The Great Mosque of Cordoba is a religious building built in the eighth century to present the Iberian city as a fortress in the Islamic world. Its unique style and intricate details still influence architectural styles today.

What is the Mosque of Córdoba?

The Mosque of Córdoba is the cathedral of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Córdoba. It is located in the south of Spain in the region of Andalusia. The church was formerly a mosque built by Abdul Rahman I, the Umayyad prince of Damascus (located in modern-day Syria) in the eighth century to showcase the Iberian city of Córdoba as a Muslim stronghold.

The architecture of the mosque is rich and features unique details, such as the portico connected by undulating arches, a central orange garden and an altar inlaid with gold. The architects used luxurious Roman and Visigothic materials such as jasper, marble and porphyry to build the mosque. This building was rebuilt several times over the centuries. With the change from Muslim rule to Christianity, different architectural structures and motifs were added.

History of the Mosque of Córdoba

Abdul Rahman I, one of the kings of the Umayyad dynasty, was the founder of the Arab dynasty that ruled the Iberian Peninsula for almost three centuries after its exile in Damascus. In addition to improving the land infrastructure and expanding his emirate, al-Rahman wanted to build a new mosque in the center of the Muslim-controlled territory of Andalusia. However, the building changed several times from Muslim to Christian rule. Here is an overview of the history of the Mosque of Córdoba.

Construction in the eighth century:

In the late eighth century, Abd al-Rahman I ordered the construction of the Great Mosque. Just one year later, the building was completed. However, many more developments would take place over the next two centuries, until the collapse of the Caliphate of Córdoba. Subsequent successors of the dynasty continued to add new elements to the mosque and improve it, such as the treasury, larger chapels and courtyards, and private passages.

Renovations from the tenth to the eleventh centuries:

Abdul Rahman III further expanded the Great Mosque in the tenth century and proclaimed a new caliphate. A minaret was built for the mosque, the building of the call to prayer. The second caliph, the son and successor of the third Rahman, built a pulpit for the Great Mosque of Cordoba. At the beginning of the 11th century, due to a civil war, the caliphate was divided into independent Muslim kingdoms. The expansion of the mosque was completed after the collapse of the Umayyad Caliphate and a large part of the mosque was severely damaged and looted.

Thirteenth to fourteenth century:

King Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Cordoba in 1236 and turned the mosque into a Christian cathedral. Many flourishes and architectural designs remained intact until the fourteenth century, although some features such as churches and altars were added. The Royal Church, completed in the late fourteenth century, was the first major annex to the Cordoba Cathedral since the fall of the Caliphate.

Fifteenth to the sixteenth century:

It was the late fifteenth century when the mosque acquired more Gothic features, such as naves, arches, and Gothic-style arches. They also became popular in interior design in Barcelona. During the 1500s, King Charles V authorized the construction of a Renaissance cathedral nave in the center of the mosque. Later, the earthquake damaged part of the mosque, and despite repairs and strengthening, part of the original Islamic architecture was destroyed.

Seventeenth-century and beyond:

This mosque, which became a cathedral, architects rebuilt, repaired, and changed it several times over the centuries. After years of construction, some leaders die, in which their successors take over the construction and apply their modifications as baroque elements in the churches. In the early nineteenth century, features of the former mosque were found behind the altar, and efforts were made to restore the building’s Islamic features. The Cordoba Mosque was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.

5 Notable Architectural Features of the Mosque of Córdoba

Many of the architectural elements of the Cordoba Mosque had a wave effect on Western Islamic architecture. As it has been passed down over the years, it has become a prominent example of a fusion of Islamic and Christian architecture. Some of the remarkable architectural features of Cordoba Mosque include the following:

Striped double arches:
More than 800 Roman / Visigoth granite and marble columns support the mosque’s brick and stone horseshoe arches, the most important of which is in the Hypostyle Hall or the main Muslim prayer space. This hall is the main center of the mosque.

Orange trees:
The government imported and planted orange trees in the courtyard of the mosque as agricultural propaganda. Today, there are still orange trees in the courtyard of the mosque.

A bell tower:
The bell tower, which is the tallest structure in the city, is where the main minaret was located. In the process, the minaret was partially destroyed and enclosed inside a bell tower. However, modern restorations have restored many of the original Islamic features to the structure.

High, vaulted ceilings:
Designers complemented the ceilings and domes of the mosque by ribbed decors and golden mosaic ornaments embedded in geometric patterns. Which is the initial prelude to the later Gothic architecture.

The mihrab doesn’t face Mecca:
Many mosques have an altar or wall that shows the direction of Mecca. Similar to the former mosque in Damascus (and according to the western tradition of the Islamic world), the Cordoba Mosque has an altar. That faces south instead of southeast, where Mecca is located. The altar of this mosque is uniquely luxurious and architects built it like a small room decorated with gold cubes, not an early prayer niche that, like most altars, is inside the wall.

How Did the Mosque of Córdoba Influence Architecture?

The Cordoba Mosque has influenced architectural styles around the world for centuries. This is a clear example of Moorish architecture, a style of Islamic art that developed on the Spanish Iberian Peninsula when it was under Muslim rule. It combines Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, and Barbarian elements to create a new aesthetic characterized by unique arches, intricate tiles, and vegetation.

The roof of the mosque has also been very influential in the development of Western religious architecture. The Cordoba Mosque is notable for its ribbed arched roofs carved out of stone to make intricate patterns and honeycombs. This can affect Western religious architecture. In France, ribbed vaulted ceilings became very popular. The mosque’s double arches and honeycomb patterns have also influenced Spanish architecture. In the nineteenth century, it also inspired the Moorish (or Neo-Morsk) period.