The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba


Amazing fact: In the 10th century the Spanish city of Cordoba was the largest city in the world with about one million residents (as a comparison, London’s population was probably around 25,000 at the time). Cordoba had an advanced civilisation with over 1,000 mosques, 600 public baths, a central water supply, paved streets, street lighting, schools, a library with 500,000 volumes, an extensive bureaucracy and was advanced in art, science and law. Under the rule of Abd al-Rahman III, Cordoba broke away from the Damascus-based Umayyad dynasty and established an independent Caliphate of Cordoba.

This doorway was used by the Caliph to go and pray.

The greatest of these mosques was the Umayyad Mosque of the West, now known as the Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba. It was started in 786 during the rule of Abd al-Rahman I. It was modelled on mosques in Damascus and Jerusalem and used some Roman-era materials in its construction. It was later enlarged by Abd al-Rahman II, Al Hakam II and finally Almanzor, more or less doubling in size with each expansion, making it the largest mosque in the world by the year 994.

Here are some photos from my visit in June.

With the knobbly column tops and spreading arches, the early Arab architects may have been reminded of their date palm groves back home.
The double arches allowed for higher ceilings.
As well as being decorative, the double arches helped the mosque to withstand earthquakes
By the time of the Al Hakam II enlargement, the decor had become more lavish with stylised plant motifs, marble and mosaics.
The mihrab (the niche indicating the direction of prayer) is much larger than usual and is highly ornate with a scallop shell dome and ornamental mosaics. Unusually it also faces south rather than south-east towards Mecca.
But the most extraordinary feature of this mosque is that it has a huge Christian cathedral embedded right in the middle of it.
The Cathedral is a beautiful building in its own right, but why here?
A large section of the mosque had to be demolished to make way for the cathedral which was built from 1523-1606. It is said that when King Charles V saw what his architects had done he was horrified and said ‘You have built here what might have been built anywhere else but you have destroyed what was unique in the world.’ This may be true but, had the mosque not been converted into a Christian place of worship, it would probably not have survived until today and would have been demolished or remodelled beyond recognition like the rest of Cordoba’s mosques.
A peak through this archway reveals church walls behind the Islamic decor.
The remains of the old minaret have been integrated into the bell tower.
The Roman bridge of Cordoba crossing the Guadalquivir river dates back to the 1st century BC although it has been reconstructed at various times since. The Mosque-Cathedral can be seen beyond.

I would like to have seen more of Cordoba but our time there was limited. Next stop Granada.

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