Caliph after caliph was set up. Arabs,
Moors, and Spaniards fought for the city. Once for four days Cordova was
turned into a shamble, when “the Berber butchers” ransacked the city,
slaying the people, and burning its splendid buildings. Az-Zahra, the
summer palace, with all its exquisite treasures of art, was left a heap
of charred ruins.
Afterwards Yusuf, the Berber, founded the dynasty of the Almoravides.
But his rule was brief.
In 1235 Cordova fell. Fernando had pledged himself to recover Spain for
the Christians. The king advanced into Andalusia, with a mighty army of
fervent crusaders, and the splendid city of the Moors was seized by the
warriors of the Cross. A host of the Morisco natives quitted the city
for Africa; many were killed, and a proportion remained as “reconciled”
Spanish subjects. Fernando’s victory was a triumph for Catholicism; but
it brought about the slow decay of Cordova. The population dwindled, the
arts and crafts were neglected, the fields untilled. Learning was
discountenanced, libraries of precious volumes burned; and in their zeal
for cleansing Cordova from all traces of the Moslem, the reformers even
destroyed the baths.
To read of the Cordova of the Moors is like reading a chapter of
Oriental romance. But the story is not legendary. This marvellous city,
equal in grandeur to Baghdad, was a great beacon-light of culture for
three hundred years. Its mosques, its schools, and its hospitals were
famous throughout the world. Sages, poets, artists found here every
scope and assistance for the development of their philosophy and their
art. There were no ignorant natives, and no class living in penury and
squalor. The Moors were almost perfect masters of the art of
civilisation. They esteemed education; they taught tolerance; they
inculcated a love of beauty in daily life, and lived cleanly, and on the
The life was jocund, but sober, for the Moors abstained from wine. “The
City of Cities,” “The Bride of Andalus,” are the names bestowed on the
beautiful city of Cordova by the Moorish writers of that age.
In the twelfth century Abu Mohammed wrote of Cordova as “the Cupola of
Islam, the convocation of scholars, the court of the sultans of the
family of Omeyyah, and the residence of the most illustrious tribes of
Yemen. Students from all parts of the world flocked thither at all times
to learn the sciences of which Cordova was the most noble repository,
and to derive knowledge from the mouths of the doctors and ulemas who
flourished in its cultured life. Cordova was ‘to Andalus what the head
is to the body.'”
The city once boasted of fifty thousand resplendent palaces, and a
hundred thousand inferior houses. Its mosques numbered seven hundred,
and the cleanly Moors built nine hundred public baths. The city
stretched for ten miles along the banks of the Guadalquivir, flanked
with walls, battlements, and towers, and approached by guarded gates.
Throughout the world men spoke in veneration of its four great
wonders–the immense and gorgeous mosque, the bridge over the
Guadalquivir, the suburb city of Az-Zahra, and the sciences which were
studied in the colleges.
Abderahman III. built a palace a few miles from the city, called
Medinat-az-Zahra. It was named after the beautiful Zahra, one of the
sultan’s mistresses. A figure of Zahra was carved over the chief gateway
of this fairy city. Medinat-az-Zahra was a town rather than a royal
residence. There was a splendid mosque upon the site; the suburb had
colleges, baths and marts.
Forty years were spent in building this retreat for the caliph and his
favourite. Upon the decoration of its buildings Abderahman spent large
sums of money. El Makkari, the Arab historian, states that the columns
of the buildings came from the east, and that the marble walls of the
palace were shining with gold. The caliph even proposed to remove the
dark background of hills, but instead the slopes were planted with
This palace, one of the four great glories of the city, has vanished.
The savage host of Berbers, in 1010, attacked Medinat-az-Zahra and
burned it to the ground. The natives were slaughtered with fearful
cruelty, even within the precincts of the mosque the pursuers cut them
down. It is said that portions of the caliph’s palace were afterwards
used in erecting the Convent of San Jerónimo, to the north-west of the
city. At this time Cordova was assailed, its buildings burnt, much of
its treasure was despoiled or carried away by the troops of
Abd-l-Jabbar, the Berber leader.
There is one wonder that conquest has left unspoiled to Cordova, and one
cannot survey the imperishable mosque of the caliph without veneration
for the race that set an example to the world in virtue, culture, and
the joy of beautiful living. It is to see this wonder of Moorish art
that the stranger visits Cordova.
The way to the mosque (mezquita) is readily discovered, for every
stranger is recognised by the street urchins who are eager in offering
The first religious edifice upon this site was a Roman temple. In 786
the building of the Moorish mezquita was begun by the first Abderahman.
The work was carried on by the next sultan, Hishem, and by Abderahman
III. For more than two centuries the mosque grew in size and splendour,
as each succeeding caliph added some new beauty.
The mosque is a magnificent example of Moorish architecture. Vast,
massive, bewildering, and beautiful are not extravagant terms to use in
describing this edifice. It is worth while to walk round the outside of
the building to gain an impression of its vast size and the strength of
its structure. Like all Moorish buildings the exterior is plain, with
the fine primitive severity of Byzantine work. The interior structure is
enclosed by walls of about fifty feet in height, buttressed, and very
stout, with numerous towers. The bronze doors are of finest Moorish
work. There is a handsome portal on the north side, built in the time of
Hakam between 988 and 1000.
The Gate of Pardon which gives entrance to the Court of Oranges has a
horseshoe arch, surmounted by three smaller arches, and which are
decorated with paintings of no value. This gateway is not Moorish, but a
later addition built by the Christians in imitation of the gate at
The Court of Oranges was used by the Moslems for ablution before
entering the mosque. It is a wide space, with palms, orange-trees, and
fountains, and a colonnade. It is the most beautiful spot in Cordova,
cool and gracefully shaded, and when the orange-trees are in flower a
fragrance pervades the place. Once there were nineteen beautiful
gateways leading into the court, and these were uniform with the
nineteen aisles. The famous fountain of Abderahman stands in the centre
of the court. Here all day the women of Cordova are gathered. They come
one by one, or in groups together. Each carries her red-brown pitcher
for water. It is the meeting-place where the day’s gossip is exchanged.
Always there is the sound of laughter and gay chattering. All the
Cordovese appear to be happy.
We enter the mosque by the Puerta de las Palmas; the eyes are dazed by
the endless columns and profusion of arches, numbering nearly nine
hundred. Nowhere are there such columns and arches as these. Every stone
has its history. Marble, porphyry, and jasper are the material, and the
arches are painted red and white. The effect is indescribable. I
believe that there are not two columns alike in point of decorative
detail. Some of the arches are of horseshoe shape, and some are round.
But symmetry is retained; the whole interior gives a delightful
impression of grace and elegance.
Look up at the wondrous ceiling. Its wealth of colour is dazzling. When
the thousands of lamps were lit, the ceiling shone with gold and
brilliant colours. In some parts the ceilings of the mosque are
embellished with paintings, and a number of cufic inscriptions are seen
among the decorative designs.
De Amicis, writing of the Mosque of Cordova, says: “Imagine a forest,
fancy yourself in the densest part of it, and that you can see nothing
but the trunks of trees. So in this mosque, on whatever side you look,
the eye loses itself among the columns. It is a forest of marble, whose
confines one cannot discover. You follow with your eye, one by one, the
very long rows of columns that interlace at every step with numberless
other rows, and you reach a semi-obscure background, in which other
columns seem to be gleaming. There are nineteen aisles, which extend
from north to south, traversed by thirty-three others, supported, among
them all by more than nine hundred columns of prophyry, jasper,
breccia, and marbles of every colour.”
The walls and ceiling of parts of the building are in marvellous
preservation. They gleam with an infinite opulence of colour; they are
elaborately embellished with almost every conceivable form of
arabesques, bas-reliefs, and Moorish designs, painted in wonderful hues
and rich in gilt.
The Mihrâb is the prime glory of the building. It was first erected and
adorned by Abderahman I., and a second prayer-recess was constructed by
the second Abderaham. The third Mihrâb dates from 961, and was erected
in the time of the Caliph Hakam II. It is one of the finest specimens of
Moorish art extant. Here the Koran was kept, and the most solemn rites
were performed in the days of the great caliphs.
The cupola of this superb sanctuary is carved in the shape of a
pine-apple, decorated with shell-like ornaments, and painted lavishly in
gold, blue, and red. There are delicate pillars of marble, with gold
capitals. The niches of the dome are beautifully painted, and the chief
arch is decorated with mosaics. Over the arch is an inscription in gold
on a ground of blue.
The slender pillars and graceful double arches of the entrance to the
vestibule of the Mihrâb are examples of Moorish architecture in its
finest manifestation. Very gorgeous and intricate is the design of the
façade of the Mihrâb. The portal is a horseshoe arch, handsomely
ornamented, and above runs a tier of smaller horseshoe arches. This is
surmounted by other arches, gracefully interlaced, and adorned with a
profusion of mosaics and decorations in colour.
When the mosque was converted into a Christian cathedral under the name
of Santa Maria, the side aisles were divided into about forty chapels.
The variety of the architectural styles in this great building range
from the Moorish to the baroque and the plateresque. Charles V. was
partly responsible for the choir, which gives a strange note of discord
to the harmony of the Moorish temple. But the emperor lamented having
granted leave to the Chapter to build the Coro, for upon seeing the
structure, he exclaimed: “You have built what you or others might have
built anywhere, but you have destroyed something that was unique in the
world.” To construct the choir, a part of the beautiful Morisco ceiling
was destroyed, and commonplace vaulting took its place.
None of the Christian chapels are of especial interest, except perhaps
the Chapel of Villaviciosa which is Morisco in design. In the Capilla de
la Cena is a painting by Céspedes, who was buried in the cathedral. The
choir of the Christian church is very ornate, and of sixteenth-century
date. Lope de Rueda, the dramatist, was buried here. The stalls are by
Cornejo, a celebrated carver, who also designed the beautiful silleria.
The massive chandelier is of silver. Over the altar is a painting by
The Sala Capitular contains a statue of Santa Teresa by Alonso Cano, and
images of saints by J. de Mora.
The Bell Tower is a substitute for the elegant minaret of Abderahman
III. This tower resembled the Giralda of Seville in design, having
lilies and golden balls at its summit. This minaret was despoiled after
the capture of Cordova by the Spanish, and the present tower is the work
of Ruiz. It is surmounted with a figure of Saint Raphael.
Architecturally considered, the Campanario or Belfry of Cordova is an
Apart from its mosque, Cordova contains few buildings of interest to the
stranger. Gautier speaks of the city, once famed for its wonderful
beauty as “le squelette blanché et calcin.” The churches demand the
visitor’s inspection alone for their instructive evidence of the decline
of architectural taste. San Hipolito is the burial-place of the
historian, Ambrosia de Morales, and the original building dates from the
fourteenth century. San Jacinto has a somewhat handsome doorway, and
Santa Marina is externally ancient. San Nicolas has a pseudo-Moorish
There are one or two Christian buildings of interest. The bishop’s
palace was built originally in the fifteenth century. The Ayuntamiento
or town hall is not a very impressive edifice. Some of the old
residences of the city are in the Mudéjar style, and many have charming
courtyards, with delicate ironwork gates, through which one may peep at
a fountain set among pillars upon which roses twine.
The Renaissance doors of the house of Don Jeronimo Paez and that of the
Foundling Hospital are handsomely decorated; and in the House of Don
Luque, in the Plaza de la Campania, there are some ancient mosaics.
It is worth while to inspect the walls, which have survived a number of
severe sieges, and are still standing, though often repaired. The Gate
of Almodovar and the Tower of Mala Muerte are in good preservation, and
there are instructive examples of Moorish fortification in the turrets
The old Alcazar of the Moors was a noble building of great extent. Very
little of the original structure remains to-day, but one or two towers,
a conduit, and a bath still exist. Alfonso XI. built a modern Alcazar.
On this site stood a Gothic palace, and this was reconstructed by the
caliphs. Historians have described the old Alcazar as a sumptuous
palace, with courts of marble, verdant gardens decked with fountains,
and wonderful apartments, adorned with mosaics and gems. The palace was
heated in winter, and kept temperate in summer with scented air from the
gardens. Here the caliphs surrounded themselves with luxury. Lovely
women resided in the harem, musicians composed and played their melodies
on string instruments; writers recounted romances amid the palms, roses,
and orange-trees, and philosophers discoursed in the courts of marble
The decline of trade in Cordova that followed upon the ravages of Berber
and Christian aroused the dread of the inhabitants that disaster would
result. The citizens who had clamoured for the expulsion of the Moors,
now begged that a few Morisco artisans might be permitted to remain in
the city. All the chief industries of Cordova were decaying. In 1797 De
Bourgoanne writes: “In so fine a climate, in the midst of so many
sources of prosperity, it (Cordova) contains no more than 35,000
inhabitants. Formerly celebrated for its manufactories of silks, fine
cloths, etc. it has now no other industrious occupations but a few
manufactories of ribbons, galoons, hats, and baize.”
What a contrast this account affords from that of the Arabian
historians. In the days of Abderahman III. there were fifty thousand
palaces in Cordova, and three hundred mosques of noble architecture. A
palace on arches was built across the river. There were academies,
schools, and libraries in the city of the Ommeyads. To-day there are
thousands of illiterate persons in Spain.
But the Cordovese do not appear to ponder upon time’s changes. They
concern themselves with other things–the affairs of the house–and
regard their city with its history and wonderful mosques as a valuable
asset which brings the stranger to their impoverished city. The
Cordovese are a contented people.
On bullfight days Cordova is _en fête_, and all classes of the
inhabitants throng the Plaza de Torres, the hidalgo and the peasant
showing the same enthusiasm for the national sport. Formerly
bull-baiting took place in the Corredera, now used as a market. There is
now a large bull-ring in Cordova, in the Ronda de los Tejares. Near to
the amphitheatre are the public gardens. There is a theatre in the city,
but few other places of amusement.
Cordova is rich in its record of great men. Seneca was born here under
the Roman dominion, and so was Lucan. In the twelfth century, Averroes,
the greatest philosopher of Islamism, was born. His doctrine pervaded
Europe, inciting the fury of the Dominicans, who regarded Averroes as an
arch-blasphemer and infidel. In Paris and in the north of Italy,
however, the Franciscans accepted the philosophy of the learned
Cordovan. But Averroes, the detestation of the Dominican order, is often
depicted in the frescoes of contemporary painters, as a heretic and a
victim of the burning pit. Notwithstanding, Averroism was a fashionable
cult in Venice.
Among the authors of Cordova the poet Gongora must be remembered. He was
born here in 1561, and educated at the college of Salamanca, where he
studied law. Showing little capacity for the law, he turned his
attention to verse, writing satires and lyrics. In later life Gongora’s
poetry became stilted and pompous to the point of absurdity. Lope de
Vega, however, held that Luis de Gongora was as great as Seneca or
At the age of forty-five Gongora left his native town, and entered the
Church. In Madrid he was the favourite of Philip III. and of the nobles
of the city. He returned to Cordova when he was sixty-five, and there he
died in 1627.
Gonsalvo, “the Great Captain,” was a native of the city, “nursed amid
the din of battle.” In the esteem of Spaniards he ranks next to the Cid
in valour and high integrity as a general. Gonsalvo’s manners were
described as amiable and conciliatory. He was cool in action,
courageous, and firm. More than once the great captain’s life was
imperilled in battle, especially at Granada, where his horse was killed
beneath him. Fernandez Gonsalvo was in the height of his military fame
about the year 1495.
Four painters of note are associated with Cordova. The first in
chronological order was Pedro de Cordova, who executed “the
Annunciation,” which is in the Capilla del Santo Cristo of the
cathedral. The picture is in poor preservation. It is interesting as an
example of Gothic art.
Cordova was early a centre of painting in the days of the Christian
recovery of the city. The eminent Pablo de Céspedes was born here in
1538, and became a canon of the cathedral. He studied the Italian
artists, and painted mural pictures in Rome. In the mosque are three of
his works. They are notable for their seriousness and power. Céspedes
was very skilful in colouring.
The remarkable Juan de Valdés Leal, born in 1630, spent most of his life
in Seville, where he was a contemporary of Murillo. In the Church of the
Carmen at Cordova is a retablo representing the “Life of Elijah,”
painted by Valdés Leal. Many of this painter’s pictures are in Seville.
The fourth painter of Cordova is Antonio de Castillo, born in 1603, who
was an early exponent of the art of landscape painting in Spain. Some of
his pictures are in the museo of the city. Castillo was said to be an
imitator of Murillo. He died in 1667. The Picture Gallery of Cordova, in
the School of Fine Arts, is not a very important collection of
paintings. There are, however, some of the works of Ribera, Céspedes,
and Castillo, which should be seen. In the museo are a few Moorish
antiquities. The ancient tiles are good examples of the exquisite
The Project Gutenberg EBook of Old Continental Towns, by Walter M. Gallichan