Located in Cordoba’s beautiful mid-sized hill-covered city, the Great Mosque of Cordoba Mihrab, locally known as Mezquita, is an impressive historical structure built in 784 AD.
But what makes Mezquita unique is not its appearance or its size, rather its history and the extraordinary mix of culture. This catholic cathedral used to be one of the grandest Islamic mosques in the Al-Andalus region. It was also the third-largest mosque during the Umayyad Caliphate.
Considered Islam’s most prized legacies in Spain, the mosque was expanded three times over the next two centuries after its original structure was completed. The original structure was built on an old Visigothic church with a courtyard and roofed prayer room.
Some of the materials used to construct the mosque were from this building. Hisham I completed the Great Mosque of Cordoba Mihrab.
Its first expansion happened during Abd al-Rahman II when he instructed to make the prayer hall of the great mosque of Cordoba gigantic. This altered the original elevation of the building and produced capitals. Muhammad I completed the work, and he also finished the masqura and restored St. Stephen’s Gate. His sons al-Mundhir and ‘Abdallah finished the treasure room and the covered passageway.
Towards the end of the 10the century, al Mansur built the last and most tremendous expansion during Hisham II’s reign. Since the mosque couldn’t be enlarged any further to the south, they enlarged it to the east and added eight new naves. The rest were left unchanged, including the mihrab and the mashqura of al-Hakam II.
Aside from being a mosque, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was also used as a Christian Cathedral. In 1236 when Christian forces came to Cordoba, the Mosque was consecrated to the Cathedral of the Virgin Mary’s Assumption. Unlike other mosques torn down to make way for cathedrals, the Great Mosque of Cordoba was preserved. It’s currently one of the main tourist attractions in the city.
Famous for its colorful interior and intricately detailed Mihrab, the Great Mosque of Cordoba is often considered a truly exquisite architecture. It’s one of its kind in the city. The mosque’s stunning design can be seen in its massive prayer halls, which feel like an abyss that goes on all sides.
The Mihrab is located in the area of the Maqsurah – the center of the qibla wall – and is considered the holiest place of the mosque where people pray today. It’s positioned between the doors of the treasury chamber and the Sabat.
Today, it’s also one of the most visited because of its fantastic art and architecture. When people talk about the Mihrab dome, they don’t mean just the niche in the wall. In the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Mihrab is a small octagonal room. It is where everyone gathers to look at the fabulous decoration and stylized motifs.
The Mosque’s Interior
Overall, the mosque is divided into two sections. The first one is the courtyard or sahn, where the minaret stands. The second is the prayer hall or haram. The hall is comprised of a forest of columns with red and white arches.
Entering inside the mosque, you’ll find two small black marble columns which support a round arch entrance. The patterns on the arch include dark black, red, gray vines on a golden background. This was believed to be created by Byzantine artists hired by Al-Hajam II. Above the arch, you’ll find inlaid gold spirals at marble corners.
There’s also a band of Kufic script written in gold that reads:
“Praise be to God, master of the worlds who favored Al-Hakam II, the servant of God, the prince of the faithful…for this venerable construction and helping him in the building of this eternal palace, to make this mosque more spacious for his subjects, both something he and they greedily wanted.”
Its ribbed dome above the mihrab is one of its most distinctive features. The intricate cross-ribbed structure with glittering Byzantine-style mosaics mihrab and arches creates a striking appearance and illuminates the mihrab under it. The horseshoe shape of the lower arches in the prayer hall is very much a Western Islamic architecture product.
In 962 AD, Al Akham II built a new mihrab with an entire room as a particular area for him to pray. The room was the first of its type and was reserved only for him. Although it contained the same themes as the rest of the mosque, the masqurah had more embellishments. It had intricately carved white and gold voussoirs on its red and white arches. The arches served as two screens to the mihrab, which signifies the interior’s detail and luxury.
Another unique part of the great mosque of cordoba’s architecture is a lower level beneath the sanctuary. Here you’ll find rooms paved with mosaics in dark, red, black, and white patterned designs. The mosaics slightly resemble the Roman or Phoenician style. The stones used were believed to be from the quarries not far from Cordoba, where they produce jasper of black, red, and white mixtures.
The Mosque’s Exterior
The mosque is located near Al-Wadi River, now Guadalquivir River. The structure has a gross area of 21,875 m2. Its walls were constructed with limestone in chunks of about 1.07 – 1.15 m in length and 0.53-0.60m in width. It has a depth of around 0.48 m. The chunks are aligned in a longitudinal orientation to size with a fence depth of 1.14m.
The mosque features a two-tiered system of arches that are made of red and white stones. The arches rest upon columns made of marble, granite, jasper, and onyx. Most of these materials reclaimed came from other ancient buildings.
Each of the several main buildings follows the style and concept of the original. They all have a walled-in courtyard, a hypostyle hall that’s built on a grid of modular bays. The arcades contain double arches heavily inspired by Umayyad Mosque. The columns and nodes are a blend of Gothic and Arabic art.
According to architectural historian Nuha N.N Khoury, the structure was used for several centuries. So its design “lies at a crossroad between past and future.” It combined the distinct older style of the Umayyad traditions and the new creative methods in the Al-Andalus. The presence of spoliated columns, banded arches, and hypostyle arches is similar to the Dome of the Rock and the Great Mosque of Damascus.
To summarize, here are the things we learned about the mosque:
- The Great Mosque of Cordoba is known locally as the Mezquita. It is one of the main tourist attractions in the city.
- The mosque’s original structure was built in 784 AD. It then had a series of expansions for the next two centuries.
- The mosque’s mihrab is ethereally beautiful and filled with Byzantine-inspired mosaics.
- The mosque is believed to have been inspired by the Great Mosque of Damascus, hence the similarities in architecture
- The mosque is now a catholic cathedral.
The Mosque Today
For centuries, the Mosque has remained the heart and central focus of Cordoba—even today. It’s also considered one of the most significant monuments in the whole of the western Muslim world.
The Great Mosque of Cordoba was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984. From then on the Cordoba Historic center protected and maintained the structure’s material integrity.
It had many controversies in later years because of its history. Since the early 2000s, many Spanish Muslims have tried to persuade the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral. However, their campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions both by the church authorities in Spain and the Vatican.