To paraphrase a new friend I made at my hostel in Córdoba, a lot of how you experience a new city comes down to chance - the people who you end up spending time with, whether your visit coincides with a local event, whether you lose or have anything stolen, etc. I had high expectations for Barcelona, but didn't like it as much as I thought I would. Valencia, on the other hand, I loved even though the only reason it was on my itinerary at all is that I once read it was the birthplace of paella.
So, Córdoba: former seat of the Roman Empire, once the most populous city in the world during the time of the Islamic caliphate, and now one of the largest historical districts to be preserved as a UNESCO site. Arguably almost everyone here is a tourist (except for the people who run the shops, hotels, restaurants, etc.), which is one of the reasons I disliked Barcelona, but somehow they're much more diffuse; whereas trying to force me way through Park Guell or down La Rambla was enough to make me want to turn around and retreat to my apartment, nothing in Córdoba is ever crowded. Then again, coming here at this time of year requires a certain level of dedication as afternoon temperatures, without fail, exceed 100F and barely fall during the night. But, still, the vibe is a lot more chill. When I eat out I can leave my bag on the empty chair next to me and not worry about it getting snatched.
From my limited understanding of the region's history, everyone wanted to live here at some point or another - the Romans, the Moors, the Jews and the Castilans. There is lasting evidence of each of these groups (e.g. the Roman bridge and other ruins, one of Spain's only three - yes, three - synagogues...), but the most outstanding vestiges of the past belong, without a doubt, to the Moors, thanks to the Mosque-Cathedral and Alcázar of the Christian Monarchs.
Returning to that relationship between chance and travel, a few things that made Córdoba special despite me - again - having no preconceptions or plans beforehand: free outdoor film screenings almost every night, extremely cheap (or free) tapas that come with equally cheap drinks, and befriending a girl from California with whom I had great conversations (over said drinks and tapas - no, really, how great are tapas??) about cultural differences between Europe and the US, and how much we both miss the Bay Area.
Below, some glimpses of the historical center. The rest on Flickr.