The Roman colony of Corduba, founded in 152 BC, became capital of Baetica province, covering most of today’s Andalucía. In 711 Córdoba fell to the Muslim invaders and soon became the Islamic capital on the Iberian Peninsula. It was here in 756 that Abd ar-Rahman I set himself up as emir of Al-Andalus.
Córdoba’s heyday came under Abd ar-Rahman III (91261), who in 929 named himself caliph to set the seal on Al-Andalus’ independence of the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. Córdoba was then the biggest city in Western Europe and it had dazzling mosques, libraries, observatories and aqueducts, a university and highly skilled artisans in leather, metal, textiles and glazed tiles. Abd ar-Rahman III’s multicultural court was frequented by Jewish, Arab and Christian scholars, even if Córdoba was certainly not the fabulously tolerant paradise that’s sometimes imagined.
Towards the end of the 10th century, Al-Mansour (Almanzor), a fearsome general, took the reins of power and struck terror into Christian Spain with over 50 razzias (forays) in 20 years. When he destroyed the cathedral at Santiago de Compostela, home of the Santiago cult, he had its bells carried to Córdoba by Christian slaves and hung upside down as oil lamps in the Mezquita. But after his death bands of Berber troops terrorised Córdoba and the caliphate descended into anarchy.
Córdoba’s intellectual traditions, however, lived on. Twelfth-century Córdoba produced two of the most celebrated of all Al-Andalus’ scholars: the Muslim Averroës (Ibn Rushd) and the Jewish Maimonides, polymaths best remembered for their philosophical efforts to harmonise religious faith with reason. Córdoba’s intellectual influence was still being felt in Christian Europe many centuries later.
Córdoba was captured in 1236 by Fernando III of Castilla and became a provincial town of shrinking importance. The decline began to be reversed only with the arrival of industry in the late 19th century.