Roman-founded Cordoba, a major Islamic centre of administration and learning – then known as Qurtubah – was conquered by the army of the Ummayad Caliphate (based out of Damascus) in 716 AD. When the Ummayads were defeated by the Abbasids in 750 AD (who then moved the capital to Baghdad), the remnants of the Ummayad leadership relocated to faraway Cordoba, which in turn fell to the Spanish in 1236. This marked the beginning of the end of Islamic rule in Iberia, which they called Al Andalus. At its peak in the 10th century, Cordoba was said to have 500,000 inhabitants, the most prosperous in Europe and possibly the largest city in the world. The iconic Mosque Cathedral was built during this glorious era.
After a good night’s sleep in a chalet in the village of La Carlota, we find another beautiful fine day, hopefully not as hot as in Merida yesterday.
From La Carlota, we drive 30km northeast to Cordoba along the autovia A-4. It’s beginning to look like another hot day.
We soon immerse ourselves in the old town of Cordoba.
In these old buildings, the main door normally leads to home units with a courtyard in the middle.
Something very Cordoban is this garden in the patio of the building courtyard, found in the ancient Juderia area.
Past Juderia, we come to our first major find – The Alcazar – the 14th century castle of the Christian kings, but it’s not the subject of our mission.
A couple of hundred metres later we spot Moor-influenced buildings …
… and around the corner, stands our target, La Mezquita Catedral – The Mosque Cathedral.
We duly enter the cobblestone lane, with the western wall of the famed Mosque Cathedral to our right.
But I notice something odd – the huge building, formerly the 8th century Great Mosque of Cordoba, does not seem to be aligned to Mecca. This is confirmed by the image below (from HERE). The red line is the direction to Mecca … so why the misalignment? Well, a theory says the homesick fugitives from Damascus decided to align their new mosque in Cordoba according to their former great mosque in Damascus.
In any case, it is an impressive structure, with huge doors for the faithfuls to stream in and out all day long. This is a common feature for mosques.
During the Islamic rule, the doors would have Arabic names, but have since been renamed.
Ornate carvings with holy Quranic verses cover the huge façade.
These thousand-year-old motifs are still being used in present-day Islamic architecture.
In another ancient building opposite the Mosque Cathedral, there’s a visitor centre describing the attractions in old Cordoba.
Dotted with objects of interest, old Corboba is a paradise for history lovers.
We enter the courtyard of the Mosque Cathedral, under the shadow of the prominent belfry. The original minaret of the former Great Mosque is encassed inside this belfry, built 16th century.
On a hot day such as today’s, the cool corridor encircling the courtyard is a welcome relief.
On the wall, original carved wooden planks used for the ceiling are displayed.
We find ourselves at the ticket booth …
… and are soon heading for the Mosque Cathedral’s main entrance, with much anticipation.
We gingerly enter the darkened main hall of the Mosque Cathedral, and as our eyes adjust to the low lighting (I’m using a fast f/2.8 lens with ISO1600!), we see something we have only seen on television before – the glorious masterpiece created by Emir Abd Al Rahman I (who ruled Andalusia 756-788 AD). He fled Damascus for Cordoba when his family was massacred by the conquering Abbasids, and began to build this Great Mosque in 785 AD. Note the innovative double-decker arches atop the pillars.
Along the wall, we see what look like sealed portals, and this one is adorned with geometric and floral motifs, together with the ‘Allah’ motif. Abd Al Rahman I designed this mosque based on the Ummayad’s Great Mosque in Damascus and the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina – in faraway Iberia to remind them of home.
This spot in the mosque was dug to show the remnant of the ancient Visigothic Church of St Vincent, which Abd Al Rahman I purchased and demolished in 785 AD, to make way for the Great Mosque. Prior to this the original mosque shared the same building as the church. Before that it was probably the site of a Roman temple.
A lone pillar in its original 10th century form is protected – just one of the 850+ pillars in the mosque. The mosque was subsequently extended by Abd Al Rahman II (ruled 822-852 AD), Abd Al Rahman III (912-961), Al Hakam II (961-976) and Al Mansur (987-990). From the original shape of a square of side 79m, the mosque ended up a rectangle of 130m by 182m.
Views of the mosque when restoration work began in the 1930s.
An altar along the western wall of the mosque. King Ferdinand III conquered Cordoba in 1236, and turned this mosque into a cathedral.
At the southern wall, the mihrab of the mosque, the space in the wall where the imam used to lead prayers. It’s supposed to point towards Mecca instead of south, but as I described before, this great mosque is a special case.
Close-up of the magnificent mihrab, built by Al-Hakam II who was caliph 961-976 AD. Said to be blissfully gay, he kept a male harem.
The edge of the mihrab is adorned with holy verses of the Quran in gold, in praise of Allah and asking for His Blessing and Guidance.
Still at the mihrab area, I gaze upward and see the Central Dome. Al Hakam II is a strong believer in predestination, and the verses of the Quran presented here carry that theme.
More verses atop the pillars where the arches meet the decorative ceiling.
Next to the mihrab, there’s a mini museum. Here a 10th century canonical tablet and …
… some relatively new 18th century Bibles.
The main altar at the top of the transept of the Cathedral, built 16th century right in the middle of the mosque by King Carlos I.
The structure of the cathedral retains the Moorish architecture.
At the other end of the transept, visitors mill around Jesus.
We take a breather before exiting this magnificent place of worship. Overwhelmingly magical! It’s a pity that a great mosque – thousands must have prayed here at any time – has been converted into a cathedral, but it is this very action which saved this beautiful building from destruction. It’s God’s Will after all.
> THE END