Roman Cordoba and Its Handsome Game of Thrones Bridge
Updated: Jan 13, 2020
The first thing you will see when approaching historic Cordoba Spain is its handsome Roman Bridge with 16 undulating arches. The stunning bridge, now traffic free, is part of Cordoba's UNESCO classification and a must see site in Cordoba. Set between the city's banks, it's an excellent place for a leisurely airy stroll. You can feel history beneath your feet.
History of Cordoba's Roman Bridge
The sandstone Roman Bridge spans the now mud-brown Guadalquivir River, which is 408 miles long. Guadaquivir comes from the Arabic word wadi al-kabir, meaning “great river." In Roman times, it was possible to sail from Cordoba to the river’s mouth near Cadiz on the Atlantic coast. Today, only part of the river near Seville is navigable.
The Roman Bridge was built in the 1st century B.C., and so is of Augustian vintage. It formed part of the ancient Via Augusta, which ran from Girona to Cadiz. It was important -- the only bridge that crossed the Guadalquivir River for 20 centuries.
Most of the current structures date from an 8th century Moorish reconstruction. It has 16 arches supported by robust spurs with irregular semi-cylindrical buttresses. It's built in Flemish bond.
During Cordoba’s zenith in the 10th and 11th centuries, the Roman Bridge was a major roadway and established Cordoba’s strategic importance in Andalusia. In 1140, Arab geographer Muhammad al-Idrisi said that the Roman Bridge "surpasses all other bridges in beauty and solidity."
The bridge also played a vital role in the city's battles against the armies of Seville's Peter the Cruel in the 1350s.
The scenic views from the bridge are spectacular. Whether you are facing north or south, there are great views of the mosque-cathedral Mezquita or the Calahorra Tower. In 2009, the bridge was happily converted into a pedestrian walkway.
Let's take a stroll.
Puerta del Puenta
At the north end of the bridge is the 16th century Renaissance Gate to the town center, Puerta del Punta. It looks a bit like a triumphal arch, or a Greek building with its four Doric columns. There's a 1 € fee to get to the top.
The gate has been extensively renovated, work starting and stopping over the years. I actually liked it best lit up at night.
The Calahorra Tower
At the southern end of the bridge, you find the Calahorra Tower. The tower is a fortified gate built in 1369 to guard the entrance to Córdoba. It was originally Moorish, but was adapted into a Christian stronghold in the 15th century.
The Calahorra Tower houses the Museo Vivo de Al-Andaluz ("Land of the West"). The museum is rather sloppily assembled. I would skip it in favor of time spent admiring the views. Climb the narrow staircase to the tower's summit for a nice view of the Roman Bridge and city on the other side of the Guadalquivir.
In the center of the bridge, there's a small 17th century shrine and sculpture of San Rafael. It was carved in 1651 by Bernabe Gomez del Rio. Devotees often burn candles in front of the statue. It was commissioned to show gratitude for the ending of the plague, which killed many Cordobans. Cordoba celebrates this day annually on October 24.
Other Roman Sites in Cordoba
Beneath the streets and floors of modern Cordoba lie the remains of one of the most prosperous and cultured cities in the Roman empire outside Italy.
Tucked away in a beautiful Andalusian square, and a bit hard to actually find, is Cordoba's Archaeological Museum. It's a hidden gem in Cordoba -- a compact museum with archeological remains and historic artifacts tracing the complex 3,000 year history of Córdoba. Everything is well-lit and displayed in both Spanish and English. The main attraction is the remains of a Roman Theater in its basement.
You can also visit Cordoba's Roman Temple, with its 11 picturesque, tall white columns, on Calle Claudio Marcelo. The temple sits on a hill above the historic center, on what would have been the eastern edge of Córdoba in Roman times. From there, it would have been visible for miles, a striking symbol of dominance and imperial power.
Construction began in the 1st century A.D. during the reign of Emperor Claudius and ended some forty years later, during the reign of Emperor Domitian. It was likely dedicated to the Imperial Cult, a cult of worship which divinizes emperors.
The marble temple was popularly known as the Temple of Claudio Marcelo. It has monumental Corinthian columns, topped with beautiful capitals. At night, the illuminated columns appear in warm colors.
It was a hexastyle temple, with 6 columns on the front facade and 10 columns on each side. Though only a few columns remain now, excavations revealed that the temple was 32 meters long and 16 wide, a remarkable size.
The temple was discovered in the 1950s during the expansion of the City Hall. It was not Cordoba's only Roman temple, but it is the only one discovered through archaeological excavation.
Game of Thrones in Cordoba
The Roman Bridge was featured in Season 5 of Game of Thrones, the hugely popular HBO TV series set in the medieval world of Westeros and Essos. Enhanced by CGI, the ancient Roman Bridge became the Long Bridge of Volantis, one of the nine free cities in Essos.
There's a stunning aerial shot of the Roman Bridge in Episode 3. Tyrion Lannister and Varys, the court "fixer" are journeying from Pentos to Meereen.
Tyrion has been hidden inside a box for days, to avoid detection after committing parricide. He is finally sprung free and the two men walk across the Long Bridge.
In George R.R. Martin's book the Dance of Dragons, the Long Bridge is referred to as one of the nine “Wonders Made by Man.” In the TV show, the bridge is made taller and crammed, via CGI, with ramshackle buildings. As Varys and Tyrion walk, they come upon houses, shops, a preaching priestess, and a brothel.
The acting was all shot in the studio and the actors did not visit the Roman Bridge. The production team used a drone, which captured aerial sequences as a base for computer graphics.
You can watch a clip from Game of Thrones Season 5, Episode 3, High Sparrow, here.
If you want to continue the Game of Thrones traveling theme, just 15 miles from Cordoba, you can find yourself in Highgarden. The beautiful and isolated Castillo de Almodovar del Rio doubles as the Highgarden, home to House Tyrell.
The imposing castle dates back to the 8th century. When the castle was originally built, it was called Al-Mudawvar, meaning "round" or "safe," which is the origin of the town's name, Almodovar. Peter the Cruel used the castle as a prison and treasury.
The castle is open to the public and you can explore its rugged walls, musty dungeons, and nine crenelated towers. Because it is a bit off the beaten track, it is delightfully free of the tourist hordes that clog most Game of Thrones sites.
The castle appeared in Season 7 of Game of Thrones and will return in Season 8. In Season 7, “The Queen’s Justice,” there's a dramatic scene where Jaime Lannister and the Tarlys march on Highgarden.
Practical Information for Roman Ruins in Cordoba & the Almodovar Castle:
Museo Vivo de Al-Andaluz
Address: Roman Bridge
Entry: 4,50 €, seniors and students 3 €
Hours: Oct 1 to April 30, 10:00 am to 6:00 pm, May 1- Sept 30, 10:00 am to 2:00 pm & 4:30 pm to 8:30 pm