Ever since I was about 14 years old I have wanted to see the Mezquita of Córdoba, so to finally enter it was an incredible feeling. The architecture is absolutely breathtaking. The remains of the mosque and the current cathedral in one building don't really match at all, but that's what makes this place so unique. With all the problems in the world this building really makes us see that without diversity there would be so much less beauty in the world.
The original mosque was a square figure. As built it could hold about 5,000 worshippers, though they would likely be pretty cramped up. Subsequent additions allowed perhaps 4 times that number.
It was quite ingenious really. The arches that give the Mezquita its distinctive (and wonderful look) are in some ways adaptations made to allow this structure to bear the weight of the flat ceiling. This was a uniform look.
Additions by Al Hakam II (915-976) begin to look different. Now instead of the simple arches that made the Mezquita famous you start to see the more ornate arches. Interestingly, and I had wondered this when i first saw it. There is a somewhat disjointed look. You have marble columns supporting some of this ornate archwork. Why? At first i thought it was just the Christians half unfinished job. Turns out the expansion used the marble columns from the previous Visogothic cathedral that has existed there. Recycling really.
The Arco de la Bendicion (the Blessing Arch) is the main entrance. It is wider than the other arches and it has the same ochre and white colors that you will see inside later along the top.
This is one of the first major noticable architectural adaptations. The mosque has a flat ceiling. You will see the Christian cathedral rising up above this arch.
This garden is planted with orange trees and gives a lovely shaded space.
Back in the days of Al Andalus this area was still a garden, but more likely it was planted with palms. The irrigation ruts you can see below you are the same if not similar to what the moors had put in originally. Following the Reconquista this whole area was changed somewhat. The mosque was much larger so there were many more doors opening onto what is today the Patio de los Naranjos, hence you will see arches without doors. These were once the doors to the mosque..
The Patio de los Naranjos was the area where worshippers would wash themselves at the fountain before entering the mosque. Off the patio you will see some ochre colored porticos. These were once schools and areas that provided social services. This came with the later additions to the mosque in 951.
Moslem rule over Cordoba began with the invasion of Umayyad forces starting in 711. The invading army of about 15,000 consisted mostly of Berber North Africans and started their conquest of the peninsula from what is today British Gibraltar. At the time, Hispania was really the western most tip of the Ummmayad Caliphate, which was based in Damascus (Syria).
Under Islamic law, the Jews and Christians that already lived there were considered people of the book, and were allowed to practice their religion freely. Though some writers have hinted that this freedom of religion was unique, it was. However, the Jews and Christians, though free to practice their religions, were still the equivalent of second class citizens in Arab dominated Al Andalus. Their right to practice their religion was guaranteed by a steep tax.
The Umayyad Empire was an inherently unstable one which was overthrown in 750 AD. The Empire, which at that time was the largest in the world, had sunk into a state of constant warfare and rebellion in the provinces outside of Syria. In 756 Abd ar Rahman I, an Ummayad, set up his power base in Cordoba and Seville, proclaiming himself emir and thus independent of the Empire. This became the Caliphate of Cordoba, a breakaway of the wider Ummayad or Islamic Empire. Though continually attacked, the Ummayad rule in Spain would continue for over 300 years.
So Al Andalus is quite different from the image that most people seem to have gotten, that it was in fact part of the much wider Islamic Empire, which it was not. It was an offshoot of that.
Abd ar Rahman I proceeded to consolidate his rule and set up a system of civil administration. Roads were constructed, infrastructure was enhanced. Around 786 the Great Mosque of Cordoba was begun, just a few years before Abd ar Rahman's death.
The one great sight in Cordoba that cannot be missed is the Mezquita (Mosque). Cordoba's Mezquita is one of two icons of Moorish architecture in Western Europe, the other being Granada's Alhambra.
Originally, the site was a pagan temple, then later a Visogothic Church. With the Moslem Conquest, it became a major mosque. The mosque was built in 786 and was redesigned and enlarged to fit Cordoba's prominence, both as a major city as well as a center of Islamic learning.
Inside, what is visually captivating more than anything else is the maze of arches (856 of them) in granite and marble.
Following the Reconquista (Reconquest) by the Christians, the entire complex underwent fundamental change. Today the Cathedral of Cordoba occupies space in the Mezquita. Though done in the Mudejar style, the mixing of Moslem and Christian elements...I found the transition too brusque. In the end they tried to make it two great houses of worship and in my opinion they did justice to neither of them fully. Though you can go from from the Christian world to the Moslem world and back in the same complex, my own opinion is that what was done to the Mezquita is an abomination. There is, of course, the very real possibility that had the Cathedral of Cordoba not been built in the space that the whole thing may well have been razed.
One way or the other, the Mezquita is where you should concentrate your time in Cordoba.
For me this was one of the most impressive chapels in the Mezquita. It's located in the southeast corner of the former mosque and the walls and pillars are all adorned with beautiful frescoes and wonderful religious art work.
The chapel was founded in 1330. According to my research the frescoes are by Cesare Arbasia of Saluzzo and date back to 1583-86. As you enter this small richly adorned chapel you will be greeted by a guard that is on watch probably to make sure that no one touches the delicate art. At the center of the chapel is the alter simply adorned.
Photographs are allowed in the chapel, so snap away.
One of the highlights in the mosque in Cordoba is the mihrab, the semi circular niche that indicates the direction of Mecca (qibla) and hence the direction that Moslems should be praying in.
Richly decorated with Arabic script along the borders of the niche, you should take a long moment to admire the workmanship in this part of the mosque, it belongs to the renovation and improvements made during the period of the Caliphs (alhaken II)
I have been to this magnificent building four times. Obviously except for the first I knew what I should see but the thrill on entry was as great each time and I am sure will be next time.
The Mezquita (Mosque) was built when Cordoba was the Capital of the Moorish emirate in Spain and eventually the Sultan laid claim to being the only true Cailiff. Hence the Mosque was a place of the greatest importance for the Muslim religion in Spain.
The cathedral was erected after the re-conquista - the defeat of the Muslim forces by the Reyes Catolicos (Catholic King and Queen. There is some fine architecture and carving but the cathedral does spoil a superlative building to some extent, a fact acknowledged even by the king who commanded its building.
I admire all the examples where one religion accepted something from its forerunner, showing a cultural respect uncommon in past days.
We have it in Portugal (for instance in Mertola), but in small scale.
With Sainte Sophie, in Istanbul, this cathedral is one of the most famous in the world, with the curiosity of their evolution occurring in opposite ways. And with advantage for the Spanish. In Saint Sophia the christian symbols were covered for centuries, while in Cordoba the Mihrab still stands in its opulence.
The Great Mosque at Córdoba is one of the world's architectural wonders, the most striking example of Islamic art in the West and also one of lasting importance because of its technical and aesthetic innovations and its influence on the history of western art and architecture.
An amazing, breathtaking place, a real must.....
Unless you come to Cordoba often, you surely ought to go here every time. There is no way that it diminishes in its impact after several visits and it really is dramatic walking into the place. However it has been written up so often on this site that I am simply informing of my intention to create a travelogue to show more pictures and to raise a query.
Why is the mosque always kept in semi-darkness - so that all interior photos are either dark or have obvously ben adapted quite significantly [includin my own. It may be for the sake of preserving the colours - or is it to emphasise the cathedral?
What it cannot be is a better representation of its history since the arches shown on the photo here were initially open to the patio de las naranjas in order to let in the light!
P.S. Having found the lovely website below, I am in two minds about the travelogue!
The mezquita is the focal point of the old town and is simply stunning, half cathederal half mosque. It is architecturally stunning especially in the mosque part. I seem to remember that it was free to get into which was amazing as it would have been well worth an entry fee. Go and see it for yourself, you won't be disappointed.
Considered one of the finest examples of mudéjar architecture in Córdoba, la Capilla Real, a Christian chapel, was built in the early 14th century inside the Great Mosque. The mudéjar style is unmistakably Islamic, yet was built for the Christians, by Moorish workmen, after the reconquest, and is therefore hard to distinguish from the original work of the Arabs.
The altarpiece, the dome and the choir surrounded by a sea of horseshoe archs. A sample of reusing or recycling a structure for a new use.
An example of efficiency: all the material, the human work, the planning of the Mosque, used and not destroyed when the city of Cordoba becomes again a part of a christian kingdom and a Cathedral has to be established. Some changes to build elements that must be present in a cathedral, but the forest of columnes still stands.