Start your walking tour in the historical centre of Cordoba, where every May the city’s oldest houses open their stunning courtyards and patios to the public. Aesthetically striking as they may be, these charming spaces were created from necessity. Cordoba is the hottest city in Europe during the summer months, when temperatures frequently reach an insufferable 40°C (104°F), so it has always been essential for its inhabitants to have a cool retreat for the middle of the day. As far back as the Roman occupation of Cordoba, houses were built with an internal, open-aired atrium, which was protected from the sun on all sides by thick stone walls. Over the centuries, these havens of cool and shade were decorated with flowers, plants and fountains – a practice that was refined during the Moorish occupation of Cordoba. Since 1918 the Feria de los Patios, as it’s called, has been sponsored by Cordoba’s town hall, which offers a prize for the prettiest patio.
Not until the 1950s, when Cordoba’s town hall was being expanded, were the remains of what was probably the city’s most important Roman temple discovered. It was built during the reign of Emperor Claudius in the middle of the 1st century AD and was renovated in the 2nd century AD. Of its giant columns, 10 remain, reaching up into the sky amidst modern apartment blocks and offices (indeed, the town hall is just in front of them). Archaeologists have theorised from the quality of marble and workmanship used in the construction of the temple that it must have been a particularly impressive structure, perhaps even one of the most beautiful in the Roman Empire.