The city of Cordoba in Southern Spain is less well-known than its Andalusian neighbors of Seville and Granada, but worth a visit for many different reasons. The food is amazing, and the Great Mosque there (a UNESCO world heritage site) is one of the unique artistic achievements of the Islamic period of Spain. In addition, the Jewish Quarter in Cordoba is one of the best preserved in all of Spain.

Another one of the charms of this beautiful small city are the lovely patio gardens that have been part of the domestic architecture in Cordoba for hundreds of years. Every May many of them open to the public – and it is worth planning a trip around that annual celebration.

Here is a guide to enjoying Cordoba’s Patio Gardens:

Andalusia is considerably closer to Morocco than Madrid, so this part of Spain is known for its hot and dry weather. Because of this, locals have long had to figure out ways to keep themselves and their homes cool even in the hottest summer months, when temperature in the city can get as high as 100 degrees fahrenheit. One way that the people of Cordoba found to stay cool has been the incorporation of patios into their homes. These outdoor spaces offer privacy while also providing a cool place that is shaded from the worst heat of the day.

Residents of Cordoba have been incorporating patios into their homes since Roman times, and in many ways these outdoor spaces have come to act as their “living rooms” during the hottest months of the year. To make these spaces more comfortable and inviting, features including fountains and gardens are added, and over the years neighbors became competitive in terms of who could create the most stunning patio. Incredible water features, walls covered in flower pots, and bright color everywhere you turn became the norm.

In 1918, Cordoba’s town hall decided to transform the friendly patio rivalries across the city into a real competition. Almost every May since then various private patios across Cordoba open their doors to the public. This event includes about 50 patios in both single family homes and apartment complexes, where the residents put in painstaking effort all year long to make them as beautiful as possible.

The event is free (although some owners ask for a small donation) and self-guided – to visit the homes you must download a map which tells you where all of the competitors are. As an event that lasts a few weeks, you can visit the patios at your own pace, stopping in whenever you are near one and have some free time. Capacity in the patios is limited, so you may have to wait in line, however people tend to move through quickly. Even a long wait is worth seeing these lived-in works of art though, where you can often expect to find the homeowner proudly showing off their work and ready to answer your questions.

While you are in Cordoba you should also visit the patios at the Palacio de Viana. This series of twelve patios surround a palace and have been cultivated over centuries. As professionally curated, non-residential patios, the outdoor spaces at Viana are not allowed to enter the competition, but are still definitely worth experiencing as they are some of the most stunning examples of the city’s patio art.

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Kira GartnerKira Gartner is the owner of Blue Sky Destinations, a boutique travel agency specializing in river cruises, luxury expedition cruises and customized European vacations. For years she has helped curious travelers plan vacations that allow them to unwind, reconnect, and immerse themselves fully in a destination. Reach out to her for a free consultation - and let her start designing your dream vacation!