The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain

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spain cordoba mosque cathedral moorish simple arches
The red and white striped horseshoe arches of the original mosque are the Mosque-Cathedral’s most iconic feature.

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, (Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba) is also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba or, simply, the Mezquita, is one of the most culturally and historically significant landmarks of Spain. The cultural importance of the Mosque-Cathedral as both an exceptional example of Moorish architecture and of the interaction of Islamic Spain with the Christian re-conquerors is difficult to exaggerate. Along with the Alhambra of Granada and the Alcazar of Sevilla, it makes up the trifecta of Moorish architecture left over from when the Muslims controlled the Iberian peninsula.

The origins of the Mosque-Cathedral date back to the 8th century when Córdoba soon after came under Muslim rule. on the site of a Visigothic church – which recent excavations of Roman ruins under the mosque have revealed – was built on the top of its predecessor.

The construction of the mosque began in 785 under the Emir Abd al-Rahman I, the first Umayyad Emir of Córdoba. Over the years, subsequent emirs and caliphs added extensions and embellishments, resulting in a spectacular structure that became the center of Islamic worship in the region called Al-Andalus – today known as Andalucía.

spain cordoba mosque cathedral moorish entrance
The exterior of the Mosque, for the most part, maintains its original form as shown on this door. However, just to the right, the design of the next door has been converted to Renaissance-Baroque by the Christian remodelers.

The original architectural style of the Mosque-Cathedral is, of course, Islamic. The mosque’s exterior showcases a harmonious combination of arches and columns, as well as intricate geometric patterns and ornate tile work. The iconic bell tower, known as the Torre del Alminar or the Tower of the Minaret, is a prime example of Moorish architecture and provides a striking focal point.

spain cordoba mosque cathedral minaret
The minaret-bell tower looms over the Patio of the Orange Trees.

Upon entering the mosque grounds, visitors are greeted by the Patio de los Naranjos (Court of the Orange Trees). This courtyard is lined with rows of orange trees and features a fountain at its center. It also offers the view of the original Minaret, now converted into a Christian bell tower.

spain cordoba mosque cathedral moorish arches chapel
Some of the more intricate arches of the subsequent additions to the mosque. Visible on the lower left is one of the Christian chapels added after the re-conquest.

The prayer hall itself is a mesmerizing sight to behold. The vast expanse of the hall is supported by hundreds of double-arched columns, made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite, which create a mesmerizing play of light and shadow. The arches are decorated with intricate and colorful patterns, including motifs such as horseshoes, stars, and interlacing geometric shapes. The the alternating red and white wedges of the arches, contribute to the distinctive visual appeal of the space.

spain cordoba mosque cathedral mihrab cupola
The mihrab, which indicates the direction of Mecca, and the spectacular dome that indicates the private prayer space of the emirs and caliphs.

At the heart of the Mosque-Cathedral is the Mihrab, the prayer niche that indicates the direction of Mecca. This space is a masterpiece of Moorish art, with its intricate geometric patterns and stunning mosaics made of gold, silver, and precious stones. The domed chamber behind the Mihrab, known as the Maqsura, was once reserved for the caliph or ruling emir during prayers.

The Christian reconquest of Córdoba by King Ferdinand III of Castile in 1236 ended more than five centuries of Islamic rule of the city, and began the movement toward repurposing the mosque as a Christian cathedral. Thus, the Christian additions within the mosque resulted in what could charitably be called “a unique fusion” of Islamic and Christian architectural styles. (Some, including me, would name the ornate Renaissance and Baroque cathedral plopped in the middle of the elegant simplicity of the mosque’s prayer hall something less charitable than a “fusion.”) We should all be thankful that the 16th Century Spanish monarch Carlos V visited Córdoba, saw what was going on, and put a stop to it.

spain cordoba mosque cathedral altar christian
The Capilla Mayor, or Main Chapel, of the Cathedral portion of the Mosque-Cathedral.

The Cathedral section of the Mosque-Cathedral is located in the center of the structure and stands as a stark contrast to the Islamic architecture surrounding it. This “Main Chapel” (Capilla Mayor) was built in the 16th century and features intricate plaster work, gilded wood carvings, and a Baroque-style dome dome adorned with paintings depicting scenes from the life of Christ.

descent from cross mosque cordoba unesco world heritage spain
The elegant simplicity of the striped arches destroyed by the addition of an industrially busy descent from the cross and an inexplicable grotesque border along the top.

But, luckily all was not lost. The original effect of the geometry of the pillars and arches is still apparent in many vistas. Although those vistas are always cut short by the Christian intrusions, you can still get the idea of what the huge space must have looked like when the view down the rows of arches was uninterrupted and seemed to go on forever.

inlaid wood mosque ceiling cordoba unesco world heritage spain
Luckily some of the original Moorish decorative elements were preserved, such as this small section of inlaid wood ceiling.

To book advance tickets to the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, click the link.

General admission is €13. Admission is €10 For people over the age of 65, students between the ages of 15 and 26, and holders of the “European Youth Card.” Admission is €7 for children between the ages of 10 and 14.

Opening hours are usually from 10:00 to 19:00 on Mondays through Saturdays, and from 08:30 to 11:30 and from 15:00 to 18:30 on Sundays.

The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba and the historic center the city make up a UNESCO World Heritage site. Here’s a list of all the UNESCO sites in Spain. The Mosque-Cathedral is also one of the 12 Great Cathedrals of Spain, and one of what I call The Seven Wonders of Spain.

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