The Mosque–Cathedral of Córdoba (also known as the Great Mosque of Córdoba or the Mezquita) in Córdoba, Spain is one of the greatest architectural achievements in Moorish architecture. Construction of the mosque began in the 8th century after the Islāmic conquest of al-Andalus in 711. Begun by Abd al-Rahman I in A.D. 785 and expanded three times by his successors in the Umayyad dynasty, the mosque could hold 40,000 people. Córdoba became the capital of the Umayyad caliphate. With the caliphate came the artistic and architectural style elements of Syria and Byzantium, which mixed with existing design and building elements to become what is known as the Moorish style. Under the Umayyad caliphate, Córdoba became an intellectual center of Europe, with celebrated libraries and schools. In 1236 King Ferdinand III of Castile conquered Córdoba and returned the city to christianity. Part of the mosque became a church and some alterations were made. In the 16th century the city built a garish Renaissance cathedral in the middle of the huge mosque. Although some attempts were made to ease the transition between the quiet intimacy of the mosque and the ornate noise of the soaring cathedral, the two spaces have almost nothing in common. The complex is now the Catholic cathedral of the Diocese of Córdoba.
The Mosque – Prayer Hall
While disputes exist on the exact origin certain types of arches, it cannot be denied that Islāmic architects mastered the design and use of the arch. The use of horseshoe, multifoil, and other arches in mosques in present-day Spain helped spread Islāmic design throughout Europe. Arches served structural and functional purposes but became more decorative in Moorish design. The Mezquita combined Moorish and European elements. The innovative double arch arcade, with horseshoe arches supporting semi-circular arches, permitted a higher ceiling in the hypostyle prayer hall. Originally 1200 columns (only 856 remain) of jasper, onyx, marble, granite and porphyry removed from Roman and other buildings supported a flat wooden roof. Alternating red and white striped voussoirs may have been inspired by another Umayyad structure, the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Romans and Visigoths, who ruled this area before the conquest of the Umayyad caliphate, first introduced the horseshoe arch. Prominent used throughout the Great Mosque helped spread the horseshoe arch across North Africa and Egypt. It is a typical element of Western Islāmic architecture.
Mihrab And Maqsura
Multifoil arches (also called cusped or lobed arches) were common elements in Moorish Umayyad architecture. They were used in maqsuras (the royal prayer enclosure in front of the mihrab) and arcades of mosques. While both functional and decorative, their ornate decorative nature seems more important than function. In fact, the shape of the multifoil arch was as a surface motif on interior and exterior walls. Foils could be trifoil, cinquefoil, or used in combination with other arch forms. In the Great Mosque of Cordoba, multifoil and interlocking arches in the maqsura complemented the ornate horseshoe arch at the entrance to the gilded mihrab or prayer niche.
Islam Intersects With Christianity
After the reconquest of Cordoba in 1236, a portion of the mosque was converted to a Christian church. In the 14th century, two chapels were built in the Mudejar style, a medieval Iberian style strongly influenced by Moorship design and workmanship. A section of the maqsura became the Chapel of Villaviciosa; the mihrab can be seen in the distance through the nave.The elegant multilobed arches of the chapel are typical of the Mudejar style. The artisans and craftsmen who created these works were Moorish. Alfonso X built the chapel in 1371, and it served as the cathedral’s main sanctuary for 300 years.
Construction of the Cathedral of Córdoba (Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption) began in 1523 and lasted into the early 17th century. The ornate church, with its gothic, renaissance and baroque elements, was inserted into the heart of the former mosque. When Charles V, who had given permission for construction of the new cathedral, visited the completed church, he was not impressed. He commented: They have taken something unique in all the world and destroyed it to build something you can find in any city.