Córdoba finds itself in a slightly unflattering position. In almost any other country in the world, a city with the history, culture and architectural legacy of Córdoba would be at the top of most people’s list of ‘must sees’. This isn’t any other country though, in fact this isn’t even any other region of any other country. Córdoba’s misfortune, and perhaps its saving grace, is that within a 2-3 hour drive from the glorious Mezquita, are Sevilla and Granada, two cities that are world class for history, culture and architecture. If you’re in Spain how can you miss Granada’s Alhambra or the fiery Flamenco culture of Sevilla?
That all three cities are in the Spanish province of Andalusia is just unfortunate. Of the three, Córdoba is generally considered the one to miss if you’re short of time; perhaps make a day trip, but don’t overstay your welcome and be sure to be back in Granada or Sevilla by nightfall. This must irritate the good folk of Córdoba, after all their’s was one of the greatest cities of the medieval world; areas of the old city, the medina and Juderia, were home to some of the greatest thinkers of their time and are perfect for exploring on foot; and in the Mezquita, Córdoba has a building that was the envy of the medieval Islamic world, and isn’t doing too sloppily in the 21st Century.
Add to this some tremendous food and entertainment, and you have a city that should be a world beater. Yet, and yet…Córdoba can’t quite shake off it’s second tier status, receiving a fraction of the tourism (and the tourism income) that the other two receive. This brings benefits, it means the town has a more laid back feel, things are priced more reasonably and it isn’t as commercialised or crowded. It’s still possible to get a seat in a popular (with locals and anyone with a Lonely Planet guidebook) restaurant. At least that’s true in spring. Good luck in summer.
You’re more likely to be having a glass of local sherry with actual locals in Córdoba…every bar has its own non-label village-made sherries, making having a glass an important form of cultural immersion. I committed myself to extensive cultural immersion, and can confirm most of the sherries were delicious – even the bizarre mix of Pedro Ximenez and Oloroso that was forced upon me (forced, I say) in one bar. We were going to visit the region south of Córdoba where a lot of the sherry comes from, but there just wasn’t time.
Most day trippers come to see the Mezquita, wander the narrow maze of nearby streets, head over to the Alcazar and then leave again. Virtually all the tourism is centred around these few streets, but the town has much more to offer and you could happily spend several days just wandering the streets.
To one side of the Plaza Mayor (I forget which side), the streets are full of fabulous bars and restaurants; admittedly, mostly full of sherry-drinking old men, especially around lunch time. Luckily, I self identify as a sherry drinking old man. Further afield is the Plaza de Corredera, scattered with bars and connecting to winding lanes on all sides. It looks similar to the Plaza Mayor in Madrid, only a little rougher round the edges and with barely a tourist, or living statue, in sight. There are good museums, but when you’re in a town that has seen this much history, absorbing culture just seems to happen.
I’m not saying give Granada and Sevilla a miss, but Córdoba is definitely worth a day or two of anyone’s time…