The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain—A Church Inside a Mosque?

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Distinctive Mezquita arches combine with Baroque adornments—C.Helbig

A Roman temple that became a church that transformed into a mosque and then reverted back to a church, the Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba (Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba) is as bizarre as it is magnificent. I’ve seen many beautiful churches and a handful of gorgeous mosques, but until visiting Córdoba had never seen a church—a massive cathedral— inside an enormous mosque. The styles are completely incongruous, but somehow the crazy sequence of construction, renovation, and recycling by Ancient Romans, Visgoths, Muslim Emirs and Roman Catholic Monarchs has created one of the most fascinating and awe-inspiring places of worship in the world.

First, a quick and dirty history lesson. Historians believe that the current site was originally occupied by a temple to the Roman god Janus. In 575, invading Visgoths converted the temple to a church dedicated to St.Vincent. Salvaging Roman and Visgoth ruins, the site was converted to a mosque in 784. Ruling Muslim Emirs made significant changes to the Mezquita (as it is commonly known) until its final form in 987. At that time, it was considered the most magnificent mosque of over 1000 mosques in Córdoba.

The year 1236 marked the siege of Córdoba and the end of Islamic rule. Conquering Christians, under King Ferdinand III initially left the Mezquita largely intact but dedicated it to the Virgin Mary and used it as  a place of Christian worship. Over the years, various kings commissioned the construction of chapels within the mosque. The biggest change came in the 1520s when a Renaissance-style cathedral nave was built right in the middle of the Mezquita by Charles V and the Catholic Church. Further additions to the structure, including a Baroque-style cathedral choir, continued until the late 18th century.

Today, the Mezquita is the Cathedral of Córdoba (officially the Catedral de Nuestra Señora de la Asunción) and is regarded as one of the most accomplished works of Moorish architecture.

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Distinctive striped arches of the Mezquita—C.Helbig

The most defining feature of the Mezquita is the red and white striped arches that support 856 pillars “recycled” by Islamic builders from Roman and Visgoth ruins. Like them or not, they make a big statement in the cavernous prayer hall. The photo above only shows a small portion of these distinctive arches. I felt a bit like I was in a giant circus arcade, albeit a solemn one.

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Styles collide in the Mezquita—C.Helbig

The mixing of Moorish style architecture and Catholic Baroque adornments is fascinating.

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The church within the mosque—C.Helbig

If the candy-cane stripes aren’t enough, now imagine plonking a towering cathedral in the middle of the mosque. Photos really can’t do this piece of “renovation” justice.

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Another view of the incongruous styles—C.Helbig

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The Mezquita’s mihrab—C.Helbig

For me, the most beautiful part of the Mezquita is the mihrab, an exquisite prayer niche facing Mecca. The gold-hued mosaic tiles are  unbelievable. Unfortunately I didn’t get a good photo of the stunning dome above the niche.

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Beautiful scalloped arches in Moorish style—C.Helbig

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The Mosque-Cathedral of Cordoba—C.Helbig

From the outside, the Mezquita is equally striking and dominates the Córdoba cityscape. The photo above is taken from the Torre del Alminar, the bell tower.

The beautiful Patio de los Naranjos (courtyard of orange trees), the ablution area when the site was used as a mosque, is the main entrance to the Mezquita.

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Torre del Almar bell tower and Patio de los Naranjos—C.Helbig

The bell tower is another interesting example of renovations as the site was converted to a new faith. The Catholic Monarchs simple built the Baroque-style tower over the original minaret. If you visit, don’t miss the climb up the bell tower  where you can see the minaret (below) inside the structure, and get an awesome view of the city from the top.

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Minaret inside the bell tower—C.Helbig

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Amazing Moorish-style facade on the exterior walls of the Mezquita—C.Helbig

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View to Mezquita from bridge over Guadalquivir River—C.Helbig

The oddly-beautiful mix of architectures and faiths in the Mezquita makes it one of the most unique places of worship and it is recognized as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The only sad note is that the Mezquita-Catedral is not shared between faiths. Muslims have lobbied the Roman Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the Mezquita, but Spanish church authorities and the Vatican have opposed this move.

I’ll be doing another post with photos from our wanderings through beautiful Córdoba. And, coming soon, lots of great hiking in southern Utah and Arizona.

Special thanks to the following sources for the history lesson:

Categories: Places, Spain | Tags: , , , | 14 Comments

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14 thoughts on “The Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, Spain—A Church Inside a Mosque?

  1. Pingback: 100th Post: Ten Places that have “Stuck with Me” | Writes of Passage

  2. The church is amazing – I should go there !
    I leave you my post about celebration of New Year’s Eve in Madrid
    https://traveltomeetyourheart.wordpress.com/2017/01/07/12-grapes-new-years-eve-spain-madrid/

    Like

  3. Pingback: Beyond the Mezquita: Discovering Córdoba, Spain | Writes of Passage

  4. Ah I remember this mesquite very well. How could anyone forget the visual of the red and white stripes that dominate the beautiful arches? I did not know all the history though, so that was nice to read. Overall we really liked Cordoba and the region around there. Your photographs are beautiful!
    Peta

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right Peta, those stripes are so distinctive that they completely differentiate the Mezquita from any other church/mosque (at least ones I’ve seen). We liked Cordoba too and found it quite a “manageable” and relaxing city to visit, especially with limited time.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow, that is spectacular! So incredibly intricate. I also love that picture of the Torre del Almar bell tower.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Magnificent photographs. Such an interesting place.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. What an extraordinarily beautiful place. We hope to be in Spain next summer so I’ve added Cordoba, and the Mezquita-Catedral to the list. Gorgeous photos!
    Alison

    Liked by 1 person

  8. They just don’t make buildings like they used to.

    Liked by 2 people

  9. The striped arches and mixture of architectural styles in the Mezquita make for a fascinating study. Thank you for sharing! I’d never heard of this UNESCO site before reading your post and am intrigued by its unique history. I hope it will soon be open to all who wish to worship, regardless of faith. Beautiful photos, especially of the church within the mosque.

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    • If I could properly show you the massive expansive of this place you’d see that there is more than enough room for both faiths (and then some). I agree, wouldn’t it be great if the Mezquita/Cathedral could be shared—now that would make an awesome statement in these days of increasing intolerance. I suspect it’s probably not in the cards (but hope I’m wrong).

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Hi Louise, I had not heard of this place until I started researching southern Spain for our trip. We almost took Cordoba out of the itinerary because we were running out of time. I’m really glad we were able to eke out a few days. I agree with you about the warm glow on the exterior wall. It was stunning and I managed to capture it at the right time of day. I’ll be adding some more exterior shots in my next post. Cheers,
    Caroline

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  11. Hi Caroline, The ornate vaulted ceiling is stunning. Thanks for pointing out this lovely church/ mosque. The warmth in the colours of the exterior wall and decorations is particularly lovely in the second last photo. Louise

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