Important through history and still thriving today Seville and Córdoba, Granada and Jaen all have a fascinating history and the modern cities of today coexist harmoniously alongside the legacy of their past.
Cordoba and Granada are two of the best-known cities in Andalucia because these jewels of Moorish Al-Andalusia and their renowned Mosque and Alhambra Palace respectively are known throughout the World. They are indeed extraordinary cities, but so are Seville and Jaen: different in many Ways from the other two, but they are equally fascinating.
Seville is the capital city of Andalucia and the seat of the Andalucia Parliament. It straddles the Guadalquivir River and has many wonderful monuments, including the 13th century Torre Del Oro, or Golden Tower, which stands beside the river. The tower was given the name because of the golden tiles that used to adorn its exterior.
Not far away is Seville’s enormous cathedral, one of the largest in the world. It was built on the site of a former mosque whose 94 metre high minaret, the Gibralfaro, is now the bell tower, with spectacular views from the top. The Giralda’s interior has ramps instead of steps, so the guards could climb it on horseback. Close to the cathedral is the beautiful Alcazar fortress and palace, which is another treasure from Andalucia’s Moorish past.
Modern Seville is a sophisticated and funloving city which loves to party and its Feria, or fair, is always the first to be held each Year in Andalucia, in the spring.
Home of the caliphs
Further east along the Guadalquivir lies Cordoba, which is best known for the Mezquita, the magniﬁcent mosque which stands in the heart of the city’s Jewish and Moorish quarters. This should accurately be called a mosque-cathedral, because it was built as the former but a small cathedral was built in its interior after the Reconquest. The rows of elegant pink and cream arches on their marble pillars are breathtaking and the architecture, with sky-lighted domes, is ingenious. A short walk down the river is another fine example of Cordoba’s history, the Alcazar palace, whose tower has impressive views.
The atmospheric cobbled streets of the historic city centre contain beautiful ﬂower-filled patios which play a prominent role in Cordoba’s Patio Festival every May. In the same month, the city is also decorated for the May Crosses festival.
From Nasrids to Christians
Granada is the home of the Alhambra, which is one of Spain’s most popular attractions and such a valuable part of Andalucia’s heritage that the number of daily visitors has to be restricted. Its name comes from the Arabic ‘Alhambra ‘, meaning red castle. It began life as a fortress in the 9th century, and was converted into the palace we see today by the Nasrids in the13th and 14th century. It became a Christian court after the reconquest by the Catholic monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, the parents of Katherine of Aragon, who became the first wife of Henry VIII.
Granada has a great many other treasures, including its Albaicin district which was the old Moorish quarter, its Arab baths, Cathedral and Royal Chapel and the Alcalceria, or bazaar, which is on the site of a former silk market.
The capital of liquid gold
The province of Jaen is a huge producer of olive oil, which has given its principle city the reputation as world capital of this wonderful ‘liquid gold’, as it is known locally. Jaen city is crowned by its 13th century Santa Catalina castle and its historic centre is characterised by its steep and narrow streets because it was built over several hills. It has an important Renaissance cathedral and can boast the largest Arab baths in Spain, which lie beneath a 16th century mansion. The city is also home to a Fine Arts Museum which contains the best collection of Iberian items in Spain, including sculptures from 500 BC.
This was once a spectacular city and although its importance has lessened over the centuries it is a thriving university city which is well worth visiting – and tasting that delicious olive oil.