Argentina’s second largest city was the most important in the country until the middle of the 18th century. At best, its inhabitants looked down with pity on Buenos Aires, which during those times, was constantly fighting for its existence.

Córdoba rightly bears its nickname as La Docta (the scholar) or Ciudad de las Camapanas (city of bells), as church buildings, universities and their students still characterize the cityscape of the two million-strong metropolis at the foot of the Sierras de Córdoba, which are up to 2,800 m high and separate the Andes from the Pampas.

A tour of the historic center

The starting point for first-time visitors to the city is the historic center around the tree-lined Plaza San Martín, featuring an equestrian statue of the eponymous national hero. Its western side is dominated by the massive, neo-baroque cathedral and at the same time the oldest church in the country, the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción de Córdoba. As elsewhere with Spanish city foundations, the secular power is located in the immediate vicinity of the spiritual power with the old city hall, the Cabildo de Córdoba. The second building (1610), after a first adobe structure from 1588, was only given a second floor at the end of the 19th century with a classicist mannerist appearance. Today, the building houses the town museum and the tourist information office.

If you walk through the narrow passage between the cathedral and the town hall, you will come across the Museum of Memory (Museo de la Memoria). The building once housed a secret prison and torture center of the dreaded Department of the Secret Service (D2), which was dedicated to kidnapping and torturing suspected political agitators and “repatriating” their children to less politically suspicious families.

At the end of the passage are the church and monastery of Santa Catalina de Siena (Iglesia y Monasterio de Santa Catalina de Siena). The convent was founded in 1613 and is considered to be the first female religious community in Argentina. The building complex has different architectural features. The well-defined church façade in neoclassical style contrasts with the massive baroque style that characterizes the entrance to the convent, where a marble sculpture of Saint Catherine of Siena, the patron of the church, stands out.

Half a block south of Plaza San Martín is the Monasterio San José de Carmelitas Descalzas with the church of Santa Teresa, a pretty, pink Baroque building that was converted from a normal residential building into a place of worship in 1687. The monastery is the oldest of the order in South America.

The cultural and historical highlight of Córdoba is the Manzana Jesuítica, a block of sacred and secular buildings around 100 meters southwest of the plaza, which is considered the origin of the Jesuit missions in Latin America and was declared a World Heritage Site in 2000. Its centerpiece is the Iglesia de la Compañía de Jesús, built in 1671. The oldest surviving church in Argentina was designed by the Flemish padre Philippe Lemaire – a boat builder – which is reflected in its vaulted ceiling in the shape of an upturned ship’s hull made of Paraguayan cedar wood. The ornately carved altarpiece of the Capilla Doméstica Jesuita, which also dates back to 1671 is made from the same material and is considered a masterpiece of Argentinian colonial architecture.

The Manzana de los Jesuitas is also home to the Colegio Convictorio de Nuestra Señora de Montserrat (built in 1687 in the Plateresque style; then as now a school building) and the former rectorate of the Universidad Nacional de Córdoba (Calle Obispo Trejos 242); founded by the Jesuits in 1613, it is one of the oldest surviving buildings in the city. The Jesuits, who were expelled by the Spanish colonial power in 1767, bought several estates in the region to ensure the construction and preservation of their buildings in Córdoba. Today, they are also a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Outside the center

Paseo del Buen Pastor (Avenida Hipólito Yrigoyen 325) a former women’s prison that has been converted into a cultural center between 2002 and 2007, has developed into a popular meeting place for the public in the sought-after (and expensive) residential district of Nueva Córdoba.

The Parque Sarmiento is considered the city’s green lung with an artificial lake, walking paths and picnic areas; the park grounds are also home to the 80m-high Faro del Bicentenario, a lighthouse built in 2014 to mark the bicentenary of the May Revolution.

The Paseo de las Artes is located in the traditional bohemian district of Barrio Güemes, between the Calicanto of La Cañada and Calle Belgrano. For more than 40 years, it has been the venue for the Feria de las Artesanías, a craft and flea market popular with locals and tourists alike, set against the backdrop of 1930s Art Deco architecture and the tree-lined La Cañada canal.

On the same street corner (Pje. Revol/ Belgrano) sits the Museo Iberoamericano de las Artesanías, which exhibits indigenous handicrafts, especially basketry, ceramics and wood carvings. The artifacts originate mainly from Brazil, Peru and Chile.

Calle Belgrano is dotted with bars and pubs, most of them serving comida típica such as empanadas or locro stew. To accompany these, you can try a Fernando/ Fernandito, a questionable mixture of Fernet and Coca Cola that is emblematic of Córdoba.