Founded in 1573 by Jerónimo Luis de Cabrera, he named the city after his wife’s Spanish hometown. Location was key. As geographic center between the capital in Perú & the major Atlantic outlet of the Río de la Plata, Córdoba became an ideal crossroads… connecting men & ideas throughout the Viceroyalty. Remember that Buenos Aires would be founded for a second time seven years after Córdoba.
Although Franciscans established the first religious order in the new city, Jesuits arrived in 1599 & made Córdoba a center for learning as well as spiritual growth. In fact, the legacy left by the Jesuits & other Catholic groups defines the city’s architectural heritage. Surviving in 25 city blocks with the main square at its center, Córdoba’s early history is best expressed by its surviving religious structures.
Surprisingly enough, I found no guide that focused solely on this aspect of Córdoba… so here’s a suggested walking route. Although it may seem like I saw nothing other than religious buildings, just wait for next week’s post about 20th-century civil architecture! Note: The yellow asterisk on the map below marks the center of the city… addresses are numbered from 0 at that point.
Construction of a cathedral began in 1580, soon after the city’s foundation. With its original name intact —the Iglesia de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción— elements from many eras can be identified… a mish-mash resulting from centuries of collapses, reconstruction, changes in personnel/ideas & the occasional lack of funds. But those complicated origins make it even more appealing. Restored from 2007-10, the peach paint job should probably be a bit darker but at least it’s looking good as new.
What the cathedral lacks in height, it compensates with mass. Consecrated in 1706, the 1729 entrance designed by Andrés Blanqui bears a striking resemblance to the Cabildo in Buenos Aires… also designed by Blanqui four years earlier.
Two spectacular tombs can be found at the entrance: Dean Gregorio Funes (established many departments at the university & was the first Córdoba official to support the 1810 break from Spain) & General José María Paz (a Córdoba native who fought for independence plus in many early national conflicts). The latter is a nice work by sculptor José Fioravanti, & the tomb also contains the remains of Paz’s wife, Margarita Weild.
Interior decoration is superb… lots of Baroque, some of Art Nouveau, a bit of everything:
02. Museo de Arte Religioso Juan de Tejeda
/ Convento e Iglesia de Santa Teresa de Jesús
Originally a cloistered convent for Carmelites, the current building from the 1750s is also attributed to Andrés Blanqui. Religious artifacts are on display. Image above from the Comisión Nacional de Museos, Monumentos y de Lugares Históricos.
03. Iglesia del Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Jesús
Neoclassical beauty from 1814. But even better are the dome views of the Cathedral, original construction materials of the rear wall & a statue of the city’s founder.
04. Basílica de Santo Domingo
Replacing the original building from the 1600’s, this new construction was completed in 1861 with funds donated by General Justo José de Urquiza. Unfortunately the cloister failed to survive. Only an L-shape remains, these days taken over by commerce. Mosaic-covered domes complement the rich interior.
05. Convento de las Hermanas Terciarias Carmelitas de Santa Teresa de Jesús
Original location of the Colegio Real Convictorio de Monserrat (#09) from 1693 to 1780 until the local bishop needed the space for an orphanage. Interesting fact: the first printing press of the Viceroyalty was installed here in 1765. Restored in 1980, the beautiful cloisters are a great place to remember colonial Argentina. Photo from SkyscraperPage.
La Manzana Jesuítica – The Jesuits set up shop on this city block in 1599. As the historic site of the university, they are responsible for the city’s nickname of La Docta, or the learned one. #06 through #09 are located here & listed by UNESCO since 2000.
06. Capilla Doméstica
Private chapel for the Jesuits with an altar of cedar from Misiones. Closed during my visit, the door is impressive enough.
07. Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús
Built from 1644-74, exterior brickwork & stones house gorgeous interior volumes with fine Baroque decoration. Breathtaking.
08. Rectorado de la Universidad Nacional
From 1622, the Jesuits were authorized to bestow academic degrees… making this university the first in the nation & the second oldest in South America. The national government took control in 1854, & the patio statue of Fernando de Trejo y Sanabria is dedicated to the university’s founder. Find your way to the main library to see a brilliant mix of old & new learning.
09. Colegio Nacional de Monserrat
Originally a residence for university students, the school transferred from #05 to this location in the 18th century. The current look is a fascinating example of Neocolonial/Spanish Revival —with a clock tower reminiscent of California Mission— designed by architect Jaime Roca in 1927. Love the door, & wrought-iron work with tiles complete the look.
10. Iglesia de San Francisco
Actually the third Franciscan church in Córdoba, this building began construction in 1793. Often modified, the few surviving bits are only the refectory, a single cloister & the Salón De Profundis (a long, narrow meeting room, now with original construction materials visible).
11. Iglesia/Capilla de San Roque
Belonging to the Fundación San Roque —not to the Archbishopric of Córdoba— the church dates from the 1760s. Remember that San Roque healed plague victims, so the foundation also maintains the neighboring hospital. San Roque is the last of the churches in the city center to be restored… it will probably be closed for several years. Image above from the Comisión Nacional de Museos, Monumentos y de Lugares Históricos.
12. Iglesia del Pilar
Unknown architect for this rather dark & somber interior. Built from 1738-1872, the exterior is much more interesting. Don’t miss the door.
13. Beit Ha Knéset, synagogue
As with all synagogues in Argentina, photography is prohibited. Hide behind a pole like I did!
14. Basílica de Nuestra Señora de La Merced
Originally from 1826, remodeling later took place under architect Luis Bettolli. It has a similar mosaic dome as that of the Basílica de Santo Domingo (#04). Many chapels are decorated with green granite & solid white columns, giving the interior an interesting glow.
The central tabernacle, rarely found in Argentina, is of Italian influence & the semicircular choir sits hidden behind. In fact, the interior layout & decoration reminded me immediately of the cathedral in Buenos Aires. Lovely mosaics decorate the chapel of Santa Teresita del Niño Jesús, & exterior tile panels from the 1960’s & 1970’s depict the foundation of Córdoba. Easily my fave church in town.
15. “Oratorio” del Obispo Mercadillo
Entrance to a private residence occupied by Córdoba’s first bishop, Friar Manuel Mercadillo. Oddly surviving modern development, this mini-structure now houses a religious artifact museum.
16. Jesuit crypt
This site was closed to the public when I was in town but has since re-opened. The entrance is fairly prominent, & this used to be listed as a must-see for anyone visiting the city. I found some old photos, so at least you know what’s there. Pics by Anselmo Pérez from “Guía de Arquitectura de Córdoba” (1996).
A few religious buildings away from the city center are worth mentioning, starting with the giant Iglesia de María Auxiliadora & its exposed brick (Avenida Colón 1027):
The Iglesia del Buen Pastor which once was part of a women’s prison complex is now an upscale hangout with restos, art space & dancing fountains (Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen 325).
And finally the neighboring 1933 Iglesia de los Capuchinos (Obispo Oro & Buenos Aires) which may have never been completed (sure there’s the urban legend about God not making anything perfect, so neither is this church), but the interior is spectacular. Don’t miss the views from the stairs. Note: The interior paint job is not artisanal by any means, but from a distance, does it really matter?