Cordoba and Cadiz: Two special Spanish cities

By Cathy Packe, Mick Webb

Cordoba is recapturing the buzz and reputation it had a thousand years ago, while Cadiz likes to describe itself as the oldest in Europe.

The old centre of Cadiz is a well-fortified enclave enclosed within solid walls. Photo / Thinkstock
The old centre of Cadiz is a well-fortified enclave enclosed within solid walls. Photo / Thinkstock

CORDOBA

Cordoba is once again a flourishing city, connected by fast trains to Sevilla and Madrid, and recapturing the buzz and reputation it had a thousand years ago, when it was the largest city not just in Spain, but in Europe.

Today's visitors make for Cordoba's matchless Mezquita, a massive and dramatic mosque built over a period spanning two centuries, starting in 784

We'll never know what it was like at the time because, after the reconquest of Cordoba in 1236, the Mezquita was re-dedicated as a Christian cathedral, and in subsequent years underwent some huge architectural changes.

Now, in the midst of the bewildering forest of elegant columns topped by red-and-white horseshoe arches you'll see a huge baroque choir. Incongruous or harmonious? It's certainly fascinating.

Spring is the time to visit, when orange trees in the exterior patio are in bloom and the fiery heat of the Cordoban summer is still to come. Admission is €8.

Just south of the Mezquita, beside the river Guadalquivir, is one of the main Christian monuments of Cordoba, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos, the Royal Palace. Dating from the 13th century, the style is mudejar, a fusion of Moorish and Christian architecture, though its main attraction are its delightful Moorish-style gardens (closed Monday, free on Fridays, admission €4).

Ferdinand and Isabella, the most celebrated royal residents, were also responsible for building a dozen churches to replace Cordoba's mosques. Known as Fernandine churches, they are built in attractively coloured sandstone, the most interesting of them being Santa Marina, in the square of the same name.

You can only really appreciate the scale of medieval Cordoba by wandering its tight, whitewashed streets. The JuderIa or Jewish quarter is particularly attractive but often crowded; equally interesting is the area between the Plaza del Potro and Plaza de la Corredera, which is a lovely arcaded square where heretics were once burnt at the stake, but is now the venue for a market and tapas bars.

Wherever you go in Cordoba you'll get tantalising glimpses of flower-filled patios behind the imposing doors of private houses. During the Festival de los Patios, many of these are opened to the public.

* For more information on visiting Cordoba, see turismodecordoba.org.

CADIZ

The city of Cadiz likes to describe itself as the oldest in Europe. Local legend insists it was founded by Hercules. But while both these claims could be disputed, one aspect of its history cannot be challenged: Cadiz was the birthplace of modern Spain.

In the early part of the 19th century, when Napoleon sent his troops into Spain and installed his brother Joseph as king, this elegant seafaring city, with its ramparts and merchants' houses, became a centre of resistance.

It was here, in 1812, that a new constitution was written, an event that was to have lasting importance for both Spain and Latin America.

The events of the period are depicted in detail in the elaborate monument to the constitution that was erected in the Plaza de Espana, a leafy square popular with local inhabitants.

The constitution is known as La Pepa, and various cultural events will take place in 2012 to commemorate the bicentenary, including a tall ships grand regatta on July 26, and the 22nd Summit of the Latin American Heads of State and Government.

The old centre of Cadiz spreads out to the north, a well-fortified enclave enclosed within solid walls. The castle of Santa Catalina was added later, and the bastions of La Candelaria and El Bonete, which stand guard at the northern and eastern corners of the city, were built in the 17th century. Walking along the seafront, beside the city walls, remains a popular evening pastime to this day.

Much of this part of the city would have been familiar to the politicians and resistance fighters who came to Cadiz to debate the new constitution and found lodgings with local merchant families.

The Duke of Wellington, who commanded the Spanish and English troops at this time, lived in a fine 18th-century house on Calle Veedor which, like many houses around it, was built with its own watchtowers. These were designed so that the merchants could see their ships coming in and out of the harbour, and they are still a striking feature of modern Cadiz.

The modern constitution was drafted, debated and signed in the baroque oratory church of San Felipe Neri, chosen because its oval shape made it a suitable space for discussion.

A plaque on the main facade commemorates the events that changed Spain forever.

* For more information on visiting Cadiz, see cadizturismo.com.

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