Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba

"Mezquita" redirects here. For other uses, see Mezquita (disambiguation).
Cathedral-Mosque of Córdoba

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, a World Heritage Site.
Basic information
Location Historic centre, Córdoba, Andalusia, Spain
Geographic coordinates 37°52′45.1″N 04°46′47″W / 37.879194°N 4.77972°W / 37.879194; -4.77972Coordinates: 37°52′45.1″N 04°46′47″W / 37.879194°N 4.77972°W / 37.879194; -4.77972
District Diocese of Córdoba
State Spain
Region Iberian Peninsula
Ecclesiastical or organizational status Active
Status Cathedral
Heritage designation UNESCO World Heritage Site[2]
Architectural description
Architectural type Mosque, Cathedral
Architectural style Moorish, Renaissance
Groundbreaking 784
Completed 987

The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba[3][4] (Spanish: Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba), also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba[2][4][5] (Spanish: Mezquita de Córdoba) and the Mezquita,[6][7][8] whose ecclesiastical name is the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption (Spanish: Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción),[9] is the Catholic cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and located in the Spanish region of Andalusia.[10] The structure is regarded as one of the most accomplished monuments of Moorish architecture.

The site was originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin, the Catholic Basilica of Saint Vincent of Lérins.[11][12][13] When Muslims conquered Spain in 711, the church was first divided into Muslim and Christian halves. This sharing arrangement of the site lasted until 784, when the Christian half was purchased by the Emir 'Abd al-Rahman I, who then proceeded to demolish the original structure and build the grand mosque of Córdoba on its ground.[12][14] Córdoba returned to Christian rule in 1236 during the Reconquista, and the building was converted to a Roman Catholic church, culminating in the insertion of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the 16th century.[12][13]

Since the early 2000s, Spanish Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the cathedral.[15][16] This Muslim campaign has been rejected on multiple occasions, both by the church authorities in Spain and by the Vatican.[15][17]


The cathedral was originally a Catholic church dedicated to Saint Vincent the third,[12][13] although according to Susana Calvo Capilla, a specialist on the history of the Mosque–Cathedral, no clear archaeological evidence has been found of where this earlier church was on the site.[18] After the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic kingdom, the building was divided between the Muslims and Christians. When the exiled Umayyad prince Abd al-Rahman I escaped to Iberia and defeated the governor of Al-Andalus, Yusuf al-Fihri, he found the Cordovese divided into various sects, including the Gnostics, Priscillianists, Donatists, and Luciferians. His ambition was to erect a temple which would rival in magnificence those of Baghdad, Jerusalem, and Damascus, and approach in sanctity the fame of Mecca. Above a Christian church dedicated do Saint Vincent, Abd al-Rahman decided to raise his great mosque. He offered to buy the church and the plot. The negotiations for the sale were placed in the hands of the Sultan's favourite secretary, Umeya ibn Yezid. Under the terms of the transfer, the Cordovese were permitted to reconstruct the church formerly dedicated to Ss Faustus, Januarius, and Marcellus, three Christian martyrs whom they deeply revered.[19]

Abd al-Rahman allowed the Christians to rebuild their ruined churches and purchased the Christian half of the church of St Vincent, as agreed upon in the sale terms.[20][21] The Emirate was rich. Apart from the treasure wrested from the Goths during the recent wars, he also extracted a tithe upon the produce of the land and on manufactures. Every able Muslims in Andalusia were asked to provide to pay the Zakat. A mandatory tax known as Jizya was also laid upon only one able Christian and Jew per household in Andalusia as a precondition for services & protection provided by the government of Andalusia, unless they participated in the protection services themselves. The Jizya was lesser than the Zakat, and both were one of the main sources of income for the Muslim rulers in lands occupied by Islamic tribes but populated still by Christians, to provide all needed services for all people living in the land, especially the poor.[22] Beyond this, the Moorish kings were greatly enriched by the acquisition of the valuable mines of Iberia, the quarries of marble, and other sources of wealth. From these revenues Abd al-Rahman and his successors, Hisham, Abd-al Rahman II, the greatest of the dynasty and the third of the line, and lastly the extravagant Almanzor, lavished large sums upon the designing, construction, and costly adornment of the Mosque.[19] Abd al-Rahman I and his descendants reworked the building over the following two centuries to fashion it as a mosque, starting in 784. Additionally, Abd al-Rahman I used the mosque (originally called Aljama Mosque) as an adjunct to his palace and named it in honour of his wife. Traditionally, the mihrab (or apse) of a mosque faces in the direction of Mecca; by facing the mihrab, worshipers pray towards Mecca. Mecca is east-southeast of the mosque, but the mihrab of this mosque unusually points south.[23]

The work of building the resplendent Mezquita employed thousands of artisans and labourers, and such a vast undertaking led to the development of all the resources of the district. Hard stone and beautifully veined marbles were quarried from the Sierra Morena and the surrounding regions of the city. Metals of various kinds were dug from the soil, and factories sprang up in Córdoba amid the stir and bustle of an awakened industrial energy. A famous Syrian architect made the plans for the Mosque. Leaving his own house on the edge of Córdoba, the Emir came to reside in the city, so that he might personally superintend the operations and offer proposals for the improvement of the designs. Abd al-Rahman moved about among the workers, directing them for several hours of every day.[19]

The mosque underwent numerous subsequent changes: Abd al-Rahman II ordered a new minaret, while in 961 Al-Hakam II enlarged the building and enriched the Mihrab. The last of such reforms was carried out by Almanzor in 987. It was connected to the Caliph's palace by a raised walk-way, mosques within the palaces being the tradition for previous Islamic rulers – as well as Christian Kings who built their palaces adjacent to churches. The Mezquita reached its current dimensions in 987 with the completion of the outer naves and courtyard.


Plan designs.
Further information: Moorish architecture

In planning the mosque, the architects incorporated a number of Roman columns with choice capitals. Some of the columns were already in the Gothic structure; others were sent from various regions of Iberia as presents from the governors of provinces. Ivory, jasper, porphyry, gold, silver, copper, and brass were used in the decorations. Marvellous mosaics and azulejos were designed. Panels of scented woods were fastened with nails of pure gold, and the red marble columns were said to be the work of God. The primitive part of the building, erected under the direction of Abd al-Rahman I., was that bordering the Court of Oranges. Later, the immense temple embodied all the styles of Morisco architecture into one composition.[19]

The Great Mosque of Córdoba held a place of importance amongst the Islamic community of al-Andalus for three centuries. In Córdoba, the capital, the Mosque was seen as the heart and central focus of the city.[24] Muhammad Iqbal described its hypostyle hall as having "countless pillars like rows of palm trees in the oases of Syria".[25] To the people of al-Andalus "the beauty of the mosque was so dazzling that it defied any description."[26]

The main hall of the mosque was used for a variety of purposes. It served as a central Prayer hall for personal devotion, the five daily Muslim prayers and the special Friday prayers. It also would have served as a hall for teaching and for Sharia Law cases during the rule of Abd al-Rahman & his successors.[27]

The Great Mosque of Córdoba exhibited features, and an architectural appearance, similar to the Great Mosque of Damascus,[28] therefore it is evident that it was used as a model by Abd al-Rahman for the creation of the Great Mosque in Córdoba.

The prayer hall


The building is most notable for its arcaded hypostyle hall, with 856 columns of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. These were made from pieces of the Roman temple which had occupied the site previously, as well as other destroyed Roman buildings, such as the Mérida amphitheatre. The double arches were a new introduction to architecture, permitting higher ceilings than would otherwise be possible with relatively low columns. The double arches consist of a lower horseshoe arch and an upper semi-circular arch. The famous alternating red and white voussoirs of the arches were inspired by those in the Dome of the Rock.[26] and also resemble those of the Aachen Cathedral, which were built almost at the same time. Horseshoe arches were known in the Iberian Peninsula since late Antiquity, as can be seen on the 3rd-century "Estela de los Flavios", now in the arqueological museum of León. A centrally located honey-combed dome has blue tiles decorated with stars.

The edifice also has a richly gilded prayer niche or mihrab. The mihrab is a masterpiece of architectural art, with geometric and flowing designs of plants. Other prominent features were: an open court (sahn) surrounded by arcades, screens of wood, minarets, colourful mosaics, and windows of coloured glass.[26] The walls of the mosque had Quranic inscriptions written on them. As many adherents of Islam reject sculptural or pictorial representations of people or of God within religious contexts, all decoration of the cathedral is accomplished through tile work, calligraphy and architectural forms.

Marbles of spotless white were chosen for the columns. Arrazi, an Arab writer, speaks of the valuable wine-coloured marble, obtained from the mountains of the district, which was much used in embellishing the naves of the mosque. Hisham's temple covered an area of 460 by 280 feet (140 m × 85 m). It was flanked by stout, fortified walls, with watch towers and a tall minaret. The number of the outer gates was nine, and of the inner doors eleven. These doors led to the same number of naves within the mosque. The court had spacious gates on the north, west, and east sides, and fountains for the purification of the pious. The naves were eleven in number, stretching from north to south, and these were crossed by twenty-one smaller naves running from east to west.[19]


The building's floor plan is seen to be parallel to some of the earliest mosques built from the very beginning of Islam.[24] It had a rectangular prayer hall with aisles arranged perpendicular to the qibla, the direction towards which Muslims pray.[29] The prayer hall was large, flat, with timber ceilings held up by arches of horseshoe-like appearance.[24]

One hundred fifty years following its creation, a staircase to the roof was added, along with a southward extension of the mosque itself. A bridge was built linking the prayer hall with the Caliph's palace.[28] The mosque was later expanded even further south, as was the courtyard which surrounded it. The mosque was built in four stages, with each Caliph and his elite contributing to it.[30]

Until the 11th century, the courtyard was unpaved earth with citrus and palm trees irrigated – at first by rainwater cisterns, and later by aqueduct. Excavation indicates the trees were planted in a pattern, with surface irrigation channels. The stone channels visible today are not original.[31]

Abd al-Rahman III added a new tower. The minaret contained two staircases, which were built for the separate ascent and descent of the tower. On the summit there were three apples, two of gold and one of silver, with lilies of six petals. The minaret is four-faced, with fourteen windows, having arches upon jasper columns, and the structure is adorned with tracery.[19]


West wall, from north to south:

  • Capilla de San Ambrosio
  • Capilla de San Agustín
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora de las Nieves y San Vicente Mártir
  • Capilla de los Santos Simón y Judas de la Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba
  • Capilla de la Concepción de Salizanes o del Santísimo Sacramento
  • Capilla de San Antonio Abad
  • Capilla de la Trinidad
  • Capilla de San Acacio
  • Capilla de San Pedro y San Lorenzo
  • Museo de San Vicente

South wall, from west to east:

  • Capilla de San Bartolomé
  • Mihrab y Maqsura
  • Capilla de Santa Teresa
  • Capilla de Santa Inés
  • Capilla del Sagrario

East wall, from north to south:

  • Capilla de San Antonio de Padua
  • Capilla de San Marcos, Santa Ana y San Juan Bautista
  • Capilla de San Mateo y Limpia Concepción de Nuestra Señora
  • Capilla de San Juan Bautista
  • Capilla de Santa Marina, de San Matías y del Baptisterio
  • Capilla de San Nicolás de Bari
  • Capilla de la Expectación
  • Capilla del Espíritu Santo
  • Capilla de la Concepción Antigua
  • Capilla de San José
  • Capilla de la Natividad de Nuestra Señora
  • Capilla de Santa María Magdalena

North wall, from west to east:

  • Capilla de San Eulogio
  • Capilla de San Esteban
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Mayor Dolor
  • Capilla de la Virgen de la Antigua
  • Capilla de San Andrés
  • Capilla de la Epifanía
  • Capilla de Nuestra Señora del Rosario
  • Capilla de las Benditas Ánimas del Purgatorio
  • Capilla de los Santos Varones
  • Capilla de Santa Francisca Romana y Santa Úrsula


West façade, along Calle Torrijos, north to south:

East façade, along Calle del Magistrado González Francés, north to south:

North façade, along calle Cardenal Herrero, west to east:

The Reconquista

Main article: Reconquista
This painting by Edwin Lord Weeks (circa 1880) depicts an old Moor preaching holy war against Christians at the mosque's mihrab. "Despite the painting's illusion of reality, such a jihad, or holy war, would never have been called for in a mosque."[32] Walters Art Museum

In 1236, Córdoba was conquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, and the mosque was converted into a Catholic church in its centre. Alfonso X oversaw the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque. The kings who followed added further Christian features, such as King Henry II rebuilding the chapel in the 14th century. The minaret of the mosque was also converted to the bell tower of the cathedral. It was adorned with Santiago de Compostela's captured cathedral bells.[33]

The most significant alteration was the building of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the middle of the expansive structure. The insertion was constructed by permission of Charles V, king of Castile and Aragon. However, when Charles V visited the completed cathedral he was displeased by the result and famously commented, "they have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city."

Artisans and architects continued to add to the existing structure until the late 18th century.

2000s Muslim campaign

Bell tower from Court of Oranges

Muslims across Spain have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the complex, with the Islamic Council of Spain lodging a formal request with the Vatican.[15][16] However, Spanish church authorities and the Vatican have opposed this move.[17] These battles over the cathedral reflect the contested view of what constitutes Spanish history and Spanish identity.[34]

2010 incident

In April 2010, two Muslim tourists were arrested at the Cathedral, after an incident in which two security guards were seriously injured. The incident occurred when the building was filled with tourists visiting the cathedral during Holy Week.[35][36]

According to cathedral authorities, when half a dozen Austrian Muslims, who were part of a group of 118 people on an organized tour for young European Muslims, knelt to pray at the same time, security guards stepped in and "invited them to continue with their tour or leave the building".[35][36] A fight took place between two of the tourists and the security guards. The security guards suffered serious injuries and had to be hospitalized and two Muslim men were detained.[35][36][37]

In popular culture

Sacred for lovers of art, you are the glory of faith,
You have made Andalusia pure as a holy land![1]

  1. ^ Cite error: The named reference poem was invoked but never defined (see the help page).


See also


  1. Fichner-Rathus, Lois (2012). Understanding Art (with Art Coursemate with EBook Printed Access Card). Cengage Learning. p. 336. ISBN 1111836957. Retrieved December 14, 2012.
  2. 1 2 "Historic Centre of Cordoba". UNESCO. Retrieved Aug 17, 2016. The Great Mosque of Cordoba was inscribed on the World Heritage List in 1984
  3. "Web Oficial del Conjunto Monumental Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba". Retrieved Aug 15, 2016.
  4. 1 2 "Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba". Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. Retrieved Aug 15, 2016.
  5. Lapunzina, Alejandro (2005). Architecture of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 81.
  6. DK Eyewitness Travel Guide: Seville & Andalusia. Penguin. 2006. p. 148.
  7. Geoff Garvey, Mark Ellingham (2009). The Rough Guide to Andalucia. Penguin. p. 474.
  8. Isabella Noble, John Noble, Josephine Quintero, Brendan Sainsbury (2016). Lonely Planet Andalucia. Lonely Planet. p. 22.
  9. 100 Countries, 5,000 Ideas. National Geographic Society. 2011. p. 299. ISBN 9781426207587. The eight-century Great Mosque with double arches in Córdoba was transformed into the Cathedral of our Lady of Assumption.
  10. Daniel, Ben (2013). The Search for Truth about Islam. Westminster John Knox Press. p. 93. ISBN 9780664237059. The church is Catholic and has been for centuries, but when Catholic Spaniards expelled the local Arabic and Muslim population (the people they called the Moors) in 1236, they didn't do what the Catholic Church tended to do everywhere else when it moved in and displaced locally held religious beliefs: they didn't destroy the local religious shrine and build a cathedral of the foundations of the sacred space that had been knocked down. Instead, they built a church inside and up through the roof of the mosque, and then dedicated the entire space to Our Lady of the Assumption and made it the cathedral for the Diocese of Córdoba.
  12. 1 2 3 4 Guia, Aitana (1 July 2014). The Muslim Struggle for Civil Rights in Spain, 1985–2010: Promoting Democracy Through Islamic Engagement. Sussex Academic Press. p. 137. ISBN 9781845195816. It was originally a small temple of Christian Visigoth origin. Under Umayyad reign in Spain (711–1031 CE), it was expanded and made into a mosque, which it would remain for eight centuries. During the Christian reconquest of Al-Andalus, Christians captured the mosque and consecrated it as a Catholic church.
  13. 1 2 3 Armstrong, Ian (2013). Spain and Portugal. Avalon Travel Publishing. ISBN 9781612370316. On this site originally stood the Visigoths' Christian Church of San Vicente, but when the Moors came to town in 758 CE they knocked it down and constructed a mosque in its place. When Córdoba fell once again to the Christians, King Ferdinand II and his successors set about Christianizing the structure, most dramatically adding the bright pearly white Renaissance nave where mass is held every morning.
  14. Jarbel, Rodriguez. Muslim and Christian Contact in the Middle Ages: A Reader. University of Toronto Press. p. 41. ISBN 9781442600669.
  15. 1 2 3 Sills, Ben (2004-04-19). "Cathedral may see return of Muslims". The Guardian. London.
  16. 1 2 Thomson, Muslims ask Pope to OK worship in ex-mosque, Reuters, (2011),
  17. 1 2 Fuchs, Dale (2006-12-28). "Pope asked to let Muslims pray in cathedral". The Guardian. London.
  18. Eric Calderwood (10 April 2015). "The Reconquista of the Mosque of Córdoba". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 29 December 2015.
  19. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Calvert, Albert Frederick; Gallichan, Walter Matthew (1907). Cordova, a City of the Moors (Public domain ed.). J. Lane. pp. 42–.
  20. Josef W. Meri and Jere L. Bacharach, Medieval Islamic Civilization, Routledge, (2005), p. 176 ff.
  21. Irving, T. B. (1962). The Falcon of Spain. Ashraf Press, Lahore. p. 82.
  22. Blockmans, Wim, and Peter Hoppenbrouwers. Introduction to Medieval Europe 300–1500. Routledge, 2014.
  23. Lapunzina, Alejandro (2005). Architecture of Spain. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 82–83.
  24. 1 2 3 Jayyusi, Salma Khadra, ed. The Legacy of Muslim Spain, 2 Vols.. Leiden: BRILL, p.599.
  25. Muhammad Iqbal,The Mosque of Córdoba
  26. 1 2 3 Anwar, G. Chejne, Muslim Spain: Its History and Culture, MINNE ed. Minnesota: University Of Minnesota Press, p.364.
  27. Jan, Read. The Moors in Spain and Portugal. London: Rowman & Littlefield Pub Inc, p.56.
  28. 1 2 The Literature of Al-Andalus (The Cambridge History of Arabic Literature). New Ed ed. New York: Cambridge University Press, 161.
  29. The Literature of Al-Andalus, p.159
  30. The Literature of Al-Andalus p.162
  31. Ruggles, D. Fairchild (2008). Islamic Gardens and Landscapes. University of Pennsylvania Press. p. 152. ISBN 0-8122-4025-1.
  32. "Interior of a Mosque at Cordova". The Walters Art Museum.
  33. Chris, Lowney A Vanished World: Muslims, Christians, and Jews in Medieval Spain. New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 11.
  34. D. Fairchild Ruggles, "The Stratigraphy of Forgetting: The Great Cathedral of Cordoba and Its Contested Legacy," in Contested Cultural Heritage, ed. Helaine Silverman. New York: Springer, 2011, pp. 51–67. Spanish translation in the journal Antípoda:Revista de Antropología y Arqueología (Bogotá, Colombia) 12 (2011): 19–38.
  35. 1 2 3 Tremlett, Giles (2010-04-01). "Two arrested after fight in Cordoba's former mosque". The Guardian. London.
  36. 1 2 3 Keeley, Graham (2010-04-03). "Muslims arrested for trying to pray in Cordobas former Mosque". The Times. London.
  37. "Muslims in Spain campaign to worship alongside Christians". CNN. 2010-09-07.

Barbara Messina, Geometrie in pietra. La moschea di Cordova, Giannini editore, Napoli 2004, ISBN 9788874312368

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