The Mezquita de Córdoba, the Great Mosque of Córdoba, is arguably, alongside with the Alhambra in Granada, the finest example of Moorish art in the whole of the western world. It is the grandest mosque, and one of the most amazing buildings in the world.
The Mezquita de Córdoba shows the complete evolution of the Omeyan style in Spain in its different sections, as well as the Gothic, Renaissance and Baroque styles of the Christian part. It is situated right in the center of Córdoba, surrounded by pretty well preserved Moorish and Jewish quarters.
It has been a Unesco World Heritage Site for many years already.
The architecture of the Mezquita de Córdoba tells the history of a fascinating era. The site which the Mezquita occupies has been used for the worship of different divinities since ancient times. First is was the site of a Roman temple. With the onset of the barbarian invasions of the 6th century, Roman society on the Iberian peninsula crumbled and Cordoba fell to the Visigoths, and it was the site of a Visigoths basilique. In 756 the Caliph of Damascus set up his court at Córdoba and laid the foundations for the most glorious period of the city’s history. He began building the Great Mosque. Afterwards it has been extended with several buildings.
Córdoba’s period of greatest glory began in the 8th century with the Moorish conquest.
During the reign of the Caliph of Damascus Córdoba became the centre of a great realm renowned for its artistic and intellectual predominance and its liberal toleration of other religions. At its height the city is said to have enclosed over 300 mosques and innumerable palaces and public buildings, rivalling the splendours of Constantinople, Damascus, and Baghdad. For many centuries Córdoba has been the thriving capital of Al-Andalus, the great Moorish empire, that extended throughout almost all of Spain.
For many centuries Córdoba was the ‘center of the world’.
In the 13th century Córdoba was captured by the Catholics and Cordoba’s Mezquita was turned into a cathedral. New defensive structures, particularly the Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos and the Torre Fortaleza de la Calahorra, were erected. The Christian structures of the Alcázar were built as a royal residence. They show strong Mudejar influence in their design. With the re-establishment of Christian rule over the whole of the Iberian peninsula, Córdoba lost much of its political and intellectual importance.
The Mezquita de Córdoba is made up of two distinct areas, the courtyard or sahn, with its porticos, where the minaret stands – nowadays, encased in the Renaissance tower – and the prayer hall, or haram. The area inside is made up of a forest of columns with a harmonious colour scheme of red and white arches. The five separate areas of the Mosque correspond to each of the five extensions carried out. The gardens of the Alcázar formed part of the Moorish design for the area around the Mosque, and are good examples of Moorish Andalusian garden design, with effective use of water.
The Mezquita de Cordóba can be visited all day long on weekdays, in weekends it is closed at midday. Do keep in mind that during summer temperatures easily rise up to 40 degrees C or even more. If you wish to have a good impression of the lively city, a visit early morning or late in the afternoon is advisable.
During the siesta the whole city is literary asleep.
Quite apart from the Mezquita de Cordóba, and the palace complex of Medina Azahara, there is much more to enjoy in this vibrant city. The historic centre of Córdoba, clustering round the mosque-cathedral, preserves much of its medieval urban fabric, with its characteristic narrow, winding streets. It forms part of the Unesco Heritage Site and is definitely worth a visit. Take your time to go for a leisurely stroll around the labyrinth of alleyways in the Jewish quarter Judería. You will find picturesque squares with trickling fountains, flowerfilled patios and tiny streets with balconies overflowing with geraniums.
Cordóba has preserved most of its authentic character.
And if you wish to get away from all this: go for a walk in the nearby Sierra Morena, wonderful for a change.