Cordoba Travel Guide

Javier Cabral

Cordoba, Argentina's second biggest city (population 1.3 million), is steeped in history, and it boasts an impressive set of colonial buildings, not least its opulent cathedral and the adjacent Cabildo (Hispanic administrative HQ). Bang in the middle of the country, in the foothills of the craggy Sierras Chicas, the tallest mountain range in Argentina away from the Andes, it nestles in a lush valley formed by the Suquia River, about 700 km (435 miles) northwest of Buenos Aires. The capital of Cordoba Province, one of the nation's biggest and most fertile, it has a long and proud history, inextricably linked to the country's colonial past, owing to its strategic location on the Royal Route that led from the imperial Hispanic hub of modern-day Peru to the coast at Buenos Aires. In recent times its fortunes have been mixed, especially since the 2001 financial crisis which wreaked havoc on the city's venerable industrial base (focused on automobile and aircraft construction). The immediate impression of the city centre can be one of a rough edged metropolis, with a decidedly seedy atmosphere in parts, but as a visitor this need not bother you too much. The last couple of years have seen something of a revival, apparent in the fine restoration of many buildings, dating from Spanish colonial times but also from the heyday of the early 19th century. Founded on July 6, 1573 by Jeronimo Luis de Cabrera, who named it after his home city of Cordoba in Spain, the city soon boomed as a center of learning, dominated by the Jesuits. Nicknamed La Docta, the Learned (Argentines love giving everyone and everything a moniker) it quickly saw the creation of the Americas' second university, after Lima, Peru. The Universidad Nacional de Cordoba (UNC) is the country's second in terms of student numbers but, like Britain's Oxbridge or Princeton in the US, it has a towering reputation that outweighs sheer figures. The UNC undeniably remains one of the most prestigious in the land, with a strong tradition of studying law, medicine, theology and the arts – and the noticeable student presence lends the city a youthful vibrant air that offsets the lingering economic depression. Myriad bars, a lively nightlife and countless street fairs selling arts and crafts are just three manifestations of this young thrusting subculture. As for the Jesuit legacy (they were kicked out of the country by the Spanish crown in the late 18th century but once again play a leading role in the country's academic life), this is at its most flagrant in the central Manzana Jesuitica, or block of Jesuit buildings, dominated by a fine church whose interior includes a fabulous vaulted roof crafted by a shipbuilder (it looks like an upturned boat hull). This and the other colonial buildings in Cordoba were awarded the status of World Heritage by UNESCO in 2000, something locals and the authorities are rightly proud of. The cathedral, sumptuously restored only recently, has an extremely rich interior, where Italianate frescoes and exquisite stained glass set off the top class altarpiece, a master work of silver from colonial Peru. There are several really interesting museums in the city, with a strong emphasis on art. The Museo Historico Marques de Sobremonte, named for the late 18th century governor (he lived in the building), contains a fine collection of colonial paintings of the Cusco school, where art flourished under Hispanic rule in what is now Peru. In the Museo de Bellas Artes Dr Genaro Perez, you can admire paintings from the two major local artistic movements, prevalent in the 1880s and 1920s. And in the remarkably well restored Art Nouveau palace that is the Palacio Ferreyra – typical of the French-style mansions built in the early 20th century – is another outstanding set of artwork, mostly by local painters and sculptors, forming the collection of the new Museo Evita, named for President Peron's saint-like second wife, Eva Duarte de Peron.

Where to Go in Cordoba

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