Córdoba, Spain

Jason R. Matheson
5 min readNov 30, 2022


I decided to drive an hour and a half northeast of Sevilla to the historic Andalusian city of Córdoba. It’s currently the place with the most UNESCO World Heritage titles in the world.

On the way, I took a short detour to the northwest of Sevilla to explore excavated ruins of the Roman city of Italica. It was the first Roman settlement in Spain and the first Roman city outside of present-day Italy.

Italica was founded in 206 BC by Roman general Scipio as a settlement for his war veterans. As time progressed, Italica grew attracting new settlers from the Italian peninsula and also with the children of Roman soldiers and native women of Iberia.

After parking nearby and hiking into the controlled excavation space, I entered the remains of a huge coliseum that originally seated 25,000 spectators. Italica’s amphitheater was the third largest in the Roman Empire at the time.

You could still walk through extensive arched passageways and inspect the floor of the arena including exposed tunnels that brought animals, gladiators and the condemned to center stage.

Many original streets and floors of surrounding homes were excavated with incredible mosaics again seeing the light of day after being buried for centuries. As I looked at the floors, I wondered about the people who created and walked on them so long ago.

One fascinating and well-preserved mosaic depicted seven gods representing the seven-day week, which was adopted between the 1st and 3rd centuries AD throughout the empire.

The Romans named the days after the seven visible celestial objects including the Sun, the Moon and five planets: Sunday (the Sun), Monday (the Moon), Tuesday (Mars), Wednesday (Mercury), Thursday (Jupiter), Friday (Venus) and Saturday (Saturn).

The Roman ruins of Italica would prove to be the first of a series of archaeological sites to ponder this day. After arriving in Córdoba, I hiked through the old Jewish quarter on my way to the famous mosque-cathedral. Three great faiths mixed again here in Spain.

The Great Mosque was constructed on the orders of Abd ar-Rahman I in 785, when Córdoba was the capital of the Muslim-controlled region of Al-Andalus. As happened across Spain, the mosque was converted to a cathedral in 1236 when Córdoba was captured by the Christian forces of Castile during the Reconquista.

As you walked through the dimly-lit space, you could see columns and uniquely striped double-tiered arches stretching out around you. I slowly explored each corner of the space with its mix of Muslim and Christian artifacts on display.

Finally back outside in the sunlight, I rode a bus to the nearby archaeological excavation of Madinat al-Zahra. This was a Muslim fortified palace-city built in the 10th century.

The ruins of the city were excavated starting in 1911 but to this day, only about 10% has been uncovered. You walked a special path through the excavations with small signs explaining buildings and rooms.

On this day, I experienced the ruins of a Roman city from 2,000 years ago, a Muslim city from 1,000 years ago and a mosque-cathedral completed 500 years ago. All roughly within 80 miles of each other. Incredible.

In addition to bulls, flamenco dancers, tapas and siestas, our image of Spain should include the unique mix of cultures in this land and the treasures they left behind for us to ponder today.


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Jason R. Matheson

I prefer to travel slow. Enjoy history, design, architecture, cars, sports digital. Auburn alum, Sooner born.