The Courtyards of the Viana Palace, Cordoba, Italy

Contributing greatly to the beauty of the open spaces of the Viana Palace, twelve beautiful courtyards and a garden together form what has indeed been called a Museum of Courtyards. This ensemble of green spaces, first opened to the public in 1980, has been oficially designated an Artistic Garden.

Map of the Courtyards of the Viana Palace

1. The Reception Courtyard

The beautiful Renaissance doorway opens onto this, the main courtyard of the Palace. It is bordered by a portico which reflects its aristocratic character. The stone pillars, the semicircular arches, the blue windows of the upper floor set in whitewashed walls and the cobbled paving combine to form a perfectly balanced background for the exquisite plants which decorate it, including the central palm. Celestinas, bougainvilleas and fairy roses wind their way up the pillars, and the heady perfume of the night-blooming jessamine scents the spring nights. Near the entrance, inscriptions on tiles recall royal visits.

2. The Archive Courtyard

This courtyard takes its name from the Palace's historical archives, which overlook it. The whiteness of the walls contrasts with the green flowerbeds set in its corners, which form a perfect background for the old mandarin orange-trees. The gravel paths lead to a simple fountain decorated with tiles.

3. The Chapel Courtyard

The courtyard is named after an old chapel which formerly opened off the southern wall. It is a very tranquil place, and the murmur of the central fountain is conducive to meditation under the perpetual shade of the venerable orange trees. The courtyard is bordered on two sides by a colonnade where the visitor can admire some beautiful Roman mosaics. The north wall is covered by kaffir lilies, leafy ferns and climbing ivy.

4. The Gate Courtyard

This courtyard takes its name from the huge wrought iron gate -now seldon opened- which opens onto the little Plaza de Don Gome. The portico beside the gate leads to the present-day chapel and the art gallery. At the centre of the cobbled courtyard stands a decorative baptismal font, which has been turned into a fountain. The predominantly brick walls are covered by a wide variety of climbing plants, including ivy, roses and rubber plants.

5. The Gardener's Courtyard

This elongated rectangle takes its name from an adjoining room where the Palace gardening tools used to be kept. The visitor entering the courtyard through the stepped doorway is often surprised by the opposite wall, which is totally covered by climbing celestinas and Cape leadwort with its tiny blue flowers: the beauty of these flowers eclipses the other plant species in this brick-floored courtyard, where a beautiful fountain in grey marble rises at the centre.

6. The Well Courtyard

The well after which the courtyard is named stand in the centre. Beneath it, an underground river ensures a continuous supply of water which is used for all the courtyards and fountains. The Moorish water buckets found in the well are from a waterwheel thought to have stood here at one time. The climbing plants which decorate the walls of the courtyard include bougainvillea, ivy, fairy roses and a bush whose red and yellow flowers have led to its being known as «the little Spanish flag».

7. The Pool or Greenhouse Courtyard

This and the Well Courtyard lead to the Garden. The courtyard takes its name from the rectangular pool which provides air for the water from the nearby well, and its alternative name from the greenhouse which stands to the left. To the right, the courtyard is separated from the garden by a white arcade. Bay and cypress alternate against the stark white walls with climbing plants like ivy, orange and lemon tress, and miniature fairy roses.

8. The Garden

The Palace Garden -a wide green area of over 1.200 square metres- is broken up into small formal gardens bordered by box hedges hundreds of years old. In the small gardens, roses blend with orange: and lemon trees, oleanders and date palms. The 400 year old holm-oak towers over even the slender palms. A circular fountain rises up in the midst of this maze of paths. The Garden is bordered by rosebushes, citrus, lilies and arums.

9. The Madame Courtyard

The statue of the Madame, who holds a water-jug from which the water spouts, gives this courtyard not only its name but also its quiet romantic charm. The delicate fountain is surrounded by a ring of cypresses shaped in the form of a crown. Jasmines, fairy roses, mandarins and bougainvillea climb the high walls.

10. The Column Courtyard

This recently-built and spacious courtyard was designed as an ideal venue for musical and social events within the Palace, particularly during the spring. It takes its name from the stone pillars which support the colonnade along the left wall, from which grilled windows open on to the Garden. The belfry of nearby Saint Augustin's church rise above the small tiled roof over the raised platform. The artistic design of the cobbled paving enhances the beauty of the central pool, the design of which recalls that of the Alhambra courtyards in Granada. The walls are covered with ivy, roses and other climbing plants.

11. The Grille Courtyard

This is best seen from Rejas de Don Gome street, through the wrought-iron grilles which give it its name. A pink marble fountain is set in the centre of the cobbled paving. Plinths of eroded stone serve as stands for pots of maritime cineraria. Oranges, lemons and the rare ber-gamot climb the white walls, which are overlooked by the balconies of the upper floor.

12. The Orange-tree Courtyard

Like the courtyard of the same name in the Mosque, this is named after the six orange-trees which surround the octagonal central fountain. The murmur of the fountain is echoed in the plant-covered pool in the background. The different-shaped flower-beds are filled to overflowing, mostly with begonias. The spreading shade of the venerable orange trees gives the area a sense of peace and calm. The courtyard contains various species of climbing plants, including bougainvillea, heliotrope, orange and celestina. The pride of the courtyard, however, is the striking Chinese wisteria, with its clusters of tiny violet flowers.

13. The Courtyard of the Cats

The final courtyard of the tour, it attempts to reproduce the characteristic atmosphere of a typical Cordoban communal courtyard, looked after jointly by all the neighbours. Its walls are partly covered by geraniums in pots, some of which are so high up that they have to be watered using a special stick with a tin on the end. There is also a sink for washing clothes, covered by a pro-yecting roof. Plant species include ivy, cypresses, bay and bignonia.

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