The origins of Cordoba date back to 169 BC, when it was founded as the capital of the Hispania Ulterior Baetica
province of the Roman Empire. It experienced authentic splendour both artistic and architectural, especially in letters from important Latin philosophers such as Lucio Anneo Seneca, poets such as Marco Anneo Lucano and orators such as Marcus Anneus Seneca.
The great splendour of the Muslim era
After several centuries of glory and subsequent decline, Cordoba fell into a period of instability until the Arabs conquered it at the beginning of the eighth century. It was once again named capital, this time of the Western Umayyad Caliphate and the Independent Emirate, and reached a new splendour by exceeding 300,000 inhabitants.
This level of prosperity went hand in hand with significant political and economic power and influence, which extended throughout Europe. By the 10th century, Cordoba had become the second-largest city in the world, surpassed only by Constantinople.
During Arab rule in Spain, Cordoba was transformed on an architectural level with the appearance of spectacular palaces, mosques and buildings. Among them was the world-famous Mosque of Cordoba, considered at the time to be one of the great architectural wonders of antiquity, and its spectacular university, whose library contained more than 400,000 documents.
In addition to the university, Cordoba had more than 25 free schools for children from all social strata, including the poorest. Thus, the level of literacy was very high.
The level of education and culture that Cordoba offered was so high that even the ladies of the Catholic court received their education in the Islamic court. Although the Arabs held political power in an ironclad manner, the city of Cordoba was tolerant of other religions.
However, after the death of Almanzor, the chancellor of the Caliphate, in 1002, political instability took over Cordoba and different factions vied for power. This led the city into a civil war, resulting in the loss of its immense political and economic influence and importance.
This anarchic situation, which lasted for decades, was taken advantage of by Christian troops who, in the midst of the reconquest, launched an assault on the city. This was how, in 1236, Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Cordoba in the midst of an impressive furore that led him to build the so-called “Fernandinas” churches as a declaration that the principles of the Reconquest were there to stay.
This joy reached its zenith in the 16th century with the construction, in the middle of the enormous Mosque of Cordoba (which, over the centuries, had been successively expanded), of a monumental Catholic temple that was baptized as the Cathedral of St. Mary Mother of God. The result was a mix of architectural styles as spectacular as it was contrasting.
Decadence, wars and modernity
As the centuries passed, Cordoba maintained some political and economic influence, in part because it served as the headquarters of the Christian forces during the reconquest of Granada and the construction of the great monumental temples. However, this power was displaced in the 16th century after the arrival on the throne of Philip II and the rise of Madrid on the political scene.
Starting in the 18th century, political decline became even more entrenched when the city fell prey to successive plagues and pestilences. This reached its apex in 1804 when a yellow fever epidemic devastated the city.
The situation became much worse after the Napoleonic invasion in 1808. Cordoba suffered systematic looting by French troops who would reoccupy the city in 1810 under the command of General Jean-de-Dieu Soult. The troops withdrew in 1812.
After the First Carlist War, which affected the city throughout the 1830s, Cordoba recovered some socioeconomic momentum. In 1859, the first Cordoba-Seville railway line was inaugurated, followed by other lines to Manzanares, Belmez and Malaga.
This series of railway lines, which, throughout the rest of the century, were followed by others towards Madrid, caused an important economic rebound due to the immense passenger traffic.
This beneficial situation increased with the modernization experienced in almost all of Spain at the end of the 19th century. Its entire urban area was reformed, and electricity arrived on the scene.
The turbulent 20th century and the cultural consecration of the 21st century
With the arrival of the 20th century, Cordoba showed a thriving and developed economy that, however, could not avoid the onslaught of the crash of 1929 and the subsequent political instability after the proclamation of the Second Republic in 1931. This triggered the bloody Spanish Civil War in 1936, during which the city was severely damaged.
Throughout the Franco period, the city underwent profound reforms with the aim of restoring and recovering much of the Islamic and medieval splendour that the city had possessed. The situation improved even more after the arrival of democracy in 1980 and the subsequent entry of Spain into the European Community in 1986.
During the next 40 years, Cordoba became one of the cities with the best preserved artistic, cultural and architectural heritage in Spain. It achieved such a lofty level that in 1984 its Historic Centre received the declaration of World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
The modernity of 21st-century Cordoba, with spectacular neighbourhoods, contrasts significantly with its countless monumental works from Islamic times and the later reconquest.
The cultural consecration of Cordoba came in 2016 when the city was a candidate for European cultural capital, becoming one of the finalists.
Currently, Cordoba is one of the most important tourist epicentres in Spain, competing head-to-head with such important tourist cities as Seville, Barcelona and Madrid.