Every spring, in the beginning of May, the city of Cordoba, in southern Spain, bursts into bloom with special festivities as the city launches into its spring celebrations. It starts off with a parade known as the “Battle of the Flowers”, followed by the much anticipated Patio Contests called “Los Patios de Córdoba” or “Fiesta of the patios”. During the next two weeks, the people of Cordoba throw open the doors to their private patios as a fierce competition for the most beautiful patio ensues. Patio owners decorate their ornate iron grills and balconies with plants and flowers, mainly jasmine, geraniums and carnations. Carpets of flowers, handmade Islamic mosaics, and striking water features adorn the courtyards. Normally the patios are privately owned and unavailable for public viewing, but during the festival the beautifully decorated patios are open for all to see. The best conserved and most beautiful patio is voted on and the winner is recognized not only with a monetary prize but also with the prestige and admiration of having the best patio in the city.
Cordoba’s climate is hot and dry, and so homes in Cordoba have been built with a central patio throughout the city's history, going back to Roman times. But it was the Arabs who started decorating the patios and introduced plants and water features as a way to keep homes cool. These courtyards were special inner spaces where families congregated and escaped the summer heat. You can still find some patios that date back to the 10th century when Cordoba was the center of Al-Andalus, the Muslim caliphate in the Iberian Peninsula and its largest city with a half million inhabitants.
Patio beautification were furthered by the Christians who conquered the city in the 13th century and took over the best houses. By the end of Renaissance, "receiving patios" or courtyards started appearing where visitors were met and the horse stalls were kept. The courtyard also gave access to the house which usually consisted of two floors: the lower floor was the summer dwelling and the upper floor the winter dwelling. During the 18th and 19th centuries, foreign influences and decorations started appearing in the courtyard patios in the form of marble, central fountains, closed galleries in upper floors, etc.
The Patio festival was first organised by the Cordoba City Hall in 1918, with the first competition starting in 1921. However, it was not until 1933 when they began to popularize them with large prizes for the time. Prizes are given for the most beautiful and best preserved patios. There are numerous categories including traditional, modern, religious, Islamic, single family dwelling, community effort, artistic use of water, illumination, flower variety, architectural preservation and much more.
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