Summer can be sweltering in the Andalusian city of Cordoba. Even in spring and fall, there are days in which temperatures reach 30C (85F). It was initially the Romans who started to build courtyards. They made fountains in the middle of the courtyards. The water brought freshness to the house, and the water dripping contributed to a feeling of relaxation.
The Romans also started to build wells. When it rained, the wells were filled with water that could be used later. Since the courtyards were protected to the sun, evaporation was prevented. The Moslems introduced the use of plants and flowers, which improved the overall feeling of freshness inside the houses.
The patios of Cordoba are today a Unesco protected attraction. Some of them are opened and you will be able to enjoy them if you get to walk next to them. Other patios can be visited as part of a guided tour and many others, private patios mainly, are shown to visitors only during the patios de Cordoba festival.
The festival of the patios de Cordoba takes place in May. It lasts a bit less than 2 weeks. The festival started as a public competition in 1921. That year, for the first time, the local authorities in Cordoba (the Town-hall) organized a competition. The owners of houses with patios were asked to decorate their patios for this special occasion. Prizes were put in place, besides, of course, the already distinguished honor of winning this prestigious award.
Today this festival is a major tourist attraction in Cordoba and people from Cordoba get ready for it not only decorating their patios, but also with the celebration of music and dance festivals inside the patios. Local wines are an important part of the festival too.
There is not a single type of Patio. Their size, for instance, varies from the huge Patio of the Mosque, to very small patios inside humble private houses.
As we have already mentioned, the idea of the patio originates in Cordoba from the Roman domus. The domus was however very large in size, and in areas in which the population concentrated in small extensions of land, they had to be redefined. Under these circumstances, many patios were made from the addition of several block of houses, each containing more than one apartment. The patio, in these cases, was a shared space. In the ruins of Medina Zahara (the impressive Alhambra style fortress and ruins located near Cordoba) there is a very good example of how these initial Muslim patios were (el Patio de Pilates and the Casa de la Alberca).
If we were to establish a way to classify the patios this could be the following one: Patios: popular patios, religious and monuments.
There are patios in many areas of Cordoba and even modern buildings include them today. But the patios that constitute a Unesco heritage monument are located between the Alcazar and the Parish of San Basilio (this area is known as the Alcazar Viejo district). But there are other areas of Cordoba that are also well-known for the presence of beautiful patios: the San Marina district (around the churches of San Lorenzo and La Magdalena), or in the old jewish quarter, close to the mosque.
During the weeks in the month of May when the contest takes place it is possible to visit the different patios freely. There is no entrance fee but it is essential to bear in mind that many of these patios are private houses. The owners open the patios to visitors, and in return they expect silence and respect. Some 50 patios participate every year in the contest, and there are several awards given (up to 20) The town-hall understand that this festival requires private effort and it is an important festival for the city of Cordoba. This explains why the amount of prizes is high.
Things to bear in mind to visit the Patios de Cordoba
It is essential to differentiate between the weeks of May (the time of this Spanish Festival) in which the contest takes place and the rest of the year.
It is essential to differentiate between the weeks of May in which the contest takes place and the rest of the year. But there is no need to worry. If you are planning your trip to Cordoba in any other month you will also be able to enjoy the Patios.