Calling it "the gem of the world" the 9th century German nun, Hrosvitha, went on to describe Córdoba, Arab Spain's capital:
"In the western part of the globe, there shone forth a beautiful ornament - a city well cultured - rich and known by the famous name of Córdoba, illustrious because of its charms and renowned for all resources, especially abounding in the seven streams of knowledge, and ever famous for continual victories."
With these words Hrosvitha described Córdoba at the pinnacle of its grandeur when it was the capital of Moorish Spain and the cultural and intellectual heart of Europe. At that time, the city had a population of from 500,000 to 1,000,000 literate inhabitants. Miles of its avenues were paved and brightly lit. Sewers carried away the refuse and well-kept parks dotted the town.
Above all, the city was famous for its libraries - a number boasting some 400,000 volumes and more - thousands of ornamented villas and palaces, countless baths and intricate mosques. Amid this splendor, Muslims, Christians and Jews lived together in harmony and made the city Europe's greatest center of art, culture and learning.
Today the city's population is reduced to some 330,000, but it still retains traces of that fabulous age. In its clean narrow streets—seemingly always newly whitewashed houses, flower-filled courtyards, churches (many of which were once former mosques), its old Jewish Quarter (one of the best preserved in Europe) and a host of other Moorish remains, one can visualize what Córdoba was like in its Arab-Muslim heyday.
Overshadowing all these time-honored remains is the Mezquita-Catedral—once the city's Great Mosque. A masterpiece of Muslim art, the Mosque is said to have influenced the architecture of Europe's medieval Christian churches. Its forest of 800 columns, topped by ornate capitals, its striking double horseshoe arches in alternating hues, and its magnificent mihrab with its dazzling colors reflect the mosque's more than one thousand years of splendor.
Edging the Mezquita is the Judería, the old Jewish Quarter, so-called because it became a Jewish ghetto after the Christian conquest. In the Moorish age, the inhabitants were mostly Muslims with a sizeable percentage of Christians and Jews.