Things to Do in Andalucia
Originally the site of the Christian Visigoth Church San Vicente, Córdoba’s Mezquita -- or Grand Mosque -- stands as the city's most proud monument and one of the most exquisite Islamic structures in the western world.
Its initial origins date back to the year 600 and, following the Islamic conquest in the 8th century, the site of the Visigoth church was actually split between Christians and Muslims for a time. Ultimately, it was bought out by the governor of al-Andalus, with the construction of the Islamic mosque beginning in 785 by Muslim emir Abdurrahman I.
Since then, the structure has evolved right along with Spanish history. A minaret was added, and the building was enlarged, reaching its final size in 987. Then, when Kind Ferdinand conquered Córdoba during the Reconquista in 1236, the structure was consecrated as a Christian Cathedral.
While in Cadiz, a trip toward the sea can offer more than just pretty views. Indeed, if you go to the northwestern border of the island-like southern city, you’ll happen upon one of its favorite treasures, Park Genoves. Created in the 19th century, the seaside green getaway wasn’t always so green, though: it once went by the name of Parsley Promenade given its sparse vegetation. But these days the garden serves as a botanical wonderland filled with over 100 species of trees and shrubs.
Strolling down its paths lined by fancily manicured greenery, you can escape the city and catch glimpses of the sea. Children will appreciate the man-made lake, which features dinosaur statues poking out of its waters, and a waterfall, which can be climbed atop, or even explored below by walking through its grotto. Whether you wish to sip on a coffee at the garden’s café, or prefer to find a quiet bench to relax on in the shade, the park is an enjoyable Cadiz stop that is worth a wander.
Settled by the Phoenecians around the 7th century BC, later conquered by the Muslims and finally settling under Spanish rule, Ronda has had a long and varied history marked by war, trade, and geographic wonder. Today, most visit the small town of Ronda in order to enjoy is rustic charms, photograph the dramatic landscape and taste some of the local wineries of the region.
Described by many travelers as a bit “off the beaten path,” the somewhat circuitous road leading up to the town is marked by the beautiful Costa del Sol (Coast of the Sun) terrain. Mountainous and Mediterranean climate are good for wine, and some notable local wineries are located in this district and may be visited along the way.
If you’re in Malaga, chances are you’ve not missed the town’s citadel towering in the center of the city. Known as the Alcazaba de Malaga, and built around the middle of the 11th century to act as a palace to the region’s governors, today the Alcazaba receives visitors year-round and is noted for its impressive gardens and panoramic views of both the city and the sea.
La Alcazaba was built atop the vestiges of an old Roman fortress, and the proof of this is most evident in the Puerta de las Columnas gate (gate of the columns). Its name, in fact, refers and pays homage to the pre-existing roman structure used to help build the palace as it stands today. This gate and another lay before visitors on their way up to the structure which is actually two distinct architectural pieces: Alcazaba itself, and Gibralfaro Castle. Inside, you’ll see some of the noted gardens, fountains and towers in traditional Moorish design before entering the main lobby of the palace.
More Things to Do in Andalucia
It stands to good reason that there would be a museum of the great Picasso in Andalucia’s Malaga: this is where the painter, draughtsman, and sculptor was born, after all. Located only 200 yards from the Plaza de la Merced, Picasso’s actual birthplace, the Museo Picasso Malaga holds over 150 works of the famous Picasso on permanent display and presents new rotating exhibits year-round.
Picasso was revolutionary in his time for co-founding the Cubist movement and for the wide variety of artistic styles he helped explore. And while his most well-known works are typically referred to his period paintings, Picasso worked across a variety of mediums. Sketchbooks from his early years where he focused on realism, a variety of cubist ceramic pieces, and some intricate engravings are on permanent display at the Museo Picasso Malaga, and many of these pieces were personal gifts from his living descendants.
Sprinkled across the Spanish Peninsula, you'll come across Jewish Quarters known as juderías. In Córdoba, which was once considered the most populous city in the world, the Jewish community especially thrived, and now its ancient neighborhood of white buildings is considered one of the most famous juderías in Spain.
The Jewish community indeed played an important role culturally in the history of the Iberian Peninsula. During the Moorish Caliphate -- the period of Islamic rule over Spain which ended in 1031 -- the Jewish community flourished as Córdoba rose as a center for commerce, prosperity, education and religious tolerance.
The gorgeous old Moorish town of Ronda is high in the foothills of the Sierra de las Nieves and was occupied by the Phoenicians and Muslims before the Spanish re-conquered Andalusia in 1485. It teeters precariously atop the El Tajo Gorge, with jaw-dropping views across the rugged countryside, and is one of the few towns in the world to be split in two by a ravine.
The rocky, sheer-sided limestone cliffs of El Tajo Gorge plummet 390 ft (120 m) to Guadalevín River far below and at its narrowest it is only 225 ft (68 m) wide. Over the millennia the river has carved out this massive canyon as it is fed by snow melt in spring. Three bridges span the gorge and the biggest of these is the triple-arched Puente Nuevo, which was built in the late 18th century. It has become one of the most iconic images of Spain. Start an exploration of the gorge from the pathway that leads down behind the tourist office in Plaza España, just on the north side of the Puente Nuevo.
Málaga’s gleaming white-stone cathedral was built over many years on the former site of a mosque after Isabella and Ferdinand had expelled the Moors from Andalusia in the 1480s. All that is now left of the mosque is the pretty Patio de los Naranjos, still filled with sweet-smelling orange trees. The cathedral is affectionately known locally as La Manquita (the one-armed lady) as it only has one – granted very elaborate and Baroque – bell tower.
The original architect of the cathedral was Diego de Siloe and construction began in 1528; it continued slowly over the next two and a half centuries and this can clearly be seen in the mish-mash of Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque architecture on the façade. The architecture José Martín de Aldehuela, who built the Puente Nuevo in Ronda, also had a hand in finishing this cathedral.
Given that Cadiz is almost entirely surrounded by water, the desire to hit thebeach is bound to strike you at some point. When this happens, your go-to destination will be La Caleta, the only proper beach in old town. It’s an isolated shoreline that cozies up along the western side of the city, nestled inside a natural harbor once used by the Phoenicians, Carthaginians and Romans.
Though it’s Cadiz’s shortest sandy shore, it ticks all the beach boxes, offering soft golden sands and calm waters, as well as amenities including lifeguards and showers. Perhaps best of all is that the beach is western facing, which means it’s the perfect spot in town to catch a dreamy Spanish sunset. While there, spy some of La Caleta’s notable sights, including the impossible-to-miss crescent-shaped Balneario de Nuestra Señora de la Palma y del Real, a 1920s spa whose gazebo-tipped arms reach out across the shore.
To truly soak up the magic of Cadiz, plan to explore its oldest neighborhood, El Populo. The barrio dates back to the 13th century, and gets its name from an image of the virgin that once stood vigil above one of El Populo’s gates. It read “ora pro populo,” meaning “pray for the village.”
The grand Cadiz Cathedral, which rises high above the city skyline with its golden-hued dome, dominates El Populo. There are other sights to see here, too, such as City Hall, the almost-hidden Roman theater, and a handful of famous arches (or gates), one of which includes the aforementioned Arco del Populo. Perhaps one of El Populo’s most beloved sights, however, is simply its tiny tangle of streets that will have you happily lost, and certainly never far from the sea.
The Puente Nuevo (New Bridge) is a major feat of 18th-century engineering uniting Ronda’s old and new towns over El Tajo Gorge, the sheer limestone ravine that descends to the craggy bed of the Guadalevín River 390 ft (120 m) below. Spanish architect José Martín de Aldehuela designed the bridge and construction began in 1759 but it was 42 years in the making. During that time, more than 50 workers were killed falling into the gorge.
The best photo opportunity and viewpoint across the gorge is bang in the middle of the Puente Nuevo – just don’t step back into the traffic. The chamber built into the bridge’s central arch below the road was once used as a jail and political prisoners were reputedly thrown out of the windows to meet a gory death on the rocks below. Today is has a more pacific role as a small museum detailing the history and construction of the bridge.
Just because you’re in Spain doesn’t mean that your experience need be limited to all things Spanish: Oasys Mini Hollywood transports its visitors straight to the good old Wild West. Originally just a movie set – used for films such as The Good, the Bad and the Ugly — the cowboy-style town is now a theme park, complete with daily mock shoot-outs, a can-can performance at the saloon, and much more.Indeed, the park goes beyond just the Wild West fun, and also offers a proper zoo, which boasts more than 800 animals of 200 different species that range from lions to giraffes, tigers and iguanas. A trip to the zoo can also include a very kid-friendly parrot show as well. Meanwhile, if the Spanish temperatures at Oasys get too warm, take advantage of the park’s water zone and its two pools. Finally, if you get hungry, plan to fuel-up at the park’s well-priced buffet.
Whitewashed buildings, maze-like streets, and courtyards lined with orange trees: No place really defines Seville charm quite like the streets of the Santa Cruz district. As the city's former judería, or Jewish quarter, it is home to many of Seville's top sights, from the grand cathedral with its minaret-turned-tower (called the Giralda) to the Real Alcázar and its fountain-dotted gardens.
The neighborhood dates back to when Ferdinand III of Castile took Seville from Muslim rule, and the city's Jewish residents began to live in what is now El Barrio de Santa Cruz. After the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492, however, the district fell into disrepair, until it was finally revived in the 18th century.
Apart from appreciating the district's history and seeing the main sights, perhaps the best thing you can do during a visit to Santa Cruz is to simply get lost in the barrio's streets.
Sitting underneath the Alcazaba (fortified citadel), the Roman theater is Málaga’s oldest monument and was built during the reign of Emperor Augustus. It was at the cultural heart of the city for 300 years until the Moors began to plunder the stone to build the Alcazaba between the eighth and 11th centuries; Roman columns taken from the theater can clearly be seen in the Puerta de las Columnas (gate of the columns) at the entrance to the citadel. The theater was abandoned, buried and forgotten for centuries before finally being rediscovered in 1951 during a civic construction project.
After decades of restoration work, the theater stands proud once more; it measures 102 ft (31 m) across and 52 (16 m) in height; the stage, orchestra pit, entrance gateways and crescent-shaped, tiered auditorium – which seats 220 spectators – have all been carefully resurrected. It was re-opened in 2011 and entrance is through an Interpretation Center.
Just across the Isabel II Bridge, and squished between two parallel branches of the Guadalquivir River, you'll find Seville's Triana District. Originally founded as a Roman colony, this neighborhood -- like the rest of the city – has also been ruled by both Muslims and Christians. Over time it has served as a key strategic position as the last line of defense before invaders reached Seville's western walls. Traditionally, it has also been home to an eclectic mix of residents, from sailors and bullfighters to potters and flamenco dancers – all especially proud of their Triana heritage.
You can still see what endures of the barrio's eccentric personality in today's Triana. While visiting the neighborhood, keep an eye out for the few remaining (and culturally protected) corrales, which traditionally served as communal homes for the district's many Romani people.
Things to do near Andalucia
- Things to do in Malaga
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- Things to do in Seville
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- Things to do in Cádiz
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