1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cordova (city)

CORDOVA (Span. Córdoba; Lat. Corduba), the capital of the Spanish province of Cordova, on the southern slopes of the Sierra de Cordova, and the right bank of the river Guadalquivir. Pop. (1900) 58,275. At Cordova the Madrid-Seville railway meets the branch line from Almorchón to Málaga. The city is an episcopal see. Few fragments remain of its Moorish walls, which were erected on Roman foundations and enclosed a very wide area, now largely occupied by garden-ground cleared from the ruins of ancient buildings. On the outskirts are many modern factories in striking contrast with the surrounding orange, lemon and olive plantations, and with the pastures which belong to the celebrated Cordovan school of bull-fighting. Nearer the centre the streets are for the most part narrow and crooked. Almost every building, however, is profusely covered with whitewash, and thus there is little difference on the surface between the oldest and the most modern houses. The southern suburb communicates with the town by means of a bridge of sixteen arches across the river, exhibiting the usual combination of Roman and Moorish masonry and dominated at the one end by an elevated statue of the patron saint, St Raphael, whose effigy is to be seen in various other quarters of the city. The most important of the public buildings are the cathedral, the old monastic establishments, the churches, the bishop’s palace, the city hall, the hospitals and the schools and colleges, including the academy for girls founded in 1590 by Bishop Pacheco of Cordova, which is empowered to grant degrees. The Alcázar, or royal palace, stands on the south-west amid the gardens laid out by its builder, the caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III. (912–961). Its older parts are in ruins, and even the so-called New Alcázar, erected by Alphonso XI. of Castile in 1328, and long used as the offices of the Holy Inquisition, has only one wing in good repair, which serves as a prison.

But the glory of Cordova, surpassing all its other Moorish or Christian buildings, is the mezquita, or mosque, now a cathedral, but originally founded on the site of a Roman temple and a Visigothic church by Abd-ar-Rahman I. (756–788), who wished to confirm the power of his caliphate by making its capital a great religious centre. Immigration from all the lands of Islam soon rendered a larger mosque necessary, owing to the greatly increased multitude of worshippers, and, by orders of Abd-ar-Rahman II. (822–852) and Al-Hakim II. (961–976), the original size was doubled. After various minor additions, Al-Mansur, the vizier of the caliph Hisham II. (976–1009), again enlarged the Zeca, or House of Purification, as the mosque was named, to twice its former size, rendering it the largest sacred building of Islam, after the Kaaba at Mecca. The ground plan of the completed mosque forms a rectangle, measuring 570 ft. in length and 425 in breadth, or little less than St Peter’s in Rome. About one-third of this area is occupied by the courtyard, and the cloisters which surround it on the north, west and east. The exterior, with the straight lines of its square buttress towers, has a heavy and somewhat ungainly appearance; but the interior is one of the most beautiful specimens of Moorish architecture. Passing through a grand courtyard about 500 ft. in length, shady with palm and cypress and orange trees and watered by five fountains, the visitor enters on the south a magnificent and bewildering labyrinth of pillars in which porphyry, jasper and many-coloured marbles are boldly combined. Part came from the spoils of Nîmes or Narbonne, part from Seville or Tarragona, some from the older ruins of Carthage, and others as a present to Abd-ar-Rahman I. from the East Roman emperor Leo IV., who sent also from Constantinople his own skilled workmen, with 16 tons of tesserae for the mosaics. Originally of different heights, the pillars have been adjusted to their present standard of 12 ft. either by being sunk into the soil or by the addition of Corinthian capitals. Twelve hundred was the number of the columns in the original building, but many have been destroyed. The pillars divide the area of the building from north to south, longitudinally into nineteen and transversely into twenty-nine aisles—each row supporting a tier of open Moorish arches of the same height (12 ft.) with a third and similar tier superimposed upon the second. The full height of the ceiling is thus about 35 ft. The Moorish character of the building was unfortunately impaired in the 16th century by the formation in the interior of a crucero, or high altar and cruciform choir, by the addition of numerous chapels along the sides of the vast quadrangle, and by the erection of a belfry 300 ft. high in room of the old minaret. The crucero in itself is no disgrace to the architect Hernan Ruiz, but every lover of art must sympathize with the rebuke administered by the emperor Charles V. (1500–1558) to the cathedral authorities: “You have built here what could have been built as well anywhere else; and you have destroyed what was unique in the world.” Magnificent, indeed, as the cathedral still is, it is almost impossible to realize what the mosque must have been when the worshippers thronged through its nineteen gateways of bronze, and its 4700 lamps, fed with perfumed oil, illuminated its brilliant aisles. Of the exquisite elaboration bestowed on the more sacred portions abundant proof is afforded by the third Mihrab, or prayer-recess, a small 10th-century chapel, heptagonal in shape, roofed with a single shell-like block of snow-white marble, and inlaid with Byzantine mosaics of glass and gold.

Cordova was celebrated in the time of the Moors for its silversmiths, who are said to have come originally from Damascus; and it exported a peculiar kind of leather which took its name from the city, whence is derived the word cordwainer. Fine silver filigree ornaments are still produced; and Moorish work in leather is often skilfully imitated, although this handicraft almost disappeared in the 15th century. The chief modern industries of Cordova are distillation of spirits and the manufacture of woollen, linen and silken goods.

Corduba, probably of Carthaginian origin, was occupied by the Romans under Marcus Marcellus in 152 B.C.. and shortly afterwards became the first Roman colonia in Spain. From the large number of men of noble rank among the colonists, the city obtained the title of Patricia; and to this day the Cordovese pride themselves on the purity and antiquity of their descent. In the 1st century B.C. Cordova aided the sons of Pompey against Caesar; but after the battle of Munda, in 45 B.C., it fell into the hands of Caesar, who avenged the obstinacy of its resistance by massacring 20,000 of the inhabitants. Under Augustus, if not before, it became a municipality, and was the capital of the thoroughly Romanized province of Baetica. In the lifetime of Strabo, however (c. 63 B.C.A.D. 21), it still ranked as the largest city of Spain. Its prosperity was due partly to its position on the Baetis, and on the Via Augusta, the great commercial road from northern Spain built by Augustus, and partly to its proximity to mines and rich grazing and grain-producing districts. Hosius, its bishop, presided over the first council of Nicaea in 345; and its importance was maintained by the Visigothic kings, whose rule lasted from the 5th to the beginning of the 8th century. Under the Moors, Cordova was at first an appanage of the caliphate of Damascus; but after 756 Abd-ar-Rahman I. made it the capital of Moorish Spain, and the centre of an independent caliphate (see Abd-ar-Rahman). It reached its zenith of prosperity in the middle of the 10th century, under Abd-ar-Rahman III. At his death, it is recorded by native chroniclers, probably with Arabic exaggeration, that Cordova contained within its walls 200,000 houses, 600 mosques, 900 baths, a university, and numerous public libraries; whilst on the bank of the Guadalquivir, under the power of its monarch, there were eight cities, 300 towns and 12,000 populous villages. A period of decadence began in 1016, owing to the claims of the rival dynasties which aimed at succeeding to the line of Abd-ar-Rahman; the caliphate never won back its position, and in 1236 Cordova was easily captured by Ferdinand III. of Castile. The substitution of Spanish for Moorish supremacy rather accelerated than arrested the decline of art, industry and population; and in the 19th century Cordova never recovered from the disaster of 1808, when it was stormed and sacked by the French. Few cities of Spain, however, can boast of so long a list of illustrious natives in the Moorish and Roman periods, and even, to a less extent, in modern times. It was the birthplace of the rhetorician Marcus Annaeus Seneca, and his more famous son Lucius (c. 3 B.C.A.D. 65); of the poet Lucan (A.D. 39–65); of the philosophers Averroes (1126–1198) and Maimonides (1135–1204); of the Spanish men of letters Juan de Mena (c. 1411–1456), Lorenzo de Sepúlveda (d. 1574) and Luis de Gongora y Argote (1561–1627); and the painters Pablo de Céspedes (1538–1608) and Juan de Valdés Leal (1630–1691). The celebrated captain Gonzalo Fernandez de Córdoba (q.v.), the conqueror of Naples (1495–1498), was born in the neighbouring town of Montilla.

See Estudio descriptivo de los monumentos árabes de Granada y Córdoba, by R. Contreras (Madrid, 1885); Córdoba, a large illustrated volume of the series España, by P. de Madrazo (Barcelona, 1884); Inscripciones árabes de Córdoba, by R. Amador de los Ríos y Villalta (Madrid, 1886).