“ Palace and gardens located in Cordoba, Spain „
As much as it's something of a little sister to the city's tourist whirlpool, these regal remains should be an essential part of a visit to Cordoba, a city positively bursting with beguiling architecture and the fruits of a collision between three religions. Christianity, Islam and Judaism have each left their mark on the city (which is bidding to become European capital of culture in 2016), and this is a contribution from the former. The Alcazar de los Reyes Cristianos - or Palace of the Christian Monarchs - stands on the banks of Cordoba's Guadalquivir river, an optimistic stone's throw away from the city's celebrated Mezquita. One of the principal homes of the eponymous Christian monarchs, Isabella and Fernando, who oversaw the reconquest of Spain from the Moors and set Christopher Columbus sailing off westwards in search of new land, it's now one of the city's most-visited landmarks, with its imposing towers and lush, rich gardens.
Little more than two hundred metres to the west of the Mezquita, a shady courtyard conceals the entrance to the Alcazar (Euro4 entry, 10:00 to 18:30 with a siesta in the middle of the day). The interior of the Alcazaba (castle) is open to visitors on its north side, with one of the towers climbable here - the Torre de los Leones affords impressive views across the city and river. The rest of the structure is in a slightly jaded state of repair, although the courtyards you look out over from the castle's windows have an appeal of their own, even lacking the renovation and care the rest of the place has seen.
Ascending the towers can be a bit of a pain - the stairwells are narrow and frequently very crowded. If you're visiting at a busy time - which is pretty much all the time from Easter to October, you'll end up waiting a while to get up onto the ramparts, while making it up the unlit spiral staircase is a bit of chore, though it's nothing a little patience won't see to. It feels like there should be a lot more to explore of the main castle complex, but the extent which is open and navigable is a bit limited.
It's the gardens, however, that are the principal attraction of the Alcazar - an extensive network of plants and trees falling away from the raised castle complex, heaving with fruit and flowers in season. A series of fountains and pools reflect the rows of carefully-planted trees, and the whole thing boasts an impressive, almost architectural symmetry. At the far end of the gardens, the former inhabitants of the site are depicted in statue conversing with Columbus prior to his eventual discovery of the Americas.
In truth, the Alcazar isn't quite the stunning piece of design and architecture that its counterpart in Seville is, for instance. Even in Cordoba, you'll see far more beguiling and impressive man-made creations, and if the castle isn't quite literally in the shade of the Mezquita (although it's not far off), the grandeur of the city's most famous building makes the Alcazar seem slightly tame by comparison. Still, while the castle itself isn't all that you might see elsewhere, it has plenty of interest - and the gardens justify the visit without question; a wonderfully tranquil, verdant space in the midst of a busy, sweaty city. For four Euros (half the price of the Mezquita), you can't really go wrong, and this deserves to be part of any visit to Cordoba.