Discovering Spain's incredible mosque-cathedral


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Walking through the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba it is almost impossible not to find yourself overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of the site as well as the history which permeates the centuries old walls.

It is believed the first temple was built in the 7 century

It is believed the first temple was built in the 7 century
© rognar/123RF

As its name suggests the Mosque-Cathedral of Córdoba, or Mezquita-Catedral de Córdoba, has served as a place of worship for both Christians and Muslims over the centuries. Located in the heart of the UNESCO listed old town of Córdoba, today the Mosque-Cathedral only serves as a place of worship for Christians.

It is believed that the first religious structure to be built on the site was a small Visigoth Christian chapel dedicated to Saint Vincent of Lérins, which was erected sometime in the early 7th century AD. After the Islamic conquest of the Visigothic kingdom (711-788) the temple was divided and shared as a place of worship by both Muslims and Christians. The arrangement was to last until 784 when Emir 'Abd al-Rahman, founder of the Muslim dynasty that would go on to rule a large part of Iberia for almost three centuries, purchased the Christians half of the temple. Al-Rahman ordered the temple to be torn down and in its place build the Grand Mosque of Córdoba.

It should, however, be noted that there are historians who disagree with this historical narrative. Over the years numerous historians and archeologists have cast doubt over the location of the chapel of Saint Vincent of Lérins, mainly because no archeological evidence has been found to confirm that it was located at the site of the Mosque-Cathedral, although it is commonly accepted that an older, smaller mosque did stand in the area and was in fact later torn down.

The Grand Mosque of Córdoba was constructed in the 10 century

The Grand Mosque of Córdoba was constructed in the 10 century
© mariusz_prusaczyk/123RF

While the history of the Mosque's construction is undeniably fascinating it takes second stage to the sheer beauty of the complex. In terms of architectural design the mosque's most memorable part is the arcaded hypostyle hall, which contains 856 columns made of jasper, onyx, marble, and granite. The columns were constructed using pieces from a destroyed Roman temple that had previously stood at the site. The minaret, which was built in the 9th century by the order of Abd al-Rahman II, had two separate staircases, one for assent and one for descent, and at the top there were said to be three apples, two made out of gold and one out of silver as well as six petal lilies.

The arcaded hypostyle hall is one of the most notable features

The arcaded hypostyle hall is one of the most notable features
© sorincolac/123RF

In 1236, Córdoba was reconquered by King Ferdinand III of Castile, who then went on to convert the mosque into a Catholic church. Alfonso X, who succeeded King Ferdinand III in 1252, ordered the construction of the Villaviciosa Chapel and the Royal Chapel within the mosque complex. Future kings would continue adding other Christian features over the coming centuries. The minaret was converted into a bell tower that was adorned with bells from Santiago de Compostela. The final alterations to the Mosque-Cathedral were made in the late 18th century, since then it has remained unchanged

While the Mosque-Cathedral has remained solely a place of worship for Christians since the 13th century this may change in the future. Over the course of the last 15 years Muslims from across Spain have been lobbying the Spanish Catholic Church to allow them to pray in the complex. However, both the Spanish church authorities and the Vatican have refused the request. In 2010 there was a violent altercation between two Muslim tourists and two security guards, the incident received wide condemnation from the Catholic authorities as well as the Vatican. After the incident the campaign slowed down, however it is still hoped by some that one day Christians and Muslims will be able to worship together at the site just as they have done over a thousand years ago.

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Posted on 15/07/2017 8 shares
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