This Little-Known City Now Has the Most UNESCO World Heritage Sites

Dec 20, 2018

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A city in Spain often overlooked by tourists now has more UNESCO World Heritage sites than any other.

Cordoba, a city in Andalusia about a two-hour train ride from Madrid, became the first city in the world to have four world heritage sites this year. According to CNN, that’s even more than other historic destinations such as Paris and Rome.

The UNESCO sites are determined by the World Heritage Committee, a rotating panel of government representatives from 21 countries among the numerous member nations around the world. To qualify, the sites must be “of universal outstanding value” and meet at least one of the committee’s 10 criteria (think: “represent a masterpiece of human creative genius.”)

Planning a trip to Spain? Here are the four sites you see with a single visit to Cordoba:

The Mosque-Cathedral 

Cordoba’s first registered UNESCO site in 1984, this ornate building was built between 784 and 786 CE as a mosque and was converted to a cathedral when Christians conquered the city in the 13th century.

Image by Mezquita-Cathedral de Cordoba.

The Historic City Center

The center of Cordoba is a winding labyrinth of narrow streets with monuments that can be traced back to Roman, Arabic and Christian rulers of the city. The area is bordered by the Mosque-Cathedral and the medieval Alcazar that was first used as a Visigoth fortress, housed Cordoba’s early Arabic rulers and later served as a primary residence for Spanish kings and queens. The city center was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1994.

View of Alcázar of Córdoba Spain from the garden.

The Patios Festival

The city’s Patios Festival tradition began in 1918, and it involves local residents opening up their ornate patios to tourists and neighbors each spring to show off their elaborate plants for a competition. In 2019, the festival will take place from May 6 to May 19. As a culturally significant custom, it was recognized by the World Heritage Committee in 2012.

The Patios Festival is celebrated during the second and third week of May. Many houses of the historic centre open their private patios to the public and compete in a contest. Both the architectonic value and the floral decorations are taken into consideration to choose the winners. Cordoba, Andalusia, Spain

Medina Azahara 

Cordoba’s most recent UNESCO site is the ancient city of Medina Azahara, which was built on the outskirts of Cordoba by ancient Muslim rulers between 936 and 976. According to its website, Medina Azahara was likely founded “to promote the new image of the recently-created independent western Caliphate as one of the strongest, most powerful kingdoms in Medieval Europe.” Though most of the city was destroyed in civil wars in the 11th century, ruins of the city still stand and display the craftsmanship and artistry of the people who constructed it.

Entrance of Yafar's house, in archeological set of Madinat al-Zahra, Cordoba, Spain

All images via Getty unless otherwise noted.

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