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Mosque-Cathedral, Córdoba La Mezquita-Catedral

Mezquita-CathedralMezquita-Cathedral View slideshow
The Córdoba's outstanding monument is the Cathedral, formerly the principal mosque of western Islam and still known as the Mezquita, one of the largest mosques in the world and the finest achievement of Moorish architecture in Spain, comparable in beauty and size with the great mosques of Mecca and Damascus, the El-Azhar Mosque in Cairo and the Blue Mosque in Istanbul. The site on which the mosque stands was originally occupied by a Visigothic church, which the Moors used after the conquest as a mosque, though at first leaving part of it to the Christians. This part was acquired by Abderrahman I, and the building of the present mosque began in 785, with eleven aisles open to what is now the Court of Orange-Trees and the mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) at the end of the central aisle, which was larger than the others. Building material from Roman and Visigothic buildings was used in the construction. During the reign of Abderrahman II, between about 830 and 850, the aisles were increased in length; in 951 Abderrahman III built the minaret (which has been altered since his time); and Al- Hakam II enlarged the mosque still further to its present length of 179m/587ft. In the course of this extension the unique ''third mihrab'' and the maqsura (enclosure for the Caliph) were added. Finally Almansor increased the width of the mosque, bringing it to its present dimensions, by building on eight additional aisles along the whole length of the structure, so that the prayer hall now has no fewer than nineteen aisles.
After the return of the Christians the mosques underwent little change for many years: Alfonso X replaced the mihrab of the second building phase by the Capilla Villaviciosa, and that was all. During the reign of Charles V, however, one of the most drastic changes in the mosque was carried out. In 1523 the decision was taken to build a large cathedral within the Muslim prayer hall. The city council of Córdoba recognized the danger and threatened death for anyone who sought to destroy the Moorish buildings; but on Charles V's orders the rebuilding went ahead under the direction of an architect named Hernán Ruiz. When, some years later, Charles came to Córdoba to inspect the work he is said to have remarked to the canons of the cathedral: ''If I had known what you gentlemen had in mind I should not have permitted it; for what you have built can be seen everywhere, but what you have destroyed had not its like in the world.'' The building of the Cathedral was for all practical purposes completed by 1599, and about that time work began on the alteration of the minaret.
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Mosque-Cathedral Highlights

The Mosque - Exterior

The whole La Mezquita-Catedral of Córdoba is surrounded by a battlemented outer wall between 9 and 20m (30 and 65ft) in height, with countless tower-like buttresses. The principal entrance, on the north side, is the Puerta del Perdón (1377), in Mudéjar style. Adjoining it, forming the first stage of the minaret, is the 60m/200ft high Campanario (Bell-Tower) or Torre de Alminar, which was given its present form, showing the influence of the Herreran style, in 1593. It is now topped by a statue of the Archangel Michael, patron saint of the town.

Court of Orange-Trees

The Puerta del Perdón leads into the picturesque Patio de los Naranjos in Córdoba, planted with orange-trees and palms, where the ablutions prescribed by Islamic law were performed.

Mosque-Cathedral - Prayer Hall

From the Patio de los Naranjos the Mudéjar-style Puerta de las Palmas (1531) gives access to the interior of Córdoba's Mezquita-Catedral, the prayer hall of the mosque. This magnificently impressive hall, only 11.5m/38ft high, is seen in the semi-darkness as an apparently endless forest of columns, in vistas changing at every step. There is an astonishing impression of space. Altogether there are 856 marble, jasper and porphyry columns, linked longitudinally by red and white horseshoe arches. Some of the columns were taken from ancient buildings and Christian churches. At the Puerta de las Palmas and between the mihrabs (prayer niches), which mark the direction of Mecca, some of the colorful and richly carved roof structure of the mosque has been exposed.

Mosque-Cathedral - New or Third Mihrab

The Mihrab Nuevo of Cordoba's Mosque-Cathedral, in which the Koran lay open, is an incomparable masterpiece of Islamic architecture and ornament. Roofed with a high dome hewn from a single block of marble, it is covered with a great profusion of decoration in the form of floral and geometric patterns and verses from the Koran in Arabic script.

Mosque-Cathedral - Prayer Room

The Prayer Room of the Mosque-Cathedral in Córdoba is uniques.
In front of the mihrab is a railing which separates the vestibule of the mihrab and the maqsura (the Caliph's prayer room) from the rest of the mosque. Here too there is a profusion of ornament and a great variety of arch forms demonstrating the skill of the Muslim craftsmen. The fine mosaics were a gift from the Byzantine Emperor.

Mosque-Cathedral - Chapterhouse

To the left of the mihrab is the Sala Capitular, which contains the Córdoba Cathedral treasury, including a silver monstrance by Enrique de Arfe (1517) and nine fine statues of saints by Alonso Cano.

Mosque-Cathedral - Villaviciosa Chapel

In Córdoba, the Capilla Villaviciosa, opposite the mihrab, was the first Christian chapel to be built in the Moorish mosque. It is notable for its fine columns and vaulting.

Mosque-Cathedral - Royal Chapel

Adjoining Córdoba's Capilla Villaviciosa is the Capilla Real, a masterpiece of Mudéjar architecture which was the burial chapel of Ferdinand IV and Alfonso XI of Castile.


La Mezquita-Catedral in Cordoba.
In the heart of the mosque in Córdoba, and built transversely across it, is the Cathedral, consisting of a Gothic choir with the Capilla Mayor. It was built between 1563 and 1599 and involved the destruction of 63 columns. The richly carved choir-stalls (18th century) were the work of Pedro Cornejo. Over the red marble high altar (1618) is a painting by Palomino. There are two fine pulpits of mahogany and marble.
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