The beautiful old neighbourhood of San Basilio – also called Alcazar Viejo – is one of the most charming quarters in all of Andalusia. This area of scrunched together, whitewashed houses is home to many of Cordoba’s flower-filled patios and courtyards, which are opened to the public every May during the Feria de los Patios, one of Andalusia’s most enchanting events. Some are also open throughout the year, but even those that aren’t can be glimpsed behind heavy iron gates – verdant oases of cool and colour in the hearts of some of the city’s oldest buildings.
San Basilio also boasts one of Cordoba’s key architectural attractions, the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (Castle of the Christian Kings). As its name suggests, the construction of this royal palace was ordered by the Catholic King Alfonso XI of Castile in 1328 but – as is so often the case in Andalusia – it was built among the ruins of a vast Moorish fort. Alfonso used only a fraction of the remains of the original Moorish structure in building the Alcazar, but he chose a Mudejar style, so the Moorish feel of the site has been preserved.
Santa Marina is a chunk of winding cobbled lanes and pretty little squares in the heart of old Cordoba. In Plaza del Conde de Priego, you can visit a monument in memory of the city’s most famous matador, Manolete (1917–1947), who was fatally gored during a bullfight when he was only 30. Right opposite the square is the Iglesia Santa Marina – where many Cordobese bullfighters have been married – and facing this vulnerable church is Taberna La Sacristia, one of the best old-school tapas bars in the city (featuring a till that would be in a museum if not still in use here). It’s a great place to grab a cold beer and some homemade tapas as you watch the world go by on one of Santa Marina’s busiest streets.
The star attraction of the annual patios feria, the opulent 15th -century Palacio de Viana, is also located in Santa Marina. Viana is home to 13 patios and courtyards: intricately designed and aromatically populated with colourful plants, flowers and trees, these are some of Cordoba’s prettiest public spaces.
Palacio de Viana, 2 Plaza de Don Gome, Cordoba, Spain, +34 957496741
Taberna La Sacristia, 3 Calle Alarcón López, Cordoba, Spain, +34 606406989
Cordoba’s most famous monument is in Juderia, a compact barrio that was home to the city’s Jewish population between the 10th and 15th centuries. Between 987 and 1236, Cordoba’s Mezquita was one of the grandest and most important mosques in the Islamic kingdom; but when the city was reclaimed by Christians, the building was converted into a church. In the 16th century Charles V added a renaissance nave on top of the Moorish structure, creating the hybrid structure we see today, the Mezquita–Catedral.
The other key attraction in this busy neighbourhood is the synagogue, which dates from 1315 and is one of the finest examples of Mudejar architecture in Cordoba. Like many of the city’s key historical monuments, it has a colourful past: after the Jews were expelled from Andalusia in 1492, the synagogue was used as a hospital to treat victims of rabies, before being acquired by a shoemaker’s guild in the late 16th century.
Sinagoga de Cordoba, 20 Calle Judíos, Cordoba, Spain, +34 957202928
San Andres-San Pablo is in the centre of Cordoba’s old town and is the busiest part of the city. It is also home to one of Cordoba’s oldest surviving monuments, which was discovered during renovation work on the town hall in the 1950s. Workers must have been astounded when they stumbled upon remains of what was once Cordoba’s most important Roman temple: built during the reign of Emperor Claudius in the middle of the 1st century AD, it was renovated in the 2nd century AD.
San Andres is also one of the best neighbourhoods in which to take the pulse of Cordoba’s daily life. Despite its popularity with tourists, this is also a working barrio where Cordobeses pile into the many tapas bars at lunchtime for a beer and a quick bite.
They don’t technically constitute their own barrio (they are split between San Basilio on the north and the South Sector on the south), but the banks of the Guadalquivir river are one of the best places to enjoy a stroll in Cordoba, so they deserve a mention here. The busy, terrace-lined thoroughfare of Calle Ronda de Isasa runs along the southern edge of the old city and is a great place to stop for refreshment and to admire the city’s Roman bridge (Puente Romano). The centre of this iconic structure is also one of the best spots to survey the Mezquita-dominated skyline of Cordoba and the unusually (for Andalusia) green countryside by which it is surrounded.