FEW places in Spain boast a history as rich and varied as Cordoba’s breathtaking Alcazar.
Founded in 1328 by Alfonso XI, this palace has served as everything from the residence of the Spanish Inquisition to a garrison for Napoleon’s troops and even hosted Columbus during his sojourn in the city before he set off to ‘discover’ the New World. Now a museum, it is one of the most rewarding local tourist attractions and an absolute must-see.
Normally €4.50, entry was gratis when I visited due to the coronavirus pandemic, though I did still have to prebook online (and make up a Spanish phone number for the booking form).
Take a moment to appreciate the spectacular third-century sarcophagus engraved with the entrance to the underworld in the first corridor you pass through, and be sure to explore every nook and cranny of the palace as some impressive statues are hidden away in the corners.
The Hall of Mosaics
For Roman history buffs like myself, this room may be the highlight of the entire Alcazar. Even more stunning than the monochrome mosaic on the left wall, one of the largest complete mosaics in existence, is the colourful depiction of Polyphemus and Galatea, a Greek tale of beauty and the beast but without the Disney romance.
Across from this, the disembodied head of snake-haired Medusa follows you with her petrifying gaze, while at the other end of the room Cupid and Psyche embrace in another love tragic story.
The towers and courtyards
Head to the balcony of the Hall of Mosaics for an excellent view of the Women’s Courtyard, which is where women were incarcerated during the Alcazar’s days as a prison, then make your way downstairs and ascend the tower’s belvedere (providing it is open).
Once you’ve drunk in the sublime vistas of the riverside and the city, descend to the Courtyard of the Moriscos and enjoy the tranquil atmosphere of this patio surrounded by arched verandas and furnished with a quaint water fountain.
Make sure you’ve had your fill before you go to the gardens, because they won’t let you back in!
Dotted with chunks of ancient columns that evoke Cordoba’s Roman heyday, the Mudejar-inspired jardines are the crowning jewel of the Alcazar and ideal for a cathartic amble.
Brilliant flowers complement serene pools, offering superb photo opportunities, and the grand statues of monarchs in the Promenade of Kings testify to the site’s former importance as a royal residence.
If your feet are weary, seek out one the garden’s shady arbours and relish the splendour from there.
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