Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

Mezquita de Córdoba, a World Heritage Site.

Basic information
Location Historic centreCórdobaAndalusia,Spain
Geographic coordinates Coordinates37°52′45.1″N 04°46′47″W
Region Iberian Peninsula
District Diocese of Córdoba
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Active
Heritage designation UNESCO World Heritage Site
Architectural description
Architectural type CathedralMosque
Architectural style MoorishRenaissance
Groundbreaking 784
Completed 987

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (SpanishMezquita–catedral de Córdoba, Mezquita de Córdoba), also called the Mezquita and the Great Mosque of Córdoba,[2] or the Cathedral of the Assumption of Our Lady is a medieval Islamic mosque that was converted into a Catholic Christiancathedral in the Spanish city of CórdobaAndalusia. The mosque is regarded as the one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture. Since the early 2000s (decade), Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral.[3][4] The Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, by both Spanish Catholic authorities, and the Vatican.[3][5]


After the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic Kingdom, the building was divided between the Muslims and Christians. When the exiled Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I escaped to Spain and defeated the governor of Al-AndalusYusuf al-Fihri, he found the Cordovese split up into various sects, such as the Gnostics, Priscillianists, Donatists, and Luciferians. His ambition was to erect a temple, which would rival in magnificence those of Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Damascus, and approach in sanctity the fame of Mecca. The Christian church in Cordoba stood upon the site of the former Roman religious edifice dedicated to Janus, and upon this site, Abd al-Rahman desired to raise his great mosque. He honourably offered to buy the church and the plot from the conquered people. The negotiations of purchase were placed in the hands of the Sultan’s favourite secretary, Umeya Ibn Yezid. Under the terms of transference, the Cordovese were permitted to reconstruct the edifice formerly dedicated to St. Faustus, St. Januarius, and St. Marcellus, three martyrs whom they deeply revered.[6]

He allowed the Christians to rebuild their ruined churches, and purchased the Christian half of the church of St. Vincent.[7][8]

The Khalif was rich. Besides the treasure wrested from the Goths during the wars, he extracted a tithe upon the produce of the land and on manufactures. A tax was also laid upon every Christian and Jew in Andalusia. Beyond this, the Moorish kings were greatly enriched by the acquisition of the valuable mines of Spain, the quarries of marble, and other sources of wealth. From these revenues Abd-erRahman and his successors, Hisham, Abd-erRahman II., the greatest of the dynasty and the third of the line—and lastly, the extravagant Almanzor—lavished heavy sums upon the designing, construction, and costly adornment of the Mosque.[6] Abd al-Rahman I and his descendants reworked it over two centuries to fashion it as a mosque, starting in 784. Additionally, Abd al-Rahman I used the mosque (originally called Aljama Mosque) as an adjunct to his palace and named it to honour his wife. Traditionally, the mihrab, or apse of a mosque faces in the direction of Mecca; by facing the mihrab, worshipers pray towards Mecca. Mecca is east-southeast of the mosque, but the mihrab points south.[9]

The attitude of Abd-er-Rahman I towards the Christian population of Cordova was clement and conciliatory. The work of building the resplendent Mezquita employed thousands of artisans and labourers. This vast undertaking led to the development of all the resources of the district. Durable stone and beautifully veined marbles were quarried from the Sierra Morena and the surrounding regions of the city. Metals of various kinds were dug from the soil, and factories sprang up in Cordova amid the stir and bustle of an awakened industrial energy. A famous Syrian architect made the plans for the Mosque. Leaving his suburban dwelling, the Khalif came to reside in the city, so that he might personally superintend the operations, and offer proposals for the improvement of the designs. Abd-er-Rahman moved about among the workers, directing them during several hours of every day.[6]

The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while Al-Hakam II, in 961, enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of the reforms was carried out by Al-Mansur Ibn Abi Aamir in 987. It was connected to the Caliph’s palace by a raised walk-way, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – with Christian Kings following suit and building their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.


Plan designs.

Further information: Moorish architecture

In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various quarters of Spain as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Panels of scented woods were fastened with nails of pure gold, and the red marble columns were said to be the work of God. The primitive part of the building, reared under the direction of Abd-er-Rahman I., was that bordering the Court of Oranges. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.[6]

The Great Mosque of Córdoba held a place of importance amongst the Islamic community of al-Andalus for three centuries. In Córdoba, the capital, the Mosque was seen as the heart and central focus of the city.[10]Muhammad Iqbal described its hypostyle hall as having “countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria”.[11] To the people of al-Andalus “the beauty of the mosque was so dazzling that it defied any description.”[12]

The main hall of the mosque was used for a variety of purposes. It served as a central Prayer hall for personal devotion, the five daily Muslim prayers and the special Friday prayers. It also would have served as a hall for teaching and for Sharia Law cases during the rule of Abd al-Rahman & his successors.[13]

The Great Mosque of Córdoba exhibited features, and an architectural appearance, similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus,[14] therefore it is evident that it was used as a model by Abd al-Rahman for the creation of the Great Mosque in Córdoba.

The prayer hall

Columns of the mosque


The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasperonyxmarble, andgranite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were a new introduction to architecture, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch. The famous alternating red and white voussoirs of the arches were inspired by those in the Dome of the Rock.[12] and also resemble those of the Aachen Cathedral, which were built almost at the same time. A centrally located honey-combed dome has blue tiles decorated with stars.

The mosque also has a richly gilded prayer niche or mihrab. The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. Other prominent features were: an open court (sahn) surrounded by arcades, screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics, and windows of coloured glass.[12]The walls of the mosque had Quranic inscriptions written on them. As Islam rejects all sculptural or pictorial representation of people or of God, all decoration of the mosque is accomplished through tile work, calligraphy and architectural forms.

Marbles of spotless white were chosen for the innumerable columns. Arrazi, an Arab writer, speaks of the valuable wine-coloured marble, obtained from the mountains of the district, which was much used in embellishing the naves of the mosque. Hisham’s temple covered an area of 460 by 280 feet (140 m × 85 m). It was flanked by stout, fortified walls, with watch towers and a tall minaret. The number of the outer gates was nine, and of the inner doors eleven. These doors led to the same number of naves within the mosque. The court had spacious gates on the north, west, and east sides, and fountains for the purification of the pious. The naves were eleven in number, stretching from north to south, and these were crossed by twenty-one smaller naves running from east to west.[6]


The mosque’s floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam.[10] It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray.[15] The prayer hall was large in size, flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.[10]

One hundred fifty years following its creation, a staircase to the roof was added, along with a southward extension of the mosque itself. A bridge was built linking the prayer hall with the Caliph’s palace.[14] The mosque was later expanded even further south, as was the courtyard which surrounded it. The mosque was built in four stages, with each Caliph and his elite contributing to it.[16]

Until the 11th century, the courtyard was unpaved earth with citrus and palm trees irrigated – at first by rainwater cisterns, and later by aqueduct. Excavation indicates the trees were planted in a pattern, with surface irrigation channels. The stone channels visible today are not original.[17]

Abd-er-Rahman III added a new tower. The minaret contained two staircases, which were built for the separate ascent and descent of the tower. On the summit there were three apples, two of gold and one of silver, with lilies of six petals. The minaret is four-faced, with fourteen windows, having arches upon jasper columns, and the structure is adorned with tracery.[6]


West wall, from north to south
  • Capilla de San Ambrosio
  • Capilla de San Agustín
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves y San Vicente Mártir
  • Capilla de los Santos Simón y Judas de la Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba
  • Capilla de la Concepción de Salizanes o del Santísimo Sacramento
  • Capilla de San Antonio Abad
  • Capilla de la Trinidad
  • Capilla de San Acacio
  • Capilla de San Pedro y San Lorenzo
  • Museo de San Vicente
South wall, from west to east
  • Capilla de San Bartolomé
  • Mihrab y Maqsura
  • Capilla de Santa Teresa
  • Capilla de Santa Inés
  • Capilla del Sagrario
East wall, from north to south
  • Capilla de San Antonio de Padua
  • Capilla de San Marcos, Santa Ana y San Juan Bautista
  • Capilla de San Mateo y Limpia Concepción de Nuestra Señora
  • Capilla de San Juan Bautista
  • Capilla de Santa Marina, de San Matías y del Baptisterio
  • Capilla de San Nicolás de Bari
  • Capilla de la Expectación
  • Capilla del Espíritu Santo
  • Capilla de la Concepción Antigua
  • Capilla de San José
  • Capilla de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora
  • Capilla de Santa María Magdalena
North wall, from west to east
  • Capilla de San Eulogio
  • Capilla de San Esteban
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor
  • Capilla de la Virgen de la Antigua
  • Capilla de San Andrés
  • Capilla de la Epifanía
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
  • Capilla de las Benditas Ánimas del Purgatorio
  • Capilla de los Santos Varones
  • Capilla de Santa Francisca Romana y Santa Úrsula
  • Capilla Villaviciosa

  • Capilla Sagrario

  • Capilla Mayor

  • Capilla Real

  • Capilla Teresa

  • Capilla San Clemente

  • Capilla San Bartolomé

  • Capilla de la Concepción


West facade, along Calle Torrijos, north to south
  • Postigo de la leche
  • Puerta de los Deanes
  • Puerta de San Esteban
  • Puerta de San Miguel
  • Puerta del Espíritu Santo
  • Postigo del Palacio
  • Puerta de San Ildefonso
  • Puerta del Sabat
  • Postigo de la Leche.

  • Puerta de los Deanes.

  • Puerta de San Esteban.

  • Puerta de San Miguel.

  • Puerta del Espíritu Santo.

  • Postigo del Palacio.

  • Puerta de San Ildefonso

  • Puerta del Sabat

East facade, along Calle del Magistrado González Francés, from north to south
  • Puerta de la Grada Redonda
  • Fuente de Santa Catalina
  • Puerta de Santa Catalina
  • Puerta de San Juan
  • Puerta del Baptisterio
  • Puerta de San Nicolás
  • Puerta de la Concepción Antigua
  • Puerta de San José
  • Puerta del Sagrario
  • Puerta de Jerusalén
  • Puerta de la Grada Redonda

  • Puerta de Santa Catalina

  • Puerta de San Juan

  • Puerta del Baptisterio

  • Puerta de San Nicolás

  • Puerta de la Concepción Antigua

  • Puerta de San José

  • Puerta del Sagrario

  • Puerta de Jerusalén

North facade, along calle Cardenal Herrero, west to east
  • Puerta del Perdón
  • Puerta del Caño Gordo
  • Puerta del Perdón

  • Puerta del Caño Gordo

The Reconquista

Main article: Reconquista

This painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (circa 1880) depicts an old Moor preaching the holy war against the Christians at the mosque in Spain.[18] The Walters Art Museum.

In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile in the ‘Reconquista‘, and the mosque was converted into a Catholic church in its centre. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as KingHenry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela’s captured cathedral bells.[19]

The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave right in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of El Libertador Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. However, when Charles V visited the completed cathedral he was displeased by the result and famously commented, “they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city.”[citation needed]

The mosque’s reconversion to a Catholic church, may have helped to preserve it when the Spanish Inquisitionwas most active.[citation needed] Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

2000s Muslim campaign

Bell tower surrounding the minaret.

Muslims across Spain have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the complex, with the Islamic Council of Spain lodging a formal request with the Vatican.[3][4] However, Spanish church authorities and the Vaticanhave opposed this move.[5][5] These battles over the cathedral reflect the contested view of what constitutes Spanish history and Spanish identity.[20]

2010 incident

In April 2010, two Muslim tourists were arrested at the Cathedral, after an incident in which two security guards were seriously injured. The incident occurred when the building was filled with tourists visiting the cathedral during Holy Week.[21][22]

According to cathedral authorities, when half a dozen Austrian Muslims, who were part of a group of 118 people on an organized tour for young European Muslims, knelt to pray at the same time, security guards stepped in and “invited them to continue with their tour or leave the building”.[21][22] A fight took place between two of the tourists and the security guards. The security guards suffered serious injuries and had to be hospitalized and two Muslim men were detained.[21][22][23]

In popular culture

  • The philosopher and poet Muhammad Iqbal visited the Great Cathedral of Córdoba in 1931–32. He asked the authorities to offer adhan at the mosque. The deep emotional responses that the mosque evoked in him found expression in his poem called “The Mosque of Cordoba”. Iqbal saw it as a cultural landmark of Islam and described it as:[24]
“Sacred for lovers of art, you are the glory of faith,
You have made Andalusia pure as a holy land!”[11]


Photos of the Mezquita architecture.

  • Cathedral of Córdoba

  • Exterior arches of the east wall

  • Exterior, south-west corner

  • Cordoba moscheefassade.jpg
  • Present appearance of themihrab, built during the expansion of Alheken II

  • Dome

  • Woodwork in the choir

  • Organ

  • Statue of St. James, the Moor Slayer, inside the chapel

See also


  1. Jump up^ Fichner-Rathus, Lois (2012). Understanding Art (with Art Coursemate with EBook Printed Access Card). Cengage Learning. p. 336.ISBN 1111836957. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  2. Jump up^ “Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba”. Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved 4 November 2012.
  3. Jump up to:a b c Sills, Ben (2004-04-19). “Cathedral may see return of Muslims”.The Guardian (London).
  4. Jump up to:a b Thomson, Muslims ask Pope to OK worship in ex-mosque, Reuters, (2011), [1]
  5. Jump up to:a b c Fuchs, Dale (2006-12-28). “Pope asked to let Muslims pray in cathedral”The Guardian (London).
  6. Jump up to:a b c d e f Calvert, Albert Frederick; Gallichan, Walter Matthew (1907).Cordova, a City of the Moors (Public domain ed.). J. Lane. pp. 42–.
  7. Jump up^ Josef W. Meri and Jere L. Bacharach, Medieval Islamic Civilization, Routledge, (2005), p. 176 ff.
  8. Jump up^ Irving, T. B. (1962). The Falcon of Spain. Ashraf Press, Lahore. p. 82.
  9. Jump up^ Lapunzina, Alejandro (2005). Architecture of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 82–83.
  10. Jump up to:a b c Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. The Legacy of Muslim Spain, 2 Vols.. Leiden: BRILL, p.599.
  11. Jump up to:a b Muhammad Iqbal,The Mosque of Cordoba
  12. Jump up to:a b c Anwar, G. Chejne, Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture, MINNE ed. Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press, p.364.
  13. Jump up^ Jan, Read. The Moors in Spain and Portugal. London: Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, p.56.
  14. Jump up to:a b The Literature of Al-Andalus (The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature). New Ed ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 161.
  15. Jump up^ The Literature of Al-Andalus, p.159
  16. Jump up^ The Literature of Al-Andalus p.162
  17. Jump up^ Ruggles, D. Fairchild (2008). Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-8122-4025-1.
  18. Jump up^ “Interior of a Mosque at Cordova”The Walters Art Museum.
  19. Jump up^ Chris, Lowney A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 11.
  20. Jump up^ D. Fairchild Ruggles, “The Stratigraphy of Forgetting: The Great Cathedral of Cordoba and Its Contested Legacy,” in Contested Cultural Heritage, ed. Helaine Silverman. New York: Springer, 2011, pp. 51-67. Spanish translation in the journal Antípoda:Revista de Antropología y Arqueología (Bogotá, Colombia) 12 (2011): 19-38.
  21. Jump up to:a b c Tremlett, Giles (2010-04-01). “Two arrested after fight in Cordoba’s former mosque”The Guardian (London).
  22. Jump up to:a b c Keeley, Graham (2010-04-03). “Muslims arrested for trying to pray in Cordobas former Mosque”The Times (London).
  23. Jump up^ “Muslims in Spain campaign to worship alongside Christians”CNN. 2010-09-07.
  24. Jump up^

External links

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Mezquita de Córdoba.


Categories: Muslim Heritage

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.