The gardens at the Alcazar of Córdoba may be smaller than those of rival palaces in Seville and Granada, but they are still impressive. Even in the rain.

We had walked through Córdoba’s UNESCO listed historic centre, from the magnificent La Mezquita to the little winding streets where Spanish culture vies with Moorish influences to create an eclectic mix of tapas bars, Moroccan tea houses and bazaar-style souvenir shops. Now it had begun to rain in earnest and we sought shelter at the Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos (literally the Fortress of the Christian Monarchs).

Alcazar of Córdoba
The towers of the Alcazar of Córdoba

The Long and Bloody History of Córdoba’s Alcazar

The Christian monarchs in question were Ferdinand and Isabella, who united the Spanish provinces of Aragon and Castile in 1469. They were also, incidentally, the first parents-in-law of England’s King Henry VIII.

The fortress was built by the Moors in the 14th century, taking in the ruins of earlier Roman and Visigoth structures. Ferdinand and Isabella took it over a hundred years later, for use as the headquarters of the infamous Spanish Inquisition. Walking along the rooftop battlements, I reflected with a shudder that the thick stone walls of the end tower must have been ideal for muffling the screams of suspected heretics.

Gardens of the Alcazar of Córdoba
The formal gardens of the Alcazar of Córdoba

The Alcazar was later used as a prison, but it now serves as a centre for Córdoba’s municipal government. Some of the building is off limits to tourists but there is still plenty for visitors to see, including the towers and battlements, the old Moorish baths and some Roman mosaics.

Gardens of the Alcazar of Córdoba

The battlements offer a view over the courtyards and the gardens that are the real attraction for visitors to the Alcazar. Long ponds are flanked by carefully manicured cypresses, and on either side of the water are formal gardens with geometric borders, fountains and fruit trees.

Orange trees at the Alcazar, Córdoba
The gardens are full of orange trees

The rain had eased off by now, and we wandered into the grounds, enjoying the flamenco music that followed us through the first courtyard. We walked by groves of orange and lemon trees, their branches groaning with the weight of ripe fruit, and past gardeners who were picking up bucket loads of oranges and loading them into a wagon.

A Peaceful Walk

We stopped to listen to the tinkling of the fountains. It was quiet and peaceful: visiting during a wet lunchtime meant we had the place almost to ourselves. We ambled slowly alongside the water, pausing now and then to look at a tiled pond or a group of bushes sculpted into leafy jugs.

Fountains at the Alcazar of Córdoba
One of many fountains in the gardens of the Alcazar

Eventually we came to a great plinth, where statues of Ferdinand and Isabella gazed majestically down the Avenue of the Monarchs towards the fortress where the Inquisition plied its ignoble trade. Looking now at the orderly and peaceful gardens, with their fountains and treeloads of oranges, I found it hard to imagine that this place could ever have been home to such savagery.

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