If you are looking for unique things to do in Cordoba and you like history, this Indiana Jones-style subterranean Cordoba tour should be right up your alley!
The old city of Cordoba in southern Spain is well-known for its Moorish architecture, particularly the enormous and exquisite Mezquita – an 8th-century mosque with a medieval cathedral built into the center of it. But beyond Cordoba’s Moorish facade lies the splendor of its Roman past.
Centuries before Cordoba became the power seat of the Islamic kingdom al-Andalus, it was the capital of the prosperous Roman Province – Hispania Baetica that supplied much of the Roman Empire with olive oil.
As I was looking for unusual things to do in Cordoba, I came across an intriguing offering – a subterranean Cordoba tour, which turned out to be a journey below the streets of Cordoba in search of the relics of the city’s Roman past.
So, if you want to channel your inner Indiana Jones in southern Spain, this is it!
A VERY BRIEF ROMAN HISTORY OF CORDOBA
The history of Roman Cordoba begins at the end of the 3rd century BC, although the city was formally founded in 169 BC by the Roman General – Marcus Claudius Marcellus. Sadly, not much is left of Cordoba City from the republican times.
Partly because Julius Caesar destroyed much of it in the siege of Cordoba in 45 BC during the Civil War that marked the end of the Roman Republic and the birth of the Roman Empire. Twenty years later, Cordoba became the capital of the Roman Province – Hispania Baetica and grew into a prosperous city built in the image of Rome itself.
BEST ROMAN-THEMED HOTEL IN CORDOBA
In order to truly get into the Roman spirit, I suggest staying at Hospes Palacio del Bailio hotel. This exquisitely
luxurious hotel is located in a restored Renaissance mansion that was built on the foundations of a Roman villa. It embodies the essence of Cordoba – layers upon layers of history.
The property has been carefully restored to preserve its Roman heritage. A particularly nice touch is the glass floor in the hotel’s restaurant, allowing you to peek at the well-preserved foundation of the Roman patio below. To see the incredible site up close, simply ask the staff at reception for a tour.
And to feel like a centurion, visit the Roman baths at the hotel’s Bodyna Spa. The baths are smaller than those in Hamman Al-Andalus, but you’ll love having the pools all to yourself.
Now, let’s dive into the subterranean Cordoba tour!
Unique Things To Do In Cordoba: Subterranean Cordoba Tour
I met Miguel from Cordoba Incoming Tours at the Cordoba Bus Station building, and we found the first Roman relic right here, in the underground parking lot. Of all the Roman engineering achievements, their aqueducts are the most recognizable structures. Cordoba had three different aqueducts that supplied the city with fresh water from the surrounding mountains.
The remnants of one of them – Aqua Fontis Aureae, lie underneath the bus station. Today, it’s no more than a crumbling rocky channel, but 2,000 years ago, it was an engendering marvel that brought water to the golden fountains on the city streets.
Nearby, at Cordoba Train Station, there is an archaeological site of Cercadilla where the remnants of the enormous Imperial Palace of Maximiano Herculeo have been uncovered.
Here, Miguel lamented the local government’s short-sightedness in destroying most of the site during the construction of Cordoba’s new train station to accommodate the high-speed trains.
With a bit of imagination, you can see how a plethora of buildings, including the imperial residence, baths, reception halls, and military barracks, used to radiate in a semicircle from the central structure that was preceded by two large plazas.
The palace complex was so huge that parts are still excavated on Calle Antonio Gaudi, about half a kilometer away.
Roman Temple And Necropolis
From Maximiano Palace, our subterranean Cordoba tour proceeded above ground as we made our way to the commercial neighborhood of Cordoba, tracing the boundaries of the Roman city.
The city’s defense wall is long gone, but a small section of Via Augusta – the main road connecting Cordoba with Rome – remains between two large mausoleums just outside the old city.
On the other side of the city, the enormous Roman Temple jutted out into the olive-growing countryside from the city wall. The temple is thought to have been dedicated to the imperial cult, which was a form of state religion that identified emperors with the divinely sanctioned authority of the Roman state.
Hidden Underground Sites
Back in the center of the old city, Miguel led me into an upmarket retail store, where he had a quick chat with the security guard. The guard appeared a little surprised but nodded to Miguel, and we ducked behind his post and walked down the stairs into the basement.
The space below the shop was the site of Roman public baths. It’s centered around an open-air swimming pool with a few remaining stones forming the grandstand next to the pool.
Bathing was a common daily activity in the Roman Empire. While some wealthy families could afford private baths in their residences (like those at the Roman Villa underneath the Palacio del Bailio hotel), most Romans bathed in the communal baths. It was a social activity like swimming at the communal pools today.
With the walls and support columns painted dark red, the site below the fashion store has an atmospheric air of authenticity to it. An information board gives some details about the original structure, just like you’d find in a museum. Yet this site is off-limits to the general public.
From the baths, we headed to the building of the Cordoba Bar Association. Here, Miguel had another conversation with another surprised security guard before we could enter.
Walking past fine-dressed lawyers conversing with their clients in the foyer, we made our way down the stairs and found ourselves at another archaeological site where the remnants of Adietum Forum, one of Cordoba’s two forums built in the 1st century AD, were discovered.
Lying in the center of Roman Cordoba, Adietum Forum was the center of the province’s political, religious, and commercial life. Among other buildings, it housed a great temple, and you can see a fragment of an enormous marble column preserved in the basement.
Just outside the Cordoba Bar Association, on Calle Cruz Conde, Miguel pointed out a scattering of golden lines on the pavement. Unnoticed by most pedestrians, these lines mark the second forum’s location, the course of the old city wall (Huella de La Murala), and a couple of ancient Roman streets.
The next Roman relic Miguel took me to was located in a public car park, which meant that it was freely accessible, although not any more obvious from the street than the baths and the forum. In Roman times, this area was the commercial center of Cordoba, located next to one of the main gates into the city. The structure that now lies inside the car park was an Olive Mill.
It is a good-looking site with some remaining mosaics on the floor and colorful patterns on the remnants of the walls. There were also various tanks and channels, pieces of the press used to extract the oil, and numerous fragments of amphorae found at the site.
Olive oil production was the main commercial activity in Roman Cordoba, and much of the city’s wealth came from exporting oil all over the Roman Empire.
Roman Theater In The Archaeological Museum
Before finishing the tour, we quickly visited the Cordoba Archaeological Museum to see the ruins of the Roman Theatre. You might think that the remnants of the theater were brought to the museum. But in true Cordoba style, the theater was discovered during the construction of the second wing of the museum.
Archaeologists and historians have been puzzling over the specific location of the Roman Theater of Cordoba for decades and then discovered it at the construction site for the extension of the archaeological museum. This fact alone makes the theater an interesting site.
Roman Relics In Mezquita
From the museum, it’s a short walk to the Mezquita, where you can see the floor mosaics of a Visigoth Christian temple on whose foundation the great mosque was built. But what I didn’t notice on my earlier visit and what Miguel pointed out to me now was the Roman mile marker.
The ancient pillar that served as a road sign stands unassumingly next to a wall in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees. It originally stood alongside Via Augusta on the approach to the nearby town of Linares. But you wouldn’t know what it is unless you can read the Latin inscription on the pillar.
Miguel’s Subterranean Cordoba Tour revealed a completely different face of Cordoba to me. A city beneath a city. A layer of history and culture that dates back two thousand years. A distant memory of one of the greatest civilizations in human history.
WHEN IN ROME, DO LIKE THE ROMANS
After saying my farewells to Miguel, I wandered toward Cordoba’s most impressive Roman monument – the 2,000-year-old Roman bridge. The bridge has been the only way into Cordoba across the Guadalquivir River for most of these two thousand years.
Of course, it has been restored by many of the past rulers of Cordoba, and only a couple of its buttresses are of original Roman construction, but it’s a magnificent sight, nonetheless.
I crossed the bridge and looked at the city from the opposite bank of the river. I imagined a walled city surrounded by olive plantations and wealthy provincial villas.
As I strolled back to my hotel, I was walking through a Roman city, past the theater and the forums, the baths, and the temple, through a bustling commercial center with its olive mills and water channels.
After all this walking, a relaxing soak in the private heated pools of Palacio del Bailio’s Roman baths felt like a very Roman thing to do.
About The Author Of “Unique Things To Do In Cordoba: Subterranean Cordoba Tour”
Margarita is a travel blogger and a freelance travel writer. She travels in search of wildlife encounters and rich cultural and historical experiences. Her journey to Spain combined both passions – watching the Iberian lynx in Andalusia and uncovering the extraordinary history of some of Spain’s cities. You can read all about her adventures on her blog, The Wildlife Diaries.
I hope you enjoyed reading about Margarita’s adventure of discovering Cordoba’s Roman past. I think it’s a very cool idea for those who like original experiences and want to get to know the city in a different way.
Just before you go, you may also want to check out these top 5 unique things to do in Paris.
Thanks for stopping by!
If you enjoyed this post featuring the subterranean Cordoba tour as one of the most unique things to do in Cordoba, please pin it on Pinterest to help it reach more readers!