Spain Guide


Córdoba History

Córdoba stands on the site of an ancient Iberian settlement and as far back as the first century AD it held strategic importance for the Romans as the highest navigable point of the Guadalquivir River. But it was under Moorish domination that Córdoba enjoyed its glorious era as one of the most opulent, dazzling and greatest cities the world had ever seen. It's a city where Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities have co existed peacefully in days gone by and left a rich legacy to be enjoyed by those who visit in the 21st century.

The city flourished as a major Roman settlement from the 1st to the 5th century AD when local produce such as olive oil, wine and wheat were shipped back to Ancient Rome via the Guadalavir which connects Cordoba with the Atlantic Ocean. It was the Romans who built the mighty bridge across the river. The bridge, with 16 arches, once formed part of the Roman Via Augusta and is still a major tourist attraction today.

Cordoba spawned many great philosophers, writers, poets and artists including Lucio Anneo Seneca who was tutor and mentor to the notorious Roman emperor Nero. Seneca had great influence over the emperor during the first five years of his reign but the great philosopher's success and wealth aroused Nero's jealousy. The emperor tried (unsuccessfully) to poison Seneca who in turn was involved in an equally unsuccessful attempt on Nero's life in 65AD. A statue of Seneca, whose plays and poems had a huge influence on the subsequent development of classical theatre in Italy, can be seen today in the city's Jewish quarter.


The Moors invaded Iberia in the 8th century and the powerful and wise caliph Abd al Rahman made Córdoba the capital of Moorish Spain. The Arab ruler was a great lover of learning and laid the foundations for Córdoba to become one of the world's great intellectual centres for the next 250 years.

Ironically, by today's standards, it was under Arab domination that Córdoba became the seat of Jewish learning and culture largely due to the influence of Jewish doctor, diplomat and scholar Hasdai Ibn Shaprut. Hasdai rose to meteoric heights serving the Moorish rules; his family's subsequent wealth and power were key factors behind the wealthy and vibrant Jewish community which flourished in Córdoba at that time. Today the city's charming Juderia (Jewish quarter) bears witness to that golden age when Arabs and Jews lived in harmony in a city which was the envy of the world in terms of its wealth, culture, architecture and academic advancement.

Another great son of Córdoba, whose statue can be seen in the old Jewish quarter, was philosopher Moses Maimonides (1135 1204). His life's work included writing the "Mishneh Torah" which became the definitive guide to good Jewish practice. The book was designed to show Jews how to behave in every situation without the need to wade through Judaism's holiest book, the Talmud.

The golden era of the Jews in Cordoba came to and end after the city was recaptured in 1236 and made part of Roman Catholic Spain by King Ferdinand III of Castille. Ferdinand and his queen Isabella ruled from the city's Alcazar of the Catholic Kings from where they planned the overthrow of the Arabs in Granada (the last Moorish stronghold). Between 1492 and 1821 the Alcazar fortress served as the local headquarters of the brutal Spanish Inquisition which set about purging the country of Jews and heretics in the most bloodthirsty manner.

Thankfully the Christians were so impressed by the beauty of the Moorish mosque that they resisted the temptation to destroy it and instead built a cathedral inside it. Even though the building has officially been a cathedral for more than 750 years the locals still call it La Mezquita the mosque. There are few cities in the world where the great religions of Islam, Judaism and Christianity are so obviously and inextricably interwoven in the 21st century.