At one time Cordoba was one of the most powerful cities in the world. Today, it’s known for its historical importance and culinary culture.
A Short History
Neanderthals lived in the area near present-day Cordoba as far back as 42,000 BCE. The Carthaginians built a settlement along the river which was conquered by the Romans in 206 BCE. Several traces from the Roman period are still standing including the Roman Temple and the Roman Bridge (although very little of the bridge dates from Roman times). Many other artifacts from Cordoba’s history were stolen and are now on display in London at the British Museum.
In 711 CE, Muslims took over and Islamic rule began in Qurṭuba (Cordoba’s name under the Umayyad Caliphate).
Less than 100 years later, construction began on the Great Mosque of Cordoba (now the Mosque-Cathedral). Expansion continued for hundreds of years and the magnificent building is the top attraction in the city today.
By the 10th century, Cordoba was not only the most important city in present-day Spain, but perhaps the most important city in the world. While most of Europe was suffering through the Dark Ages, Cordoba was a center of culture, philosophical thought, and economic boom times.
Of course, no empire lasts forever and, in 1236, Cordoba fell the Christian Reconquest. The Great Mosque was converted into a Cathedral (though keeping the Islamic architecture). The Christians began suppressing the Jewish (and Muslim) population (see below), culminating in the Spanish Inquisition.
In 1936, as part of a larger military coup in Andalucía, Spanish Nationalists bombed government buildings and arrested Cordoba’s civil governor. In the aftermath, huge numbers of Republicans (the force opposing the Nationalists) and their supporters were executed. In fact, Franco (the Nationalist dictator of Spain from 1939 to 1975) continued killing Republicans and other political enemies for years to come. Some estimate the number of murders in Andalucía alone by the regime at 10,000 persons.
Today, Spain is a thriving democracy and Cordoba is a popular tourist destination with one million people visiting each year to see the Mosque-Cathedral, Alcazar, Roman Temple and to enjoy the city’s delicious food.
If there’s one dish that’s associated with Cordoba, it’s Salmorejo. You’ll sometimes see Salmorejo on menus in Seville, but in Cordoba it seems it’s offered everywhere. There’s even a street named after the cold soup.
The basic recipe for Salmorejo is very simple. Tomato, bread, garlic, and olive oil are pureed. Because of the bread, Salmorejo has a thicker consistency that it’s cold soup cousin Gazpacho. The garlic used is often raw so the flavor is very strong!
Traditionally, chopped hard boiled egg and jamon (ham) are sprinkled on top. Vegetarians can order their Salmorejo without jamon and vegans can get theirs without egg.
My favorite place for Salmorejo is Restaurante Sociedad Plateros María Auxiliadora. Not only do they have an excellent Salmorejo (there’s even a gluten-free option), but the restaurant has a great atmosphere. It’s my favorite restaurant in Cordoba.
Berenjenas Fritas con Miel (Eggplant with Honey) is a tapas dish that’s incredibly popular not only in Cordoba, but all over Andalucía. Most simply, the eggplant is cut into sticks about the size of French Fries. They are then dipped in flour and fried. Then, the Berenjenas Fritas is served with delicious Miel de Caña (literally “Honey of Sugar,” but actually is a kind of molasses.)
Crispy, salty, sweet. Berenjenas Fritas con Miel is the perfect snack.
There are several variations on this dish. Sometimes the eggplant is breaded and fried. That’s my favorite method because the Berenjenas Fritas con Miel gets extra crispy. Restaurante Sociedad Plateros María Auxiliadora served their Eggplant Fries that way and they’re quite delicious; my favorite in Cordoba.
Another variation is to dip the the eggplant in a kind of tempura batter and then deep-fry. That’s good, too. You can get this style of Berenjenas Fritas con Miel at Casa Pepe de la Juderia.
Less often, you might get the eggplant grilled. That adds a smokey flavor to the dish that’s quite nice.
Pisto isn’t from Cordoba, or even Andalucía. It originated just north in Castilla–La Mancha. But, Pisto is very popular in Cordoba and you can find it on menus all over the city.
Pisto is a vegetable stew similar to Ratatouille. As with the French dish, Pisto can have any number of different veggies in it, but traditionally you’ll find tomato, eggplant, onion, peppers, zucchini, garlic, and lots of spices.
Not only is there some variation in the Pisto recipe, there’s also different ways to serve it.
Pisto con Huevo is served with an egg on top. Pisto Manchego adds a slice of cheese. There’s also variations with ham. Sometimes Empanadas will have a Pisto filling.
Taberna San Miguel is a characteristic tapas bar and restaurant that’s been around since 1880. They’re called the Pisto House, so you know they’re serious. They even have a vegan version of Pisto.
In Portugal, where I live, it seems every town has it’s own pastry, usually an egg-based custard tart of some kind, so it’s always fun to track down and taste the local specialty. In Spain, it’s often the same.
For Cordoba, that local treat is called the Pastel Cordobés. Essentially, it’s sweetened squash jam filling between two layers of puff pastry and topped with sugar and cinnamon. You might think that squash jam doesn’t sound very good, but trust me, it’s quite yummy.
We were told that almost every bakery made Pastel Cordobés in Cordoba, but it turned out to be a little difficult to actually get one.
Our first stop was Patisseries Roldán. With three locations, they’re one of the biggest and most popular bakeries in the city. Alas, when we arrived, there was no Pastel Cordobés. The other cakes and sweets in the display case looked good, though.
We went to another bakery and I asked for a Pastel Cordobés to no avail. The owner gave me directions to another place, but they were complicated and my Spanish is non-existent, so we never found the place. Fact is, unless the place was right next door I don’t think I would’ve found found it.
Anyway, we were just wandering around Cordoba when we stumbled upon Veca Cafe. Turns out they had a bunch of Pastel Cordobés stacked on the counter. We sat down with our treat and coffee and I dug in.
I must admit, the first bite was disappointing. It was just puff pastry and sugar. Sweet, but uninteresting. I opened up the Pastel Cordobés and saw that the jam didn’t go all the way to the edge. So, I got another bite, this time with the sweet squash jam and it was delicious! Paired with a nice coffee, we were so glad that Patisseries Roldán didn’t have what we were looking for or we would have never found Veca Cafe.
Drinking in Cordoba
We arrived at Bodega Guzman looking for the characteristic Cordoba cocktail, the Fifty-Fifty (see below). But, after I ordered mine, I noticed that I was the only one in the bar with that amber-colored bev.
Instead, everyone else had little Sherry glasses filled with a straw-colored wine.
After finishing my Fifty-Fifty, I screwed up my courage and approached a table of locals whose table was filled with glasses of the mystery drink. With the aid of Google Translate (I don’t speak Spanish), I asked them what they were drinking.
They told me that it’s called Vino Fino (a type of Sherry), or simply “Fino” as they referred to it. I sauntered up to the bar and ordered my own.
Andalucía, where Cordoba is located, is where Sherry is produced.
Sherry is a fortified wine. Grape distillate is added to the fermented wine which brings the alcohol content to 15-22% ABV, depending on the variety. There is both a sweet and dry sherry.
For me, a lot of dry Sherry is simply to strong to drink on its own. It tastes like firewater to me.
However, Vino Fino, is the lightest dry Sherry and I find it enjoyable to sip.
Fifty-Fifty (pronouced “Fiddy-Fiddy”) is a classic cocktail in Cordoba. Made with half Vino Fino and half sweet Sherry, El Fifty-Fifty is served in a small sherry glass. It’s caramel color comes from sweet Sherry that is aged in barrels, giving it that distinctive hue. The sweet Sherry makes the Fifty-Fifty more drinkable than straight dry Sherry, IMHO.
You can get a Fifty-Fifty at almost any bar in Cordoba, including my favorite, Bodega Guzman.
Things to do in Cordoba
Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba
The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba is far and away the top site in the city. And, for good reason. This awe-inspiring building was constructed by both the Islamic and, later, Christian rulers of the Iberian Peninsula.
Construction of the Mezquita began in the 8th century CE, as ordered by the Umayyad royal family, just a few decades after the Moors conquered the area. The original structure was completed in rather short order as some columns from a Roman structure (and possibly a Visigoth-era one as well) were reused. (The “Roman” pillars in the Mosque-Cathedral today are reproductions made by Islamic builders over 1,000 years ago.)
The Mezquita was over 60,000 square feet in its original configuration, but was expanded several times over the centuries.
The most impressive part of the Mezquita is the hypostyle hall which served as the main prayer area. The double arches allowed for additional support and shorter columns. There’s around 850 of these columns and it’s awe-inspiring to imagine the hall filled with worshippers.
In 1236, Cordoba was taken by the Christians in the Reconquista.
Surprisingly, most of the Islamic architecture was kept in place. Of course, several Christian alters and chapels were constructed in the Mosque-Cathedral, but much of the work was done by Islamic craftsmen who remained in the city but were required to work on church as part of a Labor Tax on Muslims.
Several restorations were completed over the years, including transforming the minaret into a bell tower.
If you’re hungry after all that history and culture, Bar Santos is right next to the Mosque-Cathedral. They’re famous for their tortilla. People line up to get one and then enjoy it sitting on the wall of the Mosque-Cathedral. If you’re staying in Cordoba overnight, the wait is much shorter at Bar Santos in the evening after the daytrippers have left.
Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos (Palace of the Christian Monarchs)
Part palace, part fortress, Cordoba’s Alcazar is the other top attraction in the city.
The Romans used the site 2,000 years ago. And, while one of the most evocative room in the Alcazar is full of Roman mosaics, these works were discovered in the nearby Corredera Square (Plaza de la Corredera) and moved to the Alcazar later.
After Rome fell, the Visigoths ruled Cordoba. When the Moors from Africa conquered Spain, they did extensive work on the Alcazar. Some of their most impressive accomplishments were the building of the gardens (most recently restored in the 20th century). They were fed by the aqueducts that were also built by the Moors.
In 1328 CE, almost 100 years after the Reconquista that drove the Moors from Iberian Peninsula, work began in earnest on the Alcazar and that’s most of what you see today.
In the late 15th century, the Alcazar was used as one the headquarters of the Inquisition, a shameful period when Jews and Muslims were persecuted and executed for various so-called heretical crimes. Many people were tortured and executed at the Alcazar.
In the 19th century, the Alcazar was used as a prison.
The interior of the Alcazar is interesting, especially for the Roman mosaics. But, I think the real attraction is the gardens. Spread over 3 levels and nearly 14 acres, it’s quite impressive.
Cordoba reached its pinnacle of power and culture in the 10th century CE when it was ruled by the Moors. During this time, Jews and Christians also lived in Cordoba, though they were governed by Islamic Law.
Jewish people lived in the Jewish Quarter of Cordoba from the 10th to the 15th century. The neighborhood was walled off from the rest of the city. Some say it was to protect the Jews from aggression by the Christians, others say it was strictly religious segregation.
In 1272, after living in Jewish Quarter for over 300 years, Jewish people were allowed to live in other parts of the city. However, Jews were expelled from Spain (and later Portugal) when the Inquisition took hold in the late 1400s. Hundreds of Jewish people were killed and tortured. An unknown number became refugees as they fled the persecution.
As a result, not only were the Jewish people gone, but their houses, businesses, synagogues, and property were destroyed or fell into disrepair.
Today, over 500 years after the Inquisition, little remains of the Jewish heritage in Cordoba. However, in recent decades, efforts have been made to revitalize the area. The Sinagoga de Córdoba (Cordoba Synagogue) is one of the few remaining Synagogues from this period in Europe. It is tiny in size, but hugely important as a symbol to the community who once thrived here.
There are a few restaurants that have Jewish names, but, in reality, there’s not much authentic Jewish food in Cordoba. That’s because there’s still not much of a Jewish community living here. Casa Mazal, is the exception. They serve Sephardic cuisine in a charming atmosphere. If it’s nice outside, be sure to dine in the lovely courtyard.
Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides, was a Sephardic Jew born in Cordoba in 1138CE. He was an important philosopher (he was also a doctor and astronomer) who wrote about ethics and Jewish law. His work is still studied today. There’s a statue of Maimonides in the Jewish Quarter.
Calleja de Las Flores (Street of the Flowers)
Right in the Jewish Quarter is one of the top Instagram sites in Cordoba, the Calleja de Las Flores (Street of the Flowers). Lining this little alley are dozens and dozens of pots attached to the walls and filled with colorful flowers. The Street of the Flowers leads to a tiny square (I don’t think it even has a name) with a small fountain. Utterly charming and usually quite crowded. Try and find some serenity and enjoy the lovely blooms until you are shoved out the way by an Influencer looking for the perfect shot.
BTW, if you look back from the square down Calleja de Las Flores you can see the bell tower of the Mosque-Cathedral. I’d say that’s one of the best Instagram shots, but then I’d be contributing to the problem, wouldn’t I?
Neanderthals were in the area going back 40,000 years or more but it was the Romans who formally founded Colonia Patricia in the 2nd century BCE. Of course the Romans were prolific builders and shortly after their arrival they began building a bridge over the Guadalquivir River.
Even though the bridge is called the Roman Bridge, most of the current structure was built by The Moors (the 14th and 15th arches from the northern end of the bridge are Roman) almost 1,000 years ago.
The Torre de la Calahorra at the far end of the bridge was from Moorish times while the gate leading to the bridge (Puerta del Puente) was from the Reconquest.
So, like all of Cordoba, the bridge is a glorious mishmash of eras, religions, cultures, and history. But, you don’t need to know any of that to enjoy the bridge. It’s a lovely gathering spot where locals and tourists go for a stroll or walk the dog. Buskers often camp out on the bridge to entertain people, making it a great spot to relax and people watch.
Yes, the Romans had a large presence in Cordoba 2,000 years ago. But not all their work was as obvious as the Roman Bridge.
Back in the 1950’s, Cordoba was renovating and expanding their City Hall. But, when you find a Roman Temple hiding behind the walls, you make other plans. Instead, archaeological excavation took over and the temple was uncovered.
Archaeologists pin the construction to the middle of the 1st century CE with completion after 40 years at the end of the century. Of the original structure several of the magnificent Corinthian columns remain along with the foundation, stairs, and alter.
It’s quite the site to turn the corner and be confronted with a real Roman Temple in the middle of the city. There’s even a cafe next door with outdoor seating where locals sit and enjoy a coffee, apparently oblivious the history a few steps away. Or, maybe they’re just too cool to brag.
Day Trips from Cordoba
Cordoba itself is usually a day trip. It’s a quick train ride from Seville and 2 hours from Madrid. But, I would advocate for staying over at least one night, if not two, to experience everything the city has to offer.
Seville is one of the largest cities in Spain and its magnificence is known worldwide. The Gothic cathedral is one of the largest in the world. The Royal Alcazar with its combination of Romanesque, Gothic, and Renaissance architecture and Mudéjar (Morrish) designs is also a can’t miss. The Plaza de España was only built about 100 years ago, but its classic Spanish tiles and semi-circular shape is spectacular.
Add in the amazing tapas culture in Seville and you could easily spend a week here and not see everything.
The Sherry Triangle
Jerez de la Frontera, Sanlúcar de Barrameda, and El Puerto de Santa María make up the Sherry Triangle of Spain. Here is where sherry is produced and if you’re looking to dive deeper into sherry production and sherry culture, this is the place to go. You can visit the bodegas to see how sherry is made and there’s tons of characteristic bars where you can enjoy a glass of the fortified wine.
The tapas is also amazing in the Sherry Triangle and visiting the beautiful city of Cadiz is a must when you’re here.
I’ve written a complete Foodie Travel Guide to the Sherry Triangle with my favorite places to eat & drink and fun things to do.
Not really a day trip, Madrid is worth several days by itself. But, it’s easy to get to Madrid on the high speed train. I’ve written a complete Foodie Travel Guide to Madrid with all my favorite spots in this vibrant city.
There’s no airport in Cordoba. The closest is Seville (SVQ). Train is the best option to get to Cordoba, though you can drive here as well.
Lots of people visiting Cordoba arrive from Seville. There’s a high speed train that takes less than 45 minutes from Seville to Cordoba. There’s also a high speed train from Madrid that takes less than 2 hours.
If you’re coming by bus, you’ll arrive at the Estación Autobuses Cordoba, which is just north of the historical center of the city..
Cordoba, especially the historical center is quite compact and walkable. If you’re going further afield, there is a local bus service operated by Aucorsa. They have several routes including ones from the train station and bus station. Taxis are also widely available.
Index of Food & Drink in Cordoba
Restaurante Sociedad Plateros María Auxiliadora
Terrific Salmorejo and Eggplant Fries with cane sugar syrup. Nice wine, too.
C. María Auxiliadora, 25, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Charming, characteristic bar in the Jewish Quarter.
C. Judíos, 7, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Great place to get a Pastel Cordobés.
C. Claudio Marcelo, 9, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Get a tortilla after visiting the Mosque-Cathedral. It’s right next door.
C. Magistral González Francés, 3, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Halal restaurant with terrific Middle-Eastern food.
C. Romero, 4, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
The only truly Sephardic restaurant in Cordoba.
C. Tomás Conde, 3, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Casa Pepe de la Juderia
100 years and counting of making Spanish food.
C. Romero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Taberna San Miguel
Classic rustic tavern. Place to get Pisto, including a veg. version.
Pl. de San Miguel, 1, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Cafe with lots of veg. options.
C. Diario de Córdoba, 11, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Traditional Spanish and Cordobese dishes including several veg. options.
C. Tundidores, 3, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Lovely pastries, sometimes have Pastel Cordobés.
C. Concepción, 18, 14008 Córdoba, Spain
Index of Things to do in Cordoba
Spectacular mosque became a cathedral after the reconquest. Not to be missed.
C. Cardenal Herrero, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Alcazar de Los Reyes Cristianos
Palace and fortress with Roman mosaics and beautiful gardens.
Pl. Campo Santo de los Mártires, s/n, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Calleja de Las Flores (Street of the Flowers)
Alley filled with flowers.
Calleja de las Flores, 1, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Sinagoga de Córdoba (Cordoba Synagogue)
One of the oldest surviving synagogues in Spain.
C. Judíos, 20, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Bridge originally built during Roman times, renovated extensively over the centuries.
Av. del Alcázar, s/n, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Roman temple discovered during the renovation of City Hall.
C. Capitulares, 1, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Renaissance palace with artwork and nice gardens.
Pl. de Don Gome, 2, 14001 Córdoba, Spain
Plaza del Potro
Square with a fountain that’s mentioned in Don Quixote.
Pl. del Potro, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Centro de Flamenco Fosforito
Flamenco museum at Plaza del Potro.
Pl. del Potro, 10, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
Moorish fort outside Cordoba.
Ctra. Palma del Río, km 5.5, 14005 Córdoba, Spain
Index of Shopping in Cordoba
Zoco Municipal de Artesania
Several artisan shops with lots of nice jewelry in the Jewish Quarter.
C. Judíos, s/n, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Prepared food and produce gastro market.
P.º de la Victoria, s/nº, 14004 Córdoba, Spain
Mercadillo del Arenal
Lively Sunday market with lots of different kinds of vendors. A chance for locals to catch up with eachother as much as shop.
C. de El Infierno, 14010 Córdoba, Spain
Mercado de la Corredera
Small indoor market at the Plaza de las Cañas.
Pl. de las Cañas, 1, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Index of Places to Stay in Cordoba
Patio del Posadero – Hotel Boutique & Breakfast
Hotel near the river and Parque Ruth y José.
Calleja del Posadero, Calle Mucho Trigo, 21, 14002 Córdoba, Spain
Hotel Boutique Caireles
Inexpensive option right next to the Mosque-Cathedral.
C. Cardenal Herrero, 12, 14003 Córdoba, Spain
About the Author
Brent Petersen is the Editor-in-Chief of Destination Eat Drink. He currently resides in Setubal, Portugal. Brent has written the novel “Truffle Hunt” (Eckhartz Press) and the short story collection “That Bird.” He’s also written dozens of foodie travel guides to cities around the world on Destination Eat Drink, including in-depth eating and drinking guides to Madrid and Puerto de Santa Maria & The Sherry Triangle in Spain. Brent’s podcast, also called Destination Eat Drink, is available on all major podcasting platforms and is distributed by the Radio Misfits Podcast Network.