History of Cordoba

Cordoba’s impressive historical legacy makes this city one of the most interesting destinations to visit in Spain and Europe. In fact, Cordoba is the only city in the world that has 4 places inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO; the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba in 1984, the Jewish Quarter in 1994, the Festival of Patios in 2012 and the Caliphal City of Madina Azahara in 2018.

The Origins of Cordoba

Cordoba was founded by the Roman Empire in 169 BC. However, before the arrival of the Romans, there was a small Iberian settlement in the area called “Turdetanos”. These people were engaged in agriculture and mining, taking advantage of the natural resource wealth (mountains, water, minerals, and fertile lands).
The arrival of the Romans in 169 BC convulsed the lives of those native tribes. The Romans chose this area for its privileged location near the river and on a promontory. Gradually Cordoba was developing and gaining political importance in Rome to become capital of the “Hispania Ulterior Province”, and one of the most important metropolises of the Roman Empire. 

In 46 BC the Roman Emperor named Cordoba “Colonia Patricia”, the highest consideration given to a city after Rome.

Of course, during this period the city experienced considerable economic growth. From Cordoba, the Romans exported large quantities of wine, olive oil, minerals, and food products such as the “garum“, an extremely popular fish sauce in Rome.
At the same time, the population increased dramatically, the city limits were expanded, new public spaces were designed, and a new wealthy class appeared.
In the third century the Roman Empire experienced a deep crisis which was reflected in the city: major works were abandoned, spaces were reused, looting and riots occurred, and poorer quality building materials were widely used. The cities of the Empire began to depopulate, and rural areas gained prominence.
Finally, in 410 barbarian troops entered Rome and sacked the city. Shortly after (476), the last Roman Emperor Romulus Augustulus was deposed by a general barbarian. The Roman Empire had fallen. The Eastern Roman Empire, whose capital was Constantinople, survived until 1453.

Lucio Anneo Seneca, famous philosopher born in Cordoba

Without a doubt, the most important historical figure in Cordoba during the Roman period was Lucio Anneo Seneca (Cordoba, 4 B.C. – Rome, 65.).
Seneca was a famous Roman stoic philosopher, statesman, orator and writer. During his life in Rome Seneca became an admired Senator and advisor to Emperor Nero.
Seneca was born into a wealthy family in Cordoba. However, Seneca was young when he was sent to Rome to receive the best education.
During his years in Rome, Seneca lived with his aunt and uncle, who were economically well-off. After a few years in the capital of the Empire, Seneca and his relatives went to live in Alexandria (Egypt), where he completed his excellent education and specialized in subjects such as geography and meteorology.
Memorial to Seneca in Cordoba
Memorial to Seneca in Cordoba (Almodovar Gate) | Image credit: Richard Mortel (Wikipedia | C.C.)
When Seneca was 31, he returned to Rome, where he soon emerged as a great writer and orator and became one of the most influential Senators of Rome. Unfortunately, some clashes with the Emperor led him to be sentenced to death several times. Fortunately, he avoided death and ended up in exile on the island of Corsica for eight years. Thanks to the Emperor’s new wife, Agrippina, Seneca returned to Rome where he was appointed Praetor of Rome and became Nero’s tutor (Agrippina´s son, the future Emperor).
When Seneca was 54, the Emperor Claudius was poisoned by his wife Agrippina. Immediately afterwards, Nero (Seneca’s pupil) was chosen as the new Emperor when he was 16 years old. During the early years of his mandate, Seneca played a particularly important role as a trusted political advisor to Nero. No decision was taken without the consent of Seneca.
Sculpture Seneca and Nero
Sculpture of Seneca and Nero made in 1904 by Eduardo Barrón (Museo del Prado, Madrid). A modern bronze copy is now at the Glorieta Llanos del Pretorio in Cordoba | Image credit: Wikipedia (C.C.)
When Nero reached adulthood, Emperor began to feel that he should get rid of the influence of Seneca. This was exploited by the enemies of Seneca who started a smear campaign: they accused him of excessive wealth and lavish banquets and even of having sex with Agrippina, Nero´s mother. Few years later, Nero cruelly murdered Agrippina. From this moment, the Emperor was surrounded by sycophants and Roman parasites who wanted to expel Seneca from Rome.
Shortly after that, Seneca tried to escape from this deplorable situation and asked to retire from political life. During this voluntary retirement Seneca spent his time traveling through Italy and writing essays (Letters to Lucilius). Finally, when he was 65, Seneca was wrongfully accused of participating in an assassination attempt against Nero. The sentence was irrevocable: the death penalty. When Seneca got the news he could not believe it. He knew that Nero would kill him with the greatest cruelty possible. Seneca, terrified, committed suicide at his home. Other members of his family such as his brothers and his nephew also killed themselves: they were certain that the cruelty of Nero would fall on them as well.

-Where to find Seneca in Cordoba? 

There are two statues dedicated to Seneca in Cordoba: Almodovar Gate (near the Synagogue) & Llanos del Pretorio Street

Cordoba in the Visigoth Period

Throughout the 5th century, taking advantage of the weakness of Rome, barbarian peoples entered the Iberian Peninsula and conquered large parts. After long wars between barbarian peoples, the Visigoths settled in Spain and began a new era of relative prosperity.
During this time Cordoba had lost some of its luster. Unfortunately, little remains of this era are preserved, since the Muslim occupation for more than five centuries, wiped out any trace of the Visigoth era.
Basilica San Vicente in Cordoba
Archaeological remains of the Visigoth Basilica of San Vicente (Mosque Cathedral in Cordoba) | Image credit: Americo Toledano (Wikipedia | C.C.)

Cordoba, Capital of the Caliphate

Bloody civil wars and epidemics in the eighth century weakened the Visigoths and its economy. In this context, Muslims (Ummayad dynasty) entered the Iberian Peninsula in 711 and only 15 years later had conquered much of Spain, Portugal and a small area of France. In 716 Cordoba became capital of one of the provinces of the Ummayad Caliphate whose capital was Damascus (Syria).
In the mid-eighth century, the Umayyad dynasty was overthrown in Damascus by the Abbasi dynasty and all family members of the former dynasty were killed. All but one, Abderraman I who arrived in Spain in 755 to escape from his enemies.
In 756 Abderraman I founded the Emirate of Cordoba. Despite this proclamation, Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) was still economically and religiously dependent on the new dynasty (Abbasid) which had moved the capital of the Caliphate from Damascus (Syria) to Kufa (Iraq) and then to Baghdad (Iraq).
During this time Cordoba was gaining political importance to become one of the most powerful cities in Spain. The Emirate of Cordoba continuously harassed the Christian areas of Northern Spain, even forced them to pay a special tribute.
Muslim ceramics cordoba
Muslim ceramics in the archaeological museum of Cordoba | Image credit: travelcordoba.com
In 785 Abderraman I began the construction of a large mosque in Cordoba which later would become one of the largest mosques in the world.
In the tenth century the Muslim occupation in Spain and Portugal reached its maximum expansion and the Muslim ruler of that time, Abderraman III, decided to create his own Caliphate, independent from Baghdad (Iraq) and the Abbasi dynasty. The capital of this new Caliphate would be Cordoba.
Thanks to this strategic decision, Cordoba became one of the most important cities in the World during the Mid Ages. During that time, Cordoba experienced a unique moment in its history: philosophers, theologians, viziers, Kings etc. filled its streets. Souks (markets), huge palaces and public baths were built, infrastructure was improved, and new buildings were designed to meet the needs of the growing population, which at that time reached more than 250,000 inhabitants. To put this figure into context, cities like Paris had fewer than 50,000 inhabitants or London 20,000 inhabitants.
Culture and science played an important role in Muslim Spain. The Caliph of Cordoba ordered the construction of a great university and more than 70 public libraries.
The great Mosque of Cordoba
The Great Mosque of Cordoba | Image credit: travelcordoba.com

The infighting between the different regions of Muslim Spain and the increasing pressure of the Christian kingdoms of northern Spain eventually undermined the Muslim hegemony in the Iberian Peninsula. Religious fanatics from North Africa (Almohads and Almoravids) took control of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) and moved the capital first to Marrakech and later to Seville.

Slowly Christians were conquering cities and raids caused havoc among the Muslim population. The Arab splendor faded gradually in Spain and regions experienced a regression in all aspects (culture, economy, military power, etc.).

Illustrious figures born in Cordoba during the Muslim Period

During the Muslim period, Cordoba was the birthplace of great political leaders and and scientists. However, there are two of them that stand out above all others: Averroes and Maimonides.


(Cordoba, 1126 – Marrakech, 1198). Averroes was a famous philosopher, physician and teacher of philosophy, Islamic law, mathematics, astronomy, and medicine.

Averroes came from a wealthy family. His grandfather and his father worked as judges in Al-Andalus, profession that later he also would practice in Seville and Cordoba.

Years later, he was appointed personal physician to the Caliph, an especially important and influential position at that time. 

Without a doubt, his most important contribution was the medical encyclopedia and the comments on the work of Aristotle. Jacob Anatoli (1194 – 1256) translated his texts from Arabic into Hebrew. From then on Averroes’s teachings spread rapidly throughout Europe. His texts were also translated into Latin, contributing to popularize the work of Averroes.

Unfortunately, at the end of the twelfth century, a wave of fanaticism and radical Islamism (Almohads) invaded Al-Andalus and the teachings of Averroes was declared incompatible with Islam. They banned all his works, his personal library was burned and the philosopher was exiled from Cordoba.
During his exile, Averroes lived in Lucena, a prosperous town in the province of Cordoba. Finally, the Andalusian erudite died in Marrakech when he was 72 years old.

-Where to find Averroes in Cordoba? 

You will find a statue of Averroes on Calle Cairuan

Statue Averroes Cordoba
Statue of Averroes in Cordoba. This staute is located on Cairuan street, very close to Almodovar Gate | Image credit: travelcordoba.com


(Cordoba, 1135 – Fustat (Egypt) 1204) Maimonides was the most famous doctor, rabbi and Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages. His influence in medieval thought was notorious and globally accepted. His most important work is the “Guide for the Perplexed”, a philosophical treatise written originally in Arabic.

Maimonides came from a particular family. His paternal family was rich. They worked as rabbinical judges and were leaders of the Jewish community in Cordoba. However,  his mother’s family was very humble: his grandfather was a butcher and his grandmother died young.

Since Maimonides was a child, he received excellent education in Cordoba. During the Middle Ages Cordoba was one of the most important political and cultural centers in Europe. In other words, the city was the ideal place to study, learn and gain popularity.

When Maimonides was thirteen years, Almohads (ismalic fundamentalist group), reached Al-Andalus and Maimonides and his family pretended to convert to Islam. Unfortunately, local authorities discovered the origin of the family and they were eventually expelled from Al-Andalus. Maimonides lived in Almeria (southeast) for a few years, where he helped to hide Averroes from this radical wave. In 1160 the family decided to move to Fez (Morocco) but Almohads spread inevitably also to North Africa. Very worried and frustrated, Maimonides moved to Egypt where finally he could live happy with his family. In Egypt he worked as personal doctor to several Egyptian ministers. Finally, in December 1204 he died, and his corpse was moved to Tiberiades (Israel).
-Where to find Maimonides in Cordoba? 

There is a statue of Maimonides on Plaza de Tiberiades. By the way, don’t forget to rub the left foot of Maimonides. Local people say it is a symbol of good luck! 

Maimonides Statue in Cordoba
Statue of Maimonides located on Tiberiades Square (Jewish Quarter) | Image credit: travelcordoba.com

The Christian Conquest of Cordoba

In December 1235 Fernando III, the Christian King of Castile, arrived in Alcolea (a town very close to Cordoba) and began the siege of Cordoba.
After a long battle, the Christians conquered the city. The news of the conquest of Cordoba flew across Europe; the former capital of Al-Andalus (Muslim Spain) and one of the most important cities in the West had fallen into Christian hands. This blow was the beginning of the end for the Muslims in Spain.
Cordoba was repopulated with Christians from the Northern Spain. Mosques were transformed into churches and the Muslim population was relegated to the background.
Slowly the urban planning was changing. Cordoba was divided into fourteen “collaciones” (districts), each one organized around a church. At the same time, each district was divided into small neighborhoods.
From the Alcazar of the Catholic Monarchs (Official Residence of the Kings in Cordoba), the Spanish Kings planned the conquest of Granada, the last bastion of Muslims in Spain (1492).

Shortly before, the Spanish Kings (Fernando and Isabel) and Colombus met at the Alcazar of the Catholic Monarchs during the negotiations to fund the expedition that later would lead to the discovery of America.
In this context, the Jews were losing more and more rights and became the perfect target for the Christian population. Finally, The Catholic Monarchs (Fernando and Isabel) signed the decree of expulsion of the Jews (1492).
Cordoba was showing obvious signs of decay, and the center of political and economic power moved to other Spanish regions, especially Castile and Aragon. The expulsion of the Jews (1492) and later Muslims (1609), who were great traders, doctors, scientists, mathematicians, astrologers, etc., did nothing but worsen the situation.
Alcazar Catholic Monarchs in Cordoba
Alcazar of Catholic Monarchs in Cordoba | Image Credit: travelcordoba.com

The Great Captain

It would not be fair to speak of this period without mentioning the most illustrious local hero, The Great Captain.
Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba (Montilla 1453 – Loja, 1515) was a noblemanpolitician, and military leader very famous in Spain.
When he was a child, Gonzalo Fernández waited on Prince Alfonso, brother of the future Queen Isabella the Catholic. But when Prince Alfonso died, Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba joined the Queen’s personal entourage.
Unfortunately, shortly after his marriage with Isabel de Montemayor, his wife died. From this moment Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba was plunged into a deep depression and decided to devote himself to military service of the Catholic Kings.
One of his first achievements was the successful negotiation with the Moorish King Boabdil. Thanks to these negotiations Catholics took over Granada in 1492. As a reward, Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba received the Order of Santiago and large amounts of money.
Later something happened that changed the life of Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba forever: France invaded Naples. Spain, which was an ally of the King of Naples, could not allow this humiliating situation. The Spanish Kings organized a formidable fleet of ships that sailed to Italy to defeat the French troops. After this victory, Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba began to be known as “El Gran Capitan” (The Great Captain). As a result of the war, Naples was divided into two parts: the north part which became part of France and the south part which became part of Spain.
Shortly after that, the French army broke the pact and attacked the Spanish cities in Naples. Once more The Great Captain and his fleet arrived in Italy and brutally defeated the French army.
In 1504 Queen Isabella died and King Ferdinand the Catholic and Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba slowly cooled their relationship. King believed that The Great Captain had higher aspirations and hidden secrets: the independence to Naples. Faced with this situation, King Ferdinand asked him to return to Spain. Once in Spain, the King separated The Great Captain from the political and military life. Frustrated, Gonzalo Fernández de Cordoba retired to Loja (Granada) where he died in 1515.

-Where to find The Great Captain in Cordoba? 

The Great Captain has an equestrian statue in Plaza de las Tendillas. 
statue of gran capitan in cordoba
Statue of The Great Captain in Cordoba (Plaza de las Tendillas) | Image credit: Nathan Rupert (Flickr / C.C.)
Much has happened since then. Today Cordoba has become a modern city which is proud of its past. Its vast historical and cultural heritage, unique in Europe, has helped develop a thriving tourism sector and its privileged location, in the heart of Andalucia, have turned the city into a major regional logistics center.