Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Cathedral and Mosque in Córdoba

The Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba or the Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba is the Catholic cathedral of Córdoba, located in the Spanish region of Andalusia. It is also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba and its structure is thought to be one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture. It was was converted into a Christian cathedral in the 13th century. In 1984 it was declared a World Heritage Site.

Córdoba’s Mosque-Cathedral is a stunning monument to the two religions and cultures that have shaped Andalusia: Islam and Christianity. A Renaissance church squats right on top of what was once the most important mosque in the Islamic kingdom, making this building a must-see for anyone visiting Córdoba.

A Short History of the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Originally the site was home to a temple to the Roman god, Janus. It was later converted into the basilica of San Vicente by invading Visigoths who seized Cordoba in 572.  In 711, when the Moors took Andalusia from the Christians, the church structure was divided into two and used as a place of worship by both Muslims and Christians.

Following the overthrow the Umayyads family in Damascus by the Abbasids, the Umayyad Prince Abd al-Rahman I escaped to southern Spain. He quickly established control over almost all of the Iberian Peninsula and attempted to recreate the grandeur of Damascus in his new capital, Cordoba. By 784 the Muslim population had grown, and the basilica was completely acquired on his orders and the church was destroyed and work on a great mosque of Córdoba began.  He also sponsored elaborate building programs, promoted agriculture, and even imported fruit trees and other plants from his former home. The orange trees which still stand in the courtyard of the Mosque of Cordoba, a beautiful, if bittersweet reminder of the Umayyad exile.

Extensions in the 9th and 10th centuries, which included with the addition of the outer nave and courtyard, doubled its size. When the building was completed in 987 it one of the largest sacred buildings in the Islamic world, save only for that of Kaaba in Arabia.

In the summer of 997,  the feared Moorish warrior Al-Mansur, embarked on a violent rampage through northern Spain and devastated Santiago de Compostela.  He had the building’s bells removed and transported to Córdoba, where they were melted down and made into lights for the city’s mosque.

In 1236, Córdoba was recaptured by the Christians. King Ferdinand III immediately ordered the mosque’s lanterns to be transported back to Santiago de Compostela, where they were converted back into bells for the city’s cathedral. Subsequent Christian monarchs altered and added to – but never demolished – the mosque although its Moorish character was altered in the 16th century with the erection in the interior of a central high altar and cruciform choir, numerous chapels along the sides of the vast quadrangle, and a belfry 300 feet (90 metres) high in place of the old minaret.

What to see in the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Visiting the Mezquita gives you a glimpse of how it was at ancient times. The layout of the Mezquita is a relatively simple rectangle with the prayer hall almost a square. The total complex measures around 180 m by 130 m with the enclosed courtyard occupying nearly a third of the site towards the northern side.

Patio de los Naranjos

Patio De Los Naranjos, Mezquita Catedral De Cordoba
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Eric Titcombe

Access to the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba is now mostly via the Patio de los Naranjos or theCourtyard of the Orange trees, a rectangular courtyard, which covers the full width of the complex and nearly a third of its length. It is the largest and oldest courtyard in the city. Its orange trees are set in a grid of irrigation channels with stone circles for each of the trees. The patio was probably originally planted with palm trees and the the orange trees from which the Orange Tree Court takes its name were planted in the 15th century.

The courtyard was built be Abd al-Rahman I  (734 – 788 )  as the Sahn or courtyard of ablutions, or in other words, the ritual purification prior to Muslim prayer, it would have also been used to teach and hold trials. The mosque was originally open towards the courtyard so there was a greater relationship with the patio and the interior of the Mosque. The minaret, following the Omeya building tradition, was located outside the north wall.

With the arrival of the Christians, the prayer room was closed due to the opening of chapels on the north side of it.

The Hypostyle Hall

Mosquecathedral Of Cordoba
Pixabay / Waldo Miguez

The entrance to the Mezquita-Cathedral from the courtyard of the orange trees is directly into the oldest part of the original mosque (786-88). The mosque of Abd Al-Rahman I with eleven naves facing south, rather than directly towards Mecca. It is a large hypostyle prayer hall – the term hypostyle means, filled with columns. The hall had 1,293 columns at its completion of which 856 survived. The Moors plundered the site’s Roman and Visigoth ruins for the jasper, onyx, marble and granite needed to build the arches here. The iconic double-arch feature was the result of architectural necessity, since with single-arch columns the immense roof would have been too low. Extra height was also gained by placing a Roman arch on top of a Moorish horseshoe-shaped arch. Sunlight and shadows create unusual effects as you wander among the arches.

The focal point in the prayer hall is the famous horseshoe arched mihrab or prayer niche.  This is practical as Muslims face toward Mecca during their daily prayers. The mihrab in the Great Mosque of Cordoba is framed by an exquisitely decorated arch behind which is an unusually large space, the size of a small room. Gold tesserae (small pieces of glass with gold and color backing) create a dazzling combination of dark blues, reddish browns, yellows and golds that form intricate calligraphic bands and vegetal motifs that adorn the arch.

A mihrab is used in a mosque to identify the wall that faces Mecca—the birth place of Islam in what is now Saudi Arabia.

The Chapels

Chapels Of Mosque–Cathedral Of Cordoba
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Jean-Pierre Dalbéra

The first Christian additions were chapels set into the side of the Hypostyle Hall— around 40 in total. Around two-thirds into the prayer hall, some columns were replaced by Gothic vaulting to add a cathedral nave — now the Villaviciosa Chapel. However, the unmissable Christian addition is the huge Renaissance-Baroque transept and choir in the form of a Latin cross at the heart of the former mosque.

The bay immediately in front of the mihrab and the bays to each side form the maksura, the area where the caliphs and courtiers would have prayed. The mihrab and maksura are the most beautifully and intricately decorated parts of the whole mosque. Above the mihrab, is an equally dazzling dome. It is built of crisscrossing ribs that create pointed arches all lavishly covered with gold mosaic in a radial pattern. This astonishing building technique anticipates later Gothic rib vaulting, though on a more modest scale. The Great Mosque of Cordoba is a prime example of the Muslim world’s ability to brilliantly develop architectural styles based on pre-existing regional traditions. Here is an extraordinary combination of the familiar and the innovative, a formal stylistic vocabulary that can be recognized as “Islamic” even today.

Torre Campanario

Bell Tower Of Mosque–Cathedral Of Cordoba
CC BY-SA 2.0 / Michal Osmenda

The Torre Campanario or Bell Tower is the 54m-high bell tower of the cathedral that can be climbed for its fine panoramas of the city and views on the main Mezquita building.

Originally built by Abd ar-Rahman III in 951–52 as the Mezquita’s minaret, the tower was encased in a strengthened outer shell and heightened by the Christians in the 16th and 17th centuries. You can still see some caliphal vaults and arches inside. The original minaret would have looked something like the El Giralda in Seville, which was practically a copy. Córdoba’s minaret influenced all minarets built thereafter throughout the western Islamic world.

Guided Tours of the Mezquita in Córdoba

Information provided inside the Mezquita is rather limited. A good guide book, audio guide, multimedia guide or guided tour may be needed to fully appreciate the architecture, art and history of the building. Here are a selection of our recommended tours:

Opening Hours of the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

It is one of the most-important Islamic buildings in Spain but as a working Roman Catholic Church, opening hours are influenced by religions services. Opening hours for tourists are fairly long but shorter on Sundays and religious holidays.

The Mezquita Mosque-Cathedral is open for tourist and sightseeing purposes:

November to February:

  • Monday to Saturday: 8:30 – 9:20 & 10:00 – 18:00
  • Sunday: 8:30 to 11:30 & 15:00 – 18:00

March to October:

  • Monday to Saturday: 8:30 – 9:20 & 10:00 – 19:00
  • Sunday: 8:30 to 11:30 & 15:00 – 19:00

Buying Tickets for the Mezquita

Annoyingly, tickets for the Mezquita are only sold in the Courtyard of the Orange Trees on the day of the visit. Purchases are mostly from ticket windows as the vending machines seldom seem to work. You cannot purchase them in advance or anywhere online.

Dress code for visiting

As the Mezquita is still a fully functioning Roman Catholic Church the usual dress code applied such as no hats or caps and no bare shoulders or knees. Also bags bigger than a small day pack are not allowed inside and there is no storage for luggage or strollers.

Night Visits to the Mezquita

The El Alma de Córdoba or Soul of Córdoba is a night time visit to the Mezquita with audio guides arranged by the cathedral. These visits take around an hour and are restricted to a maximum of 100 people, which still leaves the vast Mezquita fairly empty. The Mezquita night visit time begins when it is already completely dark. But contrary to the day visit, the night visit follows a predetermined route, that you must follow. Once inside, the building will be pitch black, but it will gradually become illuminated as you walk around and discover the different sections.

A one-hour sound-and-light show in nine languages via audio guides, is presented in the Mezquita twice nightly except Sundays from March to October, and on Friday and Saturday from November to February.

Visiting Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Address: CORDOBA Calle Cardenal Herrero, 1 14003
Telephone: +34 957 470 512
Duration: 2 hours

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