In a patio in Calle San Basilio, a theatre show explains this tradition to visitors. :: SUR
A trip through time to discover the origins of the patios of Cordoba. The weather may be becoming hotter in the city of the caliphs but it is a pleasure to spend an interesting and agreeable evening among the geraniums and carnations, and the freshness of the water that flows in the fountains creates an ideal microclimate. The fragrance of jasmine and ‘dama de noche’ is a constant companion during an evening that is hosted in one of the patios by four friendly personalities, who take visitors on a journey through time to learn in depth about the origins and development of these special places. The patios are at the heart of an unusual festival each year, the Patios of Cordoba, which was declared an Intangible Cultural Heritage Site by Unesco in late 2012.
It is at Calle San Basilio number 22 that the theatrical tour led by Fuensanta, Remedios, Manolo and Prudencio takes place. Four characters who are trapped in a time tunnel and with whom we can explore the history of the patios of Cordoba. This initiative has been organised by the Montur agency, which specialises in creative tourism.
The show is performed in Spanish and the visit ends with a complimentary glass of wine from the local Montilla-Moriles region. The shows take place every day from Wednesday to Saturday, but there is only one performance per day, at 9.30pm.
“This is a way of bringing the culture and history of the Patios of Cordoba closer to people in an informative and entertaining way. At the same time, it means that we are offering new services for tourism which generate business in the historic city centre and also increase the number of overnight stays in the city,” explains the manager of Montur, José Luis Baños.
The heart of the city
The patio in question, at number 22 in Calle San Basilio, is right in the heart of Cordoba city. The most characteristic district is that of Alcázar Viejo, between the Alcázar and the San Basilio church, although patios are also to be found in the Santa Marina district, around San Lorenzo and La Magdalena. In the area around the Mosque-Cathedral, the Jewish quarter also has some fine examples which are very beautiful and very old, but perhaps the loveliest is the Palacio de Viana, where there are 12 different patios.
It is during the month of May every year that the Patios of Cordoba festival takes place. The festival and its famous competition have been held since 1921. The owners and residents of the houses around the patios go to great pains to decorate their properties and win the prestigious prize which is awarded by the local Town Hall. At the same time, there is also a folklore festival, with the participation of some of the best singers and dancers of the region.
There are two different types of patio: one type belongs to an individual house where the rooms are distributed around it. The other type is shared, and is known as a ‘casa de vecinos’. These are not found as frequently these days, but the residents all access their respective homes through the patios.
Even when the competition is over, the patios continue to display their beauty and charm to visitors and, as in this new tourist attraction, they provide a new way of discovering a little more about this city, which was declared a Heritage Site in 1994. Here, art and history are hidden in every corner, everywhere you go: passageways, patios, squares, etc. Cordoba is best known for its Mosque, a unique building which shows off the splendour of the caliphate, but we should not forget the Cathedral, the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs, the Roman Bridge and the Albolafía water mill, the Calahorra Tower, the Jewish Quarter, the Plaza del Potro and so many other charming and delightful places in the city.
The Mosque of Cordoba, and the Cathedral inside, beside the magnificent Roman bridge, form the best-known attraction for tourists to the city. However, as well as the bridge, Cordoba also has other Roman remains such as the Temple, the Roman Theatre and Mausoleum, the colonial forum, the adiectum forum, the amphitheatre and the remains of the Place of the Emperor Maximanio Hercúleo at the archaeological site of Cercadilla. Close to the Mosque-Cathedral lies the ancient Jewish quarter, which is where the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs is to be found. This used to be a residence of the King and Queen and also the headquarters of the Inquisition. Along the banks of the Guadalquivir river the remains of several mills can be seen. Around the extensive old part of the city is a Roman wall, of which several parts still remain; the Almodóvar gate, the Sevilla gate and the Bridge gate are the only three that remain of the original 13 entrances to the city. In the surrounding area there are also other exceptionally attractive buildings, such as the Monastery of San Jerónimo de Valparaíso and that of Las Ermitas, situated in the nearby mountains, and an ideal place to rest and relax.
But without a doubt, one visit which should not be missed is to the archaeological complex of Medina Azahara, an ancient town and palace and witness to the splendour of the caliphate. It was built by the first caliph of al-Andalus, Abd al-Rahman III, in the year 936 or 940. As his personal residence and the seat of government, the palace contained the homes of the most important dignitaries and the offices of State administrations, which were transferred here from Cordoba.