The Mezquita (Spanish for "Mosque") of Cordoba, Spain is a beautiful and fascinating 8th-century mosque-cathedral combination that symbolizes the many religious changes Cordoba has undergone over the centuries.
Today, the Mezquita is the cathedral of Cordoba (officially the Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption) and no longer a mosque, but the vast majority of its architecture owes its origin to the Islamic architects who built it as a mosque in the 8th century.
"Córdoba's mosque is one of the earliest and most transportingly beautiful examples of Spanish Muslim architecture."
– Fodor's Spain
"Well worth diverting from anywhere in Southern Spain to see it."
– TripAdvisor traveler review
The site on which the Mezquita stands has long been a sacred space – it was first host to a Roman temple, then a Visigoth cathedral church of St Vincent of Saragossa, then a mosque (the Mezquita). Finally, a Baroque cathedral was added inside the mosque by the Christian conquerors in the early 13th century.
The construction of the Mezquita lasted for over two centuries, starting in 784 AD under the supervision of the emir of Cordoba, Abd ar-Rahman I. Under Abd ar-Rahman II (822-52), the Mezquita held an original copy of the Koran and an arm bone of the prophet Mohammed, making it a major Muslim pilgrimage site.
The Mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd ar-Rahman III ordered a new minaret, while Al-Hakam II, in 961, enlarged the plan of the building and enriched the mihrab. The last of the reforms, including the completion of the outer naves and orange tree courtyard, were completed by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir in 987.
When finished, the Mezquita was the most magnificent of the more than 1,000 mosques in Cordoba. But Cordoba was subject to frequent invasion and each conquering wave added their own mark to the architecture.
In 1236, Cordoba was recaptured from the Moors by King Ferdinand III of Castile and rejoined Christendom. The Christians initially left the architecture Mezquita largely undisturbed — they simply consecrated it, dedicated it to the Virgin Mary, and used it as a place of Christian worship.
King Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the structure of the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features: Enrique II rebuilt the chapel in the 14th century; a nave was constructed with the patronage of Carlos V, king of a united Spain.
The heavy, incongruous Baroque cathedral was sanctioned in the very heart of the mosque by Charles V in the 1520s. Artists and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century, making the Mezquita an intriguing architectural oddity.
In 1931, Dr. Allama Muhammad Iqbal was the first Muslim to pray in the Mezquita since it was closed to Islam. In 1984, the historic center of Cordoba, including the Mezquita, was made a
UNESCO World Heritage site.
What to see
The Mezquita de Cordoba is most notable for its giant arches and its forest of over 1,000 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings. Besides the horseshoe-topped arches, the Mezquita also features richly gilded prayer niches.
Although it does not fit in with the rest of the mosque, the 16th-century Baroque cathedral is impressive in its own right, with an intricately carved ceiling and choir stalls.
Its most interesting feature is the mihrab, a domed shrine of Byzantine mosaics built by Al Hakam II (961-76). It once housed the Koran and relics of Muhammad. In front of the Mihrab is the Maksoureh, a kind of anteroom for the caliph and his court; its mosaics and plasterwork make it a masterpiece of Islamic art.
Outside the Mezquita is the Courtyard of the Orange Trees (Patio de los Naranjos), which in springtime is perfumed with orange blossoms and has a beautiful fountain.
The Torre del Alminar, the minaret once used to summon the faithful to prayer, has a Baroque belfry. Hardy travelers can climb to the top to catch a panoramic view of Córdoba and its surroundings.