Toledo- Cordoba – Madinat al-Zahra

Monday 3 June 2019 – Friday 7 June 2019 Toledo – Cordoba


The Old Town of Toledo

We arrived in Toledo, the ancient city set on a hill above the plains of Castilla-La Mancha in central Spain. It is known for its medieval Arab, Jewish and Christian monuments in the walled old city.

part of the walls which surrounded Toledo

Early on Tuesday we headed into the old city via 6 differently angled escalators with covered walkways to reach the top. The escalators and covered walkways bridge the 36-metre height difference up to the town centre and are designed following the typography of the land. It is an amazing accomplishment!

one of the six escalators up to the Old Town certainly beats walking the hill

Walking Tour

As we walked through the narrow streets with high walls to Plaza de Zocodover to wait for our walking tour we noticed decorations of material strung above the streets with lanterns, awnings, and wreaths hanging from balconies.

The tour started with some history of Plaza Zocodover, originally being a marketplace where animals were sold during the Moor occupation. Nowadays there are delicious cheese and wine bars and restaurants lining the square.

Plaza Zocodovereven Macca’s gets a spot

On our walk the guide explained the reason for these decorations. On a Thursday (60 days after Easter Sunday) is Corpus Christi, which is celebrated with a two-hour procession featuring the massive Custodia de Arfe, a tower of more than two metres of gold and silver which is pushed through the streets on a float.  The cloth which is strung throughout the streets indicates the route of the procession.  Further into our walk we sighted antique pennants and tapestries from the 16th and 17th century hanging from balconies.

The Mosque of Cristo de la Luz

The Mosque of Chrito de la Luz is a former mosque built in 999. It is one of the ten that existed in the city during the Moorish period. An inscription written with brick in Kufic script reveals the details of the mosque’s foundation:  Bismila (in the name of Allah). Ahmad ibn Hadidi had this mosque erected using his own money requesting reward in paradise for it from Allah. Apparently, he did not get the reward!

Puerta del Sol is one of the city gates built in the late 13th century as an entry point into the city through the city walls.

Puerta del Solin the blind arches are the remains of Paleochristian sarcophagus from the 4th century

Santiago del Arrabal Church built in the 13th century on the site of an older church and a mosque that is known to have been used since 1125.

the sculptures on the outside are very detailed

Convent Gaytanas was built in the 17th century and was a church and then a convent. Today the nuns of the convent bake sweets and artisan products to sell to the public to pay for the upkeep of the convent. On the door of the convent they advertise their baking. To buy you press a bell between the opening hours and you go inside the church and buy what is available. It is advisable to go when it first opens as they sell out quickly.

Toledo City Hall dominates Plaza del Ayuntamiento and dates back to the 16th century. It houses several offices. The latest addition is a monument which represents the River Tagus costing 2.4 million €. The monument drains and fills up with water to represent the flow of the river. It certainly is a different concept and when it is dry it looks quite eerie.

Cathedral of Toledo is one of the three 13th century High Gothic cathedrals in Spain. It was begun in1226 and the last Gothic contributions were made in the 15th century.

Alcazar de Toledo is a stone fortification located on the highest part of Toledo. We went up to the tower and gained a fantastic view of Toledo Old Town.

Tomorrow we head for Cordoba.


street in Cordoba

Cordoba was an important Roman city and a major Islamic centre in the Middle Ages. This ancient Andalusian city boasts world-famous Moorish architecture, beautiful courtyard patio houses and a revitalised riverside full of cafes and bars.


We decided to stroll through the streets of the Old Town and then join a free walking tour conducted starting in Plaza de las Tendillas, the most central square of the city.

The places we passed and the history of each of the sites began with:

Roman Temple of Cordoba was discovered in the 1950s during the expansion of City Hall. The temple was built during the second half of the 1st century. Currently, the only remains left of the building are its foundation, the stairs, the altar and some shafts of columns and capitals. The ruins that remain suggest it was very large.

Plaza de la Corredera which once occupied part of the Roman Circus and used as a bullring and is now a place where people meet to enjoy a wide range of cafes and bars.

Mercado de Sanchez Pena was an old prison, then a hat and cloth factory and now houses a food market where fresh fish, meat, vegetables and fruit can be purchased. 

The House of Dona Jacinta was the house of the owner who would not move so it could be demolished in order to expand the square in the 17th century. It went to court and she obtained a royal decree from the King of Spain, Carlos II who granted her reason. The building is now a cultural centre.

Posada del Potro was a brothel and is now a Flamenco Art Centre where you can learn the fundamental elements: singing, playing and dancing through interactive tables and at night witness Flamenco dancing. It is very similar to a dance machine we have in playcentres at home.

Museo de Julio Romero de Torresis a museum whichhas the largest collection of the famous Cordoban painter Julio Romero de Torres. This building was the old Hospital of la Caridad. The façade is absolutely amazing.

the delicate facade

Church of San Francisco and San Eulogio de la Axerquía a convent founded in the 13th century.

Calleja de las Flores is a narrow street in the neighbourhood of the Jewish quarter. The trellised balconies are filled with flowers and the perfume is quite lovely. 

Mesquita – Cathedral is an incredible place. It was originally a mosque, built in the 10th century. In the courtyard there are orange trees and fountains.

Gate of the Bridge was originally part of the walls that encircled the city.

Roman Bridge originally built in the early part of the 1st century BC across the Guadalquivir river, but has been reconstructed at various times since. Torre de Calahorra is a fortified gate from Islamic origin and is as an entrance and protection of the Roman Bridge.

Patios de Cordoba are courtyards open to the public for viewing during the Festival of the Patios. For two weeks in May, neighbours open the doors of their houses and everyone can have a look. Most of them are quite small, but the flowers are stunning.

Almodóvar Gate is one of the seven gates that protected the Islamic city. It is built of sandstone blocks in the 14th century. Next to the gate is a bronze sculpture dedicated to a philosopher and playwright from Cordoba, Seneca.

At the end of the tour we went in search of the famous dishes of Cordoba. We consumed a number including tortilla de patata – an omelette bulked up with potatoes and onions. It was very light and delicious.

Cordoba’s present charm is largely tied to its Moorish past. Today, the city retains traces of the former glory. Numerous unique buildings, gardens, and museums make Córdoba a beautiful city to visit.  

street in Cordoba Old Town

The next morning, we headed to the archaeological complex Madinat al-Zahra about 6 kilometres from Cordoba.

Madinat al-Zahra

Replica of Madinat al-Zahra

Madinat al-Zahra (shining city) is the ruins of a vast, fortified Moorish medieval palace-city built the first Umayyad Caliph of Córdoba. Its construction, begun in the year 936. The life of the city was, however, very short (barely 75 years passed between its founding and the first destructions).  In 1010 it was looted and burned during the civil war that dismembered the caliphate in the Taifa kingdoms. From that point on, the gradual abandon and systematic pillaging of its constructive materials ended up burying the city.

overview of ruins

The city was a personal residence and seat of government, the palatial zone housed the homes of the most important dignitaries and all the administrative bodies of the State, which were transferred from Córdoba. This city is considered one of the summits of Islamic art, both for its structure and urban layout and for the diversity of its materials, the architectural solutions used and the extraordinary richness and quality of its decorative programs.

We began our visit at the museum by watching a short film about the history of the city and the ruins of today. It was excellent because it showed the ruins and then overlaid it with what life was like in 940 and how the buildings looked.


We then caught the shuttle bus to the site to walk through the wall, the House of Viziers, the remains of the Aljama Mosque and the gardens. The currently excavated ruins are only one tenth of the actual city with its walls covering 4, 500 metres. The view over the Guadalquivir Valley from this city is fantastic. At the site we were greeted by a fox whom obviously is fed by the bus driver on the first run of the day.

Inside the city walls the city was organised into two very different parts. The Alcazar sector of the city is located on the higher terraced terrain and was separated from the medina by its own wall. In this sector is where the life of the caliph and his court was carried out, including administrative and official buildings as well as residences and associated services.

Reconstruction of Madinat al-Zahra

The medina was located on the lower terrace terrain of the city along with the urban village and Aljama mosque.

It took us 2 hours to walk through the vast complex, reading the information boards and exploring the passageways and buildings. It is absolutely amazing to think that a city of this size and the work of developing the buildings only existed for such a short period of time.

On our return to the museum we revisited the film, to once again put all of what we saw into perspective. We then visited the permanent exhibition which explained the foundation of the city, the construction of Madinat al-Zahra, the city and its inhabitants and the destruction and recovery of the site.

Our visit lasted 3 and ½ hours and was worth every minute. It is a very extensive and memorable place to visit.

We then headed to Seville.


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