CÓRDOBA lies upstream from Seville beside a loop of the Guadalquivir, which was once navigable as far as here. It is today a minor provincial capital, prosperous in a modest sort of way. Once, however, it was the largest city of Roman Spain, and for three centuries it formed the heart of the western Islamic empire, the great medieval caliphate of the Moors.

It is from this era that the city’s major monument dates: the Mezquita, the grandest and most beautiful mosque ever constructed by the Moors in Spain. It stands right in the centre of the city, surrounded by the old Jewish and Moorish quarters, and is a building of extraordinary mystical and aesthetic power. Make for it on arrival and keep returning as long as you stay; you’ll find its beauty increases with each visit, as, of course, is proper, since the mosque was intended for daily attendance.

The Mezquita apart, Córdoba itself is a place of considerable charm. It has few grand squares or mansions, tending instead to introverted architecture, calling your attention to the tremendous and often wildly extravagant patios. These have long been acclaimed, and they are actively encouraged and maintained by the local council, which runs a “Festival of the Patios” in May. Away from the Mezquita, Córdoba’s other remnants of Moorish – and indeed Christian – rule are not individually very striking. The river, though, with its great Arab waterwheels and recently restored and pedestrianized Roman bridge (the Puente Romano), is an attractive area in which to wander.

Just 7km outside the town, more Moorish splendours are to be seen among the ruins of the extravagant palace complex of Medina Azahara, undergoing fascinating reconstruction.

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