Thursday, May 26, 2011


by Robert Bovington

Córdoba was once the most important and richest city in the western world. It’s pretty good now as I recently discovered when I visited this beautiful city. It is one of the great cities of Spain. Along with Granada and Sevilla it is one of the classical cities of Andalucía that are famous for their spectacular architecture.

Córdoba was once the centre of the medieval Caliphate of Córdoba and capital of the western Islamic Empire. It reached its peak in the 10th century when it rivalled Baghdad and Constantinople as one of the great cities of the World. Its greatest surviving monument to the city's magnificent past is its Grand Mosque - the Mezquita.

Córdoba - Calle Torrijos

Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba

Work on the mosque actually started in 786 when it was built on the site of an old Visigothic church. However, it was enlarged three times before reaching its present size in 987 when it became the largest sacred building in the Islamic world.
Córdoba Mezquita © Robert Bovington
And big it most certainly is - so massive that a Gothic cathedral was built inside the mosque - and a number of chapels!

Mezquita - one of the
Cathedral ceilings
Following the Christian Reconquest of Córdoba in 1236, the mosque was consecrated as a Christian cathedral. During the 14th century, the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Capilla Real were built and then in 1523, work on the cathedral started with the building of a huge nave inside the mosque.
The interior of the mosque is spectacular - a forest of pillars and arches. 856 of the granite, jasper and marble columns remain - some were removed to make way for the Christian parts of the building. Horseshoe-shaped arches consisting of alternating red brick and white stone were placed above the lower pillars, which has given the Mezquita its distinctive character.

Of course, there is much more to this magnificent building than pillars and arches! The Mihrab is particularly magnificent with its intricately carved marble ceiling and exquisitely decorated chambers with their Byzantine mosaics. All this ornamentation is in great contrast to the worn flagstones - an indication that many Muslims prayed here.

The Villaviciosa and Capilla Real chapels are both quite splendid and are good examples of Mudéjar architecture.
There used to be many entrances into the mosque but nowadays, the only one open to the public is the Puerta del Perdón.

Córdoba - Mezquita -
Patio de los Naranjos

No self-respecting mosque should be without a patio where prospective worshippers can perform their ritual ablutions. The Patio de los Naranjos was used for this purpose. Visitors still pass through this delightful courtyard with its orange trees and fountains on their way into the Mezquita.
Torre del Alminar

The minaret of the mosque is no longer visible. It is enveloped in a Baroque bell tower - the Torre del Alminar.

Finally, there is the Cathedral. Charles V later regretted the decision to build it within the Mezquita and many people since have agreed that its construction has devalued the mosque's simple beauty. I disagree. In my humble opinion, the Christian elements blend harmoniously with the architecture of the mosque. 

Mezquita Cathedral Choir
the Cathedral has many impressive features, particularly the choir with its Baroque mahogany choir stalls that were carved by Pedro Duque Correjo in the 18th century.

Anything this special ought to be afforded special protection and it is - UNESCO has declared the Mezquita a World Heritage site.

The sheer grandeur of the Mezquita reflected Córdoba's importance during the 8th to 11th centuries, when it was one of the world's largest and most cultured cities as well as being the capital of the Caliphate of Córdoba - an empire that incorporated a large chunk of the Iberian Peninsula as well as North Africa.
La Judería

Today, Córdoba is a beautiful city and the old quarter contains many impressive monuments to its historic splendour. Close to the Mezquita, the Judería or Jewish Quarter consists of narrow alleyways, brilliantly whitewashed and splendidly decorated with flowerpots. Other important buildings include the Episcopal Palace, various churches and museums - the Museo de Bellas Artes is the main art museum in the city.
The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos

The Alcázar de los Reyes Cristianos is a fortified palace that was built by Alfonso XI in 1328. It was the headquarters of the Spanish Inquisition but today, it is a tranquil oasis with gardens and fountains.

Córdoba - Alcázar Gardens

Modern Córdoba

So, Córdoba has a wealth of historical buildings – all beautifully preserved but it is also a city where past and modernity blend. Plaza de las Tendillas, in particular, is a pleasant modern square adjacent to a shopping and commercial area that seamlessly merges into the old narrow streets of the Juderia. It is also only a few minutes walk to the Paseo de la Victoria that, in turn, is a pleasant promenade of greenery leading towards the old city walls.

Paseo de la Victoria

Córdoba - Plaza Tendillas
Robert Bovington

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