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