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The origins of Cordoba are lost in the mists of time. Its position by the river and the fertile farming land of the Campiña made it a perfect place for the first prehistoric settlements. However, it was not until the late Bronze Age (8th/9th century B.C.)when the first proper settlement was established. After the arrival of the Phoenicians and Greeks on the peninsula, the city became known as an important mining and commercial centre, since the River Guadalquivir was then navigable as far as Cordoba. This facilitated the spread of artistic and commercial products and made for easier communication with the main cities of the period.

Roman Cordoba

The conquest of Cordoba by the Romans in the 2nd century B.C. ushered in what would prove to be, together with the period of Moslem rule known as the Caliphate, the most splendid period of Cordoban history. Half way through the 2nd century B.C., a general called Claudius Marcellus founded the city of Corduba as the capital of the Roman province Hispania Ulterior. The Republican period was one of prosperity, set back only by the turmoil after the battle of Munda when Caesar's victorious troops took back the city from the followers of Pompey. After the rather chaotic first few years of the imperial system, Augustus Caesar assigned lands to his best veteran troops and gave the city back its status, under the name Colonia Patricia (Patrician Colony). Cordoba then thrived under Roman rule, and a great number of monumental buildings as well as public works were built; the city must have seen great commercial and cultural activity too, as evidenced by the two forums, one colonial and one provincial, which existed here. Great public buildings were raised, like the recently-discovered amphitheatre, as well as huge temples, like the one situated in calle Claudio Marcelo, and the streets were lined with elegant sculptures. After Hispalis became the provincial capital and as the final dismemberment of the empire drew closer, Cordoba sank into cultural and economic stagnation, which lasted through the whole period of the Visigoth occupation.

Muslim Cordoba

However, in the 8th century, something happened in Cordoba which was to radically change the course of history in the western world. A contingent of Arabic troops landed on the Mediterranean coast, and easily took over the weakened Visigoth kingdom. Cordoba was captured by Mugit, a deputy of Tariq, and Moslems settled in Cordoba side by side with their Christian counterparts. They lived in harmony, as is proved by the fact that the Moslems actually paid the Visigoths for the rights to move the musalla (the primitive prayer area outside the city walls) to the Visigoth basilica of San Vicente, thus forming the beginnings of the Great Mosque which still survives to this day. The first rulers of the Islamic Qurtuba made it the administrative centre of their recently conquered lands. However, the fiercely tribal nature of the Arab and Berber peoples soon produced disputes between the rival factions struggling for power.

The arrival of the Omeyan Abd al-Rahman I, known as "the Fugitive" or "the Dispossessed", united all the disaffected groups around the figure of the future Emir. In the year 756 these factions took over Cordoba and proclaimed it capital of the independent Emirate of Al-Andalus.Abd al-Rahman I carried out the first major enlargement of the Great Mosque of Cordoba and rebuilt the city walls and the Alcazar (castle). Hisham I, his son, finished off his father's work in the Great Mosque and built the first minaret, which has not survived. When Abd al-Rahman II came to power, the mosque was enlarged further and a lot of new building went on all over the city. However, it was in the rule of Abd al-Rahman III when Cordoba really came into the limelight. In the year 929 Cordoba was proclaimed Capital of the independent Caliphate thus creating a schism with Damascus, and converting Cordoba into the religious, political and administrative centre of the entire Islamic kingdom in the west. One of the Caliph's first acts was to build the dazzling, but short-lived, royal residence of Medina Azahara outside the city walls, an endless source of legends due partly to the extravagantly expensive building materials used. The rule of Alhaken II, son of Abd al-Rahman III, heralded an era of stable government and the period of greatest cultural splendour in Cordoba. The Great Mosque was extended again, this time in the same majestic style as Medina Azahara. His successor, Hixam II, was only a puppet ruler, and left the task of government to his vizier Almanzor, who was responsible for the third and last major enlargement of the mosque. The joint rule of Almanzor and Hixam weakened the kingdom, and the end was not far in sight. The Caliphate finally collapsed in 1013, and the city became one of the interim Taifa kingdoms.

Christian Cordoba

In June 1236, the troops of Fernando III "the Saint" arrived at the city gates. It did not take long to overcome the defenders and the Christian army entered the city on 26th June. Cordoba was then resettled with Christians, mainly in the former Moslem quarters, especially the area of the Axerquia. Fernando III had 14 new churches built, seven in the Medina (town centre, now called the Villa) and seven in the Axerquia, all of which were known as Fernandine Churches in the king's honour.
The 14th century brought hard times for the population of Cordoba. Between 1366 and 1369 the civil war took place between the followers of Pedro I "the Cruel" and those of his bastard brother Enrique de Trastamara. In 1349, the Black Death hit Cordoba hard and returned fifteen years later. The massive death rate, as well as chronic shortages of food and money, plunged the city into a severe economic and social crisis.
A century later, after the Christian Monarchs mustered their troops in Cordoba before making the final move against the kingdom of Granada, there was at least a small ray of hope that the city would get back on its feet. Christopher Columbus was received by the monarchs here and he showed them his plan to travel to "the Indies". However, after capturing Granada, the last Moslem stronghold in Spain, Isabel and Fernando ordered the expulsion of the Jewish population from all the Christian territories, which put the final nail in the coffin of the troubled Cordoban economy.