06 June 2019

The Patios of Córdoba
offer a unique insight
into life in Andalucía

The ‘Patios of Córdoba’ are an escape from the hot sun of Andalucía (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

I arrived in Córdoba from Malaga late yesterday afternoon, and I am staying in the Maciá Alfaros Hotel, set in a traditional Andalucían-style building. The Roman Temple, the Archaeological Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts are just 500 metres from the hotel, the Alcázar castle is less than 1 km, and it is 15 minutes’ walk to Córdoba’s mosque and cathedral, and the Jewish Quarter.

As the evening began to cool down yesterday [5 June 2019], I joined a guided walking tour of the ‘Patios of Córdoba’ in courtyards in the traditional neighbourhood of San Basilio.

These patios and courtyards offer shade from the hot sun of Andalucía, and some have features dating back to Roman times.

We heard about the tradition of decorating the patios with an abundance of flowers, mosaics and other garden features. We were just a few weeks too late for annual mid-May contest known as the ‘Battle of the Flowers,’ when the private courtyards are opened to the public as part of the spring celebrations.

Every spring, Córdoba bursts into bloom with special festivities for the month of May. Starting with a parade known as the ‘Battle of the Flowers,’ the city officially launches its spring celebrations with the May Crosses festival, usually in the first week of May, followed by the Patio Contests that can easily continue well past the middle of the month.

This annual patio contest, which is over a century old, is sponsored by Córdoba City Hall and dates back to 1918.

Some of the patios include features that date back to Roman times in Córdoba (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Because of the hot, dry climate, homes in Córdoba were built with a central patio, even back in the days of the Romans. This tradition continued with the Moors and persists in many homes to this day.

Filling the central patio with plants and water features is a way to keep these homes cool. But, thanks to human creativity and ingenuity, patio decoration ended up taking on a life all of its own. At some point, someone realised that these hidden treasures were too good to be kept hidden behind heavy doors and iron grates. So, the doors open once a year, and everyone is invited in to see the wonders of the patios of Córdoba.

These patios not only offer a visual feast of colourful flowers, stone mosaics and ceramic decorations, but they also offer experiences of the classic scents of Córdoba: jasmine and orange blossom, mixed with a myriad of scents from the flowers and plants that bring the city alive.

A range of patios is open to public viewing each year. The patios include private, single-family homes opening their doors to show the courtyards around which their old-style homes centre. There are larger, low-built, apartment-style buildings that have courtyards where often many gardeners work together throughout the year to cultivate their shared meeting areas.

Even the Viana Palace, a 14th century palace, offers an opportunity to see 12 different patios. Convents, religious buildings and university faculties join in the late spring celebration, and with the best names in flamenco adding sound to the sights, smells, textures and tastes, Córdoba becomes a feast for all five senses in the month of May.

Fifty or so patios that are part of the competition are open to the public. These patios are normally open from 11 am to 2 pm and from 6 pm to 10 pm most days at this time of the year, and some stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays.

An invitation to visit a patio in Córdoba is often an invitation into a family home (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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