During the 9th and 10th centuries, Córdoba was Europe’s most sophisticated and cosmopolitan city. It was a place where Jews, Arabs and Christians all practised their beliefs without persecution and in which remarkable advances were made in virtually every area of human endeavour. For almost three centuries Córdoba was, without doubt, medieval Europe’s greatest city.
Its rise to prominence was made possible in 711AD, when the Moors captured Córdoba from the Visigoths. Yet it was not until 756, when Abd al-Rahman I of the Umayyad family took control of Moorish Spain and named Córdoba as the territory’s capital, that the city’s golden age began. It was under the Umayyads that Córdoba became Europe’s most sophisticated and multicultured centre – a leader in the fields of philosophy, astronomy and medicine during a time when the rest of the continent was enduring its darkest, bloodiest epoch.
Córdoba’s emergence as the intellectual capital of Europe during the 9th and 10th centuries was largely owed to the curiosity and intelligence of the Umayyads. Al Hakam II, who ruled the Caliphate of Córdoba between 961-976 – by which point the territory included much of modern-day Spain and Portugal – was particularly important in this respect. The Caliph invited distinguished thinkers from Arabic kingdoms in the East to come and teach at the city’s grand Mezquita (while it was still being finished), paying their salaries out of the Umayyads’ abundantly stocked coffers. Indeed, this remarkable building, completed around 987 after over two centuries of construction, became Europe’s greatest centre of learning until the Umayyads were kicked out of Córdoba in 1031. Today, it remains one of Spain’s most fascinating monuments.
Al Hakam also founded 27 free schools in the city, which increased literacy rates amongst the general population, and his library in the Alcazar fortress become the largest in the West, at one point containing an estimated 400,000 volumes. The free exchange of ideas and discoveries with major Eastern cities like Baghdad put Córdoba light years ahead of any other European city at this time, leading a German nun and poet to famously label it ‘the ornament of the world’ in the late 10th century.
The Umayyads presided over a period of remarkable progression in medicine as well. During their reign, Moorish physicians made the discovery that disease was carried by miniscule particles carried in the air – an insight which led to a theory of germs and to the practice of quarantining diseased patients.
Yet, it was not just its intellectual and scientific sophistication that made Córdoba medieval Europe’s greatest city. It was also a place of remarkable religious pluralism, in which Jews and Christians – despite being subjects of Moorish rule – were able to practise their beliefs without persecution. Córdoba expanded steadily throughout the 9th and 10th centuries, and by 1000 the city was home to around half a million people – several times more than the average European city at the time.
Like all so-called ‘golden ages’, though, Córdoba’s wouldn’t last. In the early 1000s, a series of revolts and sackings began to eat away at the Umayyad’s hitherto unchallenged hegemony, and in 1031 the last of the Moorish leaders, Hisham III, was forced out of the city. The Caliphate of Córdoba broke up into a number of smaller Moorish territories, and the city itself went into decline, slumbering in relative obscurity until its capture by the Catholic King Ferdinand III in 1236.
There was to be no Renaissance in Córdoba under Christian rule, though; instead, the next few centuries would see the rise of Seville as southern Spain’s great city. After the discovery of the Americas in 1492, the latter city’s river port enabled it to secure a trading monopoly with the New World. Seville became enormously wealthy and powerful as a result, unofficially becoming Christian Spain’s greatest city throughout the 16th and 17th centuries. But when the country had been under Moorish rule, that accolade had belonged to Córdoba for almost three hundred years.
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.