The Great Mosque of Cordoba (784-786): A Controversial Architectural Statement in the History of Both Christians and Muslims
Umayyad dynasty in Spain, and one of the outstanding buildings of the city is the Great Mosque of Cordoba (known as the Mesquita in Spanish). The Mosque is considered an outstanding example of the architecture of both Muslims and Christians. It was built by of 'Abd al-Rahman I, between 784 and 786. The mosque is believed to be built on the site of an earlier Christian church dedicated to Saint Vincent that had been built by the Visigoths around 500 CE. Before the church, the site was occupied by the Roman temple, Janus (the double-headed god of doorways and gates).
Image credit: The outstanding combination of a cathedral and a mosque
In 1236, Ferdinand III king of Castile ordered the consecration of the Great Mosque to become the cathedral of the city for almost three hundred years. In the early 16th century the Bishop and Canons of the cathedral suggested the demolition of the mosque in order to build a new cathedral on the same site. The residents of Cordoba opposed the idea of the Bishop and they were supported by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, who decided to insert an entire Gothic "chapel" into the middle of the Great Mosque. The combination of a cathedral within a mosque created stunning juxtaposition between the high profile of the cathedral and the relatively low profile of the mosque.
Image credit: The cathedral is inserted in the moddle of the mosque
Following the traditional prototype of the Umayyad mosques in Damascus, the great mosque of Cordoba consists of an enclosed courtyard and a prayer hypostyle hall. The prayer hall is 23,400 square meters, and its roof is supported by an outstanding arrangement of rows of columns supporting double arcades of piers and arches. Similar to the Dome of the Rock Mosque, and the Great Mosque of Damascus, the whole interior of the mosque is treated with impressive alternating red and white strips, which create a stunning visual interest to the viewers.
Image credit: The prayer hypostyle hall with double-tiered arcades and alternating red and white strips
In fact, the architecture and the masses of the mosque represented an unprecedented architectural composition. Throughout different consecutive periods, the mosque experienced major expansion and changes, specifically at the reigns of 'Abd al-Rahman II between 833-852, al-Hakam II between 961-976, and the vizier al-Mansur from 987. What is really interesting is the visual continuation of the interior’s rows of columns, by planting rows of trees in the courtyard, known as the Court of the Oranges.
Image credit: Court of the Oranges, Cordova. c.12th C
One of the most stunning and lavishly ornamented part of the mosque is the ‘Maqsura’ (the ruler’s prayer space), which was commissioned by the caliph al-Hakam II. It is separated from the rest of the prayer hall by distinctive intersecting polylobed arcades. The maqsura is adorned with intricate carved marble, stucco, and mosaics.
Image credit: ‘Maqsura’ (the ruler’s prayer space)
Another important feature of the the mosque is the mihrab, a niche in the wall indicating the direction to Makkah. The mihrab is formed by a horseshoe arch and decorated by an elaborate rectangular frame containing verses from the Koran and justification for the caliphate of Córdoba written in elegant Kufic characters. The mihrab in itself represents a distinctive example of the art of calligraphy. The mihrab is also surrounded by stunning polylobed arcades which create an outstanding visual effect
Image credit: Interior of the Mihrab, framed by the horseshoe arch
Image credit: Polylobed arcades surrounding the mihrab
In the early 17th century, the Gothic-like style cathedral was constructed in the centre of the mosque worship hall by removing sixteen columns to allow enough space to the cathedral. However, the rest of the mosque still retains its original form, and one can appreciate the space and design of both the genuine Islamic architecture, and Christian architecture. Although the original mosque is stunning, the architecture of the Cathedral is also striking and the dramatic combination is really unprecedented. The interior of the cathedral is theatrical, having the choir loft coated with intricate wood carvings and complete with two huge organs. The space is also characterised by vaulted ceiling and domes above the grand alter pieces. However, unlike the normal cathedral with the chapels situated around the main cathedral area, here, the chapels are around the perimeter of the mosque and built under the arches. It is really an amazing mix and integration of two important types of architecture.
Image credit: The choir loft coated with intricate wood carvings
Image credit: Vaulted ceiling and domes above the grand alter pieces
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